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LGAs : Between constitutionalism and politics

By Emeka Oraetoka

THE genesis of the recent Federa Government directive to Lagos State government to revert back to the original 20 local government areas recognised by the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria is well known to all to warrant elaboration here.

However, it may be necessary to understand that it surely amounts to suicide for any sane Nigerian to think  that the duo of Olusegun Obasanjo, the immediate past President of Nigeria and the incumbent President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua are wrong to have insisted that the authorities in Lagos State revert  back to the original 20 local government areas as recognised by the constitution.

For allowing the created LGAs to exist without reflecting in the constitution, it amounts to negation of oath of office taken by the President; to defend it [Constitution], to the best of his ability. Anarchy could be precipitated in Nigeria if what is not in the Constitution is allowed to stay.

Those who thought that the immediate past President was lawless or dictatorial in not releasing the fund meant for Lagos State when the issue first cropped up, arising from the Supreme Court foggy ruling on the matter are probably in error. The fact as it were then was that the apex court ruling was overshadowed by political maneuverings, in the process making the whole issue look as if Obasanjo was trying to use federal might to intimidate Lagos State, since the apex court ruling was in its favour. Far from that, the ruling did not in any way allow Lagos State the comfort of operating the newly created LGAs.

Rather, it asked them to take steps towards completing the process. The analysis of the ruling of the Supreme Court on the matter will suffice here. The court clearly agreed that Lagos State has the constitutional right to create local government areas, just as it approved the procedure adopted as being constitutionally correct to the extent they [Lagos State] had gone. The ruling was also clear that the
process of local government creation by Lagos State has not been completed constitutionally.

In the judgment delivered by Uwais CJN as he then was in the Supreme Court held that: “Having read all the provisions of the Constitution aforementioned I am satisfied that the House of Assembly of Lagos State has the right to pass the creation of Local Government Areas [Amendment] law 2004”. His Lordship further noted that: “The laws are valid but inchoate until the necessary steps as provided in the Constitution are taken by the National Assembly”.

From the judgment of Mohamed Uwais, it is clear that before the legally recognised LGAs in Lagos State could function, consequential amendments to first schedule of the Constitution must be effected by the National Assembly. This is the only way the created LGAs can start functioning as constitu-tionally recognised entities.

The point of dispute here is not that Lagos State has no right to create local government areas, but could the LGAs so created function when the National Assembly has not made consequential amendments to that effect, as required by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? The answer is capital NO!

If Governor Fashola claims that the Supreme Court had ruled on the constitutionality of Lagos State action, how come the apex court alluded to the fact that the local government areas so created are inchoate? Thankfully, the word inchoate is not written in italics to suggest that it could be of Greek origin and therefore, exclusively be interpreted by lawyers. This shows that it is purely an English word and therefore can be subjected to simple interpretation. What then is inchoate as used by Supreme Court? According to Merrian Webster Thesaurus, it means formless or incoherent.

It therefore, follows that the manner the created LGAs in Lagos State is being run is a clear violation of the provision of the 1999 Constitution. President Yar’Adua is not only right in ordering Lagos State to revert back to the constitutionally recognised 20 LGAs, but correct to allude to the fact that the defiance of Lagos State in this regard is a clear threat to national security.

The opinion of this writer is that if Lagos State refuses to revert back as Federal Government has directed, government is at liberty to approach the Supreme Court in respect of the meaning of inchoate as earlier ruled by the apex court on the matter. This writer is convinced that if this path is taken by Federal Government, Governor Fashola and Co. will meet their legal waterloo.
Mr. Oraetoka, a political researcher,  writes from Abuja.


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