Local Governance in Contemporary Nigeria: What future for Human Development in Local Government Areas? By Tunde Aremu

The writer highlights the actions necessary for local governments in Nigeria to be more efficient.

Local governance is the prerogative of the local governments in Nigeria. This tier of government established by Section 7 of the Nigeria constitution has some of its functions detailed in the fourth schedule of the same constitution. The second chapter of the schedule was specific on the roles of the councils in human development functions of the local councils. Though not very explicit, the fourth schedule gave hint into this responsibility that is expected of a local council. It is important though to state clearly that the constitution did not in any way use the phrase human development in its mention of the functions and roles of local authorities. It is however implied that the local authorities have strategic roles to play in this function of the Nigeria state.

That it is envisaged that local governance has need of resources for such function is established in section 7(6) (a) and (b) of the Constitution. It is stipulated there that the National Assembly is required to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils in the federation, just as state houses of assembly are to make similar provisions at the state level

A critical question that needs to be answered then is what do we mean by human development in the context of duties and responsibilities of local councils or local governments. We may borrow from the UNDP explanation of human development as a means of enlarging people’s choices. What this means as explained by a distinguished academic working on development economics, Paul Streeten, is that development is about expanding the choices people have, to lead lives that they value, and improving the human condition so that people have the chance to lead full lives. Broken down further, it means provisioning of opportunities and space for people to have education, good health care, access to work, access to life enhancing chances, life of dignity and better choices for individuals.

Why Human Development? Why local government?

These two questions are necessarily coming together for us to understand the place of local governance, and to be specific, local governments in ensuring that which culminate in human development. While it is now almost a daily song that local governments are the closest level of governance closest to the grassroots, it is also clear that that tier of government is the only one capable of accessing direct information from the people about their needs, aspirations and expectations from the state.

Thus, where this tier of government fails to meet the aspirations of the people, the likelihood of the other tiers responding to that need is minimal. While due to the huge resources at the federal and states government levels and the tendencies of these to focus on mega projects, a lot of attention are drawn to them, it is also evident that most of the time such projects are either not targeted at the people at the grassroots or have little relevance to them. The massive road constructions in Abuja metropolis, the beautification of Lagos and the bridges of Uyo have no relevance to the people at the grassroots where majority of the people are located.

Then we ask ourselves what is to be done at the local governance level if human development is to be ensured and sustained.

It is important that those who run affairs at this level of governance constantly remember the six basic pillars of human development listed by the UNDP as equity, sustainability, productivity, empowerment, cooperation and security. It is also important to be constantly aware that development is not about economic growth, financial wealth and the development of industry, but about humans.

What needs to be done?

Though issues have continued to be raised about the issue of local government autonomy and the amount of resources that go to the local government councils, such however cannot be justification for non-performance and lack of relevance to the people. It is the obligation of the state to ensure that opportunities are provided for people to live a life of dignity. The local government councils are part of the state structures, and are more responsible for ensuring human development due to their closeness to the grassroots and as such closer to people’s realities.

Education

The most recognised element in human development, more specific, human capital development, is education. The foundation of education in our instance here in Nigeria is in the Universal Basic Education, UBE, system which comprises of six years of Primary School education and three years of Junior Secondary School education, culminating in nine years of uninterrupted schooling. Though the ministries of education perform some oversight function on education at all levels and such structures as SUBEB also perform administrative and regulatory functions, the actual policy implementation for this foundation stage of education is entrusted to the local government councils.

Education is acknowledged as central to intellectual development, which in itself is also key to human development. It is in realisation of this that the achievement of universal basic education is prioritised by world leaders in the Millennium Development Goals agreed on at the United Nations in September 2000.

Local authorities therefore have to prioritise access to basic education and also focus on the other components such as adult literacy and non-formal education, skill acquisition programs and the education of special groups such as nomads and migrants, girl child and women, street children and people with disability. Investing in this also entails paying attention to the quality of such basic education. How learning friendly the schools and learning centres are is important. Availability of teachers and teaching aids are as important as the structures are. And we need not reiterate that education must be seen as basic right that no child (or an adult willing to have basic education) should be denied access due to their economic or social status. It has to be free.

Health

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, success of development and the abolition of poverty are closely tied to the achievement of adequate health standards. Development according to experts is easily undermined by health issues as such health condition and issues as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and Malaria have continued to impact negatively on development. Effective primary health care systems are said to be the best response to these challenges. This also falls within the control of local government councils. Investment in health facilities is therefore one of such ways in which human development can be guaranteed and sustained. The close link between health and productivity further accentuate this.

Capacity Building

A large part of the Nigeria population is youth. Unfortunately majority of these are either not productively engaged, are underemployed or out of job. Special attention must therefore be paid to provisioning of relevant skill acquisition opportunities for these youth, whose energy if not properly harnessed and directed would become threats to all other development efforts. It is therefore incumbent on the authorities at local areas to think creatively of means of engaging these youth and other persons, women and men, who are in need of new livelihood skills and support. These could, for instance in the rural areas include special support for smallholder farmers who though produce the bulk of the food we eat do so under strenuous and health damaging situations.

Women and Unpaid Care Works

Women are the most disadvantaged in the society and the least planned for in human development schemes. This is due to the fact that a large percentage of the women population either work in the informal sector or are mostly engaged in unpaid care works. It is critical that this populace is given special attention. Most women who are engaged in unpaid care work could free more time for self-development and such endeavours that could add to the communal economic growth if relevant facilities and social infrastructures that would aid their daily chores and free up some time for them are put in place. These include provisions of crèches and baby care centres, health facilities within communities, skills development centres and such facilities as may be arrived at with the women’s own input.

Competence and Credibility

A system is as good and reliable as the people running it. Part of the challenges with most local administrations in the country is the subjugation of competence under political patronage and other forms of nepotism. It is a well known fact that many persons find their ways into the services of the local councils not because they are suited for such position but due to their political affiliation and relationship with political office holders. Ideas no matter how sound needs to be run by persons competent to achieve the objectives of such ideas. It is thus important that competence is taken into consideration when personnel are being employed. Even where relevant persons have been employed, it is also essential that such persons undergo periodic renewal of skills and upgrade of knowledge.

Non-state resources

While we will admit that there are no serious studies on how local governance has tapped into non-state driven opportunities in their environs for human development, there are also no observable signs that authorities located in such places where such opportunities exist have tapped into them. In Ado Odo Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State for instance, there exist three big private universities, with large population of students and workers. There is no doubt that some commercial activities have emerged around these institutions and the local government councils probably may have benefited in term of levies from shops, however there are no evidence of the authorities having well designed engagement with such institutions. Many of the institutions, public and private located in council areas hold important resources that could facilitate human development in such area and enhance greater growth. Local Government Councils need to show more interest in studies being conducted by educational institutions and research centres located in their area. What collaborative efforts could take place to provide environment-specific trainings could be explored. Many companies located in some of the local government areas no doubt employ some staff from such locations. The question however is what quality of staff, at what level are they located in the organisations, and what is responsible for the non-employment of local people in such places. Where there are deficiencies in skills and knowledge, what efforts are being made to address these challenges? It is also important that local governments begin to focus on offshoot industries around major factories and corporations located in their vicinity and assist people build relevant skills and expertise to take advantage of such.

Peer Review and Support

Collaboration among local governments in the country is still limited and mostly political. It is important that for development, especially human development to occur and be sustained, more information sharing, experience contributions, peer support and reviews need to be taking place. Such structures as ALGON should not only serve political purpose but must also become relevant to the people that are governed at local level. A local council in Oyo State could benefit from projects carried out by another local government in Adamawa State, just like any from Kebbi State can benefit from and pick learning from whatever has taken place in Enugu.

The new world, the new reality

We live in a fast changing world with new knowledge emerging almost on daily basis. It is important that persons in charge of local governance tap into these opportunities. Taking advantage of technology is therefore essential for human development. The local government institutions must also be abreast of developments globally. Technology drives the new world and no part of the world is untouchable by global developments, be it social, economic and political. As the world become more and more connected, it is only the people that are quick to take advantage of such space provided that are able to make substantial progress.

Human development as a right issue

Human development is central to governance due to its affinity to right. Right in itself is guaranteed by the 1999 constitution. It is therefore important that local governments remain constantly aware that it is an obligation to focus on human development, not an optional choice based on magnanimity of an office holder. It is a duty. And the people must be involved in designs and decisions on such schemes that may be put in place as response to human development needs.

Tunde Aremu is the Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns Manager, ActionAid Nigeria

(tunde.aremu@actionaid.org)

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