By Emeka Mamah
The Unity Forum has described the languageÂ usedÂ by President Umaru Yar’Adua in asking Governor Babatunde Fashola to dispense with the 37 Local Government Development Authorities as unstatemanly.
The Forum also said that Gov. Fashola’s reply to Yar’Adua’s letter did not help matters in a purely constitutional matter just as the reaction of the Yoruba elders, the Afinifere, the Oodua People’s Congress among others gave the matter a regional colouration.
This is contained in a statement issued by the Forum after its meeting in Abuja yesterday.
The statement which was entitled,” State and Local Government Joint Account: Need for a Review” and signed by the Chairman of the association,Maigida Abdu read: “The Unity Forum during its weekly deliberations discussed extensively on the unfortunate overheating of the polity arising from the feud between the federal and the Lagos State Governments over the creation of Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) and the disbursement of funds.
” The on-going controversy is unhealthy and unnecessary for the nation and polity since such have either been earlier settled or can always be settled by the courts.
” In the current feud, the President fired the first salvo by giving the Lagos State government an ultimatum of two weeks within which to dissolve the newly created LCDAs or else he would deal with the governor.
” This is an un-statesmanly statement which ought not to have come from Mr. President.
“The response from Lagos did not help matter either. The reaction of the Lagos State Council of Chiefs, the Afenifere, the Yoruba Council of Elders and the Odua Peoplesâ€™ Congress (OPC) put together added some ethnic or regional dimension to an issue which is purely constitutional.
” However what is of concern to the Unity Forum is the unfortunate statement of Mr. President over the matter and the ethnic or regional coloration of the issues by some groups.
“The only way left for the combatants is sheath their swords and go back to the court for legal interpretation of the relevant sections of the constitution which at the end will advance, deepen and promote democracy and the Rule of Law.
“The creation of new Local Governments and the withholding of council funds by Mr. President were issues that had always generated considerable friction.
In 1980 the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), through its Counsel, Alhaji Femi Okunnu (S.A.N.) took the then Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande to court over the latter’s of creation of additional local governments in Lagos state.
” The Supreme Court ruled that even though the Lagos State House of Assembly has the right to create local government areas, such councils cannot function without an amendment to the Fourth Schedule to the constitution without prejudice to sections 3(a, b, c and d) of the 1979 Constitution and declared the councils illegal.
” The second case determined by the Supreme Court was the one instituted against the immediate past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo over withholding of funds allocated to the Lagos state councils which the then Lagos State Governor Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu disbursed to the councils including the ones he newly created.
” The Court ruled that the President had no powers to withhold monies meant for the constitutionally recognized local councils and ordered for the immediate release without prejudice to sections 162, (3, 5, 6, 7 and 8) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The issue which has not been settled by the Supreme Court but remains very important is the warehousing and application of Council funds to joint projects or created bodies not known to the constitution but possibly created through frivolous laws enacted by state Houses of assembly.
” The creation of Local Council Development AreasÂ is alien to the constitution, therefore illegal. ” A clear understanding of Section 62 (a, b) of the 1999 Constitution on this issue is very important.
” Some of the issues that need urgent interpretation are; whether the disbursement of funds meant for councils known to the constitution in the fourth schedule can be shared to other bodies established by State houses of Assembly but not known to the constitution,
“whether the governors have powers to deep their hands into Joint Accounts and fund bogus joint projects which have neither been appropriated for the local governments nor the state Houses of Assembly, but by executive fiat, and,
“whether the governors have powers to deny any council or councils their statutory allocated funds from the Federation Account and keep it in a joint account.
“The interpretation and resolution of these key issues will go a long way in addressing the high handedness of the Governors over local government councils which impact negatively on the economy and have far reaching consequences on the polity.