Furore in Kwara over amended local government law

BIOLA AZEEZ writes on the controversies that followed the amendment of the Kwara State Local Government (Amendment) Law 2006 which bars the state governor from dissolving elected government councils.

Dissolution of democratically elected local government councils by some state governors across the country has always generated different reactions and political debates among stakeholders in the polity. In many instances, some of the governors would rather make use of caretaker committee chairmen and supervisors in local government areas in their states for a certain period of time, instead of organising local government election that would bring on board elected chairmen and councillors at the level of the third tier of government.

Some governors did not even have elected council executives throughout the duration of their tenure for about seven years out of their two terms of eight years, but would rather only hold local government election when they are about to leave office. This is more especially when they know that their successors are coming from opposition parties.

Meanwhile, Section 7 of the Nigeria Constitution states: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is, under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”

Stakeholders believe that the constitutional provision not only guaranteed financial autonomy of local governments, but also ensures the independence of local government administration itself.

In consonance with the constitutional provision, the Supreme Court ruled, some three months ago, that no state governor has the power to dissolve a democratically elected executive of any local government area in the country.

Also, on Monday, last week, an Oyo State High Court, sitting in Ibadan, the state capital, ruled that the state governor has no power to dissolve democratically elected councillors and chairmen.

It would be recalled that the Kwara State government had similarly, in 2006, passed a law which had many people holding the belief, either rightly or wrongly, that the state governor has the power to dissolve the administration of an elected local government chairman.

However, on April 23, 2019, the Kwara State House of Assembly passed a bill into law to amend the state Local Government (Amendment) Law No. 3 of 2006.

According to the amended law, initiated by the member representing Oke-Ogun Constituency, Honourable Kamal Fagbemi, it has become unconstitutional for the state governor to unilaterally dissolve democratically elected local government councils in the state.

Speaking after the passage of the amendment bill into law, the deputy speaker of the state legislature, Chief Mathew Okedare, who presided over the sitting, directed the Clerk of the House, Hajia Halimat Kperogi, to prepare a clean copy for the governor’s assent, pointing out that the third tier of government was strategic to an accelerated socio-economic transformation of the state.

Speaking during the consideration of the general principles of the amendment bill, Fagbemi urged his colleagues to ensure the passage of the bill, adding that the amendment became imperative in view of the fact that the principal law was inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.

The lawmaker also averred that Section 7 of the constitution guarantees that local government councils shall be governed democratically, stressing that the provision of Section 18 of the State Local Government Law No. 3 of 2006 was not in tandem with the provision of the country’s constitution.

The legislator equally disclosed that the Supreme Court judgment in respect of the dissolution of local government councils by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State was illegal and unconstitutional. He also pointed out that the decision of the Supreme Court, in accordance with the 1999 Constitution, shall be enforced in any part of the federation by all authorities, persons and by court of subordinate jurisdiction.

However, the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) did not see any altruistic mission in the action of the state lawmakers. Kwara APC publicity secretary, Alhaji Tajudeen Aro, described the amendment to the state Local Government (Amendment) Law 2006 as desperate tactics by some politicians.

“In a democracy, people will always remember the past. That is why desperate tactics are being employed by some politicians to cover up for their past. Everything and anything is often embarked upon to dim the light of truth. This perhaps explains the rationale for the recently amended Kwara State Local Government Law 2006 by the state House of Assembly.

“It would be wrong to assert that the people of the state can easily be fooled. This amended law, which was passed in a draconian manner in June 2006, gave the state government unconstitutional powers to entrench its misrule over the years.

“Regrettably, the law is now amended to sustain the fraud being perpetuated at the local government areas. Genuinely, honour demands that such amendment ought to have been done before now and not at the last month before the end of the administration.

“Agreed that the law is in conformity with constitution, it does not shield corrupt public officers from sanctions. That is why the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must be reminded that the incoming APC government has zero-tolerance for corruption and no law can shield corrupt officials from prosecution.

“If the local government councils would be dissolved now, we are respecter of law. We have always clamoured for independence of the local government councils.

“That notwithstanding, should any local government area be found wanting that contravenes the law against the wish and will of the people, such a local government should be sanctioned. But if they promulgate the amended law to perpetuate atrocities, it will have consequences. I am sure that the next legislature would look into it.

“Even before the law was passed, there is no aspect of the constitution that makes the local government council subservient to state government. But in their various states, they have been using the state House of Assembly to promulgate laws that would cow local government chairmen. They have been doing that. “

However, speaking on the issue in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Honourable Ali Ahmad, said the enactment of the state Local Government (Amendment) Law 2006 was borne out of a recent Supreme Court judgment.

“It is appropriate for the opposition to ask questions or raise doubts on issues that they feel concerns them. They should listen to our own response. I thank you for the opportunity given to us to air our own reactions. It is now left for them to take it and understand it as it is really.

“The enactment of amendment of the law was borne out of a recent Supreme Court judgement. You know, when you pass a law, it is not what you pass, but the judgment from the court. When the law was passed in 2006, many believed wrongly that an executive governor has the power to dissolve an administration of an executive chairman. It happened in Ekiti.

“The Supreme Court, just three months ago, said that no governor under Section 7 of the constitution has that power to dissolve democratically elected executive members of a local government area. The Supreme Court has spoken. That is the real law,”  he said.

 

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