1.1       Background of the Study

All over the World, various approaches and strategies have been adopted or used by governments for the purpose of governance or management of its rural areas. But there has not been any consensus on the most appropriate strategy to be adopted in the administration of the rural areas.


The problem of governance, particularly at the local level has been a recurring decimal in the political history of Nigeria. The history or genesis of local government in Nigeria can be traced back to the pre-colonial era and the formative period of large-scale kingdoms and powerful empires in the country. The existence of provincial systems, which operated in Borno and Oyo empires, as well as the Emirate system of Sokoto Caliphate “exhibited rudimentary conception of Local Administration” (Minna: 1993). In these areas, there were smaller districts, villages and wards that were subject to the Kingdom and Emirate government. These smaller or subordinate levels of government could be seen or described as local governments (Ugwu: 2000:5).


The local government system in Nigeria started during the colonial era when it was vested in traditional rulers. The basis for local government in Nigeria became the indirect Rule System. Historically, Local Government system in Nigeria, as it is today,

metamorphosed through many reforms or re-organization. From 1950, no decade passed without a major reform or re-organization of the system. The Local Government system has witnessed more reforms and reorganization when compared with the core civil service (Obas: 2000:1).

Before 1950, the Local Government was known as Native Authority or Native Administration System. According to Gboyega (1987), Local Administration system comprised of four main interdependent parts, namely:

i) The Resident, who provided direction and control;

ii) The Native Authority, usually headed by a Chief who enjoyed legitimacy under the indigenous political system;

iii) The Native Treasurer; and

iv) The Native Court.

The whole process or system was hinged on the principles of indirect rule.

The major function of Native Administration system then was the maintenance of law and order and the collection of taxes within their territory. According to Obas (2000), the Native Administration System was identified with the following strength. First, it provided organization suitable for maintaining contact with the people. Secondly, it maintained law and order successfully. Third, they provided social services such as education and dispensaries. Fourth, they preserved the long-standing tradition of the people from
collapse and decay. These virtues were highly visible in the then

Northern Nigeria where Indirect Rule succeeded more than in the


The System, however, had its shortcomings. According to

Gboyega, the foremost shortcoming was that it was

unrepresentative. Aliyu (2000) opined that the procedures adopted

were often irreconcilable with democratic norms. It did not show

total responsibility in the management of public funds and with few

exception, the system failed to attract qualified staff.

Ugwu (2003:3) put it more succinctly:

This system of indirect rule, as it was popularly known, degenerated into direct rule through indirect means because the traditional rulers became mere local agents of colonial officers. The Emirs in the North, the Obas in the West and the Warrant Chiefs in the East became Sole Native Authorities in their domains. This made them swollen headed, dictatorial and autocratic to the extent that seldom were the views of the populace sought in evolving and executing any policy or project.

According to him, avalanche of accusations were leveled

against the operators of indirect rule. Some of these allegations

include: abuse of political office, extortion, embezzlement, coercion

of labour for production and commerce and nepotism.

It was on the basis of these shortcomings that the Native

Authority System was subjected to reforms in the early 50’s. The

overriding aim was to introduce representative system of government at the local level. The reform first started in the Eastern Region and then in the Western Region in 1952 with the 1952 Western Region Local Government Law. In the Northern Region of Nigeria, the Native Administration System survived and remained strong, until the collapse of the first republic 1966, as the structural basis of local administration.

The federal system of government came into operation in 1951 with the Macpherson Constitution in which the country was divided into three regions. The multinational composition of the federation impacted on the local government system. Each of the region had its own separate system of local government reflect their regional elite perception of the appropriate pattern of decentralization of political authority. Also, the rich cultural diversity of the people grouped together in a region for administrative convenience by the colonial authorities shaped the local government system through the tiered structure which enabled the regional government to link differential levels of development of the traditional political system with the administrative organization required and the level of authority devolved to the units of local government. The regional systems of local government so established prevailed with various refinements until the collapse of the First Republic in 1966.

The overthrow of the civilian regime by the Military had severe repercussions for the local government systems which were radically changed to accommodate not only the hierarchical military
command structure but also to redress the abuses that the systems had been subjected to. They had to be re-structured to meet the aspirations of the people for greater political participation and empowerment in local government. The period of military rule from 1966 to 1975 therefore witnessed extensive experimentation with different theories and patterns of local government with quite mixed results. From the colonial era to 1975 there was no uniform system of local government in the country.

The 1976 Local Government Reforms introduced radical measures. This was a result of the failure of the various reforms adopted before. The reform established a comprehensive standardization of a system of local government within a national framework. The adoption of a common national local government system followed extensive consultations at all levels of the federal structure and among various stakeholders and experts. The reform designated local government as a third-tier of government empowered through representative councils established by law to exercise specific powers within defined areas.

Election to the Councils could be direct or indirect. Two committees, namely, Finance and General Purpose Committee and Education Committee were established. The councils exercised political authority over their departments through supervisory councilors. A unified local government service Board was set up to employ, post and discipline staff from grade level 06 and above. The

Federal Government Guidelines specified also the aims and functions of Local Government. Another major provision of the reform was that the Local Governments were given statutory allocation from the Federation Account, in order to make them financially viable.

The 1979 Constitution, which ushered in the Second Republic, further guaranteed the major provisions of the 1976 Reforms especially in the area of preserving he democratic character of the Local Government and the statutory allocation from the Federation Account. This period was a testing period for the Federal and State Governments as they contested control of Local Government policy with each other Attempts by the State to re-establish their primacy in local government policy formulation created conflict with the Federal Government but also weakened the Local Government. State Governments voided aspects of the 1976 reforms that they were displeased with and distorted these that were merely inconveniences. Such behaviour pointed the states as villains and provoked demands for a greater federal role in local government policy-making.

The re-emergence of the military on the political scene in 1984 provided the opportunity for complete take over of local government policy-making by the Federal Government. The period between 1987 and 1993 witnessed a series of sequential reforms. The Federal Government radically transformed the status of local governments in the federal system. The Federal Governments’ scheme of

decentralization deliberately and consciously focused on transferring

greater powers and resources to local governments rather than to

state governments. The devolution can be deemed to have been

made at the expense of states. This provoked negative reactions from

the states and suspicion about federal motives in promoting the

reforms. Ugwu (2000:30) observed that:

There are some shortcomings in the reforms. First, staff of the local governments were not prepared for the reforms, as there were no induction courses to familiarize them with the new system. Secondly, most local governments lacked financial base to sustain the autonomy, as many of them could not generate more than 5% – 10% of their needed money from local revenue sources.

There was too much dependence on the direct subvention from the

federal government for their financial survival (Minna, 1993:50).

When Abacha seized power in 1993, he dismissed all the

elected governments and appointed management committees.

However, the 1994 constitutional conference summoned by the

regime decided to restore state competence and control over local

governments. Thus, it granted states the exclusive power to create

new local governments. It also provided for the establishment of a

state electoral commission in each state to conduct local government

elections. According to Ugwu (2000:31) the reform provided for a

democratically elected local government, which has the duty within

the state to participate in economic planning and development of the local government area.

This was the setting before the hand over of power from he military in May, 1999 to the democratically elected civilian administration of President Obasanjo. The period between 1999 and 2003 witnessed another turbulent time for local government in Nigeria. The 1999 constitution created a lot of confusion in the running of local government administration. Firstly, the constitution promised for a democratically elected local government council but it did not make provision for the tenure of local government office holders. Secondly, the constitution in the concurrent legislative list gave the National Assembly the power to make laws with respect to election to a local government council. The same constitution also gave state Houses of Assembly the same power. The confusion created by the constitution later became a source of controversy between the National Assembly and State Governors, which became a subject of litigation at the supreme court in which the supreme court held that “no law by the National Assembly can increase or alter the tenure of elected officers of local government.

The confusion led to the setting up of a technical committee on the review of the structure of local government in Nigeria in 2003. The committee was headed by Alhaji Umar Sanda Ndayako, a traditional ruler, the Etsu Nupe. The reasons for the setting up of the committee included the non-performance or gross under

performance of the local government councils, the high cost of government, and near prohibitive costs of electioneering campaigns to individual political contestants in Nigeria and atomization and continual fragmentation of local government councils including impractical division of towns and cities into unworkable mini-local governments. Because of these fragmentation, the federal government refused to recognize all newly created local governments by state governments. Some states like Lagos and Niger were denied their monthly financial allocation from the federation Account because of this problem.

The essence of all these problems is to ensure that local government is made responsive to developmental needs of the rural people. This is because in most emerging states of the world, Nigeria inclusive, local government administration has been adopted as the main fundamental instrument for the acceleration and sustenance of rural development. So we can see from the historical review so far, that from the colonial era to date, the local government has been so recognized as a vital instrument to enhance rural development in Nigeria.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

It is not in doubt that the local government system is widely acknowledged as a viable instrument for rural transformation. The strategic importance of local government in the socio-economic and political developments of local communities is reflected in divers functions they are assigned under the schedules of various reforms

and constitution. Top among these functions are health, i.e.

Preventive health, infrastructural development, roads and drainage,

sanitation, education, etc.

Local Governments are strategically placed to carry out these

functions for two basic reasons: Firstly, their proximity to the

people. This, not only removes the physical and psychological

distance between the officials and the governed, but also helps in

articulating and aggregating their demands of the people. Secondly,

the provisions in the reforms and constitution empowered the local

government to take full responsibility for rural development within

their area of authority.

However, this has not been the case in many local government

in Nigeria, including Wushishi Local Government Area of Niger State.

Instead, the rural areas have witnessed depression, degradation,

poverty and deprivation. In most local government areas, including

Wushishi Local Government Area, the basic infrastructure, that is if

they exist, are too inadequate for any meaningful development.

According to Obiangwe:

Rural dwellers often depend on shallow wells and untreated water. The villagers, most of who are farmers work on the land from sunrise to sunset, only to produce food for the uncontrollably teaming city population.

Ugwu (2000:135) painted the picture of the situation in the

rural area this way:

In and around the villages, one readily comes across children with distended tummies and spindly legs who are found wanting of a complete diet, formal education and a technical sense of belonging.

The above statements aptly capture the situation in Wushishi Local Government Area of Niger State. It is scenario of underdevelopment, poverty and outright negligence despite the resources allocated to it.

The concern of this study is to examine the factors that have impaired or constituted constraint to the effective functioning of the local government system in the transformation or development of the rural areas.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The study is aimed at assessing the activities of Wushishi Local Government in performing its role as an instrument/agent of rural development. Specifically, the objectives of this study are to:

i) Examine the material and human resources of the local government in performing this role.

ii) Examine the effectiveness of these resources (i.e. finance, manpower, etc).

iii) Within the framework above, analyze its contribution to the development of the area.

iv) Examine the major factors that militate or stand as constraint to the local government in performing this role.
v) Recommend ways for improving the performance of the local


1.4 Significance of the Study

Among the three tiers of government in Nigeria, i.e. Federal State and Local Governments, Local Government provides the greatest scope of grassroots development. Local governments are supposed to be closer and greatly felt by the people. Its importance or relevance in transforming the rural areas and people cannot be overemphasized. Considering the fact that 70% of Nigeria populace lived in the rural areas and that the development of these areas is development of the nation as a whole. Local Governments are supposed to be agent of growth and development. As such any study of local government is equally relevant to the nation.

This study is imperative because of the confusion that trails the local government system in Nigeria. Various reforms have been undertaken by successive government of Nigeria, yet, the performance of the local government system as an agent of rural development has been that of disappointment. As the government strives to find a lasting solution to the problems of local government, the findings of the study will provide information for the government of Niger State and Nigeria as a whole so that appropriate step can be taken.

The study will also fill the gap in knowledge in the various studies carried out on local government, which emphasized on the problem of local government in relation to structural problem, resources allocation and state or federal government intervention. This study will examine the activities or operation of local government in relation to the above stated problems.

Also the study will be of great benefits to other researchers or studies on local government development, students of Development Administration and Local Government Studies, Research Institute etc.

1.5 Statement OF Hypotheses

The following hypotheses were employed for the purpose of this study:

i) That the level of performance of Wushishi Local Government Council in terms of rural development is determined by the human, financial and material resources available.

ii) That political interference by other tiers of governments is a constraint to rural development efforts of Wushishi Local Government Area.

1.6 Scope and Limitation of the Study

The study examined the role of local government as an agent of rural transformation in Nigeria, but its major focus was on Wushishi Local Government area of Niger State. The study will cover all the activities of the local government geared towards this transformation of the area for the benefit of the people from 1999 to 2003.

One of the limitations of this study is the dearth of data, especially on the revenue accruing to the local government from the Federation Account, as well as internally generated revenue in the Local Government. This might constitute a barrier in making accurate assessment of the Local Government performance.

1.7 Research Methodology



Leave a comment

Open chat
How may we assist you please?
× How can I help you?