LG Autonomy Suit: FG, States Begin Legal Battle

Date:

.Supreme Court gives states 7 days to file defence

.Fixes date for hearing 

BY ANTHONY OCHELA, ABUJA 

Supreme Court yesterday gave the 36 State governors of the federation seven days to file their respective defence in the suit filed against them by the Federal Government seeking for full autonomy for the 774 Local Governments in the country.

The apex court also ordered the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, that upon receipt of the States defence, he must file reply within two days.

The seven-man panel of Justices led by  Garba Lawal issued the order yesterday while ruling in application for abridgment of time argued by Fagbemi.

The apex court said that the decision was predicated on the national urgency of the suit and the non objection from the Attorneys General of the states of the federation.

The Supreme Court held that filing of all processes and exchanging of same must be completed within the time and subsequently fixed June 13 for hearing of the suit.

Justice Lawal said that the eight states that were not in attendance at Thursday’s proceedings must be served with fresh hearing notice.

The eight  states are, Borno, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, Osun , Oyo and Sokoto, whose Attorneys General were absent in court despite been served with hearing notice.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government had earlier instituted a legal action against the Governors of the 36 States of the Federation at the Supreme Court over alleged misconduct in the administration of Local Government Areas, LGAs.

FG in the suit marked: SC/CV/343/2024, which was filed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, is seeking full autonomy for all LGAs in the country as the third tier of government.

It specifically prayed the apex court to issue an order, prohibiting state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government Chairmen and councillors .

As well as for an order permitting the funds standing in the credits of local governments to be directly channelled to them from the Federation Account in line with the provisions of the Constitution as against the alleged unlawful joint accounts created by governors.

Besides, FG, prayed the Supreme Court for an order, stopping governors from further constituting Caretaker Committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

It equally applied for 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.

Governors of the 36 States were sued through their respective Attorneys General.

In the 27 grounds it listed in support of the suit, FG, argued that Nigeria, as a federation, was a creation of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, with the President, as Head of the Federal Executive Arm, swearing on oath to uphold and give effects to provisions of the Constitution.

It told the apex court: “That 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 effect to the Constitution and that the Constitution, being the supreme law, has binding force all over the Federation of Nigeria.

“That the Constitution of Nigeria recognizes 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.

Local government level other than democratically elected local government system.

“That 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.

“That 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.

“That 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.

“That in the face of the violations of the 1999 Constitution, the federal government is not obligated under section 162 of the Constitution to pay any State, funds standing to the credit of local governments where no democratically elected local government is in place”.

Consequently, FG, prayed the Supreme Court to invoke sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that the State Governors and State Houses of Assembly are under obligation to ensure a democratic system at the third tier of government in Nigeria and to also invoke the same sections to hold that the governors cannot lawfully dissolve democratically elected local government councils.

It also prayed for the invocation of sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that dissolution of democratically elected local government Councils by the Governors or anyone using the state powers derivable from laws enacted by the State Houses of Assembly or any Executive Order, is unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.

In a 13 paragraphs affidavit that was deposed to by one Kelechi Ohaeri from the Federal Ministry of Justice, the AGF said he filed the suit under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, on behalf of the FG.

The deponent averred that local government system recognized by the Constitution is a democratically elected local government councils, adding that the amount due to local government Councils from the Federation Account is to be paid to local government system recognized by the Constitution.

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