Since May 29 when they were inaugurated, some of the new governors have dissolved the local government administrations they met in their states.
The development has instigated controversies and legal disputes.
But none appears to have generated as much heat as that of Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State.
Shortly after his inauguration, Makinde sacked chairmen of the 33 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 35 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) which were elected on May 12, 2018 during the immediate past administration of Abiola Ajimobi.
The chairmen sacked alongside members of boards of parastatals were directed to hand over to their Heads of Local Government Administration (HLA) or the most senior directors in their local government areas and councils.
Controversy had therefore, continued to trail the removal of the chairmen by the present administration as variegated opinions from political camps, the public, the sacked helmsmen and Oyo State government have continued to pour.
For the past seven months, the sacked local government chairmen, including their councilors, have locked horns with the present administration in the state, all in a bid for them to return to their positions.
As the crisis raged, the embattled chairmen under the auspices of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) Oyo State chapter said the sack was illegal, undemocratic, violation of rule of law and contempt of a subsisting court injunction against such sack. While justifying the action, however, the state government said that the local government election that was conducted by the last dispensation was illegal as it contravened court order.
Makinde explained that the actions of his administration in dissolving the former local government chairmen and appointing caretaker chairmen was in righting the wrong of the immediate past administration.
According to Makinde, the Senator Abiola Ajimobi administration erred ab initio by violating a court order to conduct the “kangaroo” local government election, thereby rendering the constitution of ALGON Oyo null and void.
Although he acknowledged the ongoing case challenging the dissolution of the chairmen, the association said: “We stand fast on our democratic mandate freely and fairly given by the good people of our respective local government and development areas”.
The ALGON chairman in the state, Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, said the continuous disregard of the Supreme Court judgment and High Court judgment forbidding the dissolution of democratically elected local government functionaries by the governor, indicates the slide the rule of law is witnessing in the hands of the Makinde-led administration.
“The governor again displayed his despise to the highest court of the land with the swearing-in of illegal caretaker committees, an illegal contraption and a body of power usurpers that is unknown to our law as proclaimed by the highest court of the land. A governor that again recently publicly and falsely accused Justices of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan, on air, of unfounded allegations, cannot respect the courts except when decisions favour him.
“The Oyo State government and their apologists have tried to excuse their recklessness by alluding to the fact that the Supreme Court judgment was on Ekiti State local councils and in their myopic view inapplicable to them in Oyo State. Such is the level of limited understanding of our current leaders. Even if they do not know what ‘stare decisis’ means in law, the Attorney General who has stood by while illegality thrives in our state, ought to have explained the importance of a Supreme Court pronouncement to the governor,” he said.
According to him, “It is trite that the declaration of the Supreme Court on any point of law is binding on all courts and in all states where similar issues arise. This was why the case of INAKOJU V ADELEKE on the impeachment of Governor Ladoja established the principles of law governing impeachment in any state, and the decision of the Supreme Court on this case effectively put an end to the reckless spate of irregular impeachments under a former PDP leadership in our country. It is therefore, begging the question to expect the Supreme Court to pronounce on the issue of Caretaker Chairmen in all 36 states individually when it already pronounced conclusively in the Ekiti case. We are not surprised at the empty justification for even the devil justified his sin before God. The weak arguments of a controversial stay of execution did not set aside the pronouncement of the Oyo State High Court. Indeed the declarations made by the High Court judgment of Oyo State declaring caretaker leadership over local councils an illegality cannot be stayed as the law still remains sacrosanct that declaratory judgments cannot be stayed.”
The chairmen stated that they reject the “serial illegalities,” which they claimed are “a crude assault on our democracy, and rape of our constitution, more so, when the appeal filed by the state government against the High Court judgment is still pending.”
However, despite the outcry by ALGON and petition written by Oyo State chapter of APC to President Muhammad Buhari , over their sacking, Governor Seyi Makinde inaugurated Caretaker Chairmen for the councils.
In the petition, the APC in Oyo State called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly, under Senator Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila, to prevail on Makinde to desist from further actions capable of impeding smooth operation of democracy and general administration of the third tier of government in the state.
Oyo APC’s call came on the heel of Makinde’s announcement then that he would appoint his party members as Caretaker Chairmen and Sole Administrators into the 33 local government councils and 35 local council development areas across the state respectively following a lull occasioned by the prevention of the elected officials to perform their responsibilities by the new PDP administration.
The Assistant Publicity Secretary, Ayobami Adejumo, Oyo APC said by foisting Makinde’s loyalists and PDP members on the people at the local government level was not only an affront against the Judiciary but also a shameful decision aimed at positioning some lackeys for a possible hatchet job in view of his imminent sack from office.
“In the history of our dear country, there has never been anywhere in all the 36 States and the FCT where the executive offices in all the local government councils were locked for more than six months simply because a governor would order the sack of elected officials. But this happened in our own Oyo State when the PDP Governor began to manifest flagrant disregard to the Oath of Office he swore to right from the day of his inauguration. Gov. Makinde ordered a prospective appointee to announce the withdrawal of the mandate of hundreds of validly elected council officials and this was without any reasonable justification.
“Without mincing words, the whole word is aware of a subsisting judgment of the Supreme Court which frowns at the actions being taken by Makinde as it declared as illegal, null and void, any dissolution of elected local government councils by any state governor and/or state House of Assembly. “The governor is fully aware of this and the specific judgement of the Oyo State High Court, which called attention to the Apex Court’s incontrovertible verdict and thus restrained the Oyo State governor and House of Assembly from dissolving local governments.
“Gov. Makinde did not only deliberately flout these subsisting court orders/judgments; he also took other dangerous steps by illegally dissolving OYSIEC, a constitutional body with a specified tenure provided by our constitution.”
However, Oyo State chapter of Socialist Party of Nigeria, (SPN), declared the appointment of Caretaker Chairmen for the 33 Local governments and 35 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) by Governor Makinde as unlawful and undemocratic.
The party stated this in a statement by its State Secretary, Ayodeji Adigun.
In the statement, SPN emphasised that the appointment was in violation of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Our major concern is that the appointment of the caretaker’s chairmen is a flagrant violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Asides the fact that the Nigeria constitution does not recognize the appointment of caretaker chairmen as the legitimate heads of administration of the local government authority, the 35 LCDA which the appointed caretakers chairmen are also expected to preside over is illegal and unlawful as they are not individually and collectively known to the constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria as well,” it said.
The party quickly added, “Our rejection of the illegality perpetrated by Makinde government is not an endorsement of the APC/Ajimobi anointed sacked LGA and LCDA chairmen who emerged through an illegal and fraudulent process.”
SPN stressed further, “Even if there was no court order or injunction that restrained the conduct of the May 12, 2018 LGA election, as claimed by the Aleshinloye-led ALGON, the fact remains that the conduct of the so-called LGA election was a violation of the Constitution of federal Republic of Nigeria”, saying, “for instance, none of the electoral wards and Local government areas used by the OYSIEC to conduct the election was recognised by the constitution”.
“It is in the light of this that we of the SPN concludes that both the appointed caretaker chairmen and the purportedly elected Aleshinloye-led ALGON chairmen are illegal and undemocratic. Therefore, we demand, as the way forward out of this ridiculous political imbroglio, that the Seyi Makinde-led government concretely and democratically commence the process to organise a democratic election that will be free from all forms of manipulation and malpractices.”
SPN further said: “We strongly hold that one of the ways to commence the process to organise a credible election is to reconstitute OYSIEC such that it will comprise representatives of political parties and elected representatives of trade unions and professional bodies like NBA, etc,” adding, “we call on trade unions, civil society organisations, NBA, youth and working masses of Oyo state to support and echo this demand.”
Before the inauguration of caretakers by Governor Makinde ,there was tension in the state as the embattled chairmen threatened to resume in their various local governments but the police was readily put on red alert in order not to allow breakdown of law and order.
The sacked local government chairmen and councilors, as part of moves to reclaim their mandate, vowed to resume at their duty posts as Aleshinloye, said: “In line with our resolution to defend democracy and the mandate freely and fairly given to us by the electorate, all chairmen and councillors are hereby directed to resume tomorrow, Wednesday, 17th December, 2019 , we shall resume and defend democracy and rule of law peacefully”.
According to him, “We advise the local government employees, including HLAs, DAGs, DFAs, and other council employees not to allow the illegal caretaker appointees or the state government to implicate them in the illegal administration and operations plotted for our local councils.”
The ALGON Chairman however, said that the governor’s attempt to appoint people to invade the council secretariats in the state and occupy positions that are not vacant by law iwas crisis-ridden and a hidden agenda to cause violence in the state and disrupt the existing peace he inherited.
“This Invasion by Makinde’s unelected invaders and pretenders to office will be stopped and must be resisted by all democratic and peaceful means necessary,” he added.
Governor Seyi Makinde responded by asking the sacked chairmen to take their agitations over the appointment of Caretaker Chairmen to court.
In a statement released by Taiwo Adisa, his chief press secretary, Makinde had said that there was no court order violated in appointing the caretaker chairmen as there was no such order restraining the state government from running the local government system.
“The government has looked at every aspect of that ongoing case. There is no order from the court restraining the government of Oyo State from running the local government system, despite the fact that there is a case pending in court. The case pending will be determined by the court one day. When that case is determined, the government will look at whatever the court says, and follow the dictates of the court.
“But, we cannot say that life will come to an end because the matter is in court. We cannot allow the life of the local government to come to an end because some people took the matter to court,” he said.
Although the caretaker committees have since been inaugurated and running, ALGON, in a warning issued through a letter jointly signed by Abass-Aleshinloye, chairman and Jesutoye Oluyinka, secretary, Oyo State, reminded the governor that “As you are aware, the office of chairmen of our local government councils and LCDAs are neither vacant nor available under our constitution for any caretaker to justifiably occupy either in law or fact. Therefore, any individual who passes himself or herself off as Caretaker Chairman or seeks to issue directives to Local Government/LCDAs staff or civil servants or our bankers will along with such banker or civil servant, be acting fraudulently and in breach of clear legal pronouncements for which such persons and their stooges shall be prosecuted . Make no mistake about it, an armchair pronouncement of a Governor in a constitutional democracy, and a showmanship swearing in, are unknown to our law as currently constituted. It does not, and cannot by any stretch of political spin or imagination legalise what has been pronounced an illegality by the Supreme Court and the High Court of Oyo State.”
The group also reminded the Accountant-General of Oyo State, the Ministry of Local Government and Council officials across Local Government Councils, that the Joint State/Local government accounts are under the legal regime established by law and the Court judgments, only operatable by the elected local government chairmen whose elections have neither been voided by any court nor by any law.
“You may wish to refer to the NFIU Guidelines on this. Similarly, we remain approving signatories with the Finance and General Purpose Committees of our Councils over Council funds due to each Council. We equally remain on record with our bankers the confirming signatories for payments out of local government accounts which cannot be changed without recourse to law. It was our valid return as elected chairmen after contested elections that effectively qualified us in this role,” it said.
All eyes are on the court for expected solution.
REMI FEYISIPO, Ibadan.