Speech on the Future of Local Governance in Nigeria
the The death has just occurred of Professor Alex Gboyega, retired professor of political science at the University of Ibadan. This is the latest in a string of deaths of prominent Nigerians that have eclipsed the month of January 2022. In our relational and intersecting webs of meaning, the shocking news of the deaths hits us on different levels the same way we interact on different levels with those around us. I am connected with the late professor on many levels, personal and intellectual. Prior to hearing of his shocking death, I had been involved in the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies’ decision to invite him as a guest lecturer on the Executive Course (SEC) 44 in preparation for its 2022 theme on local governance, Professor. The strong point of Gboyega. He apologized for not being able to attend as he had just had surgery and was due to recover. I later saw a few hours after that engagement the social media news he had passed on
Alex Gboyega, alongside Ladipo Adamolekun, hailed from the former University of Ife Academic-Practitioner Engagement Framework, which was the foundation of the practice created for the Western Region Civil Service led by Chef Simeon Adebo. And this model of engagement required that serious consideration be given to recruiting in a way that adds to the functionality of the institute of administration as a complement to the practice of public administration in the civil service. So, to bring the model to life, Prof. Gboyega hired my late uncle, Chief Alfred Olaopa, and Chief Augustus Adebayo, to teach courses in local government. Chief Augustus will later teach me public administration at the University of Ibadan. So, in a fundamental way, my fascination with the scholar-practitioner engagement model started from my critical observation of the dynamics of which Professor Gboyega was an important part.
Much more fundamental to Professor Gboyega’s legacy is the idea of local government and governance that he started running with from the start of his fellowship. His specialization overlapped with local governance, public administration and indigenous political institutions. These thematic concerns tell a cohesive and meaningful story about Professor Gboyega’s research portfolio that speaks to the heart of Nigeria’s postcolonial and democratic malaise. Since its independence, Nigeria has been faced with the challenge of governing a state composed of plural voters. Or, to put it another way, the challenge is to deploy the federal framework as the most formidable structure within which Nigeria could achieve national integration and development. As early as 1981, Gboyega, in Intergovernmental Relations in Nigeria: Local Government and the 1979 Nigerian Constitution, was already fascinated by the high positioning of local government that the 1979 Constitution took from Dasuki’s local government reform in 1976. In a 1991 essay, “Protecting Local Governments from Arbitrary State and Federal Interference: What Prospects for the 1990s?” Gboyega was already beginning to harbor doubts about the possibility of limiting state and federal interference with the autonomy of local communities, the number of which was fixed at 453 by the 1989 Constitution. concepts of democracy and development in the management of local governance.
Unlike the 1976 local government reform enshrined in the 1979 Constitution, the current state of local government and local governance has become dismal. And all the more so since the Nigerian democratic experiment began in 1999 without the addition of local governance and its distinctive elements, from subsidiarity to social capital. Apart from the delineation of functions in the executive, concurrent and residual which leaves the local government devoid of functional responsibilities, the states of Nigeria cast their shadow over their respective local government. For example, despite the number of constitutional sources of revenue generation and collection, the fiscal bases of local governments are regularly eroded by state encroachment. Thus, the erosion of local government autonomy has become fundamental to the issue of federalism and the survival of democratic governance in Nigeria.
It has become axiomatic that local governance is fundamental to consolidating and maintaining democracy everywhere. Local governance facilitates the grassroots participation of the people who are the most fundamental factor of governance. Indeed, local governments provide the framework for testing the transparency and responsiveness of government institutions. This is where the concepts of subsidiarity and social capital become fundamental to understanding local governance. The principle of subsidiarity aims to undermine the centralizing dynamic at work in the imbalance of the Nigerian federal constitution. Subsidiarity insists that whatever issues may be dealt with locally and locally, they should not, in fact, be centralized outside these contexts. As a democratic principle, subsidiarity becomes an imperative for local participation in governance issues. As a development initiative, it solves three fundamental problems of governance: (i) it facilitates the appropriation of development ideas and paradigms; (ii) it facilitates the instigation of autonomy through the deployment of local ideas and innovations; and (iii) it allows for a bottom-up governance approach that, in the long term, helps the government itself increase its legitimacy quotient in the eyes of the people.
Indeed, in the context of local governance, the idea of subsidiarity consistently attaches to that of social capital as a framework for making local governance and grassroots indigenous institutions work for the well-being of populations. Social capital is based on the importance and roles of networks, communities, collaborations, connections and reciprocal values that arise from their interconnection and function. Social capital consists of the values and benefits generated by the cooperative efforts of people in all institutional settings. Thus, once subsidiarity is taken for granted as a constitutional principle, the dynamics of social capital are activated by facilitating the many networks, communities and collaborations for active community mobilization for development. Unfortunately, the functionality of local institutions and different networks has been stifled by the suffocation of local authorities by a constitution that disdains decentralization as a development dynamic. Political control of local government by states, in particular, robs local governance of its many potentials even as citizens’ expectations of local governments and democratic governance are rising.
If democracy needs the grassroots to survive, then it is imperative to link community organizations to the sustainability of local government for this level of government to be truly developmental. Indeed, community-based organizations have served as the basis for dynamic self-help, service delivery and a coping mechanism to meet people’s expectations far beyond the capacities and capacities of the state system. People are now accustomed to basing their security networks in the form of vigilante and neighborhood watch groups; maintain their roads; and initiate economic empowerment. Historically, for example, the esusu microfinance scheme has become a hallmark of modern financial aid. The danger is that usually, especially in the context of the Nigerian state, people’s search for a sense of grassroots development is beyond the reach of the state; as a concrete representation of the collective rejection of the state by the people.
Gboyega’s passing, along with the importance of his research on local government, poignantly highlights, more than ever before, the urgent need for a paradigm shift in a grassroots-driven, community-sanctioned governance initiative. Constitution that has the capacity to transform the enormous wealth and networks of rural areas and local communities into poles of development. This is where the Optimal Communities Project (OPTICOM) of Professors Ojetunji Aboyade and Akin Mabogunje in Aawe in Afijio LGA of Oyo State resurfaces as a re-profiling strategy that constructs rural infrastructure as models of development of local governance. As Gboyega has adequately and stridently pointed out, bringing local government back into the framework of democratic governance is a constitutional matter. Indeed, it constitutes a fundamental dimension of what restructuring represents. Rethinking the place of local authorities in the constitutional system of intergovernmental relations is reflected in the desire to place the people at the center of democratic development in Nigeria. National development has consistently failed because development strategies of various hues have been imposed on local communities who have no reason to own them or do anything meaningful with them to improve their well-being. Stemming from global ideological deals, Nigeria has become captive to, say, the Washington Consensus which insists that development must be imposed on unhappy citizens who have no say in the matter of their own betterment. Thus, while local governments are constitutionally emasculated from within, local governance is ideologically strangled from without. It is no wonder that since independence, Nigeria has been searching not only for a development plan, but also for an institutional reform framework to achieve national integration.
Activating local government is also a political reform initiative. The constitutional issue on local government would be strengthened by rigorous attention to policy embedded in the Local Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (LEEDS). This policy opens local communities to socio-economic growth through the participation of government, non-governmental agencies and civil society. By strengthening the institutional framework to make local governance work as a democratic imperative, democracy itself becomes the first beneficiary since it allows not only the emergence of better quality candidates for local office but also the active participation of citizens. to electoral issues which would then have become for them an important complement to development issues. On the one hand, local governments can be incentivized by awarding grants through periodic ranking of LGAs based on stakeholder-validated service standards that are published and celebrated. And secondly, and correlatively, it generates the basis for calibrating frameworks to align self-help programs such as neighborhood watch, waste collection, water supply, sanitation, etc Partnership.
Olaopa is a retired professor of public administration at NIPSS, Kuru, Plateau State
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