By Omeiza Ajayi & John Alechenu
ABUJA—Tension is brewing among residents of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, following the decision of the minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, to suspend the swearing-in of recently elected area council chairmen earlier slated for Friday.
The decision to suspend the event was a result of the judgment of an FCT High Court which granted a one-year tenure extension to the incumbent six Area Council Chairmen whose tenures end today.
In March 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had conducted Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, where six council chairmen and their councillors were elected.
These six council chairmen of the FCT were then inaugurated on May 20, 2019, under the 2010 Electoral Act and based on that Act, the tenure of the chairmen would end today and the new chairmen, based on the elections held in February this year, were to be sworn in on May 20, 2022.
However, Bello said a few days ago, the FCT Administration received communication of a judgment by a court in the FCT directing it to suspend the inauguration of the new chairmen, based on the fact that the current chairmen’s tenure would end on Thursday, May 19, 2022.
According to the judgment, based on the recently signed Electoral Act 2022, which stipulates that the tenure of office of the chairmen of the Area Councils in FCT would now be four years, instead of three years, the existing chairmen, whose tenure was meant to expire on Thursday, have another one year to continue, based on the new law.
He said as a law-abiding government, the FCT Administration had no option than to suspend the planned inauguration of the six area council chairmen of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, who were duly elected some weeks ago as a result of this injunction of the court.
“Also, as an administration that is very conscious of the need to abide by the rule of law, even though we are not satisfied with the judgment of the court, we have no option but to comply.
“While complying, we are also making efforts to vacate the judgment and if need arises, to appeal the judgment, so that the correct position of the law will be determined by the legal processes.
In the interim therefore, we are very conscious of the fact that the stand of the court has raised a lot of concerns within certain sections of the Federal Capital Territory residents. I wish to appeal to everyone to be calm, to be law abiding and to await the outcome of the legal processes.
“FCT is a creation of law. The FCT has always been known to be a place of unity, peace and good governance and populated by law abiding residents. Please let us continue the way we are and await the court processes. At the end of the court processes, the clear direction of what needs to be done would be clearly stated and then as an administration, we will do the needful,” the minister stated.
Reacting to the development, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, rejected the court order extending the tenure of local government council chairmen and councillors in the six area councils of the Federal Capital Territory.“National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Debo Ologunagba, stated the party’s position at a briefing in Abuja yesterday.“He explained that the party was prepared for the swearing-in of newly elected PDP council“chairmen and councillors due to take office today.
Ologunagba alleged that the ruling All Progressives Congress connived with certain judicial officers to abridge our democratic system and foist anarchy in our country.
He said: “Today (yesterday), May, 19, 2022, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has just been made aware of a bizarre judgement by Justice Ibrahim Mohammed of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, in suit No. FCT/HC/W/910/2022, wherein he attempted to extend by one year, the tenure of the out-going Chairmen and Councilors of FCT Area Councils, which expires tomorrow, Friday, May, 20, 2022.
“The clear intent of this judgment is to abridge our electoral process, overthrow the entire outcome of the FCT Area Council election held on Saturday, February 12, 2022, which was overwhelmingly won by candidates of the PDP, halt the swearing in of the newly elected Chairmen and Councilors and impose an undemocratic government in the FCT.““The PDP vehemently and without equivocation rejects the judgement in its entirety. This judgment cannot be executed as it unconstitutional, illegal, baseless and devoid of any legal foundation and reasoning for implementation.
“This is because the four years tenure provided for FCT Area Council Chairmen and Councilors in the newly enacted Electoral Act 2022, upon which the judgement is based, cannot be made retroactive to apply to outgoing Chairmen and Councilors who were elected under the 2010 Electoral Act which provided for a three-year tenure commencing from the date of their swearing in.““Alarmingly, the intent of this judgement by Hon. Justice Ibrahim Mohammed is to make the law retroactive to illegally favour the out-going Chairmen and Councilors who were sworn in for a three-year tenure under the 2010 Electoral Act, which tenure, by the provision of that Act, ends on May 20, 2022.
“It is instructive to state that the Electoral Act 2022 has a commencement date of February 25, 2022.”
Ologunagba warned that the APC should know that any breakdown of law and order in the FCT on account of an attempt to muscle or abridge the right and the will of the people would be inconsistent with that very fundamental principle of democracy, which is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another.“He also expressed the party’s hope that this was not an attempt to lay a foundation to use the court to actualize a veiled third term agenda being rumoured.“