Having been elected from the same pool from which state and federal officials have emerged, it might, on the face of it, seem rather unjustifiable to deny local government council (LGC) officials the autonomous tax imposition authority, which is ordinarily inherent in any government. But this is what the 1999 Constitution seems to have done in denying the autonomous power of rating to the LGCs, however, this constitution has used words made ambiguous by their historically varying content such that even the highest Nigerian court has been misled. The drafting has led to the impression that LGCs may “impose”, rather than merely “collect”, rates or any other such taxes by their own authority.
This article attempts to discover the character and consequences of this hermeneutic problem, the apparent misconceptions that have led to it, and the doctrinal and historical approaches the courts may adopt for its solution. In trying to appreciate or rationalize the court's misapprehension of this part of the constitution, the article suggests that the major reason is the drafter's attempt to create a three-tier federation while at the same time retaining the traditional two-tier constitutional structure for allocation of federalist power.
To return the courts to the right path, this article proffers historical approaches for clarification of the conceptual haze. It then concludes that, although the Nigerian constitution allows a delegation of rating power to LGCs, contrary to the current position of the Supreme Court, this rating authority is not autonomous.