THE EVOLUTION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION IN NIGERIA
Let me start by stating the fact that our local government system is a product of endless manipulations over virtually a whole century. Indeed at the beginning, it was no more than a fraudulent contraption resulting from the British conspiracy to subjugate hitherto independent ethnic communities to emirate rulerships for the purpose of implementing their infamous colonial Indirect Rule policy. It is therefore obvious that since the very purpose for which the Local Government system was designed has changed, the philosophical basis of its existence also needs some thorough re-thinking.
I must confess that it is impossible for me to do justice to this topic within so short a time of discussion. This is because, to satisfy the intent and purposes of the topic, we have to proffer answers to three elementary questions:[a] Where have we come from? [b] Where are we? [c] Where are we heading to?
The questions may sound pedestrian. But it is a painful fact that we have already been 40 years in the wilderness. We cannot, therefore, understand the true nature of the Nigerian Local Government system without coming to grips with the answers to these questions. Of course, the alternative is for us to remain the ignorant operators of a strange structure; with the inescapable consequence of continuing to roam the wilderness without a compass.
For this reason, this short paper will take a cursory look at the pre-colonial, colonial and post-independence picture of grassroots governance in the present Nigerian territory and conclude with suggested steps towards a more appropriate environment for the future.
- THE PRE-COLONIAL ENVIRONMENT
To begin with, we must remind ourselves of the obvious fact that there was no nation or country known as “Nigeria” before the advent of British colonialism. Indeed it was the wife of the first colonial governor-general of the protectorate that first named the territorial domain under his control as Nigeria. This Christening act came at the point when the British had decided to “amalgamate” their Southern and Northern Protectorates into one, with him, Sir Frederick Lugard, as the governor-general. What then was the situation before British colonialism?
A quick reference to historical facts would reveal that at least two forms of communal governance existed before colonialism. Political sociologists and anthropologists who did an early study of the people of the area had classified them as the state and the non-state systems.
- The State Systems
In time and space, the geographical territory now comprising Nigeria has witnessed the rise and fall of several political communities which existed as independent states, kingdoms, and empires. As it is not our intention to narrate any details of historical findings here, we only need to go down the memory lane to recall that, several centuries before colonialism, there arose and waned the following indigenous political systems:
(b) State Systems:
(i) The Rausa States
(Kano, Katsina, Daura Zazzau, Rano Gobir, Zamfara are usually named as the original seven)
(ii) The Delta Trading States
(iii) The Yoruba States (i.e. Post Katunga states of Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu, Modakeke, etc)
( c ) Empires:
(i) The Songhai Empire (extension of)
(ii) The Kanem – Borno Empire
(iii) The Oyo Empire
(iv) The Fulani Empire
By kingdoms, we refer to centralised traditional rulership systems based on inherited authority vested on an ancestral lineage over an invariably homogenous community. In such a system political, administrative, military and even religious functions were fused in and radiated from the central monarch. Because such fused and centralized power corrupts absolutely, the ruler invariably assumed a dictatorial posture and even got elevated to the position of a Deity.
Kingdoms became empires when they were able to extend and impose their political authority over their surrounding non-indigenous neighbours. This was, almost invariably, achieved through wars. However, weaker neighbours were also brought into subjugation through “amicable” treaties of protection when, rather than be humiliated on the battle field, such “sensible” neighbours would gracefully accept the subordinate status of tribute-paying Protectorates by negotiation.
Ordinary State systems arise in a situation where several culturally similar and contiguous communities develop into separate kingdoms, independent from each other. Leadership here is based on hegemony, a more or less benign (if not democratic) authority structure in which the king depends more on the consensus opinions of his subjects rather than absolute dictatorial powers. The co-existing states may, however, see themselves as neighbouring rivals.
- The Non-State Systems
Always interspersed between or within the centralized state systems were communities with distinct ethnic identities but which the state systems were not able to incorporate or subjugate. Those were the systems which anthropologists referred to as the segmented communities. They were classified as non-state political units. Non-state because, unlike their state, kingdom or imperial prototypes, they had no central authority systems or single commanding personalities like kings or emperors.
The most potent political authority in these types was the head of the family compound. Family compounds may be grouped into villages or village-areas under a benign leadership of a lineal patriarch. The patriarch may himself be the oldest male in the lineage pedigree or a religious priest who interprets oracles from a community deity.
The following communities are usually referred to as typifying the advanced proto-types of this category:
(i) The Igbo nationality
(ii) The Tiv nationality
(iii) The “Minority” ethnic groups of the Middle-Belt cultural region and those of the South-South zone.
In all of these political systems, it is only the empires and, to some extent, the kingdoms that manifested any form of subordinate territorial sub-divisions that can be referred to as local government. There, provincial holdings were ran as fiefdoms by absentee title bearers. Absentee because they were, by rule, required to reside at the centre to be supervised by the central authority through daily homage to the supreme ruler. Regimental administrative system, you might say.
Supervision at arm’s-length basis were, however, granted to communities voluntarily subjugated as protectorates. All the same, some representatives of the central authority were required to reside in the protectorates to provide “technical” advise to the native rulers on behalf of the centre.
- THE POST-JIHAD AND COLONIAL ENVIRONMENTS
The fore-going represents a bird’s eye-view picture of the political set-up in and around the territory which became Nigeria before the Fulani jihad of the early 19th century. The Fulani jihad was a complicated and multiple coup d’état that was long in the making. It was a culmination of a long-standing clerical, administrative and diplomatic influence which Fulani Muslim elite had wielded in the courts of native rulers of this part of West Africa. The Fulani were not responsible for introducing Islam into the Nigerian territory.
In fact it is on record that Islam was already being practiced as court religion in Kanem-Borno and in virtually all the courts of the Hausa states. As a matter of fact, the Fulani did not even arrive the territory as Muslims. They were animists who migrated into the region as nomadic pastoralists. However since the rise of the Songhai empire in the western Sudan, those of them who happened to have lost their cattle quickly took to Islam and settled down as squatters around the capital cities of their native hosts. They avidly took to Islamic scholarship and, for a living, they offered clerical services in the courts of rulers of their hosts. Soon, they were to take advantage of their literacy, Islamic scholarship and territorial linkages with the diaspora by further serving the courts as administrative and diplomatic staff.
Since the Fulani clerics successfully plotted and changed the course of the Songhai empire (through the palace coup that overthrew Emperor Sunni Ali’s successor son, Abu Bakr Dao, and ushered Askia Mohammed to power), however, their capacity for power intrigues knew no limits. This culminated in the Dan Fodio led jihad that overthrew virtually all their host native governments in the centralized state systems of the Northern Nigerian environment. In their place, the leaders of the Fulani squatters around every native administrative headquarters were given flags of authority to proclaim emirate status over each of their hosts’ domains. The Fulani Empire was born!
From political perspectives, there are two factors that need to be noted about the rise of this empire: Firstly, though the empire was brought into being in the name of Islam, the proselytisation aspect stopped as soon as each emirate became well established and stabilised. In fact in some places, like the Gongola sub-region, the natives were deliberately denied access to Islam because it paid to keep them under the rule of the Dhimma, a unilaterally imposed treaty of subjugation as tribute-paying protectorates. By that arrangement, slave-raiding wars could be waged on the dhimmi at will. As a matter of fact, they were considered to be more or less hunting game reserves. But exposing them to Islam would have brought these habe communities to the state of equality with the Fulani under the Sharia and, therefore, protected from irrational exploitation and oppression.
Any wonder that the ethnic nationalities of the Adamawa area, like their other Middlebeltan counter-parts, remained animists until the advent of European and American missionaries who came to proselytize the so-called “pagan tribes” into Christianity? Secondly, on the arrival of the European missionaries, Christianity was very enthusiastically received. For, no time, the religion rapidly spread (like a wild fire on a savannah dry grass) across all ethnic towns and villages of the so-called pagan communities which the missionaries could reach. This happened not only in the Gongola sub-region but also among the whole of the segmented (meaning disconnected from each other and centrally uncoordinated, un-mobilised) minority ethnic groups of the entire cultural Middlebelt. This belies the claim that the pagan tribes were anti-religion. Rather, the oppressive attitudes of Fulani rulers seemed to have portrayed Islam as a religion of oppression, injustice, slave raids, and ruinous plunder of ethnic settlements. This was because the Fulani rulers, desirous to seclude the ethnic communities as game reserve to plunder at will, not only mounted a road block to Islam, but in the process, painted and presented the religion as an embodiment of evil from which the natives must run away. And ran away they did!
Indeed the situation was such that until very recently, any native who became a Muslim was avoided and shunned by his kindred like a small-pox patient.
Imagine this agricultural joke which my people used to play at home: it is about keeping monkeys off the farm crops. Monkeys in the wild see humans as enemies. Hence, to keep them off the farm a monkey is captured live. He is then dressed like a human being. When he is let off free to rejoin his flock, the whole of his kindred take to their feet because they now reckon him as an evil agent of the enemy. In the process, he chases them on and on into the depth of the wilderness and away from the farms. That was how a native who become a Muslim was shunned until lately.
Thus, the blame for the lack of spread of Islam in the Middle-Belt lies very squarely on the neck of the greedy and oppressive Fulani leaders. But it was their set up that the British inherited and incorporated into the colonial administrative structure by the policy of Indirect Rule.
Herein lies the problem: if, as Lugard declared, one of the objectives of British colonialism was to reform away the “Evil elements in the system of government in the emirates,” did Indirect Rule represent the ideal form of local government? And if later, as the 1947 colonial secretary said, the British Government’s intention was to introduce the modern form of truly democratic Local Government system into the colonies, did the persistence of Indirect Rule in the North represent true democratization?
The post-independence military reforms suggest that all along, the answers to these questions were in the negative. This is because the net effect of indirect rule was not only to forcefully subjugate the hitherto independent minorities to the sovereignty of the emirate rulership of the North but also to systematically dismantle the political structures of those ethnic groups in favour of emirate controls through the Provincial Administration system. This was the time when the emirate powers really went for their pound of flesh from the hitherto independent intervening ethnic sovereignties. For, in the name of Indirect Rule, the emirs either posted their own Fulani relations to native areas as new rulers or, where fierce native resistance would prevent this, they selected their own native cronies, Islamize them and got them imposed on their respective communities as surrogate rulers. They then armed the surrogates with the vicious NA police, N.A. courts and NA prison powers against any possibility of internal resistance or uprisings,
The efficacy of this British-backed Fulani incorporation policy made it necessary for local native rulers (pagan or Christian) to convert to Islam even against their will in order to retain their ancestral traditional rulership stools! Alas this only reinforced the image of both Islam and the Fulani rulers as representing injustice and evil. More so as the hitherto fiercely independence loving ethnic nationalities of the segmented non-state communities were now subjugated under the central regimentation of emirate rulership. For it is noteworthy that such ethnic nationalities would (like the Koma people of Adamawa State), rather retreat to the hills to dwell in mountain garrison settlements than lose their cherished independence to any other nationality, until the British came with their superior gun powers and the native police system.
III. THE SOCIO-POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
The negative implications of this profile of the Fulani leadership to our present day inter-communal relationships and co-existence may be summarised as follows:
- a) Unlike those of the justice-seeking Kwararrafa and other state-builders in Nigerian history, the Muslim Fulani leadership portrayed the Fulani ethnic nationality in bad light as a selfish, racist and unjust people. To me, this erroneous notion about the Fulani, as a people, is not only wrong but also a most damaging legacy imposed upon a whole people by the reckless greed of a fascist group of rulers connected to that nationality only by ancestral roots. For, it is tantamount to generalizing that all Germans are fascists because Hitler and his lieutenants in the Nazi Government of Germany were Germans! People who know the accommodating, even timid and peace-loving nature of the ordinary Fulani of the talakawa class will bear this out as true.
- b) The Fulani leaders’ fascist adventure into politics as empire-builders in the name of Islam, in combination with the foregoing bad image, also gave that religion a bad name in the Nigerian Middlebeltan territory.
- c) The continuation of this group, with even more coercive powers, as surrogates of British colonialism further bred and reinforced a culture of inter-ethnic distrust, tension and crises among our communities.
It is only fair to comment here, however, that in his deep political sagacity, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was able to get a penetrating understanding of the poor socio-political picture that Middlebeltan minorities had of both the Hausa-Fulani and Islam (rolled into one), because of the injustices they suffered in the hands of emirate rulers. For this reason, he endeavoured to forge a new political relationship that would recast the image in a better light for the sake of both his ruling party, the Northern People Congress (NPC) and his efforts to carry the peoples of the North together. Unfortunately, it was almost too late. For even though hindsight such as this may attempt to cast him as a just and integrationist statesman, the leadership he left behind would rather re-inforce the ills he was repairing than imbibe the spirit and culture of fair play and social justice. Sultan Abubakar III might indeed be right that Hali Zanen Datse!
- THE MILITARY RE-ORGANISATIONS AND REFORMS
It has been indicated above, that in the North, it was the resultant administrative and political structure engendered by the Fulani imperial scaffold that was used as the N. A. system in tune with the policy of Indirect Rule. Here, the emir was first designated as the Sole Native Authority. Later, a nominated but weak council was added to make the N. A. system a Chief- and- Council set up. This later gave way to a Chief-in-Council arrangement where elected representatives were introduced. But even in this situation, candidates for election into the N. A. councils could only be allowed to contest at the pleasure of the emirs. The emirs thus became armed to the teeth with powers which tradition never granted them.
Attempts were also made to replicate the system in the Southern part of the country. While the attempt was partially successful in the South West, however, it was a total failure in the Igbo south-east. This was for want of indigenous rulerships with centralized authority system similar to those of the Hausa-Fulani emirates of the North or the limited Yoruba Obaship institutions of the Southwest. An attempt to replicate similitude of these by appointing and imposing “warrant chiefs” failed as they couldn’t fit into the Igbo political sociology.
It is thus not surprising that the first move to reform the so-called Nigerian NA system in favour of modernization started from the South; following the historic dispatch from the British Colonial Secretary to this effect in 1947. Hence, in both the Eastern and Western Regions, the NA system was dropped in favour of directly representative local government.
The Gowon Reorganizations
The most significant nation-wide approach to local government reforms, however, took place during military administrations. This began during the Gowon era when, between 1968 and 1970, each of the 12 states then in existence set up committees to study proposals for the reform of their local government systems. The resultant policies that emanated from these reports produced a variegated approach to LG Reforms. Four of the most significant common outcomes of the reforms, however, stand out as the obvious reasons why the Federal Military Government instructed the state governments to embark on the reforms. Among other things, the Gowon reforms led to:
- a) The breakup of the territorially large LG units into smaller administrative areas
- b) The renaming of Native Administrations as Local Authorities or Local Government Administration in some Northern States
- c) Transfer of LG functions to the central (state) governments
- d) The divestment of emirs of their NA powers (Police, Court, Prison, Taxation, etc.).
For these reasons, it is apt to conclude that the military government was mainly interested in making Transitional Reorganisations or preparing the ground by which they could bypass any resistance to foreseen future reforms by the affected traditional rulers.
The 1976 Reform
The 1976 reforms which ushered in a uniform LG system proved this to be true. For not only did the reform prescribe a mini-max population qualification size (of 150,000 to 800,000) for local governments but also imposed common terminologies, structures, functions and staff grades. It also ensured, for the first time, that traditional rulers would not be involved in the administration of local government affairs and futuristically banned them from participation in politics to ensure free and fair popular representations. For the Emirs, the 1976 reforms certainly came as a coup de Grace.
The Post-1976 Reforms
Rather than concentrate on perfecting the gains of the 1976 LG reforms, however, what happened (and is still happening) thereafter can best be described as the bastardisation of the noble intentions behind that reform. The 1976 reform saw the Local Government as a genuine Third Tier of government. A Third Tier structure in a federal set up is a completely self-sustaining economic and sociopolitical, quasi-sovereign, unit with devolved governmental powers. As such, a minimum population size of 150,000 to 800,000 was prescribed. But no sooner did the country return to civil rule than the proliferation of council areas of doubtful viability and grossly sub-standard sizes began. By the demise of the Second Republic, as many as 603 LGAs had been created nation-wide.
The return of the military, when General Muhammadu Buhari struck in 1983, attempted to reverse the trend by abolishing all the LGAs created after 1976. But it was a short-lived effort as the Ibrahim Babangida Military Government reopened the flood-gate when, twice within his administration, he blew up the number of LGAs in the country from 304 to over 600! The Abacha reorganisations later increased the number to as many as 774 units as of today.
From the foregoing, the evolution of Local Government in Nigeria can briefly be summarized as consisting the following major shifts in form and character:
- a) The shift of emphasis from the position where the Traditional ruler (emir, oba, warrant chief) was the Sole Native Authority to a situation where he had to operate first as Chief – and – Council, then Chief-in-Council.
- b) The transitional reform strategy by which the intervening powerful Emirate/Divisional Administration areas were first broken down into smaller Development Areas (or, as other states had it, Administrative Council Areas, Development Areas, etc.) under the direct supervision of Divisional Officers (DO) who were posted from state cabinet offices.
- c) The formal leap from Development Area status to representative Local Government Council status as provided for by the 1976 Reform.
- d) The restless flux in the life and fortunes of Local Government as it experienced further fissiparous re-organisations between 1980 and 1996, with the attendant reductions in size and viability of council areas.
In all but the 1976 exercise, however, the reforms were more or less mere Administrative decentralization by territorial areas since, in each case, local government was reduced to mere field units of central Government.
- WHICH WAY FORWARD?
If the term Evolution is to be understood as the movement from the state of infancy to that of maturity and perfection, Local Government, in Nigeria, can be said to have suffered more of reverses and uncertainties of direction right from since the half-hearted attempts of the British colonial powers to introduce the idea (of local government) as a structure of governance at the grassroots. This has rendered it a midget of sorts.
What is certain at the moment is that the idea of that structure serving as a Third Tier has caught on. But some more constitutional and administrative reforms need to be carried out for it to operate as a truly democratic and modern structure of governance at the grassroots. The reform, when honestly effected, should reposition Local Governments as:
- a) The first stage for the practice of intra/inter-communal equity and social justice.
- b) The real base for effective service provision to the real public at the personal level.
- c) The real base for implanting and operating the foundation programmes of national development and social well-being of citizens:
- Primary Education
- Primary Health
- Primary infrastructure
- National civic registration
- National security identification/surveillance
- National food security
- National justice delivery (would minimise court congestions at higher courts of record).
For these to be effective and rational, however, the reform must also be very definitive on two burning issues:
- a) Who owns the Baby, is it under the Federal or State Government jurisdiction?
- b) What is the real status of local government within the Nigerian Federation, a quasi-sovereign or an infra-sovereign unit? In other words, is it of “equal and co-ordinate” status vis-à-vis the other tiers? If quasi-sovereign, what is the constitutional position of a Legislative Council and the “laws” it makes?