Discuss the Evolution of Local Government in Nigeria

Local government as a form of administration dates as far back as pre-colonial times. Then primitive societies in now-Nigeria administered themselves based on the structure of their respective societies. Since then, local government has evolved to become a third-tier government in Nigeria. Read on to learn about the evolution of local government in Nigeria. 

Discuss the Evolution of Local Government in Nigeria

The evolution of local government in Nigeria would be discussed below: 

  • Local Government Administration in Pre-colonial Nigeria 

 The earliest form of local government in Nigeria dates back to the pre-colonial era. Four major pre-colonial societies namely the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo and Benin societies have records of how their respective societies were administered. 

In the pre-colonial Hausa-Fulani societies, fiefdom was the practice of local government administration after the jihad. Emirs were the highest political holders, with oversight responsibility over fief-holders who ruled the villages in the emirate. 

In pre-colonial Yoruba societies, the system of administration that was practised was well organised. The Alaafin (king) was at the helm of affairs with senior chiefs assisting with running the empires. The organized political structures of pre-colonial Yoruba societies allowed for checks and balances within the government. 

 The pre-colonial Igbo societies were somewhat republican in how they were administered. There existed no centralised power, instead, village assemblies, kinship groups, etc were responsible for running the affairs of the pre-colonial Igbo societies. 

The Benin empire was another pre-colonial society that had an administrative system. The monarchy was the type of administrative system in practice in the ancient Benin kingdom. The Oba of Benin at the helm of affairs, along with the help of chiefs and the Enegies (brothers and sons of the Oba) combined to control the affairs of the Benin empire. 

  • Local Government Administration in Colonial-Era Nigeria 

Here, we’d discuss the local government administration in the Western, Eastern, Northern, and Southern regions of Nigeria during the colonial era. 

During the colonial era, the Northern region of Nigeria practised an indirect system of local government administration. In the Northern region, the colonial administrators implemented policies formulated for Great Britain’s colonies through the emirs or traditional rulers. The highly centralized administrative system of the Hausa-Fulani societies provided the needed platform for indirect rule to thrive, recording massive success in the Northern region. 

In the Western region in the colonial era, the local government took the form of indirect rule. The Obas and chiefs were used by the colonial masters to administer colonial policies to the natives of the Western region. The indirect rule system of local government in the Western region did not record as much success as in the Northern region. The level of success of the indirect rule in local government administration in the Western region was average due to the multiplicity of religions and because the Obas and chiefs had limited control over their subjects.

In the Eastern region of colonial-era Nigeria, the diffused style of administration of the Igbo societies didn’t make indirect rule succeed. Warrant chiefs who were natives had to be appointed to carry out the local administration for the colonial masters in the Eastern region. The people of the Eastern region stiffly resisted this arrangement, especially in the aspect of direct taxation. Local government administration in the East was unsuccessful during the colonial era.

The Southern region of colonial Nigeria was split and grouped under the Western and Eastern regions. The kingdoms of Benin, Urhobo and Itsekiris and part of the Ijaws were under the Western region for administrative reasons and the local administration was done through the indirect rule policy. The Ibibios, Efiks and Kalabaris and part of the Ijaws were grouped under the Eastern region, and warrant officers were used for local administration. 

  • The Local Government Reforms of the 1950s 

The local government reforms in the Northern region in the 1950s was the abolition of sole native authorities which were then replaced with Chiefs-in-Council and Chiefs-and-Council native authorities. 

A major wave of local government reforms was experienced in the Western region in the early 1950s. In 1952, new local government legislation removed every sole native authority in the Western region and introduced divisional, district and local

councils. In 1957, another reform was made to give authority to set up joint boards for work, and collect taxes and rates. However, not much change was recorded in terms of better local administration. 

 The local government reforms in the Eastern region in the 1950s brought about the establishment of three types of local government councils which worked independently. In 1955, another local government law was enacted for local government administration by laying down local government areas and wards.

The local government reforms that swept across regions did not happen in the Southern communities due to their minority status. 

  • Standardization of Local Government in Nigeria 

In 1976, the local government system in Nigeria witnessed the elevation of the local government council to the third-tier administration. Other provisions of the 1976 reforms saw the local government become a multi-purpose single-tier structure, have elected local government councils and be a unified local government service.

Below is a list of additional provisions contained in the 1976 local government reform: 

  • Establishment of Local Government Service Board
  • Recognition of Traditional Institutions
  • Establishment of Police/Community Relations Committee
  • Establishment of Local Government Peace and Security
  • Local Government Fiscal Policies in Nigeria 

The 774 local governments receive statutory allocations from the federation account per the provisions of the allocation and fiscal commission established in 1988. At the moment, 20.6% of the federation account is allocated to the local governments in Nigeria. An additional 10% of states’ IGR plus a percentage of Value Added Tax are part of the revenue allocated to the 774 local governments area in Nigeria. 

  • Local Governments’ Institutional Dependency in Nigeria

Local governments in Nigeria have failed to live up to being the third tier of government due to the institutional dependency on state governments. Per the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, state governments’ legislative arms can enact laws that establish the structure,  composition, powers and functions of local government.

Furthermore, the overbearing influence of the executive arm of the state governments on the management and activities of local governments further shows that local governments are not autonomous as they ought to be. 


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