The Local Government is the third tier of government in Nigeria and is the closest to the people. As such it is saddled with a lot of responsibilities.
To start with, the role of any government and its agencies in societies is highly essential and cannot be overemphasized.
Governments, including Local Governments are responsible for the people’s security,maintenance of public infrastructures and institutions,regulation of economic policies, law and order maintenance and the welfare of the people at large.
The government is so indispensable to the point that in the absence of any form of government in a human society,anarchy and chaos will take over.
What exactly is a Local Government? According to the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Local Government Reforms-“Local Government is the government at local level exercised through representative councils established by Law to exercise specific power within defined areas.”(Government Print:1976).
The United Nations Office for Public Administration defined a Local Government as-“A political division of a nation (in a Federal or State System) which is constituted by Law and has substantial control of local affairs including the power to impose taxes and to exact labour for prescribed purposes.”
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Each Local Government Area in Nigeria is administered by a Local Government Council which is made up of a Chairman who is the Chief Executive of the Local Government Area, and other elected members who are called Councillors.
Although the Chairman is usually elected,under special circumstances, he can be appointed by the State Government. The Chairman supervises the activities of the Local Government and presides over all Council meetings.
A Local Government Council is the center of socioeconomic planning and development in its area of authority. Currently there are 774 local government areas spread across the 36 states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As earlier stated, the Local Government is the tier of government closest to the people, therefore it is considered a most important facilitator of economic and social development especially at the grassroots.
The numerous functions of the Local Government in Nigeria are outlined thus:
1. Responsibility for basic environmental sanitation as well as other aspects of preventive health services.For instance, the environmental health officers, of which the Local Government is in charge ensure that people keep their environments tidy and safe for business and habitation.
A clean environment goes a long way in preventing disease outbreak and spread.Furthermore, every health campaigns such as polio and measles immunizations are carried out through health organs of the Local Government.
2. Administration of maternity centers, dispensaries leprosy clinics and Health centers. The various departments and facilities to effect maternity concerns, drug dispensaries and war against leprosy are usually confined in the Primary Health Centers which are the responsibilities of the Local Government.
3. Construction and maintenance of rural roads and drains apart from federal and state roads.Such roads which are the Local Government’s responsibilities are referred to as trunk C roads. However, the drainage within a Local government area are to be cleaned up by designated agents of a Local Government.
4. Jurisdiction over local inland waterways not designated as international waterways. The local government is to ensure such waterways are kept from pollution and remain environmentally sane for safe water transportation and fishing.
They should also be vigilant enough to report any illegal activity going on along such waterways to relevant authorities such as the State Government or police.
5. Rural water supply and extension of urban water supply. The local government should establish water pumping and processing stations and put in place extensive networks of water pipes to all within their area of authority.
6. Construction and maintenance of primary schools. The Local Government is charged with the responsibility of building,equipping and maintaining public primary schools in order to give many grassroot children the opportunity of primary school education.
7. Agriculture and Veterinary extension services by supplying agricultural incentives such as subsidized fertilizer, tractors for hire, modern farm implements, essential chemicals, animal feeds, as well as enlightenment on modern agricultural trends among other functions.
8. Town Planning functions to ensure people build in appropriate locations as against building in dangerous or prohibited places like drainage ways, flood prone areas, under high tension power lines, road extension areas etc;as well as to ensure standard and safe building practices among builders.
9. Care of markets,motor parks,and gardens. The local government ensures there is peace and order for smooth running of market and motor park activities. They also enforce adherence to good sanitation as well as tax and fee payment within the markets,motor parks.
10. Maintenance of Law and order especially through task forces,the civil defense corps and local vigilante groups who usually compliment the police force.
11. Afforestation functions to ensure the planting of trees and maintenance of the natural vegetation to prevent desert encroachment,soil and wind erosion and loss of the natural flora.Furthermore, the local government prevents reckless felling of trees and enforce the planting of four trees where one is cut down by lumbers.
12. Inspection of meat and abattoirs to ensure food safety and best practices at processing and handling of meat which ultimately prevent meat contamination thus averting food poisoning. This will ensure the general well being of the community,state,nation and the world at large.
13. Nursery,primary and adult education. The local government build,maintains and equip such facilities thus promoting its populace enlightenment. Adults in need of basic formal education can enroll in adult schools established by the local government to catch up with whatever they missed out during their childhood and teenage days.
14. Information and Public enlightenment such as disseminating information in times of epidemic or disease outbreak and during immunization programmes to ensure everyone benefits maximally. Being closest to the people,the local government will reach out to the people of the grassroots effectively and in good time.
15. Giving out scholarships and bursaries: The local government ensures access to scholarships and bursaries for qualified and bona fide pupils and students within their jurisdiction.
16. Establishing, equipping and maintaining public libraries and reading rooms.
17. Fire Services: The local government is also saddled with the responsibility of establishing,equipping and maintaining a functional and effective fire service with a quick response to arrest fire outbreak anytime and any where within their area of authority.
18. Lighting and drainage: They are to create and extend networks of electric wires,transformers and gutters for new and existing settlements in their area of authority through relevant agencies.
19. Support for arts and culture:
20. Control of pollution by ensuring good waste management system.
21. Establishing,maintaining, equipping and supporting orphanages,homes of destitutes and people with infirmities.
22. Control of beggars and prostitution.Beggars and prostitutes are usually kept in check through task forces raised by the Local Government.
23. Providing and maintaining public utilities like public toilets,water system,refuse incinerators, as well as road and water transport.
24. Public Housing Programmes: The local government is also saddled with the responsibility of providing affordable housing systems both for house ownership and affordable renting to ease the accommodation challenges of the people.
25. Regulation and control of buildings.
26. Operations of commercial undertakings.
27. Control of traffic and parking: The local government is to employ a traffic warnings for good traffic management and also create good parking lots and spaces for vehicles in their area of authority.
28. Provision of pipe sewerage systems: This is to ensure safe disposal of human excreta. This prevents cholera, dysentery and other related disease outbreak.
29. Collection of rate,radio and television licenses.
30. Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries and burial grounds.
31. Licensing of bicycles, trucks (apart from auto-driven trucks),canoes,wheel barrows and carts.
32. Establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and Public conveniences.
33. Naming of streets and roads as well as house numbering.
34. Marriages, births and deaths registration and issuance of the relevant certificates.
35. Assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying rates as may be prescribed by a state House of Assembly
36. Control and regulation of :-
A. Out-door advertising and hoarding;
B. Licensing of sale of alcoholic drinks;
C. Shops and kiosks;
D. Restaurants,bakeries and other outlets for selling food to members of the public, and
E. Movement and keeping of pets of all description.
36. The secretariat of a Local Government usually serve as points of National and State identification card registration and collection.
37. The Local Government also issues Local government of origin certificates to citizens who hail from such a Local government area.
At this point,it is noteworthy to summarize the functions of the Local Government Councils who in conjunction with the Local Government Chairman are drivers of Local Government affairs. Councils are made up of members, called Councillors, who together are representatives of the people of their localities.
They are directly elected to represent the interests of their various peoples and therefore have to take into consideration not just the interests of their own local electorates,but those of the various people throughout the whole Local Government area in order to create a continuous harmonious balance in the Local environment.
However,members of the Council have complex roles and must function in different number of capacities:as committee members,constituency representatives and party activists.
Furthermore, these Councillors have personal, individual and collaborative responsibilities for their council’s activities. In addition, as members of political groups or as independents, they will express political values and support the policies of the political parties of which they are members.
We therefore will be correct to conclude that individual Councillors do not possess the authority to make decisions on behalf of the entire Local Government Council.
Councillors who are committee chairs or portfolio holders have more specialized roles in promoting specific policies representing the Local council while simultaneously working with other agencies to surmount challenges such as housing, social services, education, the environment and transport.
It is very important to state that each Local Government Council is unique and each Councillor,whether of a town,parish,district or county council, will perform a slightly different role.
With such responsibilities on the shoulders of a Local government, it is certain that the Local council handles such a serious business. However, further duties of the Local Government Authorities is to foster grass root support and participation in the general system of governance-at the State and Federal level.
Sadly,a trend in Nigeria over the course of time since the establishment of the Local Government Areas is that State Governments have taken over some roles which were supposed to be that of the Local Governments.Such a trend should be reversed for effective governance.
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Moreover a Local Government only receives what a governor decides to disburse to it thus,they are limited financially in performing their roles effectively.
Currently there is a push for more powers to be given to the Local Governments and also for them to get their allocations directly from the Federal Government and no longer through the State Governments.
If such is granted by the National Assembly and supported by majority of the States Houses of Assembly,then the Local Government can really perform optimally and truly live up to its responsibilities.
The local government in Nigeria should therefore become really equipped and empowered and also held accountable in delivering good governance to the grassroots people of Nigeria.
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