The Evolution of Local Government in Nigeria

Local government is the third tier of government in Nigeria, after the federal and state governments. The primary objective of local government is to bring governance closer to the people at the grassroots level. This is achieved through the provision of basic amenities and services to the people, as well as the promotion of democratic participation in governance. Local government in Nigeria has come a long way since its inception in the colonial era. This article will provide a historical overview of the evolution of local government in Nigeria, from its beginnings in the colonial era to the present day.

Local government in Nigeria


Nigeria’s local government system traces its origins back to the pre-colonial era, when four major societies, namely the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, and Benin, governed their respective communities.

Fiefdom was the method of local government administration used in pre-colonial Hausa-Fulani societies after the jihad. The emirs, who had control over the fief-holders who ruled the villages in the emirate, were the highest political officials.

The administrative system used in pre-colonial Yoruba civilizations was well-organized. Senior leaders helped the Alaafin (king) govern the empires while he presided over affairs. Checks and balances were possible in pre-colonial Yoruba cultures because of the well-organized political systems.

The pre-colonial Igbo societies had a government style that was somewhat republican. The affairs of the pre-colonial Igbo societies were managed by village assemblies, family organisations, etc. rather than a centralised authority.

Another pre-colonial society with an administrative structure was the Benin empire. In the ancient Benin kingdom, the type of administrative structure in use was the monarchy. In order to run the business of the Benin empire, the Oba of Benin enlisted the aid of chiefs and the Enegies, who were brothers and sons of the Oba.


In this section, we’ll talk about the colonial-era local government administration in Nigeria’s Western, Eastern, Northern, and Southern areas.

The Northern area of Nigeria used an indirect system of local government administration during the colonial era. Via the emirs or traditional leaders in the Northern region, the colonial administrators carried out the policies created for Great Britain’s colonies. The Hausa-Fulani societies’ highly centralised administrative structure provided the necessary framework for indirect rule to flourish, which was extremely successful in the Northern region.

During the colonial era, indirect rule was used as the primary type of local government in the Western region. The colonial overlords employed the obas and chiefs to enforce colonial policies on the Western region’s indigenous people. In the Western region, the local government’s indirect rule system has not been as successful as it has been in the Northern region. Due to the diversity of religions and the chiefs’ and obas’ limited power over the populace, indirect rule in local government administration in the Western region had an average level of success.

Indirect rule did not work in the Eastern part of colonial Nigeria because of the Igbo communities’ dispersed system of governance. For the colonial masters in the Eastern region, native warrant chiefs had to be chosen to handle local government. The Eastern region’s residents fiercely opposed this structure, particularly with regard to direct taxes. Throughout the colonial era, local government administration in the East was unsuccessful.

In colonial Nigeria, the Southern area was divided into the Western and Eastern regions. For administrative purposes, the kingdoms of Benin, Urhobo, and Itsekiris, as well as a portion of the Ijaws, were governed by the Western area, and local government was carried out under the indirect rule approach. The Eastern region included the Ibibios, Efiks, Kalabaris, and a portion of the Ijaws, and warrant officers were utilised for local government.


Chiefs-in-Council and Chiefs-and-Council native authorities superseded solitary native authorities as part of the local government changes in the Northern area in the 1950s. The Western area went through a significant wave of local government reforms in the early 1950s. In 1952, new local government legislation introduced divisional, district, and local governments in place of each sole native authority in the Western region.

Another change was implemented in 1957 to grant power to create joint boards for projects and collect fees and taxes. Unfortunately, there was little evidence of improvement in local governance. Three different local government councils that operated independently were established as a result of the local government changes in the Eastern region in the 1950s. Another local government statute establishing local government wards and areas was passed in 1955 to facilitate local government administration. Due to their minority status, the communities in the South were exempt from the local government reforms that surged through other regions.


The local government council was promoted to the third-tier administration in Nigeria’s local government system in 1976. Additional features of the 1976 changes included the creation of elected local government councils, a single-tier, multipurpose organisation for local government, and a consolidated local government service.

The 1976 local government reform included the following additional measures, which are listed below:

  • The Creation of the Local Government Service Board
  • The Acceptance of Traditional Institutions
  • The Creation of a Committee for Police And Community Relations
  • The Creation Local Government Peace and Security


In accordance with the guidelines set forth by the 1988-established Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the 774 local governments receive statutory allocations from the federation account. Local governments in Nigeria currently receive 20.6% of the federation account. The revenue allotted to Nigeria’s 774 local governments includes 10% more of each state’s IGR and a portion of the Value Added Tax.


Due to their institutional dependence on state governments, local governments in Nigeria have fallen short of fulfilling their potential as the third tier of government. According to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, state governments’ legislative branches have the authority to create laws that define the makeup, makeup, authority, and responsibilities of local government. Local governments are not as autonomous as they should be, as evidenced by the state governments’ executive branch’s excessive control over their management and operations.

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Oluchi Chukwu

Oluchi is a seasoned Information blogger, content developer and the editor of Nigerian Queries. She is a tech enthusiast who loves reading, writing and research

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