Despite the claims by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation that it has directed all state governments to comply with the Supreme Court’s judgment forbidding governors and legislatures from dissolving elected council officials, only Oyo State has acknowledged receipt of the memo.
Most of the defaulting states have denied receiving any letter on the subject matter of local government administration from the AGF’s office.
The office of the AGF confirmed that it sent the letters advising states to comply with the provisions of the Constitution with regard to the administration of local governments in line with the judgement of the Supreme Court.
The letter notified states of the illegality of running caretaker committees in place of elected officials at the local governments.
The issues came to light following a memo to the Oyo State Government in respect of the sacked local government officials by the PDP-led government in the state, and urging it to reinstate the chairpersons and councillors.
Mr Malami’s letter, dated January 14, and addressed to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Oyo State, Oyewo Oyelowo, called for the immediate disbandment of caretaker committees and the restoration of elected local governments.
His memo drew strength from the Supreme Court judgement last year in a case brought by sacked local government chairpersons in Ekiti State, which declared as illegal the governors’ removal of elected officials of local councils.
Kayode Fayemi, as governor in 2010, reportedly announced the dissolution of the councils on October 29, 2010, when the elected council officials still had up till December 19, 2011, to end their three-year tenure.
Although the Appeal Court gave judgment in favour of the sacked council chairpersons, the Ekiti State Government challenged the decision of the Appeal Court and proceeded to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in the judgment nullified the power of state governors, derived from laws passed by the Houses of Assembly, to sack elected Local government chairmen.
It also stopped the state Houses of Assembly from empowering the governor to replace the sacked chairmen with interim administrators.
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By implication, the apex court declared as illegal administrators at the local levels not duly elected as provided for in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Abubakar Malami’s letter was titled, “Unconstitutionality of dissolution of elected local government councils and appointment of caretaker committee: The urgent need for compliance with extant judicial decisions.”
“The need to immediately disband all caretaker committees and restore democratically elected representatives to man the local governments has therefore become obligatory,” the letter partly read.
“In view of the decision of the Supreme Court on the matter that is binding on all 36 States of the Federation.
“The common practice by some state governors in dissolving elected local government councils is unconstitutional, null and void.
“So also any system of local government run by Caretaker Committees are outrightly illegal and unconstitutional.”
The letter covered the action of the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, who a few hours after his inauguration as the governor of the state, sacked all the elected officials of the local governments in the state.
His reason was that the election that brought them into office was done by the previous administration against a subsisting court order. He had asked the sacked officials to challenge his action in court.
After removing the chairpersons and councillors from the 33 local governments and 35 local council development areas in the state, he went ahead to inaugurate caretaker committees for the councils.
In spite of the AGF’s directive, the Oyo State Government is adamant, denouncing the “meddling” of the Minister of Justice.
The governor had argued that the AGF could not have intervened in such a matter while it is still a subject of litigation.
Mr Malami’s letter was closely followed by another from the Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Muhammad, urging the Commissioner of Police in Oyo State to facilitate the reinstatement of the sacked chairpersons and councillors, in view of the legal opinion of the Attorney-General of the Federation. The Oyo State government has also frowned at the directive.
While the Oyo State Government had acknowledged the receipt of the letter and had responded to it, other states contacted by PREMIUM TIMES and who are in breach of the same rule, claimed not to have received any letter from the office of the AGF.
At the moment, 14 states are in defiance of the Supreme Court judgement on the illegality of using caretaker committees. The states are Oyo, Ondo, Katsina, Borno, Yobe, Kwara, Kogi, Bauchi, Taraba, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Ogun.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, Umar Gwandu, in response to PREMIUM TIMES inquiry, said the letters were addressed to the 36 states of the federation.
He however note that he could not confirm whether the letters were received, despite his assurance that the letters were sent to all the states.
“The letter was sent to all the governors of the states, all the governors; but the media chose to write only Oyo,” stated Mr Gwandu.
“If you see the copy of the letter sent to Oyo, you will see a paragraph where he referred to all the governors.”
When told that the states had denied receiving the letters, Mr Gwandu said, “I cannot confirm whether it has been received or not received, but I can tell you is that it has been sent.”
Pressure to comply
However, some of the defaulting states are now under pressure to comply with the directive.
PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed that states such as Kogi, Ogun, and Ondo have stepped up plans for local government elections since the directive was issued, while Borno State has no immediate plans to end the caretaker committees, citing reasons of insecurity in the state.
On its part, Ondo State has continued to run caretaker committees since the beginning of the Rotimi Akeredolu administration.
Mr Akeredolu had on assumption of office in 2017, dissolved the councils, claiming that they were illegally elected into office under former Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, who was of the Peoples Democratic Party.
On April 3, 2017, he inaugurated caretaker committees for all the 18 local councils to run the affairs of the local governments pending the holding of elections into the councils.
Again on October 18, 2018, the governor dissolved the caretaker chairmen and their committees who were party loyalists and inaugurated another one, which was also dissolved on June 13, 2019, before the emplacement of the current ones.
As the governor looks forward to seeking a return ticket from the All Progressives Congress for a second term, the state has scheduled local elections for April this year.
The Commissioner for Information for the state, Donald Ojogo, however, said the election to of officials into the local councils was well scheduled for April this year before “the purported letter” of the Attorney-General of the Federation was issued.
“We had scheduled our local government elections before that purported statement from the attorney-general,” Mr Ojogo said.
“Mr Governor does not believe that non-democratic structures should suffice at the local government level and it is in light of the above that he decided that all the 18 local government areas should be democratized.
“ODIEC, in line with that directive, decided to issue a statement highlighting the very detailed processes in respect of the local government elections. That has been done over two or three weeks ago.
“The fact that elections will hold on the 18th of April had sufficed for over three weeks. That of the Attorney-General came just last week, so it has nothing to do with it.”
Asked why he termed Mr Malami’s letter as “purported statement,” Mr Ojogo said he did so because the letter was not sent to Ondo State.
“They didn’t send it to us,” he said. “It was sent to a state. I only read it in the newspapers that it was sent to a state, so that is the most appropriate word for me to use.”
The governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun, two weeks earlier had inaugurated what he referred to as “transition committee” to oversee the local governments pending the conduct of elections into the councils.
The elected officials concluded their tenures in October 2019, without any transition plan by way of holding elections for new officials to take over from them.
Kunle Somorin, the Chief Press Secretary the governor, told PREMIUM TIMES that the transition committees would be in place until the Ogun State Electoral Commission (OGSEIC) conducts elections to pick new council chairpersons.
He said following the exit of the officials who served out their tenures, there would be a vacuum if committees were not put in place.
Mr Somorin said although the Attorney-General of the Federation did not write any letter to the Ogun State Government on the need to emplace elected officials, he said the state government was already putting in place the process that would bring in new elected officials at the local government level.
Kogi State has maintained caretaker committees for local governments since 2016 when Governor Yahaya Bello came into office. When he appointed them, he charged that the chairpersons would be addressed as administrators.
He renewed their tenures in April, 2018 and a second time using the House of Assembly just before his reelection.
Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Onogwu Muhammad, said despite the retention of caretaker committees, the governor believes in the local government as a third tier of government.
According to Mr Muhammad, holding the elections at a time when there was a financial crisis, was impossible.
The governor believes the existence of three tiers of government,” said Mr Muhammad, while giving reasons why elections had not been had in the local councils.
“We came on board at the time when the economy was too hard and there was a paucity of funds, and there was no way we could hold elections for local governments when we could not even pay salaries at that time.
“We allowed the council officials to complete their tenure, and after they completed their tenure we had no funds to immediately conduct the council elections, so we appointed administrators so that we could muscle funds for the election.
“It took us a long time to overcome the salary issue, after that we are still battling to ensure that we sustain the payment of salaries as we began in August last year.
“Right now machinery is in place to conduct the election. In the last four months, preparation of this had started, even before the letter from the Attorney-General of the Federation on local governments came.”
Mr Muhammad noted that he could not confirm whether a letter from the AGF had been received since a Commissioner for Justice had just been nominated and he would need to be screened by the legislature and confirmed before assuming duties.
PREMIUM TIMES can confirm that many states had earlier conducted council elections, which were largely won by the ruling parties. Such states include Adamawa, Rivers, Zamfara, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Bayelsa, Delta, Ekiti, Lagos, Jigawa, Niger, Plateau, Osun, Kwara, Kano, Edo and Delta .
No immediate plans
However, Borno State has no immediate plans to comply with the directive, even though it claimed no letter from the Attorney-General of the Federation was sent to the state.
The Commissioner for Information, Bakura Jato, told PREMIUM TIMES on the phone that the letter was not supposed to be sent to the states since the case decided on by the Supreme Court did not join other states aside Ekiti State from where the suit emanated.
“There was no letter from the Attorney-General of the Federation to any state,” Mr Jato said. “That case was taken to court by the dissolved local government chairmen in Ekiti State. So the interpretation of the Supreme Court was that the governor had no power to dissolve the chairmen until their tenure expires,
“That case is personal to Ekiti State and no other state was joined as a party.”
Mr Jato further argued the situation with the local governments in Borno would continue with caretaker committees until the security situation in the region allows for an election.
He said some parts of the state were inaccessible due to the security situation, and the state would conduct local council elections once the situation became conducive.
In Anambra State, caretaker committees had been in place in the 21 local government areas since the present administration came on board. The state government claims it has yet to receive any letter from the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Don Adinuba, attributed the failure to hold local government elections in the state to legal hurdles.
Besides, Mr Adinuba said it was improper for the AGF to give directive to the states on the administration of local government in a federal system like Nigeria’s.
He further argued that under number circumstances, the states should decide how the local government system should run and could even decide whether it needed local governments or not.
He said a political party had taken the state government to court over the constitution of transition committee for the local government areas and the court of Justice Peter Umeadi who was the then Chief Judge of Anambra State ruled in their favour, asking that an election be held.
He said the matter has proceeded to the Supreme Court and until that is disposed of, it would not be possible to hold local government elections in Anambra State.