On Friday, December 9, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment, which finally
liberated local government administration from the stranglehold of state governors.
That judgment finally put paid to the debate on the appropriateness, or otherwise, of state governors’ power to dissolve elected local council administrations in their states and replace them with caretaker committees.
The judgment was the result of the decision of elected local government administrators in Ekiti State to challenge their dissolution on October 10, 2010, by the then governor of the state, Kayode Fayemi, through a radio announcement, in spite of the fact that their tenure would not expire until December 29, 2011.
In the landmark judgment, the Supreme Court held that “no state in the country has the power to dissolve local government councils and replace them with caretaker committees
appointed by the state governor.”
It also resolved the question of whether state Assemblies were empowered to enact laws that were inconsistent with the provisions of Section 8 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), that the government of every state shall, subject to Section 8 of the Constitution (supra), ensure the existence of local government councils under a law, which provides for their establishment, structure, composition, finance, and functions.
The Supreme Court, while nullifying Fayemi’s action, also described the rampant dissolution of local government councils by state governors as “executive lawlessness.”
It had been the norm, rather than the abnormal, for local government councils across Nigeria to be seen as an appendage of the state government. As such, they had always been under the whims and caprices of any governor and party in power at any point in time.
Rather than follow constitutional provision of allowing only elected officials to run the local councils, state governors had developed a culture of appointing their cronies as caretaker
chairmen or sole administrators to do their bidding at the councils.
The result of this over time had been the enthronement of administrators who would only spend time doing next to nothing, thus defeating the purpose for which the local government administrations came into existence – to bring development to the grassroots.
The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision on the local government system would, no doubt, be far-reaching. For one, the apex court has set a remarkable precedent. From now on, any state government that dissolves a democratically elected local government council administration, and replaces same with caretaker committee, acts contrary to the law.
The Supreme Court, while nullifying Fayemi’s action, described the rampant dissolution of local government councils by st ate governors as “executive lawlessness.”
Again, it means that any local government council not run by democratically elected officials is not entitled to receive any monthly allocation from the federation account.
By extension, any infringement on Section 8 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that provides that the government of every state shall ensure the existence of local councils under a law, which provides for their establishment, structure, composition, finance, and functions, is illegal, null and void.
It is interesting to note that of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, only six
states – Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Adamawa, Sokoto, Cross River, and the FCT – have, in place, elected officials running local government affairs.
The remaining 30 run local administration with caretaker committees. By implication, only 116 local government councils, 14.99 per cent of the 774, documented in the 1999 constitution (as amended), are run by democratically elected officials. The remaining 658, 85.01 per cent, are under the yoke of caretaker committees.
More worrisome is the fact that, by close of work today, the number of councils run by democratically elected officials will further reduce to 98, as the tenure of elected officials
of local government councils in Cross River State expires. Yet, there are no plans in place to conduct another election.
In the last 10 years, some states have not conducted elections into the local government councils. A typical example is Anambra State, which has, for over 13 years, not conducted a single local government election.
It is our hope that the Supreme Court judgment will give a fresh breath of life to the local government system in Nigeria.
While urging the executive arm of government to ensure the enforcement of the landmark
judgment, we call on state governments, guilty of this anomaly, to retrace their steps, as it has brought nothing but pains and agony to the grassroots across the length and breadth of the country.
The National Assembly must also begin to play its role in ensuring that Section 8 of the
1999 Constitution (as amended) is no longer circumvented by any state government.
Perhaps, when local government areas under caretaker committee administration are denied their statutory allocation from the federation account, the state governors would sit up. And the desired development may then begin to take root at the grassroots.