BACKGROUND OF STUDY
The expediency for the creation of local government anywhere in the world stems from the need to facilitate development at the grassroots. The importance of local government is a function of its ability to generate sense of belongingness, safety and satisfaction among its populace. All forms of government, regimes or political systems have so far ensured the attainment of this goal. Such strategy for ensuring national administrative development and political efficacy is found in the concept and practice of local government. Whatever is the mode of government, local government has been essentially regarded as the path to, and guarantor of, national integration, administration and development.
In Nigeria's socio-political context, with multiplicity of culture, diversity of languages and differentiated needs and means, the importance of such an organization in fostering the needed national consciousness, unity and relative uniformity as well as preservation of peculiar diversities cannot be over-emphasized. Central to the creation of local government, however, is its ability to facilitate an avenue through which government and the people intermix, relate and more quickly than any other means resolve or dissolve issues that may have heated the system. Local government has been perceived as a panacea for the diverse problems of the diverse people with diverse culture.
As important as this tier of government has been, there seems to be some impediments that have been infringing on its performance and functions in recent times. These impediments range from political but undue interference of the higher levels of government i.e. federal and state governments, bribery and corruption to embezzlement and gross inadequacy of well-trained and qualified personnel to mention a few.
According to Nnoli (1981:36) and Rodney (1972:11), all people have shown a capacity for independently increasing their ability to live more satisfactory life than before. This is then a progressive process that has no end.
A local government is semi-autonomous territorial unit created by the constitution or general laws of a state to undertake certain functions within specified or limited geographical area. According to Agbakoba (2004:3), a local government is a political and administrative unit that is empowered by law to administer a specified locality. It involves philosophical commitment to the idea of community participation in government at grassroots level.
There is general assumption among scholars and practitioners, that local government are not only established as representative organ but also as a channel through which goods and services are delivered to the people within the framework of laws establishing them.
In fact, democracy itself originated and developed along the line of local government initiatives. This is why the executive, legislative and judicial arms of these governments are elected or appointed as the case may be. In Nigeria, local government is created to bring government closer to the people. The definition of local government by the Nigerian Federal Government leaves one with no iota of doubt that it is largely both theoretically sound and service oriented to the people. It talks of representative councils with substantial control over local affairs, for the provision of services and implementation of projects in their areas, to complement the activities of both the State and Federal governments. The definition also amply
recognizes the need for local government autonomy as the substantial control of local governments is aimed at staff, institutional and financial matters, among others (Nigeria, 1976). In addition to the above, the Nigerian Federal Government is one of the few governments in the world perhaps in addition to Brazil (Erero, 1998) that have elevated LGs to a third tier of government. By so doing, the State governments do not exercise absolute controls over local governments.
Therefore, the work seeks to contribute in illuminating the actual status of Warri North local government as regard community or rural development which it purports to be raison d’etre of its existence. The empirical analysis will show whether creation of local government is really for the sake of ensuring grassroots development or mere political compensation for the government loyalists. It is in this light that we chose to study the topic.
Specifically, the paper carefully, critically and objectively examines operational definitions, local government, and development and opinion of the people expressed through the print media about the impact of the Warri North local government council in their areas. And of course, germane recommendations which emanate from the study are provided for the improvement of local government in the development of the localities/communities.
Statement of Problem
The need to catalyze balanced development, maximize citizens’ participation, and arouse government response necessitates the creation of the local government. The local government serves as a form of political and administrative structure facilitating decentralization, national integration, efficiency in governance, and a sense of belonging at the grassroots. The local government is a unit of administration all over the world (Agagu, 2004). Local government has been the root of development in terms of dealings with the people which democracy is centred upon. Hence, local government is visibly seen as co-agent of rural development and as partners in progress with both states and federal governments in rural developments.
To this end, this study sets out to investigate the impact of local government on rural/grass root development with emphasis on Warri North Local Government of Delta State. Knowing the roles the government needs to play in development of any society and the obvious inability of the national and state governments in the task of rural areas, Local government has been created essentially to compliment the efforts of the states and national government in the task of rural development. Nevertheless, abject poverty and underdevelopment remains a common feature in these rural communities.
Thus, in pursuance of the central problem in this research a number of questions have been raised (posed) for this research purpose. They are:
Objectives of the Study
The broad objective of this study is to assess the performance of Warri North local government council in the area of rural development. The specific objectives of the study are as follows.
To ascertain whether Warri North local government has contributed substantially to rural development.
Significance of the Study
This study has both theoretical and practical significance. Theoretically, the study provides a theoretical framework for the understanding of the role of local government in rural development in Nigeria. Therefore considering the pivotal role of local government in development in general, such information will be of immense help for policy formulation on the development of grassroots. The result of the study will equally be of help to other researchers who may want to research on such topic or related topics on development in the academia in the future.
On the practical significance, the study will draw attention of, and enlighten both the stakeholders and those who implement policies on rural development in Nigeria who may not really understand the central role of rural development on the crucial and inescapable role of local government system. As a result, the rural dwellers will endeavour to participate full in grassroots democratization and development, while those who implement policy on development in Nigeria will become dedicated to policy formulation, recommendations and implementation.
Operational Definition of Concept
Grassroots/Rural development: The term grassroots development as used in this study refers to the act or process of developing and empowering the well-being of the vast majority of the rural dwellers through the provision of basic social and economic infrastructures. Hence, it is a development from below. According to Todaro (1985) grassroots development is an advancement that makes life more meaningful in all its entirety. Whether political, economic, socio-cultural and infrastructural.
Rural dwellers are the people living in the remote areas of a country and lack basic infrastructure like good road network, pipe borne water, electricity, good health facility etc. The term refers to the ordinary people who are far from political decision making process at the centre. These groups includes small scale farmers, tenants, etc who seek livelihood in the rural areas.
The term democracy “literally signifies” the rule of the people: the term democracy as it is used in the study synchronizes with Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy. Gauba (1981:421) quoting Lincoln and it reads: Democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. It implies that ultimate authority of government is vested in the common people so that the public policy is made to conform to the will of the people and to serve the interests of the people.
From the foregoing, one can rightly say that democracy is all about “peoples” participation in government–and local government. Therefore, Democracy and local government are inseparable and are synonymous.
Local Government and Rural Development
The communal effort has not been a recent phenomenon. It dates back to the time of primitive communalism when people searched for their living communally. In the early state of man, he always sought ways of conquering nature. Bryne (1983:55) argues that the concept of community development is not new, that rather it is an old ideology. The reality in Bentham’s assertion that community development is a man in the society can be sustained by the fact that communities throughout history constructed and maintained their roads, bridges, square, sunk their well for good drinking water supply, and constructed their markets, village churches and village halls by community efforts.
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