The Attorney-General of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami’s recent letter to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State to obey the 2016 Supreme Court verdict against the removal of elected local government chairmen has opened the can of worms and rot in the administration of the third tier of government.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999 till date, the way and manner, the grassroots government has been administered by state governors leaves much to be desired.
The first acid test for that level of government came under the administration of former President Oluisegun Obasanjo when the Lagos State government created 30 additional local government areas, which the federal government rejected.
The crisis that ensued was resolved by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the process for the creation of the council was inchoate because the National Assembly did not list the extra councils in the nation’s constitution and therefore cannot be allocated funds directly from the Federation Account.
However, the Lagos State government converted the new LGs to local council development authorities (LCDAs). Even though the arrangement is awkward, other state governments have emulated it by creating more councils in their state. Till date, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) recognises only 774 LGs in the country because they are the ones listed in it.
It is our candid opinion as a newspaper that it is this power vested in the governors to create councils, sack, and appoint caretaker or transition committees to run them through laws passed by the state legislatures that has bastardised governance in the LGs.
The constitution also compounded the situation by making provision for the state joint local government accounts, which governors have hijacked, monopolised and abused.
The effect is that the councils have been incapacitated and turned to mere appendages or extensions of the office of the governors, who appoint, sanction and remove elected council chiefs at will.
Added to this, is the fact that elections are hardly held for the councils and any governor that does so, manipulates the ballot in favour of his handpicked loyalists, whose tenure depends on his mood.
To save the councils from extinction, there have been relentless clamour for financial autonomy for them. But the contrary has been the case as efforts by the National Assembly to amend the constitution to empower the councils have been subtly frustrated by the governors and their stooges in the state Assembly.
It is in this direction that we see Malami’s attempt to heal the wounds inflicted on the councils for decades through his letter to Governor Makinde to recall all the elected All Progressives Congress (APC) chairmen, who he sacked upon assumption of office on May 29, 2019.
While we commend Malami for taking up this onerous responsibility, we disagree with his approach and choice of only the Oyo state governor who must obey the judgement with immediate effect.
We are more disturbed that the AGF directed the inspector-general of police (IGP) to ensure full compliance by assisting the affected council chiefs to report for work immediately.
According to Malami, his action was based on the December 9, 2016, Supreme Court verdict, which nullified the laws passed by states’ Houses of Assembly that gave the governors power to remove elected local government chairmen and councillors from office and replace them with caretaker or transition committee members.
In their unanimous judgement, the five justices of the apex court had described the dismissal of elected council chairmen as “executive recklessness” which must stop.
The judgement was at the instances of the appeal filed against the sack of the 16 local government chairmen in Ekiti State by Governor Kayode Fayemi during his first term in office.
In our opinion, fairness, equity and good conscience were substantially played down in Malami’s letter to Makinde. That the AGF singled out only Makinde from the 13 governors, who have not complied with the judgement, appears discriminatory and ill-intentioned.
It is on record that Borno, Kogi, Katsina, Kwara, Imo, Ogun, and Yobe, Bauchi, Taraba, Benue, Enugu, and Anambra State, appointed administrators to manage the councils.
Therefore, in line with the transparent and equity principles of the current federal government, the justice minister ought to have written all the “offending” governors on the matter. This way, Governor Makinde would not have cried foul or enjoyed the current sympathy which Malami’s letter has attracted to him
We also fault the directive to the IGP to restore the council chairman back to office. To us, it amounts to calling for the use of brute force where dialogue on the issue can yield better result.
We, therefore, admonish the AGF to tread softly on his purported threat to remit the councils’ funds directly from the Federation Account to them in the event of non-compliance by Governor Makinde. This option will also breach the Supreme Court ruling of 2002 in the case of the Southwest states versus the federal government where the apex court ruled that: “The federal government has no power under the 1999 Constitution to credit the councils’ amount directly from the Federation Account.” This judgement still holds. Therefore, the federal government cannot violate this while attempting to enforce another ruling by the same apex court.
As a way out of the quagmire, we canvass a political solution or return to the apex court for fresh enforcement order. Meanwhile, all the parties must avoid the path that could lead to anarchy.