Local governments are well-known to be the closest and the first line of public contact with people in various communities across cultures. In practical terms, the level of local government in federal settings makes it more accessible to people – most of who are dwelling in rural areas.
In fact, respective local governments have more advantages in citizens’ coverage than other levels of government in terms of service provisioning. Hence, any humanity concern, just like COVID-19, should thus become a quick responsibility of the government at the local level.
In Nigeria, it, therefore, becomes worrisome as to what Local governments have assumed responsibility to do during this pandemic situation. Now that community transmission is the fear, what have they been doing in regards to their constituent communities needing to be physical distancing and self-isolating? Perhaps, it could be in terms of information dissemination and local awareness through local media. Though, reactionary measures on this pandemic have been observed to be largely put in place by Federal and State governments across the country.
The place of local governments still begs for a question as to what have local governments enforced in partnership with the higher levels of government in the course of implementation. While, at this critical period, Local governments should not hide under the umbrella of financial inadequacy. Taking up responsibility, most times would initially need a clear understanding and strategic mapping. It is thereafter that support would follow from relevant and donor agencies. It is in the absence of proactive steps that made some entities to have opined that Local governments, as an essential component of this federation, are not being seen as frontline warriors against this pandemic.
Broadly, there are three identifiable agenda of the Federal government in the fight against the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria, namely: restriction order (Lockdown), distribution of palliatives to poorest of the poor, as well as testing and treatments of COVID-19 patients. I want to logically submit that local governments have operational roles to play within the spectrum of the COVID-19 fight agenda. For instance, if Local governments do not, as we all know, have the health system capacity to test and treat coronavirus disease.
I would like to maintain that the Local governments through its community development officials could assist NCDC in contact tracing of susceptible patients, and gather health intelligent information on relatives. This role is expected to be assumed by the Local government in partnership with relevant agencies. Contact tracing is a forerunner to both test and treatment because if those who have contracted this virus are not traceable, then no one could be tested and treated. Local governments should come out of the shell by owning serious responsibility on contact tracing as a major contribution to testing and treatment of COVID-19 pandemic.
More functional capacity of Local governments is optimally yet to be discerned in the social welfare through the distribution of palliatives to poor and vulnerable citizens. Again, some might want to argue that Local governments remain financially handicapped in the purchase of essential food commodities for palliative purposes. I would not want to argue it now, it would be a subject of debate for another time.
Be that as it may, the functional issues on which level of governments could claim to be at vantage position are to identify who the poor and vulnerable citizens are; determine what would be the essential foods to be distributed in terms of community interests and peculiarities as well as appreciable quantity, and design how best to deliver the palliatives in a manner that will not violate the ‘lockdown’ order. So, even if Local governments arguably do not have the purchasing power of the palliatives. They could help in providing ancillary functions by conveying necessary information on the three issues raised to the higher levels of government, thereby guiding them on who and what would be distributed in forms of palliatives across the federation. Thus, the queries on the palliatives not getting to the poor and vulnerable might, to a very large extent, be circumvented. Also, the organised capacity of Local government should be well-mapped out as against the distribution processes seen via social media in some states. This would enable the delivery of the palliatives to the doorsteps of the poor and vulnerable. It is good to say that sincerity and objectivity are the watchwords in the discharge of this distribution responsibility. While politics should be disengaged at all costs. Local governments should ignite the actions, please.
Specifically, on restriction order, it becomes highly imperative to step up local security outfits as established across rural communities in Nigeria to assist in confining citizens to their homes during the period of the pandemic so as to curtail the virus transmission. This seems evident in few urban communities, but little or no enforcement of this lockdown has been activated in the rural communities where the current fear of virus transmission appears most anticipated. Local governments should also establish a joint task force of community security agencies to trace citizens’ movement owing to widely reported cases of theft, burglary, cultism, street violence among other unravelling social vices. To this end, irrespective of age-long institutional challenges of Local governments, the challenge excuses would not be fit for this period. Rather, they should assume some of the few highlighted ancillary functions so as to put a halt to the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigerian communities.
They should also carry along their royal institutions, even if it is at least to disseminate information and create awareness among rural people in their villages so as to take precautionary measures against the virus transmission at the community level. As part, wise words should be expressed in form of golden nuggets every day by royal fathers and chiefs emphasising communalism (Ubuntu theory), you live because I live, vice versa, and religious injunctions of being your brother’s keeper by faithful leaders.
Of course, the outbreak of COVID-19 might have left nations across the globe with shocks. Surprisingly, health agencies are just realising that they are not well-equipped with workers and technologies for their respective assignments. It is, indeed, ludicrous. But in a way, it calls for rethinking processes in our governance style and establishes the need to review priorities and redesign approaches to resources allocation and service delivery. For instance, most Local governments in Nigeria, I guess, do not have plans in their annual estimates for crisis management. Also, investments in key service areas by higher levels of government, like health service and education to support research and scientific inventions, need optimisation and diligent intervention by the Federal government in Nigeria.
I want to use this medium to appreciate the true statement of SGF who doubles as the Chairman of PTF on COVID-19 in Nigeria that he never knew that our health system is at a deplorable state. Thus, there is a growing realisation that adequate priorities on health and education systems are now crucial to the development of Nigeria among other developing countries. This should trickle down to primary healthcare centres at the community level. Should also in case Nigeria is faced with this pandemic situation like this in the future, huge investments in the two sectors should be given dutiful review and implementation at all levels of government.
Fundamentally, while more organisational responsibilities are expected from both the State and Federal governments as enlisted in the Nigerian Constitution and public administrative frameworks. Local government, as a tier of governmental administration, should have, at least, identified key thematic areas in complementary of the roles and responsibilities of the higher levels of government in this pandemic.
The roles of Local governments are defined to be operational because of their localness and a high degree of interaction with vulnerable citizens at the community level. Of essence, there is a need for Local governments to consider their operational resilience during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the imminence of community virus transmission, Local governments should embark on local community risk assessment so as to get a clear view of local needs and responses to be prioritised and identify where supports are going to be sought. No Local government in Nigeria should be left out in putting in place COVID-19 Pandemic Local Response especially in States with its high prevalence rates, namely Lagos, Ogun, Kano States and area councils in the FCT.
This response team should provide a structure for coordinating all local activities such as trading, provision of essential services, agriculture functions of the rural dwellers, now that we are entering into farming season. The team should begin to consider the need for an appropriate short-term capacity requirement in respect to potential partners, philanthropists, third party organisations and community groups. Just a hint among many more, the Local governments via the team could engage occupational groups, like Tailors in their respective communities, to massively produce facemasks with unused fabrics for the people.
As part of the Local government operational resilience in this period, they should bring forward local policy decisions that will, even after the pandemic, ensure a smooth livelihood of local residents in small businesses and agrarian activities. These decisions are cautioned to be right-sized exactly in response to the local sustainable needs. The decisions should not put both government and people at the local level at risk. It is instructive for Local governments to note that annual estimates should be carefully guided such that the weight of pandemic outcomes will not truncate the implementation success of the estimates. Hence, the lesson for budgeting during this period is to externally generate financial resources for programme and interventions set out by the response team.
The local response team, after carrying out pandemic risk assessment, should draft the proposal on capacity requirement for subduing the impact of the pandemic on communities, submit the proposal to relevant agencies at the State, Federal and International levels for grants and relief materials. It is pertinent to state that this is the high time for Local governments to exhibit their contemporary relevance in governance business. They should come on board as partners in progress with higher levels of government; and harness benefits and social opportunities for the local residents from International donors.
Gone are those days when there is the lack of professional manpower is one of the problems of local governments. Without mincing words, the professional qualifications of Local government administrative officials would currently put one’s mind at rest in respect to the capability of Local governments to engage with other levels of government and international communities in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
In a critical view, one might want to be disturbed as to why the operational roles of Local governments are being chanted at the instances of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. Of course, this disturbance might be consequent upon the fact that much of essential service delivery has not been largely provided by Local governments when the public atmosphere was even normal.
This raises the question as to why now. In a developmental response, the pattern of essential service delivery at the local level is most times in relations to their respective State governments. It is assumed that not much would have been solely credited to Local governments in critical public services delivery.
Nonetheless, the operational roles, this time around, would extol the virtues of Local government officials in critical engagement models of service provisioning. Policy processes will solely need to be undertaken by the organisational structure of the Local governments, thereby revealing the salient strengths of Local governments as against the commonly known weaknesses. This is test time for Local governments in Nigeria.
In addition, the operational roles of Local governments on COVID-19 become important so as to facilitate the institutionalisation process of crisis or disaster management at the local level. It would also serve as the beginning of re-designing processes towards prioritising investments in order to ensure that Local government is well-positioned for the future beyond COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
Conclusively, this submission is a clarion call to all local government agencies to take proactive responsibility in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in Nigerian communities.
Dr. Kazeem Oyedele Lamidi is a Lecturer in the Department of Local Government and Development Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, he writes in via: email@example.com\
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