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BREAKING NEWS: 7 Years After, Govs Still Violate S/Court Ruling On LGAs

Seven years after the Supreme Court voided the law that allowed state governors to appoint caretaker chairmen in place of democratically elected ones for local government areas, at least 18 governors have continued to violate the ruling, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.

Findings by this newspaper revealed that 349 local government areas in 18 states across the country are being run by unelected officials. These unelected officials operate under different nomenclatures, such as caretaker chairmen, sole administrators and transition implementation committees.

The local government areas are in Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara states.

Kano and Kebbi states, whose elected council chairmen completed their tenures this month, also failed to conduct fresh elections before the tenures of the former chairmen elapsed.

Directors of Personnel Management are in charge of the affairs of the local government areas in the two states.

7 Years After, Govs Still Violate S/Court Ruling On LGAs

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The Supreme Court had, in a judgement delivered on December 9, 2016, voided laws enacted by state assemblies that empowered governors to replace democratically elected council chairmen and councillors with appointed administrators.

Also, the Senate had, on December 1, 2023, following a motion by Minority Leader Abba Moro, urged the federal government to stop the statutory allocation of funds to local government councils, whose chairpersons were not democratically elected.

But data from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation showed that these states, in January this year, received the sum of N109,082,398,441.79 for their local government areas.

Of this amount, N9,064,691,096.28 was for Akwa Ibom State with 31 local government areas; N8,271,282,792.39 for Osun with 30; N8,022,698,483.66 for Imo with 27; N7,995,788,911.05 for Benue with 23; N7,607,534,294.34 for Sokoto with 23; N7,567,077,170.44 for Bauchi with 20; N7,282,599,659.92 for Anambra with 21; N6,925,483,356.37 for Kogi with 21 and N6,380,325,211.95 for Enugu with 17.

Others included N5,983,515,489.38 for Ondo with 18 local government areas; N5,974,152,767.83 for Plateau with 17; N5,758,947,969.11 for Cross River with 18; N5,522,354,092.10 for Yobe and N5,408,405,733.26 for Abia, both with 17 local government areas each; N5,206,384,633.81 for Zamfara with 14; N5,157,267,808.13 for Kwara with 16; N4,074,749,473.45 for Gombe with 11 and N3,259,464,710.27 for Bayelsa with eight local government areas.

There have been allegations that state governors are in the habit of running local government councils with caretaker committees in order to control the funds allocated to them.

This has been cited by political analysts as a reason Nigerians at the grassroots are deprived of the opportunity to benefit from the monthly statutory allocations accruable to their local government areas.

Many observers are of the view that issues that fall under the purview of the third tier of government would have best been handled by elected council officials.

A legal practitioner and human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, told Daily Trust on Sunday that, “Ordinarily, by virtue of section 7 of the Nigerian constitution, every local government area is supposed to have a democratically elected chairman. However, in the practical sense, we don’t really have democratically elected council chairmen because across the 36 states, governors are basically expropriating the local government system. They have rendered the system inefficient.”

He said that aside few exceptions like Kaduna State under its past governor, Nasir el-Rufai, where few opposition candidates emerged from such “abracadabra” local government elections organised by state governors, “in most of the states you find that the results and names of winners are written down preemptively. And you would see the governors just give the embarrassment we call state electoral commissions the names to announce.”

In view of the perceived bastardisation of the local government system by governors through state electoral commissions, there have been calls on the National Assembly to amend the constitution to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to take over the conduct of the council elections as a way to wrest such function from the alleged overbearing control of governors.

Appointment of caretaker committees illegal – SAN

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dayo Akinlaja, in a telephone interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, described the appointment of caretaker committees into local government councils as a breach of the constitution.

He said courts should be asked to nullify such appointments by governors based on the earlier decision of the Supreme Court.

“A more effective and potent option is for the legislature to intervene by calling the governors to order, but we know that the governors have the legislatures in their pockets. So it would be impossible to expect them to rise to the occasion.

“The way it is now, just hope and pray that the governors would learn to play by the constitutional rules,” Akinlaja said.

Similarly, Effiong added that the recent “resolution of the Senate is advisory and not legally binding on the federal government, although it is expected that under the doctrine of checks and balances, the parliament is supposed to have the responsibility to checkmate the executive and the executive is also expected to listen to and adhere by the advice and resolutions of the parliament where it is in the interest of the country.

“So, it would have been expected that the matter (resolution) would be attended to if the constitution had stated that the system of democratically elected council chairmen is guaranteed. That means it is only a democratically elected council chairman that is recognisable under the constitution. So, if you have local government chairmen that are not democratically elected, it means the constitution does not recognise them; and to that extent, it is not wrong to say that they should not have the benefit of federal allocation,” he said.

He, however, noted that since there is a local government administration with civil servants, whose salaries depend on that federal allocation, it may be difficult to say that their allocation should be withheld.

He said governors, however, should be compelled to do the right thing to the letter of the constitution and the interpretation by the Supreme Court through its rulings. To this end, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, said the way forward would be for “the federal government to seek a court order freezing the bank accounts of all the local government areas concerned, relying on the decision of the Supreme Court and the fact that those money was erroneously paid into the accounts of those chairmen.

“Through a freezing order of court, such money already paid, though illegally, can be protected from being expended. It is then for those chairmen or any of them to prove to the court his having been legally elected into office through the law to be allowed to use the money in his jurisdiction account for public purposes or what the money has been paid for.”

CSOs speak

The Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said lack of political and electoral patronage on the part of the federal government had made it impossible for the status of the local governments to be respected.

“The courts can give judgement, but if not enforced, they would not do otherwise.  On the part of the state governments, local governments are the cash cows, so granting them autonomy will remove the milk from their mouths.

“They will, therefore, do everything within their means to frustrate autonomy for the local governments. On the whole, this is the lopsided democracy we are practising in Nigeria,” Zikirullahi said.

Also, a senior communications officer at Yiaga Africa, Mark Amaza, said the installation of caretaker committees defeated the very essence of democracy, considering that local governments are the tier of government closest to the people.

“It should be that those who administer governance at the grassroots level should be chosen by the people. As such, the laws need to be strengthened or implemented to ensure that the Supreme Court ruling is upheld,” Amaza said.

On his part, the Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, said the continuous release of statutory allocations to the local government areas run by unelected officials implies that the federal government was giving the state governors those funds in proxy, with zero requirement for accountability.

According to him, this is a major factor for the underdevelopment of the country “as democratically elected council chairmen and their councillors are expected to be close to their people, feel the pulse of the grassroots and be responsible for the development of their localities.

“The National Assembly and the federal government must work hand in hand to ensure the sanity of our financial integrity. At the moment, there is no accountability for these allocations, and you cannot be given these huge amounts of money where there is no accountability.

“What we are seeing now is that by allocating this money to these local government areas that are not accountable and not democratically elected, you are encouraging looting,” he said.

Rafsanjani, who is also the chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), further said he did not agree with the school of thought that stopping the allocation to these local government areas would be contradicting the Nigerian constitution.

“The constitution’s provision is for where you have elected council chairmen, but when you have deliberately refused to conduct elections, stopping the allocation to such local government areas cannot be said to have broken the law. What we have now is just some people collecting money on behalf of the governors because they are not elected and are not responsible to the people of the local government area for which the allocation was legally meant,” he added.

He also said that because of weak institutions, especially state electoral commissions, the call for

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