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July 10, 2024

LG Autonomy: FG, 36 govs know fate Thursday, as S’ Court delivers judgement

LGs autonomy

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

The Supreme Court will on Thursday, deliver its judgement on the suit the Federal Government filed to secure full autonomy for the 774 Local Government Areas, LGAs, in the country.

Whereas the apex court, notified FG of the judgement date through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the state governors were informed through their respective Attorneys-General.

It will be recalled that a seven-man panel of the court, led by Justice Garba Lawal, had on June 13, reserved judgement on the matter, after all the parties adopted their final briefs of argument.

The states, in separate preliminary objections they filed before the apex court, sought the dismissal of the suit with substantial cost.

They contended that the AGF, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, who initiated the action on behalf of the LGAs, lacked the locus standi (legal right) to do so.

For instance, the Ondo state government described the AGF as “a busy body and a meddlesome interloper” that is interfering in local government affairs.

According to Ondo state, section 232 of the Constitution only permitted the invocation of the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court where there is a dispute between the federation as plaintiff and states as defendants, which involves any question of law or fact on which the existence or extent of the legal right of either the federation or states depends.

It contended that FG lacked the legal right to maintain the action, adding that  the funds complained of in the suit belong to local governments created by the Constitution as a distinct and different tier of government independent of the federal government.

Citing Section 162(3) of the Constitution, Ondo state averred that any amount standing to the credit of the federation account shall be distributed among the federal and state governments and the local government Councils in each state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.

It added that the sharing, among the three distinct tiers, is not subject to the discretion or any terms and conditions of FG.

More so, the state argued that by the provisions of Section 162(8) of the 1999 Constitution, “the amount standing to the credit of local government Councils of a state shall be distributed among the local governments on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State.”

It said the distribution or usage of the said funds of local governments, especially in Ondo State, was not subject to the discretion or any terms and conditions to be prescribed by FG.

Likewise, the Ondo State government argued that by the provision of section 7(1) of the Constitution, the government of every state and not the federal government, shall ensure the existence of democratically elected local government councils under a law made by the State House of Assembly.

Aside from Ondo, some other states, including Lagos and Taraba, argued that they already have a democratically elected LG officials in place, insisting that the suit by FG amounted to an abuse of the judicial process.

They argued that FG ought not have joined them in the matter.

Similarly, Imo state, through its Attorney General, Mr. C. O. C. Akolisa, told the court that it has concluded plans to organise its LG elections, saying the process was only delayed by a pending litigation.

The defendants further alleged that the AGF breached their right to fair hearing when he failed to serve them with a copy of a further affidavit he filed in support of the suit.

In his response, the AGF, Prince Fagbemi, SAN, told the apex court that all the defendants were duly served with all the relevant processes.

The AGF told the Supreme Court that apart from service that was effected by the registry of the court, he also served his further affidavit on all the defendants through both email and Whatsapp.

He argued that though some states claimed to have democratically elected LG officials in place, they, however, failed to adduce any evidence to show that they are in full compliance with provisions of the law on the administration of LG affairs.

“Therefore, my lords, your decision on this matter must be across board,” the AGF added.

He urged the court to dismiss the objections and grant all the reliefs the FG is seeking in favour of the LGAs.

FG had in the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, prayed the Supreme Court to okay full autonomy for all the LGAs in the country as the third tier of government.

It prayed the court to issue an order, prohibiting state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders.

As well as for an order permitting the funds standing in the credits of local governments to be directly channelled to them from the Federation Account in line with the provisions of the Constitution as against the alleged unlawful joint accounts created by governors.

Besides, FG, prayed the Supreme Court for an order, stopping governors from further constituting Caretaker Committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

It equally applied for an order of injunction, restraining the governors, their agents and privies, from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states.

FG argued that Nigeria, as a  federation, was a creation of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, with the President, as Head of the Federal Executive Arm, swearing on oath to uphold and give effects to provisions of the Constitution.

The court had rejected applications that Speakers of Houses of Assembly of some of the states filed to be joined as interested parties in the matter.

It held that no law permitted the Speakers to be joined in a matter where original jurisdiction of the apex court was invoked.