As Supreme Court Salvages the Local Government- By Yunus Abdulsalam
There are avalanche of anomalies which operates as clog in the wheel of our march as a nation towards a saner democracy. Only few will disagree that, chief among these anomalies is the absence of autonomy in our local government administration. The phalanx of Nigeria’s intelligentsia postulates that lack of local government autonomy in our federal system will continue to scuttle the prospect of the actualization of our nation’s bid for a rapid socio-economic development.
Since 1999, the unconstitutional and sacrilegious removal of democratically-elected local government officials by the state governors – and sometimes with the collaboration of docile but rubber stamping state houses of assembly- has become a terrible norm that clearly offends the spirit of principle of federalism just as it portends grave danger to the growth of our democracy.
Through the instrumentality of this repulsive act by the state governors, local governments snowballs to ministries under the state government, elected council officials kowtows to the directives of state governors and funds accruable to the local government find it ways into the ruse called ‘joint account’. With this practice, what ensues? Retrogression. The local government as the 3rd tier of government becomes a mascot of leadership failure. Accountability turns to an alien philosophy as unbridled sycophancy takes the central stage while grassroot development becomes the greatest casualty.
To be sure, many (if not all) of the state governors across political parties toe this despotic path. Elected council officials are sacked and replaced by their cronies. They see local governments as appendages most times placed under ministry of local government and chieftaincy matters. Few instances will suffice.
In 2008, Ondo state governor, Olusegun Mimiko sacked elected council officials, contending that he had instituted an action that the election be stayed which was ignored.
As soon as he was inaugurated in 2011, Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha removed elected council officials and subsequently set up transitional committee chairmen to administer the 27 council areas in the state. The court of appeal nullified the removal but the verdict was not obeyed as an appeal was said to have been filed against it.
It is in the above context, that every citizen of patriotic conscience will appreciate and adulate the supreme court of Nigeria for using its judicial hammer to dismantle this edifice of anomaly that Nigeria has been grappling with.
On the 11th of July 2014, the apex court, while delivery judgment in the case of the removal 148 council officials by the Abia State government in 2006, unequivocally pronounced that state governors lacks the power to sack democratically elected officials of local government. It was the unanimous position of the court that such action was not only illegal but amounted to “official recklessness”. This is surely a blessing to our democracy!
A community reading of section 7 of the 1999 constitutions (as amended) provides that there shall be “the system of local government by democratically elected council is under this constitution guaranteed and accordingly, the government of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this constitution ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such councils”.
With this Supreme Court’s verdict, there is a robust assurance that the intendments and aspirations of the drafters of the constitution will see the light of the day. Whereby elected officials will not be replaced with puppets of the governors while the local government can start bringing the much needed developmental services to the grassroot.
However, there is still room for constitutional amendment. The fact that even when the local government is been run by elected council officials and that they can be suspended or removed by the governor, with the support of the state house of assembly, remain a serious constitutional lacuna that needs to be abridged.
In conclusion, the apex court deserves commendation for prohibiting the inordinate removal of duly elected council officials by state governors-as such is an act that constitutes the very antithesis of principle of federalism and basic tenets of democracy. Indeed the Supreme Court has imbued our epileptic democracy with the chemotherapy to cure the cancerous effect of the subversion of autonomy in the local government administration.
A legal practitioner write from Abuja.