The political crisis rocking the local government administration in Oyo State has assumed a violent dimension as thugs have taken over council secretariats in a free for all.
The sacked chairman of Afijo local council, Hon Samuel Aderemi was not only beaten to stupor, but was whisked away by political thugs who besieged the council secretariat to prevent him from resuming work. Some of his Councillors also sustained injuries from the attack by the hoodlums.
The victims, according to the, Chairman, State Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Hon. Abass Aleshinloye are recuperating in an undisclosed hospital.
Similarly, thugs had a field day, causing mayhem in Ibadan North, Ibadan North East Local Governments and Omi Apata Local Council Development Authority (LCDA).
Despite the presence of security agents comprising the Police and Civil Defence men, injuries were inflicted on party members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Indeed, this is not the best of times for Governor Seyi Makinde, whose decision to terminate the tenure of elected council chairmen and replace them with caretaker committee and sole administrators, is being resisted by the affected chairmen and APC in the state.
And not to be caught in the web of the crises, local government workers in the state had embarked on sit-at-home till normalcy returns. They claimed they needed to ensure safety for workers. The State Government has approved their decision.
The sacked council chairmen were elected on May 12, 2018 for tenure of three years in an election conducted by the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC), when former Governor Abiola Ajimobi was in office. But the PDP and other opposition parties boycotted the election at the time. They claimed that there was a court order restraining OYSIEC from conducting that election. Only the APC candidates participated in the controversial election, which they won without opposition.
With that election, the ALGON was revived in the state because the national leadership of ALGON had forbidden non-elected local government chairmen from its membership in states since 2012, a move aimed at encouraging governors to allow only democratically elected officials to govern at the third tier of government.
But barely a year when ALGON members took over the administration of the councils, APC lost the governorship election in 2019. Suspecting that the incoming governor may sack them, the council chairmen went to court to secure an order restraining the governor and the House of Assembly from sacking them. The order also restrained OYSIEC from conducting another election until their tenure expires on May 11, 2021.
Specifically, on May 6, 2019, an Oyo State High Court sitting at Ringroad, Ibadan declared null and void the powers of the Oyo State Governor, House of Assembly and their agencies from summarily truncating or dismissing the elected local government chairmen and councillors duly elected over the 33 local governments and 35 LCDAs in the state.
Justice A. A. Aderemi gave the judgment while ruling on a suit filed by Hon. Bosun Ajuwon, other Chairmen and Councillors, for and on behalf of the elected local government /LCDA Chairmen and Councillors across the state.
The court adopted and relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in the recently decided case of Ekiti State Council Chairmen against Ekiti State Governor in arriving at the decision.
The court held it was bound as a lower hierarchy court to adopt and apply the holding of the Supreme Court in a similar case on the same facts. Her lordship consequently declared some sections of the Local government amendment laws of Oyo State that allowed the Governor to dissolve the local government councils null and void and unconstitutional; among other declaratory reliefs granted.
The court equally granted a perpetual order of injunction against the Oyo State government and its agencies, restraining them from removing the elected councillors and chairmen until the due expiration of their tenure of office.
But this did not stop the PDP government from sacking them immediately Engr. Seyi Makinde assumed office. Makinde, in a statement by his Chief of Staff, Chief Bisi Ilaka, asked the councils to handover to the head of local government administration or senior directors in their council areas.
The statement also directed banks and financial institutions to suspend all financial transactions with the council areas with immediate effect. He said that their election violated the Constitution because it does not recognise the LCDAs.
However, to pave way for its own agenda of taking over the local government administration, the PDP-led government went for a stay of execution, which it got. Thereafter, on July 9, last year, the House of Assembly officially okayed the dissolution of the councils.
By November last year, the government appointed caretaker chairmen to the local governments and sole administrators to the LCDAs. After this, the state government approached appellate court, to appeal the judgment that restrained the state government and House of Assembly from dissolving the council. Next hearing has been fixed for February 19 in the Ibadan division of the Court of Appeal.
Also, ALGON appealed the stay of execution that was in favour of the state government. While waiting for the Appeal Court to hear the matter, ALGON and the APC in Oyo State petitioned the Presidency, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), explaining that the Oyo State Government erred by replacing them while the case is still in court. They also referred to Supreme Court judgments that stated that governors and Houses of Assembly do not have power to sack elected local government councils.
Responding to the petition, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), directed Makinde to reverse himself over the dissolution of local government administration in the State.
Malami, in a letter to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State, Prof. Oyewo Oyelowo dated January 14, 2020 with reference HAGF/OYO/2020/Vol.I/I. entitled; “Unconstitutionality of dissolution of elected local government councils and appointment of caretaker committee: the urgent need for compliance with extant judicial decisions”, the AGF said 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 Committee are outright illegal and unconstitutional.”
Responding to Malami’s letter, the state government rejected his intervention and warned him against meddling in the state affairs.
The state Attorney General, Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo, said that though the AGF did not submit the said letter to his office, he had to source the same from the social media in view of the weighty nature of the issues.
Oyewo maintained that the AGF has no business dabbling into the matter of local government dissolution in Oyo State, which is pending before the Court of Appeal.
He said Malami’s action was uncalled for, misguided and lacking in merit, as far as the Constitution of Nigeria is concerned.
The state government equally declared that only the court and not the AGF could pronounce an order on the matter, which was sub judice and called on Malami to rise above partisan politics and advise parties to await judgment of the court in the various appeals.
Oyewo said, “I must note that under Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which you referred to in your letter, it is the Law of the State Government that is to ensure the existence of the system of Local Government by democratically elected Local Government Council by providing for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils and not a Federal Law/Act.
“It is therefore not clear under what Act of the National Assembly the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation & Minister of Justice was acting in writing the letter under reference.
“It should be borne in mind that our Constitution has established a Federal system of government whereby the state government is not under the command of the Federal Government, neither are we under Military Era when the Federal Government could give a binding order to the State Government by mere proclamation and at will. We are now in a civilian dispensation and the position of every officer whether at the Federal or State level is guided by the provisions of the Constitution and relevant law.”
But the Chairman of ALGON, Prince Ayodeji Abass – Aleshinloye described the intervention of the Attorney General as a welcome development as it has confirmed what they had always stood for, that it was wrong for constitutionally elected local government chairmen to be so treated.
He said, “We are glad with this latest development. We want to assure the administration that as law abiding citizens, we will work hand in glove with them to ensure even development in Oyo State.
“We also want to thank the people of Oyo State for standing with us and being law abiding for the duration of the period that the issue lingered”.
Armed with the letter of the AGF, the sacked ALGON members had on Monday January 27 forceful entered their offices with security from the Police and other para-military agencies.
The State had also approached court to secure an ex parte motion, which restrained the AGF, IGP from ensuring that the council chairmen resume. But tension has continued to mount in the state as both PDP and APC members are bracing up for the mother of all battles in the coming days.
Governor Makinde on Thursday at the Annual General Conference of the Cherubim & Seraphim Unification Church of Nigeria held in Ibadan alleged of plans by some people to explore the local council crisis to convince Federal Government to declare state of emergency in the state and assured the state that their plan will not work.
But while the ALGON members and caretaker and sole administrators are claiming leadership of the council administration, that third tier of government in Oyo State remains comatose and a keg of gunpowder that may explode if the crisis continues.