By Dayo Johnson
ARAKUNRIN Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, the governor of Ondo State seems to be hand in gloves with council chairmen across the 18 council areas of the state. There has been a cat and mouse relationship between them since he assumed office as the sixth executive governor of the state. From his body language not minding his open denial, Aketi as he is fondly called, is desirous to see the back of the 18 council chairmen elected under the platform of the PDP last year not minding that their term would lapse in 2019.
While in opposition and before the governorship primaries, Aketi had supported that the party should participate in the council poll but his party saw the election conducted few months to the then governorship election as a booby trap by the former governor Olusegun Mimiko to further disorganize the party hence it boycotted even as it described the election as a distraction.
The council chairmen had cried wolf few days after the governor assumed office that he had approached the Court of Appeal to upturn a judgment of an Ondo State High Court barring the state government from dissolving the local government administrations in the state. Many see the chairmen’s outburst as a deft move to pre-empt the governor or his cronies from pulling the rug from under their feet.
Constitution of the councils
Akeredolu’s appeal to the appellate court was served on the counsel to the 18 local government chairmen and councillors, Barrister Olusola Oke. Sensing that the new governor would axe them after their party lost the governorship election, the council chairmen approached the Ondo State High Court on January 17 this year to tie his hands behind his back. The 18 local government chairmen and councillors, led by their chairman, Mr. David Alarapon who is the chairman of Akure South got a ruling that the state government, either by their agents or servants, had no right to remove the elected officials until their tenure lapsed.
The claimants averred that anything to the contrary would contravene the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended.) In granting their prayers and that of their councillors, Justice Olasehinde Kumuyi observed that the “tenure of an elected councillor or office holder cannot be abridged or determined at the whims or caprices of anyone but the electorate.”
He upheld the claims by Alarapon and 34 others, among who were some councillors, that the council officials were democratically elected to serve for a tenure of three years which would lapse on April 25, 2019. Justice Kumuyi, therefore, gave an order preventing the dissolution or sacking of the council chairmen and councillors in the 18 local council areas of the state.
Sensing that it was not expedient to tamper with the constitution of the councils for now, the governor beat a retreat disowning the suit filed at the Court of appeal. Akeredolu openly disowned a suit filed on his behalf seeking to upturn a verdict of an Akure High Court which validated the election of 18 Local Government Chairmen and 203 Councillors in the state. According to him he did not authorize any appeal filed at the Court of Appeal on his behalf as he was not aware of the suit.
He said that he was scandalized by a report that he sought to sack the Local Government Chairmen through judicial process as the suit or the appeal had not been brought to his notice as the governor of the state. “I only became the governor on Friday, if I ordered an appeal against a judgment, it is the one I will take being the first day in office. I could not have ordered an appeal before today,” he said.
Findings by Vanguard, however, showed that some leaders of the party went behind the governor to file the suit to arm twist the governor into dissolving the council. The governor had to disown them following the futility of such move and knowing fully well that such action may have repercussions. Barely a week after the governor’s openly denied, he wielded the big stick by freezing the account of the councils across the state.
With this latest move, it became clear that hard times await all the chairmen appointed under the Peoples Democratic Party. Also political appointees in all the councils areas were not spared as their salaries had been stopped and their names allegedly removed from the payment voucher of the state government. The affected appointees include, secretaries of the councils, personal assistants, special advisers, chiefs of staff among others.
Criticism had, however, continued to trail freezing of the councils account by the governor following a circular forwarded to all the chairmen informing them of the governors directive. The chairman of the State chapter of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, Bayo Alarapon who spoke with Vanguard confirmed the latest move by the governor against the council chairmen.
Alarapon who is the Chairman of Akure South council area said the association was miffed by the governor’s directive.