The Supreme Court of Nigeria in a five man panel headed by Justice Olubolade Joe in a unanimous judgement delivered on December 11, 2019 strips state governors of the power to sack elected local government (LG) chairmen and councillors. The appointment of caretaker chairmen by state governors has also been banned by the same court ruling.
The Supreme Court ruled that henceforth ‘the act giving legislative powers to state Assembly members to undertake the process of sacking elected local government chairmen is null and void’. The panel of judges unanimously declared that only the legislative arm of a LG Council is empowered with the residual constitutional backing to sack council chairmen that maybe found blameworthy of any gross misconduct or violations of rules guiding public servants. This judgement is sequel to an appeal filed by 16 Ekiti state LG chairmen who were elected during Ayodele Fayose’s tenure as Ekiti state Governor and were sacked by the incumbent Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state.
This Supreme Court judgement has finally put an end to the abuse of power by state assemblies and governors who sack elected LG chairmen at will. Justice Olubolade Joe-led panel also directed that a copy of the judgement should be served to all 36 State Houses of Assembly and the Minister of FCT on or before the December 30, 2019.
This is a landmark judgement that will guarantee the survival of democracy in the country. The judgement has not only defined where exclusive powers should begin and possible end but will forestall flagrant abuse of executive powers by state governors. Over the years, local governments in Nigeria have become the weeping child of many state governors.
Their mandate and even constitutional roles have been reduced to being mere ‘errand aides’ whose survival in office is at the mercy of state governors. At the slightest opportunity, governors dissolve local government councils who came into office through an electoral process; most times at the detriment of the affected electorate.
As elected representatives of their people, LG chairmen and councilors are expected to be accountable to the people whose votes brought them into office, and not state governors. If governors elected into office cannot be removed by the President except by state legislators through legislative procedures in the state assembly, why then should other than the legislative arm of the LG decide when an elected LG chairman should leave office? States where governors that have in the past sacked elected LG councils include Abia in 2006, Imo in 2011, Rivers in 2012, Ondo in 2008, Edo in 2012, Bayelsa in 2013 and Plateau in 2015. LG is the third tier of government in a federal system.
It is the closest tier of government to the people and was created to stimulate development in rural communities. Local government provides opportunities for people to express themselves with regards to everything that concern their well-being. It enables people to choose their representatives that will, on their behalf, take care of their local affairs.
While this Supreme Court ruling seeks, in effect, to strengthen democratic principles at a level that has become vulnerable in Nigeria, it should not be seen by elected LG chairmen or councilors as an autonomy to abandon the ethics of good governance in order to become reckless and lawless in the discharge of their statutory mandate. LG chairmen should avoid replicating the embarrassing scenario that characterize power-politics at the second tier of government where governors decides the wind that blows across state legislature. On the other hand, members of the legislative arm of the LG structure are urged to guard against reducing themselves to mercenaries used by a LG chairman (as the head of the executive arm) to hire and fire a speaker (as head of the legislative arm).
We recommend that the ongoing amendment to the country’s 1999 Constitution by the 9th session of the national assembly should capture this Supreme Court judgement. Unless this is done, the Supreme Court may not have had its last sitting on this matter.
Credit : Dailytrust