Decentralisation can be defined as the process by which governmental duties and functions are delegated from a central government to such subordinate units of government as regions, states and local governments.
Types of decentralisation
Two main forms of decentralisation are devolution and deconcentration.
1. Devolution: This is the process whereby political authority is transferred from the central government to semi-autonomous units such as local governments or other authorities like government owned corporations.
Such devolved powers are enshrined in the constitution, and are not the creation of the central governments, e.g. the relationship between the central and regional governments in a federal system of government.
Devolved powers may therefore only be withdrawn, reduced or enhanced after an amendment to the relevant provisions of the constitution. This is, however, not the case in a unitary state.
Here, it is the central government that devolves powers to the subordinate tiers which, themselves, are subject to the central government.
2. Deconcentration: This is the delegation or transfer of administrative and supervisory powers to local governments and outposts. It applies especially to government agencies.
Examples in Nigeria are Nigerian Ports Plc, Nigerian Customs Service and NEPA. Such agencies receive full powers to provide services on behalf of the relevant department or ministry.
Merits Of Decentralisation
1. Decentralisation is the best management strategy for large organisations such as government, as it facilitates policy implementation.
2. It helps to bring government nearer to the people, and ensures that decisions are quickly made and appropriate action taken promptly at all levels.
3. Decentralisation promotes development of all areas of the country, as each area is able to utilise its resources to the best of its ability.
4. Decentralisation helps to prevent the emergence of dictatorial rule by the central government. This is as a result of the sharing of powers between different levels of government.
5 Decentralisation gives a sense of autonomy and fulfilment to the people, especially those distant from the capital, as it allows them to participate in political and administrative activities in their areas.
6. Decentralisation encourages healthy competition among the local communities in the areas of economic development and provision of social amenities.
7. Decentralisation helps to allay the fears of minority groups about the domination of the majority groups.
Disadvantages Of Decentralisation
1. Decentralisation tends to lead to excessive cost of administration, because of the great number of personnel required to run the various levels of government.
2. It may foster tension, conflict and unhealthy rivalry between the different units of the state in their attempt to control the political and economic institutions.
3. Decentralisation may result in poor supervision of local governments’ activities by the central government.