Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reforms to Improve Local Accountability in Nigeria

Brookings Institutions
6 September 2011

Olumide Taiwo, Africa Research Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Africa Growth Initiative
Nelipher Moyo, Research Analyst, Global Economy and Development, Africa Growth Initiative

Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, appears to have placed good governance at the forefront of his political agenda.


President Jonathan is said to be considering an additional set of reforms, the most effective of which is to do away with the State-Local Council joint accounts and to grant Nigeria’s 774 local governments financial autonomy. Local councils in Nigeria represent the third layer of government after the federal government and state governments. Federal and state government allocations to local councils are deposited into special “State Joint Local Government Accounts.” Through these accounts, local governments are supposed to finance primary, adult and vocational education; agriculture and natural resource development, as well as health services.

Unfortunately, the existing joint account framework has been particularly vulnerable to abuse. Local council chairmen are typically nominated by political party “kingmakers” who help to finance their election campaigns. 

There is a valid concern that financial autonomy for local governments will not necessarily reduce theft or mismanagement. Evidence suggests that councilmen’s fortunes change dramatically within months of assuming office in ways that their salaries and allowances cannot support.

In addition to providing more information about local government budget allocation and use, we recommend the Nigerian constitution be amended to allow the people to recall non-performing elected local government officials. It is not enough to simply provide more information to the public, there needs to be mechanisms for citizens to act on that information. The power to recall officials will ensure elected officials prioritize the needs of their local constituents and deliver promised goods and services.

Ultimately, average Nigerians do not care about how long the president or governor is in office, they care about a system that can effectively deliver the necessary goods and services, needed for their wellbeing. Strategies to improve governance in Nigeria should be centered on how to design a system that is more accountable to people at this level.

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