Last Monday’s forceful resumption of office by chairmen of the local government areas and LCDAs sacked by Governor Seyi Makinde in Oyo State, has revealed that there are more to the development than the claim to autonomy at the third tier, Kemi Olaitan writes
At his inauguration on May 29, 2019, nothing in the wildest imagination of Governor Seyi Makinde suggested to him that his decision on who should be at the helm of affairs at the local government level in the state, between his own appointees and those elected in May, 2018 during the administration of governor Abiola Ajimobi, would court so much controversy, potent enough to distract him.
Makinde on the day of his inauguration through his Chief of Staff, Chief Oyebisi Ilaka, announced the sacking of the Chairmen of the 33 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 35 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) and directed them to hand over to their Heads of Local Government Administration (HLA) or the most senior directors in their local government areas and councils.
This decision was to come under attack from various opinions, political camps, the public and most especially, the sacked helmsmen. Indeed, for the past eight months, the sacked local government chairmen and their councilors, had engaged the Makinde administration in battle, all in a bid for them to return to their positions.
The battle however climaxed last week, when the embattled Chairmen under the auspices of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), with the support of the police made good their threat to resume in their respective councils.
For about three days, reports from all the 33 local government areas and 35 Local Council Development Areas in the state showed that majority of the chairmen resumed even though there were reports of violence in some of the councils.
The state Chairman of ALGON, Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, while speaking on the resumption of his members, said he and other members were ready to cooperate with Makinde to move the state forward at the grassroots level.
Abass-Aleshinloye maintained that he and his members had employed all peaceful and legal options to reclaim their mandate eight months after they were sacked, adding that their resolve to resume was premised on the Supreme Court judgment, which declared that no governor has the right to unjustly dissolve elected chairmen.
He however added that it was unfortunate that it was only Makinde that remained adamant to the return of the local government chairmen in his state, stressing that those, who were illegally sacked in Ogun, Ekiti, Kwara had been returned.
“We have resumed, though NULGE (local government workers) members did not come today. We talked to the people, we held a prayer and we urged people to be law and abiding. Till the time that I left, there was no problem. But, we just heard that there were some hoodlums that are going around to unleash violence on the people.
“But we assured people that we will be peaceful. By law, I am the chairman of Oluyole Local Government Area. I am still compiling the report. We have majority of our people that resumed today, but there are some elements that want to attack us. We have instances in Ekiti, Kwara, Ogun, where the sacked chairmen had been returned.
“Why will Oyo state be different? This is a self-inflicted pain on the people of Oyo State. For almost eight months, we have not been in the office. We waited and we are law-abiding people. Makinde has never called us. We must finish our tenure. We have spent one year in the office before he came and we must finish our tenure,” he said.
However, to prevent the situation from escalating, the state government on Tuesday got an order from the state High Court sitting in Ibadan, restraining the 68 sacked council chairmen and chairmen of Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) from forceful and illegal takeover of the council offices across the state.
The Court, presided over by Justice Moshud A.A. Abass, granted the four reliefs sought by the lead counsel to the Oyo State Government, Dr. Akin Onigbinde (SAN), including an order of interim injunction restraining the sacked chairmen from forcefully taking over the Local Government Councils or taking steps capable of causing breach of peace in the State.
The orders of interim injunction followed an ex-parte motion filed by the State Government in Suit No: I/78/2020 while also restrained were the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar; Commissioner of Police, Oyo State Command, Mr. Shina Olukolu, and the Oyo State APC chairman, Mr. Akin Oke.
The parties and their agents were restrained from taking any step that could tamper with the case pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice.
According to the Court, the sacked chairmen, as well as the four other defendants, their officers, agents, privies or otherwise, were restrained from taking steps that would cause a breach of peace by embarking on self-help to give effect to a letter dated 14th January 2020 with reference number HAGF/OYO/2020/VOL.I/1 issued by the Attorney General of the Federation to the sacked chairmen and the Inspector General of Police pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
But Makinde, on Wednesday, headed for Abuja where he met the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu and declared that his administration would not condone violence in Oyo State. “You all must have heard about the issue of local government administration in Oyo State. There is a court order yesterday restraining the IG, the CP and the AIG from giving unilateral order regarding the issue of local government administration in Oyo State.
“I came to brief the Inspector General that this is the situation. We do not want chaos in Oyo State. I personally, am law-abiding; if there is a court judgment, I would obey it and he has given me the assurances that once he gets the copy of the court order, he would do the needful.”
For political watchers in the pace setter state, the needless crisis may not be so much about, who takes charge at the councils but rather positioning the two major political parties, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the main opposition, the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead the 2023 elections.
For a party that was in power for eight years to conduct an election at its twilight, many believed was nothing but a booby trap by the administration of Senator Ajimobi for its successor.
The first sign that the then APC administration would make the third tier difficult for Makinde was the court ruling it got from the state High Court presided over by Justice A. A. Aderemi, immediately the PDP candidate was declared winner of the 2019 governorship election in the state.
In the suit initiated by the ALGON members, the defendants were Ajimobi, the state House of Assembly and the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice.
Between that time and now, the ALGON members led by Abass-Aleshinloye, who are members of APC, have been in the trenches with the governor employing everything in their arsenal. Indeed, analysts hold the view that the sacked Chairmen are capitalising on the fact that the APC is at the centre to destabilise the administration of Governor Makinde.
For example, the letter by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, to the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo, over the Supreme Court judgment on local government administration is seen in some quarters as political.
The AGF in the letter dated 14 January 2020, with reference HAGF/OYO/2020/Vol.I/I and titled: “Unconstitutionality of dissolution of elected local government councils and appointment of caretaker committee, and copied the IGP, DG, DSS, the Ag, chairman of EFCC and NFIU, directed Makinde to reverse the dissolution of local government administration in the state and emphasised the urgent need for compliance with extant judicial decisions.
In the letter, Malami pointed out that the decision of the Supreme Court on the matter was binding on all 36 states of the federation and insisted that “the common practice by some governors in dissolving elected local government councils is unconstitutional, null and void. So, also any system of local government run by Caretaker Committee is outright illegal and unconstitutional.
“To this end, I hereby request all their Excellencies, State Governors and Speakers of State House of Assembly, who are currently acting in breach of the provisions of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and also acting in disobedience of the Supreme Court judgment highlighted above to immediately retrace their step by ensuring compliance with the above in the overall interest of the rule of law and our democracy,” he said The AGF letter reads further that, “The need to immediately disband all caretaker committee and restore democratically elected representatives to man the local governments has therefore become obligatory”.
Malami urged the Oyo State Commissioner for Justice to take positive steps to ensure compliance, as “Mr. President and other relevant agencies will be advised further on compliance measures that should be taken in national interest”.
However, nothing gives vent to the position that the letter was political than the story on front page of THISDAY of last Monday, which revealed that the practice of dissolution of elected councils was not restricted to Oyo State alone, but also that about 12 other states had flouted the apex court’s decision. The other states include Katsina, Borno, Yobe, Kwara, Kogi, Bauchi, Taraba, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Ogun.
A particular case was that of Katsina, where the Governor, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, said the inability of the state government to conduct local government election was due to litigation by the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against his dissolution of elected LG chairmen.
Masari had in 2015 sacked all the 34 elected local government chairmen and their 361 councillors, whose elections were conducted by the past PDP administration of Alhaji Ibrahim Shema.
He thereafter inaugurated caretaker committee chairmen, comprising largely of partisans, for the 34 councils. But the PDP sued Masari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to challenge the dissolution of the local government chairmen.
The case is currently at the Supreme Court. And in dissolving the local government administrators, the governor said the state government did not violate any law as it followed the law enacted by the previous PDP administration in the state.
Nevertheless, the administration has consistently justified its sacking of the Chairmen, stating that the local government election that was conducted by the Ajimobi administration was illegal, because it contravened court order.
Indeed, Makinde explained that the actions of his administration in dissolving the former local government chairmen and appointing caretaker chairmen were in righting the wrong of the immediate past administration.
According to him, the Senator Ajimobi administration erred ab initio by violating a court order to conduct the “kangaroo” local government election, thereby rendering the constitution of the present ALGON in the state null and void.
With the residents of the state waiting with bated breath on who will capitulate first, political watchers however believed that the APC-led federal government has to thread softly so as not to throw Oyo State, which is regarded as the political headquarters of the Southwest region into a crisis it may not know how it would end.