Local Government Autonomy and Grass Root Development

Local Government Autonomy and Grass Root Development (A Case  of Nsukka Local Government of Enugu State)

The literature is reviewed under the following sub-headings; Local Government and Local Government Autonomy, indices for measuring Local Government Autonomy, the guest for Local Government Autonomy and the 1976 Local Government Reform, Grass root development, challenges to full Local Government Autonomy, summary of the literature review.


Ugwu (2000) defined Local Government as government created for the purpose of efficient and effective administration of the localities.

Ogbuka (1993) opined that Local Government is an institution of government through which local people manage local affairs under a law made for that reason by the central government.

Orewa (1991) according to him, he saw Local Government “as the lower of administration to whose law and regulation, the communities who live social and political live are subject. The 1976 Local Government reform conceived Local Government “as government at the local level exercised through representative council established by law to exercise specific powers within defined areas”.

With reference to the subject under review, and in the view of the defunct centre for democratic studies, “Local Government Autonomy refers to the relative discretion which Local Governments enjoy in regulating their own affairs”. By extension, this means the extent to which Local Governments are free from the control of the state and federal governments in the management of local affairs.

Nwabueze (1983) defines autonomy under a federal system to mean that “each government enjoys a separate existence and independence from the control of the other government”. According to him, it is an autonomy which requires not just the legal and physical existence of an apparatus government like the legislative body or court etc but that each government must exist not as an appendages of another government but as autonomous existence.

Ogunna (2000) in his view argues that Local Government autonomy refers to the freedom of the Local Government to recruit and manage it’s staff, raise and manage it’s finances, make law, policies and provide service within the limit of it’s resources and functions without interference. To Ogunna, Local Governments must possess the power to take decision independently of external control within the limits laid down by the law and must have efficient resources particularly of finance to meet their responsibilities.

Okoli (2000) emphasis that for a Local Government to be autonomous, “the people under it must be in a position to elect their functionaries freely and fairly, participate fully in the decisions affecting their lives, intake, and execrate projects and programmes they been desirable for the improvement of their living condition”. Adding that Local Government in this respect, is a local democracy.

In view of these conceptual definitions and interpretation of the term, Local Government is perceived as local self-government or grass root democracy.


Local Government cannot be completely autonomous considering the basic factors that can sustain the autonomy of Local Government which involves: political, Administrative and financial independence.

According to Omoriyi (1993) opined that one of the important factors that determine political autonomy is the extent to which political organization and procedures exist independently.  This to him and with reference to the Local Government as a political entity refers to the survivability of their structure and the integrity of their procedures of functioning.

The other factor, which is administrative, refers to decisional autonomy, that is, the extent to which, following appropriate procedures, the Local Government can make decisions for themselves. To this, decisional autonomy could be measured through the relative integrity of the leadership of the Local Government and their independence from un-wanted interference in the performance of their duties. Also, this decisional autonomy could equally be measured on the basis of their decisional capability which refers to the extent to which the Local Government can implement and or execute their decisions.

The financial autonomy was envisaged in the 1976 Local Government reform which recommended statutory revenue to the Local Government by both the Federal and State Government. It is on record that statutory allocations to Local Government have grown progressively since 1976 Local Government reform and now constitute their major source of finance.


The struggle for Local Government Autonomy in Nigeria has been a recurring issue. It is as old as the history of Nigeria colonial state. Local government is a creation of British colonial rule in Nigeria. Between 1930s and 1940s Local Government was known as chief-in-council and chief-and-council where traditional rulers were given pride of place in the scheme of things. The 1950s experienced various reforms. Election was introduced according to the British model, in the Western and Eastern parts of the country with some measure of autonomy in personnel, financial and general administration (Nwabueze 1982), but this period of 1950s, the Northern did not change to this modern parts of the country with some measure of autonomy in personnel, financial and general administration (Nwabueze 1982), but this period of 1950s, the Northern did not change to this modern type a Local Government that has shown in the East and West.

However, Regions still maintain strong grip of the control of the Local Government for varying political reasons. This master-servant relationship did not change for better until the 1976 Local Government reform by the military government. This 1976 Local Government reform was not only important and desirable, but it was a crucial element in the political programme of the federal government under general Olusegun Obasanjo as the head of state in 1976. This reform were the federal government’s response to the recommendations of the Udoji public service review commission in 1975. The aim of the reforms was to make the Local Government more effective in their primary role of bringing development to the grass root. The reform established a multi-purpose single tier system throughout the country, with the same structure and function Local Government was recognized as a third tier of government within the federal structure. The Local Government reform of 1976 was intended to stimulate democratic self government and to encourage initiative and leadership potentials, as well as the mobilization of the human and material resources for local development.


The World Bank (1975) opined that Grass root development is a strategy designed to improve the economic and social conditions of a specific group of people (that is the local dwellers). It involves extending the benefit of development to the poorest among those seeking a lively hood in the local areas.

According to Aroh (2002)grass root development is broad based as it represent a set of policies or goals appropriate targeting. It must concern the enhancement of the well being of the grass root populace. Where 75% of the entire population resides.

Williams (1973) in his Article “The World Bank and the peasant problem said that the grass root sector as a whole has lagged behind the rest for economic development. to him, the low price paid by urban buyers for farm product has marked effect on agricultural development which is the major sources for local people. He added that “The heart of development in our country is the question on how the economy of the Town and grass root sector can grow in harmony”

Okeke (1989) in his Article “The Role of Agriculture in Rural development in Nigeria “said that the major problem of Nigeria and indeed all developing countries is rural development, which he believed is a gradual process. He emphasized that structural development cum social infrastructure like market, health centres town halls, churches etc can only lead to rural development if they provide the supportive service to agricultural development.

In the words of Abubalcar (1993), Local Government in Nigeria has long been recognized as a veritable  agent of grass root development, mobilization of community based human and materials resources, and organization of a wide variety of local aspirations.


        Generally, some States still insist on maintaining a dubious control over the financial administration of the Local Government.

The State Government, through the State-joint Local Government Account share statutory allocation of public revenue among the Local Government under them and the States are also empowered to determine the distribution pattern. This enabled the State Government not only know how much the Local Government gets but also to unduly monitor and control the expenditure pattern of these Local Government.

The Local Government laws have severally been amended by the various houses of assembly in various-states. But it is dis-heartening that these amendment is not primarily to improve on the performance of the local government but to demonstrate control and ensure the satisfaction of the Whims and caprices, of some specific individuals and interest groups. Form this, the Local Government are not only of their political and administrative autonomy but they has exercise some degree of control over the Local Government.

Furthermore, elections and many other position or political matters at the Local Government level are handled either solely by the State or jointly by the State and Federal Government.

At this juncture, it is believed that Local Government autonomy cannot be absolute. Even sovereign Nations like Nigeria are not autonomous since they are bounded by international co-operations, commitment, law and treaties.


Nigerian Local Government in relation to some related literature has a degree of high autonomy which enable them to carry out their constitutional function of bringing about grass root development. In the 1976 Local Government reforms, it highlighted that Local Government is primarily created to carry development and democracy to the grass root. Abubakar (1993) emphasized that Local Government has long been recognized as a veritable agent of grass root development through the mobilization of both the community based human and materials resources.

Principally, what has affected the autonomy existence of Local Government in Nigeria is the human element which consists the core operators of the Local Government and the influence of the state and federal authorities over the Local Government administration. So, the autonomy of Local Government which has the capacity of grass root development, should therefore be seen not only on paper but in practice and should as well be respected by the other two tiers of Government that is the State and Federal Government.


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