Local government council in Western, Mid-Western and Eastern region are quite different from Northern Native Authorities. They are not based on the traditional system of government, and Chiefs play only a minor part in them. They are modeled on the English system of local government.
The Native Authority system was originally in force all over Nigeria; but, particularly in the East, it did not prove successful. With a few exceptions the East has no powerful traditional Chiefs such as are found in the North. The persons who are referred to as chiefs in the East are, except for the Obi of Onitsha, the Amanyabo of Opobo and the like, not rulers like the Emirs of the North. They are more like senior elders, who may have great influence in their areas but have never had the power of governing the people. In the early days, therefore, the Government selected influential persons from the various clans, made them members of the native courts, and gave them the duty of collecting taxes. They became known as ‘Warrant Chiefs’. They were very unpopular because they were not recognized by the people as true chiefs, so a new system of Councils of Elders, or Clan Councils, was introduced in the 1930s. But these, as in the North, did not prove suitable bodies for controlling schools, markets, road-building, and so on, most of the work being done for them by the District Officer.
Furthermore on the Native Authority system gave no opportunity for the younger educated men to take part in local government, and as education spread it became more and more criticized. In the West there was a much stronger tradition of chieftaincy, so the Native Authorities worked better, but here also there was no opportunity for educated men to take part.
So in the early 1950s Native Authorities were abolished in both Regions and a completely new system of elected councils, each with a Chairman elected annually by the Council itself, was introduced.
This topic Local Government Council in Nigeria describes the system as it was at the beginning of 1966.
Types of Local Government Council
There were two main types of local government council:
1. County Council and Urban County Councils: A town which was large enough to have a councils of it own had an urban County Council. A rural area not containing towns of this size had a county council. The only difference was that the former covered a smaller area with a heavier population, the latter a larger area with a lighter population. The whole of the Region was divided up among county and urban County Councils. Port Harcourt was a special case, since it had a municipal Council, but this was virtually the same as an Urban County Council except that the President and Chairman were styled Mayor and Deputy Mayor respectively.
2. Local Councils. These were much less important, since they had comparatively few powers and little money to spend. A Local Government Council covered roughly the area of a village. In an Urban County Council area there were no Local Councils, but a County Council area was divided into Local Council areas. The County Council did not control the Local Councils as Native Authorities in the North controlled their District Councils. They were two separate levels of local government, Local Councils controlling certain things, and County Councils other things; this is known as a two-tier system.
Types of Local Government Council (West and Mid-West)
The system of Councils in the West and Mid-West was more complicated than in the East. There were three kinds of Council:
1. Divisional Councils, that is covering a whole division.
2. District Councils, closely similar to County and Urban County Councils in the East.
3. Local Councils, as in the East.
In some areas there were all three kinds, that’s a three-tier system, each kind providing different services. But Local Councils were becoming fewer, and in most areas there was by 1966 either a Divisional or a District Council performing all local government functions.
Relations Between Regional Government and Local Government Councils
As in the North, administrative officers had access to all Council and Committee meetings, and to all record books and accounts. They also had to send to the Minister an Annual Report on the work of each Council subject to their supervision. They were styled Local Government Commissioners in the East, and Local Government Advisers in the West.
Some Councils in the past had misused their funds by making contracts for construction of buildings or other works, the price of which far exceeded the value of the work. To stop this the Eastern Government had made it a rule that contracts by Local Government Council for any work exceeding £200 in value must be approved by the Minister himself, and contracts for work exceeding £50 must be approved by a Division Tenders Board of which the Divisional Officer was the chairman.
In addition there were the controls which we have already mentioned:
a. Estimates must be approved by the Minister.
b. The audit Department checked their accounts and had the power of surcharge.
c. Bye-laws required the minister’s approval.
d. Appointment and dismissal of staff were in various ways subject to control by either the Minister or the Local Government Service Board.