By Sesugh Akume
23 January 2020
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Honourable MinisterFederal Ministry of JusticeAbuja
AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT SYSTEM AND ASSERTING IT AS THE THIRD TIER OF GOVERNMENTIt was with great delight that I read in the media, your letter titled ‘Unconstitutionality of Dissolution of Elected Local Government Councils and Appointment of Caretaker Committee: The Urgent Need for Compliance with Extant Judicial Decisions’, dated 14 January 2020, and referenced HAGF/OYO/2020/VOL.I/I; addressed to the attorney-general of Oyo state, Professor Oyewo Oyelowo.2. In the said letter you primarily asserted:A. the local government system as autonomous and the third tier of government, which the overbearing influence of governors and their non-adherence to relevant sections of the constitution is hindering its role of development at the grassroots;B. that any local government council run by caretaker committees (or whatever name it is called) is outright illegal and unconstitutional. This accurate view of yours expressed the letter was settled by the Supreme Court in the matter of Chigozie Eze & Ors v. Governor of Abia State & Ors (2014) LPELR 23276 (SC) in the judgment delivered on Friday 11 July 2014 (SC.209/2010) wherein His Lordship, Kumai Bayang Aka’ah, JSC stated at PP 32-33 paragraph G-C that: ‘… the appointment of caretaker committee members in councils by state governors in this country is not only illegal but highly undemocratic.’ And finally that;C. in the coming days the federal government will be advised further on compliance measures that should be taken in the national interest.3. I wish to remind you of the words of President Muhammadu Buhari in his inauguration speech almost 5 years ago, on 29 May 2019, when he stated, among other things, thus:’Elsewhere relations between Abuja and the states have to be clarified if we are to serve the country better. Constitutionally, there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government but that should not mean the federal government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. Not least the operations of the State Local Government Joint Account. While the federal government cannot interfere in the details of its operations it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others to abuse theirs under my watch.’4. This pragmatic step of yours towards actualising the vision of President Buhari in liberating the local government system, as well as ensuring responsible and accountable governance at all levels and in all tiers of government, as stated in the quotation above, although 5 years behind schedule, is welcome, as it is always better late than never.5. Kindly permit me to offer two suggestions, as a private citizen, on what I consider the best options to end the abuse the local government system — ¬¬ which is the most important, in my opinion, being the closest to the people — suffers, and to liberate it sustainably enabling it to deliver the much-needed development at the grassroots level:A. Considering that all unelected local government councils are illegal and unconstitutional, providing them the monthly Federation Account allocations is funding or aiding and abetting illegality and unconstitutionality. The federal government may, therefore, wish to STOP all Federation Account allocations to all local councils that are not democratically elected.B. Second, governors rely greatly on obnoxious laws in our state laws to hijack and stifle the local government system, making them appendages and extensions of their respective Government Houses. They call local governments ‘administrative units’, whatever that means. These laws allow them to appoint caretaker councils, suspend or outright sack duly elected officials, appropriate local government funds at will, etc.Permit me to cite a few of these detestable sections using the Benue State Local Government Law 2007 as an example to underscore the point. Further to the statute providing for the governor to appoint caretaker committees;I. Section 62: provides that the governor can (conniving with the House of Assembly) remove a local government chairman on mere allegations of corruption. This is contrary to the fundamental rights of the presumption of innocence, and fair hearing enshrined in section 36 of the constitution. Local government chairmen can be easily removed for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons at all, as long as there are allegations of wrongdoing, however unfounded. For this, they are permanently in the governor’s pocket, whether they democratically elected or not. II. Section 78(4): provides that after the House has allocated a percentage of the state internally-generated revenue (IGR) to the local governments, the governor shall distribute it in whatever discretionary and arbitrary manner he chooses. However, appropriation is not the duty of the governor, but of the House of Assembly according to section 120—123 of the constitution.III. Section 79(2): says the governor has the powers to micromanage Federation Account allocations through the State Local Government Joint Account arbitrarily, contrary to section 162 of the constitution. Federation Account allocations are done by statute. The governor’s ‘reallocation’ is by whims and caprices. All 36 states have these retrogressive laws in their statute books the governors rely on. It is, therefore, my considered opinion that you may also wish to use your good offices to seek the interpretation of these repugnant sections in our state laws inconsistent with the constitution with the view to NULLIFYING them.6. It is my firm belief that if these 2 approaches are deployed, the local government system will be liberated and set on a path of offering the best services to the people on a sustainable basis.Thank you.
AKUME is the Publicity Secretary of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, ANRP.