Alia Explains Suspension of Benue LG Council Executives

George Okoh in Makurdi

The Benue State Governor, Rev. Fr. L. Hyacinth Alia, has debunked accusations from council chairmen in the state that he has sacked them from office.

Alia stated this in an interview on Saturday while responding to a press conference that was organised by the suspended council chairmen, who accused him of sacking them from office despite a subsisting court order barring their sack.

The Benue State House of Assembly had during plenary session on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, recommended for the suspension of all the 23 local government chairmen as well as their various legislative arms over corruption allegations.

The recommendations were upheld by the state executive and the chairmen were directed to handover their offices to the various DGSAs of their councils.

However, in reaction to the governor’s directive, the council chairmen had during a press conference on Saturday, June 24, 2023, accused Governor Alia of flouting the court judgment and went  ahead to sack them from office.

But speaking on the development,  the Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Tersoo Kula,  quoted the governor  as saying  that the chairmen were not sacked but suspended from office to pave way for a seamless investigation. 

He stated that the governor merely acted on the correspondence from the state’s House of Assembly, which recommended suspension of the council chairmen, pending when they would complete their investigations into cases of corruption alleged to have been committed by them.

He denied knowledge of any court judgment.

“The governor is a man who obeys the law; he will never do anything to breach a court order. So, even if there exist a court order not to sack council chairmen, at least there is none barring anyone from investigating them?

“But are they really insulated from appropriate sanctions by the extant constitutional provisions? They should come to equity with clean hands,” he wondered.

He queried further that “perhaps, they may have been misled into assuming that they are entitled to political immunity as ‘elected’ council chairmen.”

He urged the council chairmen to be patient, as they would be availed the opportunity to defend themselves before the House of Assembly’s committee, stating that those who would not be found guilty of the charges would be reinstated, insisting that they remained suspended from office, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Benue State Chapter, had described the suspension of elected council chairmen and councilors in Benue State by the State House of Assembly as mere wishful thinking.

It, therefore, urged members of the public to disregard such an announcement, insisting that they would be at their duty post on Monday (today).

At a news conference in Makurdi on Saturday, the State ALGON Chairman and Chairman of Guma Local Government Council, Dr. Michael Uba, who was flanked by other council chairmen, said that the mandate given to them is for two years and would not allow any interest group to truncate it.

Uba said: “Our suspension is, by now, an issue which you the press are aware of and have even reported widely in your various medium, as was purported by the Benue State House of Assembly on June 21, 2023, and only yesterday, 23rd June, 2023, by correspondence from the office of the permanent secretary in the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.

“We state without the slightest modicum of ambiguity or prevarication that we do not recognise such purporting of our suspension from office, neither do we consider ourselves under any obligation to give heed to same or comply with any directive as emanates from it.

“Our position derives a fundamental base from the incontrovertible fact of our offices being a creation of law as guaranteed under the supreme umbrella of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended in 1999), which recognises the tier of government we function at as the third in a tripod made up of the federal, state and local.” 

The ALGON chairman explained that they were elected as council chairmen on April 30, 2022, in the local council elections conducted by the Benue State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC) and sworn into office on June 29, 2022.

“We, in line with the provision of extant law, proclaimed the legislative councils in our various areas, which were also duly elected and thereafter, forwarded to them, our nominations for the offices of supervisors whom we swore into the various statutorily designated offices, together with special advisers to our offices.

“We were not appointed into office but were elected by the electorate of Benue State and vested with a mandate, which is guaranteed under the law, with the procedure for the administration of the councils under our leadership clearly provided for under the Local Government Establishment Law of Benue State,” he added.

Uba said: “We equally defer to the judgment of the National Industrial Court in Makurdi, which barred the Government of Benue State at all levels from taking any action as it seeks to temper with our lawfully recognised mandate as elected council chairmen.”

He said that the judgment of the court is still subsisting and not even aware that the government appealed against it.

Uba said that the council chairmen expected the state government to lead the way on the quest for strengthening an order of law and respect for due process in Benue, rather than promoting impunity and the sort of anarchy seen in the actions of the state assembly and Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.

“We, as chief security officers of the 23 local government areas of Benue State, are critical stakeholders and leaders in the state and will at all times be willing to tow the path of peace, law and order, and this we have been doing since being sworn into office in our various councils,” he stated.

The council bosses, therefore, vowed not to surrender to illegality and impunity as is being contrived against them by the Rev. Fr. Alia’s administration, pointing out that to surrender to the unlawful purported suspension preferred against them will amount to doing a disservice to Benue State.

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