Recipients of Policies

Topic: Participants or Recipients of Policies: The Place of Local Communities in a Constitutional Democracy - the Example of Nigeria


In this essay, local communities are referred to Local Governments and in Nigeria's Constitutional democracy, it has become recognised as the symbol of community and officially defined as the “government at grassroots.” This, therefore, shows an interlink between local government and community development as each of the concepts is tend towards achieving the common goal of providing to the local communities through communal efforts and support from the central government (Olowu and Ayo, 1985). In recognition of this inseparable entwine, there has been the desire to strengthen local government system in Nigeria in order to make it a genuine tool for a robust rural development whereby the citizenry becomes an integral part of the process - from planning, execution and monitoring (Mukoro, 2009).

Essentially, the effectiveness of the local government system revolves around “resources, authority and working grassroots based political process” (Mukoro, 2009). This means that Community development should be designed to provide unhindered conditions for social and economic participation of the people. Thus, under constitutional democracy, there is the assumption that the Communities would be the driving force of development. As Arnstein (1967) put it “Participation of the governed in their government is, in theory, the corner-stone of democracy - a revered idea that is vigorously applauded by virtually everyone. The applause is reduced to polite handclaps, however, when this principle is advocated by the have-not...”

One instrument that has been used by the State to undermine the local community participation has been the Constitution, which is shaped to neglect the local level as integral part of development agenda. This essay, using decentralisation theory, which is focus on empowering the people through devolution power and functions, is poised at looking whether the local governments in Nigeria have been granted the right of active participation with direct authority to plan, decide, implement and monitor development issues within their communities by the constitution. The choice of this theory stem from the fact that Nigeria is a federation with three-tier government structure and define constitutional functions for each of the tiers. But how fared is the local government under this kind of federal arrangement in relation to participation. This essay would, therefore, examine certain provisions of the 1999 Constitution in Nigeria that particularly deals with the right of the communities to fashion out development policies and how resources for this policies are been allocated. The expected outcome in this essay would be whether the legal and political instrument has placed the communities led by the local government as either participants or recipients in the development process.

Some theoretical frameworks

There have been many debates on the role of the State as an institution in relation to community participation in social development discourse. A many have viewed the role of the State as superfluous while others sees it as indispensible. Antagonist of State role have always seen it as impediment to providing access to the community to actively participate in development issues as it only protect the interest of the elites and has an ulterior motive to achieve (Midgley, 1986). But institutional theorists believe that the State is a necessity that is expected to provide standards among the participants through legal instruments but even that does not eliminate exclusion because of “wider structural factors” (Cleaver, 1999). Yet, the uniformity of the standards brought about by the State often displaced peculiarities among various participants, which in the end defeat the purpose of participants defining their own faith. For instance, in Nigeria, the participatory role of the local governments in primary education has been assumed by all the 36 State Governments to be the payment of salaries despite knowing that the local governments doesn't have the financial wherewithal for that purpose. The need, therefore, is for the understanding of the norms of the local people so as to appreciate how each can make a contribution or participate (Cleaver, 1999). This suggests that local government should be allowed to define their participatory role based on their individual ability.

In development studies, participation has now become a consecration that is hardly question because of the assumption that it is a public good that concern everyone (Cleaver, 1999). And since there is a clear involvement of people, they become the owners and controllers of the development process. Participation is said to have the advantage of improving the situations of the poor and the disadvantaged in the society. It is also the involvement of people in taking initiatives, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of development programmes (Gonzalez III, 1998). Participation has been hinged around two principles of providing efficiency to services and empowerment to individuals and groups of the marginalised to improve their lives. The proponents of participation approach contend that “participation not only humanizes the bureaucracy, but strengthen the capacities of individuals and communities to mobilize and help themselves” (Midgley, 1986). Fundamentally, empowerment is the corner-stone of participation but the mechanism to ensure the participation, and who are to be empowered and how, have remain to be crucial discourse in development studies. The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, for instance, does not intend to empower individuals but communities represented by the local governments except in the political arena where individuals have the right to vote for their local representatives periodically.

Participation in the views of Arnstein (1967) is the “redistribution of power” to those who were politically and economically excluded and where that is absent then it is more of an “empty and frustrating process of the powerless.” In understanding the real power of participation, Arnstein ladder of citizen participation has eight (8) rungs; “Citizen Control, Delegated power, Partnership, Placation, Consultation, Informing, Therapy and Manipulation.” In explaining the “manipulation and therapy,” Arnstein argued that there is an indication of non-participation.” At the informing and consultation ladder, the participants were only given a token privilege to be heard but their views make no difference to the powerholders. At the placation rung, still the advice of the participants makes no impact because decision-making is still with the powerholders. At the partnership stage, people tend to have some degrees of “negotiations and trade-offs” with the powerholders while at the delegated and citizen control; there is some power to make decision granted to the citizens. Thus, placing the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria within the context of Arnstein ladder, it is very clear that the constitution is within the stages of placation and delegated control. This is because, the local governments have been constitutionally recognised and given some functions to perform but still lacks control over decision making and resources to achieve such functions.

The term Community is difficult to define as it often related to groups, family, demography and nations. This means that community has an element of boundary and common social relationships. But community in general must be understood from the angle of complexities as sometimes there are certain overlapping responsibilities, which require the participation of others. For instance, Cleaver, (1999) cited the example of water-point management in Zimbabwe, which is done at a village level but grazing lands requires the participation of other villages. Proponents of Community participation always discusses community in the context of “who” participate and are hardly concern about “apartment dwellers, landowners, rich farmers or rural elites” Midgley (1986). This means that the concern is not for the privileged groups but that of the less privileged. There is no doubt that the above definitions is narrow and lopsided as it largely refers to community as “impoverished villages or urban neighbourhood” while forgetting that communities are not identical and inequalities can be found at all forms of social strata. Accordingly, Community participation is the “direct involvement of ordinary people in local affairs” that were hitherto marginalised or excluded from (Midgley, 1986), (Guijt and Shah, 1998) and (Gonzalez III, 1998). But over time, the use of the term community as a whole in development approach has failed to provide the much needed hope of reducing poverty and its constituents (Gajanayake and Gajayanake, 1993).

In this essay, decentralisation is defined from the perspective of devolution of power from the central government to subnational units. Largely, the objectives of decentralisation are to achieve political goal, administrative expedience and efficiency (Ademolekun, 1991). Theorists of decentralisation have argued that governance should lay more emphasis in using bottom-up approach to decision making by given more power to lower level. This suggests that governance is that process which defines the “rules and forms that guide collective decision-making” (Mukoro, 2009). The expectation is that decentralisation would provide the enabling environment for decision making and service delivery being brought closer to the people through clear pronouncements such as in the Constitution. As Mukoro (2009) has argued “people participate more effectively, if institutions and decision making processes are located closer to where they live.” Furthermore, some theorists have distinguished between “devolution” and “deconcentration.” In the former case, local government are seen to have the authority to independently make their own decision, while the latter situation presume that the local government act as an agents of the central government by expending resources allocated to them (Mukoro, 2009) and (Ademolekun, 1991) . Of course, as it would be found in this essay, Local Governments in Nigeria are more of agent of the central government than initiators and shapers of their own destiny.

At any rate, community development approaches and their ardent theorists foresee more hope in given the people greater opportunity to shape their future despite the growing debate that such an approach to development also breeds few local elites that control the affairs of the majority in the community thereby defeating the very purpose of all-encompassing participatory approach. A major struggle in participation and decentralisation approaches has been that of who owns the instrument of power especially in a federal arrangement.

Community Participation and the Constitution: The Example of Nigeria

Local Government is the symbol of Community in Nigeria. It has a long history which dates back to the colonial days. The first major reforms took place in 1976 and were centred on creating; local initiatives, grass roots democracy, mobilisation of people for local development, and provision of communication channel between local communities and other tiers of government (Igbuzor, 2007). In other words, the reforms of 1976 were intended to grant the local governments with the authority, power to manage it finances and initiate its own development projects at the Local level (Obasanjo, 2003). It is, therefore, clear that until the 1976 reforms, the local governments have no formal legal recognition as a symbol of community mobilisation and development with clear mandates and resources.

Consequent upon the review, Section 7 of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognised the local governments but not as a tier of government. Similarly, no election was held at that level of government throughout the four years of the democratic rule (Awotokun, 2005) Thus, local government system became “politically impotent and financially insolvent” (Awotokun, 2005). This clearly shows that sometimes democratic rule as define to be “government of the people by the people for the people” is also a great impediment in the recognition of the right of people as individuals and collective participants in the governance of their societies. But largely, the failure of the local government system then was more associated with the leadership attitude to the laws and the absence of clear jurisdiction that recognises the political and legal competence of the local governments (Mukoro, 2009).

Unlike the 1979 Constitution, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria seems to have come with some clearer provisions on the status of the Local Government. For instance Section 7 (1) stipulates that “the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, … every State shall, … ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils” (1999 Constitution, FRN). This provision has granted recognition to the local government as a tier of government with a guaranteed democratically elected government while subsection 4 guarantees the participation of everyone at the grassroot as either to vote or to be voted for. The Subsection states that: “The Government of a State shall ensure that every person who is entitled to vote or be voted for at an election to House of Assembly shall have the right to vote or be voted for at an election to a local government council” (1999 Constitution, FRN). This is in tandem with the ideals of participation and decentralization approaches whereby people are expected to democratically organize to elect their own leaders; identify their problems, plan for solution and implement such solutions with utmost community participation (Gajanayake and Gajayanake, 1993). This also suggest to the point that legally people have been empowered to participate in the democratic process and thus enhancing the efficiency of the democratic process.

But there is a disconnect between the people and the elected representatives. The structure of power relation in the case of local governments in Nigeria is that the people elect the local governments Chairmen and Ward Councillors. The closest to the people is the Ward Councillor but there seem to be no any legal obligation on the Ward Councillor to consult periodically with the people unless by personal will of the elected Councillor. Even though the constitution made provision that the people can recall their elected representatives, that provision is cumbersome. This is why it is on record that the poor do not derive the utmost benefits of democracy as they have less access to public services compare with the rich (Devarajan and Widlund, 2007). Another important problem that characterises democracy at the Local Government level is that of unstable tenure of the local elected officials. This situation was created by the Constitution itself where it grants both the National and State Assemblies the powers to regulate elections at the Local level. This ambiguity was resolved when the Supreme Court of Nigeria decided that only the State Houses of Assembly have the power to regulate on the tenure of local officials (Ekweremadu, 2009). As a result, the State Government often unilaterally dissolves the elected officials and appoints care-takers.

Whatever is the weakness of the above provision, it has however; shown that the people do interact with the government through the process of election of local representatives. This is the only constitutionally declared opportunity for peoples' participation in their governance and the only direct involvement of the people in decision-making. Apart from the political participation, the people have been alienated in other spheres of governance as that aspect has been left to the government. For instance, the composition of the Economic Board is not by election or selection from the local people and at the moment, there seem to be no State House of Assembly that has passed that law (Aluko, 2007).

Under Section 7(3) of the 1999 Constitution, it states that “it shall be the duty of a local government council within the State to participate in economic planning and development … and to this end an economic planning board shall be established by a Law enacted by the House of Assembly of the State” (1999 Constitution, FRN). This provision clearly negates the community participation principle of empowering the people with the right to plan and decide on what they want. The subsection indicates that the local government has lack the power to make or decide its own priorities. By that, the constitution provides for only top-down policy approach rather than bottom-up. Though there is an element of expected participation by the local government in terms of economic planning, the participatory role has not been legally defined. This clearly an indication of what is called “pseudo-participation” which peg the role of the local government to that of implementation. As Midgley (1986) has argued “the involvement of the population in implementation can hardly be considered to be community participation unless there is at least some degree of sharing of decisions with community.” By the 1999 Constitution, the local government has no much power rather than accept the whims and caprices of the State Government, which has the power of authorization.

The functions of the Local Governments in Nigeria has also been clearly spelt out in the fourth schedule to the 1999 Constitution to include among others “… the making of recommendations to a State commission on economic planning or any similar body on - the economic development of the State, …” and the “participation of such council in the Government of a State as respects the following matters - (a) the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; (b) the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials (c) the provision and maintenance of health services; and (d) such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the State” (1999 Constitution, FRN).

As already argued, despite this constitutional provision, the role of the local government in providing the basic human services such as healthcare, education and agriculture have been reduced to mere policy recommendation and participation where the State deems it fit. The power of decision making, which is very essential to community participation have been stripped from the Local Government and given to the State government. Moreso, it is the State Government that is to constitute the Economic Planning Boards for the Local Governments. It thus shows that local government is an appendage of the other tiers and it is more of a recipient of government policies rather than been an active participants as it lacks the authority to plan and implements it own desired developmental goals.

For instance, under the 1996 National Health Policy of Nigeria, the implementation of policies and programmes on primary healthcare were shouldered to the local governments with the Federal Government providing overall national policy framework and the State Government providing all the necessary logistical support. But the 1999 Constitution is ambiguous as the local governments are given only participatory role - then how do expect any meaningful progress? Because, in the first instance, the policy was design at the federal level, which means is not community base and deficient in local peculiarities. And, when it comes to implementation, the State Government decides on what the Local government would implement (Khemani, 2004).

Similarly, the National Education Policy 2004 and the Universal Basic Education Act, 2004 requires the involvement of all the 3-tiers of government i.e. Federal, State and Local Governments in basic primary education. The Federal Government is responsible for policy, allocation of resources through and maintenance of standard through inspection. The State governments are responsible for implementation through State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUPEBs) with 2% grant from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government while the local governments are responsible for management of the schools. This arrangement is more of “deconcentration” of policies as the local governments have not participated in policy formulation and have no guaranteed direct financial support in the management of the schools. This means, the local governments would receive only what the State Governments, so decide (Development of Education National Report of Nigeria, 2008).

In federalism, each tier of government has a responsibility with a corresponding financial resources allocated to it in order to perform such function. The local government, for instance, is a beneficiary of the Federation Account as provided under Section 162(3) that states that “Any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account shall be distributed among the Federal and State Governments and the local government councils in each State ….” But the 1999 Constitution, specifically Section 162(5) states that “the amount standing to the credit of local government councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the State for the benefit of their local government councils…” These funds are to be credited into an account mentioned in Section 162(6) that “each State shall maintain a special account to be called "State Joint Local Government Account" (1999 Constitution FRN). By no doubt, these provisions tend to hinder the effective performance of local governments as their funds meant for local development projects are subjected to State Government control. These provisions crippled the local government's ability to carry out the participatory role the constitution has envisaged. Particularly, subsection 7 has been described as an “illicit transit camp and abattoir for Council funds” (Ekweremadu, 2009).

No doubt, the 1999 constitution appears to have granted local governments some rights but it has also taken over those rights and therefore, the local government is only a symbol design for community development but lacking all the necessary impetus to provide essential services.This is against the ideals of allowing people to have power to decision making; to implements projects; achieve meaningful benefits and form part of the evaluation team (Gonzalez III, 1998).


This essay has argued that participation is all about the involvement of the marginalised in shaping their destiny. It has also defined decentralisation in context of power devolution while also distinguishing that with “deconcentration.”

The essay have shown that though the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has recognised the existence of democratically elected local government with some functions to perform, it has however, reduced those functions to mere recommendations to, and participation with the State Government in education, healthcare, agriculture and economic planning. In other words, the operationalisation of the functions of the local government has been left for the State Government.

Furthermore, the essay has shown that constitutional democracy in Nigeria has not made any significant “devolution” of responsibilities to the local governments; it has rather “deconcentrated” some functions to the local governments without any authority and resources as well as direct peoples' initiatives and decision-making except in the election of local officials. Therefore, local governments in Nigeria are more of recipient of policies from the top rather than real participants in the community development projects.


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