EDITORIAL: Need for full local government autonomy in Nigeria


It is becoming obvious on a daily basis that if we want real development to touch down to the local government level, we must consider its full autonomy.

Uba Group

It is the main panacea for the grassroots revitalisation and exploration of those treasure troves in the 774 councils.

Local Government autonomy strengthens democracy and brings positive developmental projects closer to the people.

Most importantly, recruiting leaders who will head Local Governments should also be through an independent body and not appointed by a governor.

Nigeria has 774 Local Government Areas, and each has an elected chairman as the chief executive and other elected members as councilors who exercise specific powers within their areas.

Unfortunately, they are now being appointed mostly by state governors who are often reluctant to hold even what many have described as sham elections.

As a matter of fact, development of local government administration in Nigeria took a new dimension since the return of the country to democracy in 1999.

However, because of the lack of autonomy of our Local Governments, unemployment, poverty and injustice have become entrenched in our rural communities.

“The local government system has been killed,” former President Muhammadu Buhari said in an interview in June last year.

The former President was right. Local governance has been debased in Nigeria. Every attempt to grant autonomy to local governments has faced stout resistance from state governors who assert the right to exercise close oversight over them.

The latest of such resistance was the governors’ opposition to former President Buhari’s Executive Order 10 of 2020, which grants financial autonomy to local governments as well as state legislatures and judiciaries.

In the interview, the former President said that local government chairmen “have been compromised,” insinuating that they were being bullied by state governors to surrender much of their statutory allocations under duress.

Buhari said, “You as a local government are supposed to receive N300 million. A document is given to you to sign that you have received N300 million, but you are given only N100 million.”

These were weighty allegations of extortion, of state governors putting a gun to the heads of council chairmen to take money belonging to local governments.

“Governors treat council chairmen with utter contempt and ride roughshod on the financial and administrative autonomy of local governments”

Even if the facts were not exactly as Buhari stated them, the incontrovertible truth is that state governors treat council chairmen with utter contempt and ride roughshod on the financial and administrative autonomy of local governments.

By voting against the bill seeking to grant financial and administrative autonomy to local governments, as they did in the run-up to the review of the 1999 Constitution as amended, states’ Houses of Assembly in 2021 sent a clear signal about the direction of the true federalism required by the country.

While it is true that the constitution firmly envisions a system of local government, particularly to entrench government and governance at the grassroots, there is little doubt that the political class is yet to reach a consensus on the status of local governments across the country.

The bill seeking to grant financial and administrative autonomy to local governments was voted against by the State Houses of Assembly.


The bill sought to abrogate the state-local government joint account; establishment of local government as a tier of government; institutionalisation of legislative bureaucracy in the constitution.

Constitutionally, a simple majority of votes is required in at least two-thirds of state assemblies (24 out of 36) for the amendments to sail through, and subsequently to be signed into law by the president.

However, accusing fingers have been pointed at the governors for preventing state lawmakers from concurring with constitutional amendment proposals.

The governors, it is alleged, have “have worked tirelessly to turn the Conference of Speakers and some states’ assemblies into political puppets, thereby undermining and delegitimising the legislative institution at the state level.”

It is to be noted that the local autonomy issue has been a subject of controversy. The crux of the matter is federalism. The country’s constitution declares Nigeria as a federation.

The latent function on the part of the local government autonomy is to legitimise the arbitrarily created 774 local governments that have been a drain on the national coffers.

The open argument is that local government autonomy and functionality have been undermined by state governors who behave like emperors in their respective states and utilize local governments’ allocation which goes into the state-local government joint account.

On the part of the governors, local government autonomy represses their access to financial largesse, when the arguments ought to be that, within a federal arrangement it is the duty of the federating state to create local governments as desirable for local governance.

This latter argument is worth espousing. The task of local government creation is the responsibility of federating states and their legislatures to handle. This is not the same thing as the reification of local government into a tier of the Nigerian federation.

It is obvious that the lawmakers at both the national and the state levels are making a case for local government autonomy for the wrong reasons while missing the big picture which is federalism. Federalism in our national context must be a two-tier federation, not a three-tier entity that is geared toward eroding the federal essentiality of the Nigerian state.