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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Council autonomy battle rages at Supreme Court

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Thirty-six governors have seven days to present their defence to the suit filed against them by the Federal Government over the management of funds belonging to local councils.

The Supreme Court, which gave the order yesterday through a seven-member panel, led by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, also ordered the Federal Government to file its reply within two days of being served with the defendants’ responses.

The court issued the orders yesterday in a ruling on an application by the federal government for abridgement of time for parties to file all relevant papers in relation to the suit.

Arguing the federal government’s application, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), prayed the court to order the defendants to file their defence within five days in view of the urgent nature of the case.

The Chairman, Body of Attorneys-General of the states of the Federation, Ben Odoh (who is also the Attorney-General of Ebonyi State) did not object to the request for abridgement of time.

Odoh, however, requested that the defendants be given 15 days as against the five days requested by the federal government.

Justice Garba, who read the ruling, said the court’s decision to restrict the defendants to seven days was predicated on the national importance and urgency of the suit and also, because the defendants did not object to the plaintiff’s request for abridgement of time.

He added that the filing of all relevant processes and the exchange of same by parties must be completed within the time allocated.

The judge then adjourned till June 13 for hearing.

During yesterday’s proceedings, the attorneys-general of Borno, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Sokoto states, were absent and not represented by any lawyer.

Justice Garba ordered that the eight states that were absent should be served with fresh hearing notice against the next adjourned date.

In the suit marked: “SC/CV/343/2024” filed by the AGF on behalf of the federal government, governors were accused among others, of arbitrarily running the local governments.

It is also alleged that some governors run local government areas with appointed administrators as against elected officials prescribed by the Constitution.

The federal government is praying the apex court for an order prohibiting governors “from unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected leaders for Local Governments.”

It is also praying the Supreme Court for an order permitting the funds standing in the credits of Local Governments to be directly channeled to them from the Federation Account in line with the provisions of the Constitution, as against the alleged unlawful joint accounts created by governors.

It wants an order stopping governors from constituting caretaker to run the affairs of Local Governments as against the constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

Also, the federal government wants an order of injunction restraining the governors, their agents and privies from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states.

The states were sued through their respective attorneys- general.

The federal government premised its prayers on 27 grounds, to include that the country is a creation of the Constitution with President as Head of the Federal Executive arm of the Federation and has sworn to uphold and give effects to the provisions of the Constitution.

“The governors represent the component states of the Federation with Executive Governors who have also sworn to uphold the Constitution and to at all times, give effects to the Constitution and that the Constitution, being the supreme law, has binding force all over the Federation of Nigeria.

“The Constitution of Nigeria recognises federal, states and local governments as three tiers of government and that the three recognized tiers of government draw funds for their operation and functioning from the Federation Account created by the Constitution.

“By the provisions of the Constitution, there must be a democratically elected local government system and that the Constitution has not made provisions for any other systems of governance at the local government level other than democratically elected local government system.

“In the face of the clear provisions of the Constitution, the governors have failed and refused to put in place a democratically elected local government system even where no state of emergency has been declared to warrant the suspension of democratic institutions in the state.

“The failure of the governors to put democratically elected local government system in place, is a deliberate subversion of the 1999 Constitution which they and the President have sworn to uphold.

“All efforts to make the governors comply with the dictates of the 1999 Constitution in terms of putting in place, a democratically elected local government system, has not yielded any result and that to continue to disburse funds from the Federation Account to governors for non-existing democratically elected local government is to undermine the sanctity of the 1999 Constitution.”

The Nation

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