Decentralisation (Decentralization) is a system of administration in which responsibility and authority are given to subordinate bodies with definite powers within defined geographical areas.
The United Nations also defines it as:
Decentralization therefore refers to an administrative process by which the central authorities vest power and authority on regional or local units or subordinate bodies to perform certain functions, which promote the welfare of the people.
In the main, decentralization has two aspects. The first is deconcentration, which refers to the delegation of authority by the centre to its branch offices.
For example, the Federal Ministry of Works (like other governmentministries) has field offices in all the states of the Federation to deal with routine maintenance of federal roads and execution of government projects at the state level.
The ministry can hardly operate without these branch offices. In the past, the local offices of the Works Department used to be an effective instrument for the immediate repair of bad patches on the major roads.
The second aspect of decentralisation is devolution. Devolution is the process by which powers are conferred on formally constituted local authorities and public corporations to discharge certain specified or residual functions.
This means that devolution has two main tributaries of equal importance, namely, local government authorities and public or statutory corporations. A local government is a body of elected or unelected members with jurisdiction to perform certain functions that are local in nature.
On the other hand, statutory bodies are government corporations established to provide certain services which are vital to national interest.
Types of Decentralization Form of Government
There are two major types of decentralisation form of government, they are:
In this type of system, the central government may decide to set up or create constituent or subordinate levels ofgovernment in different parts of the country, with powers to make decisions in specified areas as related to the locality. Britain is a good example.
In this system, the central government sets policies for the local areas, appoints some officials with some powers and authority, and delegates them to carry out specific functions thereby regulating government policies at the local government level. France is a good example of country practicing Deconcentration system.
Merits of Decentralization
Quick development: Quick development is achieved in a decentralized system because in this system there is opportunity for development. Every unit has the tendency to develop even faster than others.
Competition among units interms of development: In a federal state, there are competition among various units resulting in some states developing much better than others.
It brings government nearer to the people: This is acredit to decentralization. Government is brought nearer to the people at the grassroots.
Absence of dictatorship: The supremacy of the constitution and the application of the rule of law removes the tendency for a dictatorial government.
Fear of domination: The fears of the minority are removed from the domination by the majority.
Wider consultation: Decentralization encourages wider consultation. No section of the countiy is neglected in the decision making process.
Political Unity: Political unity is achieved because the system integrate many ethnic groups within the same system.
Matters of local interest: With the division of functions made possible, matters of local interest can be allocated to the local areas.
It increases efficiency of government.
It reduces the work load of central government, thereby increasing its efficiency.
It affords the leaders opportunity for leadership training e.g. leaders graduate from regional to central government positions.
Greater Participation: Decentralization enhances greater participation of the people in government.
Political Stability: The system encourages political stability because the various components are well represented in government.
Demerits of Decentralization
Costly to operate: This system is costly to operate, because, many functions are created within the same system.
Delay in taking quick-decisions: The need for a wider consultation in decision making process, equally, makes for a delay, in taking quick decision.
Differences in the level of development: The system does not make for even development since some units develop rapidly than others.