State of Local Government Elections in Nigeria

The local government system is a core institution in Nigeria’s governing structure. How an electoral system operates goes a long way in determining the degree of public confidence and support for the democratic system. Over the years, especially since the return to electoral democracy in Nigeria, the country’s electoral system, particularly aspects that affect the national elections, has received significant attention to making it function better in shaping and influencing the rules of political competition for state power such as what parties look like, who goes to the legislative assembly to represent the people, how accountable these representatives are to the electorate, and who governs. Marc Plattner draws attention to the link between elections and democracy in this extract; “countries that hold free and fair elections are overwhelmingly more liberal than those that do not, and countries that protect civil liberties are overwhelmingly more likely to hold free election those that do not.” In this regard, an election is a tool for opening and expanding the political space, which is critical to democracy.
However, at Nigeria’s sub-national local government (LG) level, the processes and outcomes of elections are poor despite impressive historical antecedents. During colonial rule, the local government system was an essential element of the colonial administration. The Native Authority system, which was at the root of the local governance system, survived even under the military until 1975. The Murtala Administration initiated the process of local government reform through Decree No. 32 of 1975 (10), which aimed to fast-track development, especially in rural areas. The local government reforms enacted in 1976 resulted in a national system of democratic local governance. Whereas the reform process came up with substantial autonomy for the local governments, the required political will for the autonomy has been lacking. Also, some jurisdictional overlaps and ambiguities made intergovernmental conflicts almost inevitable. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979, subsequently guaranteed critical features of the 1976 reforms with the local governance powers vested in elected local officials, with traditional rulers given an advisory role. Under the 1979 Constitution, the states had jurisdiction over local governments, which, in effect, reduced their autonomy. There was resistance to the mounting state interference in some circles. For example, the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) was formed out of the protests by the local governments against state interference