By Simon Ebegbulem
THE news conveying the dissolution of the 18 Local Governments in Edo State came at a very memorable moment for the chairmen last Monday. The shocker from Governor Adams Oshiomhole arrived as the chairmen were sharing the revenue allocation for October.
The governor in a tersely written letter dated October 20, 2010 to the State House of Assembly had requested permission to dissolve the councils in line with section 10 paragraph (1) of the Edo State Local Government Amended Law 2002.
And when the matter came up for deliberation on the floor of the House last Monday, the Majority Leader of the House, Philip Shuaibu moved the motion for the dissolution and he was seconded by the Deputy Leader of the House, Paul Ohonbanmu. The motion was unanimously.
The chairmen were asked to hand over to the Head of Service of their respective councils. Following the dissolution, Vanguard learnt that the list of caretaker committee chairmen would be announced by next week.
The caretaker chairmen are expected to run the councils for the next three months before an election is conducted to elect substantive chairmen and councillors into the councils.
Vanguard learnt that the governor invited the chairmen three weeks ago where he informed them that he may have to dissolve the councils any moment since their tenure would expire on the 15th of December.
However, it was learnt that some leaders advised the governor against that, particularly with the fact that majority of the chairmen defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Their view was that the reason for their defection may have been defeated if the governor would not allow them to at least conclude their tenure in office.
Out of the 18 Local Government Chairmen, 16 of them defected from PDP to ACN while two remained in the PDP. The feeler from some of the dissolved council chairmen was that the governor would have allowed them to stay but for the excess crude which he needed from the council for the on going projects in the state.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, in a statement signed by its Director of Publicity Okharedia Ihimekpen alleged that the dissolution was a ploy by the governor to divert revenues accruing to the councils like the excess crude revenue and derivation fund allocations.
According to the statement, “the party is of the view that the hurriedly and unconstitutional dissolution of the councils is obviously not in the interest of the public but of the self-interest of the governor. That from the relevant laws, the constitutional tenure of the local government councils in the state is three years and that the council’s tenure is expected to expire in December 15, 2010 and not October 2010.
We therefore call on all Edo citizens at home and in the Diaspora to condemn these chronicled constitutional breaches by Governor Oshiomhole especially as he was a man who failed at the poll and was installed to power through the rule of law, and these are the same laws of the state”.
Reacting to the PDP’s claim that the action of the governor was unconstitutional, the Attorney General of the state and Commissioner for Justice, Dr Osagie Obayuwana, asserted that the governor acted in pursuant of section 10 (1) of the 2000 Local Government Law, which dealt with the tenure of the leadership of the Councils.
Quoting the section, he said “ Local Government Council shall stand dissolved at the expiration of three years unless the House of Assembly upon the request of the governor, otherwise by a resolution of the House so directs”.
Obayuwana explained further that “the governor had in his letter dated 20th October, 2010, requested according to the law, that the House should pass a resolution dissolving the councils and the House unanimously granted his request by passing the resolution.
Do not forget that to conduct elections at the council level, by virtue of section 10, sub section 3 of the Local Government Law, the electoral commission shall conduct election within three months before the expiration of the tenure of the council executives.”
“What we are dealing with is equivalent to what they are trying to do at the national level where they want elections to be held three months before swearing in to allow election disputes to be settled before any body is sworn into office”.
Obayuwana who was reminded that elections are yet to be held in the councils even three months before the expiration of the councils, asserted that “under the same law as I said earlier, the governor can decide to request from the state House of Assembly to shorten the tenure of the Council executive and if the House agrees that will be it.
This is provided in the Local Government Law section 10 (1) 2000, as I earlier said.
That position is, however, seemingly contradicted by Section 7 of the Constitution which guarantees a democratically elected system of government in the local governments.
Section 7 of the Constitution says: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
The manner of dissolution of the local councils, it is argued, is tantamount to the annulment of the mandate vested on the council chairmen by the electorate.
Defending the governor’s action, Obayuwana argued further: “In this case, the governor did not appoint Care taker as it is done in most states. It is the career civil servants that are going to run the affairs of the councils until elections are held. So all the governor did was according to the law, there is nothing illegal at all as the PDP is saying.
I think they are only trying t be ignorant of the law for the sake of criticism” he stated.
Reacting to the allegation by the PDP that the governor hurriedly dissolved the council so as to corner the excess crude accrued to the councils, the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Anslem Ojezua and Special Adviser to the Governor on Media, Tony Iyare, described the allegation as laughable.
Ojezua queried that “is this the only time that councils have been collecting excess crude? This is not the first time. The dissolution has nothing to do with excess crude money, that is mere speculation ,and you know the PDP for their lies. They have lost grip of the state and they cannot believe they are no longer in power.
In many states in this country, we have seen governors the moment they enter they dissolve the councils but here in Edo state, the governor gave them chance until the law says their time is up.
Also reacting, the state chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Comrade Godwin Erhahon, said “we are not surprised because we long expected it.
The only challenge to the governor is for him to conduct a free and fair election at the Local Government level. We want to see a free and fair election and not the kind of violence we saw at Oghede ward election and the re-run elections in some parts of the state where his party members were fighting with the PDP”.
When reminded that the PDP described the dissolution as illegal, Erhahon asserted that “the PDP set the precedence in the past so we are used to the illegalities of governors in the state dissolving councils unilaterally for what ever reason.
What ever may be the reason, the test for Oshiomhole will be the conduct of the Local Government election because that will make or mar his one man one vote campaign”.