As FG seeks invocation of LG autonomy…

The controversy over local government autonomy, particularly the control of its revenue from the federation account as well as its independence as the third tier of Nigeria’s democratic system of government, took a new turn on Monday with the federal government instituting a legal action against the governors of the 36 states of the federation at the Supreme Court for alleged misconduct in the running of the councils.

The stranglehold on the 774 constitutionally recognised local governments by the 36 state governors across the federation has been a thorny issue for successive federal administrations. The state governors have variously been accused of stifling development at the grassroots by denying local councils access to and appropriation of their revenues. 

This sordid situation compelled former President Muhammadu Buhari to sign an Executive Order abolishing the state and local government joint accounts, thus granting local government financial autonomy. But the governors had, through the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, opposed the president and maintained the status quo.

Consequently, the incumbent President Bola Tinubu has decided to seek judicial intervention in resolving the matter. In a suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, filed on by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, the federal government is seeking full autonomy for the 774 local governments in the country being the third tier of government.

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

In the 27-ground it listed in support of the suit, the federal government argued that Nigeria, as a federation, is 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.

It told the apex court: “That the governors represent the component states of the federation with executive hovernors who have also sworn to uphold the constitution and to at all times, give effect to the constitution and that the constitution, being the supreme law, has binding force all over the Federation of Nigeria.

“That the Constitution of Nigeria recognises federal, states and local governments as three tiers of government and that the three recognised tiers of government draw funds for their operation and functioning from the Federation Account created by the constitution.

“That by the provisions of the constitution, there must be a democratically elected local government system and that the constitution has not made provisions for any other systems of governance at the local government level other than democratically elected local government system.

“That in the face of the clear provisions of the constitution, the governors have failed and refused to put in place a democratically elected local government system even where no state of emergency has been declared to warrant the suspension of democratic institutions in the state.

“That the failure of the governors to put a democratically elected local government system in place, is a deliberate subversion of the 1999 Constitution which they and the president have sworn to uphold.

“That all efforts to make the governors comply with the dictates of the 1999 Constitution in terms of putting in place, a democratically elected local government system, have not yielded any result and that to continue to disburse funds from the Federation Account to governors for non existing democratically elected local government is to undermine the sanctity of the 1999 Constitution.

“That in the face of the violations of the 1999 Constitution, the federal government is not obligated under section 162 of the constitution to pay any state, funds standing to the credit of local governments where no democratically elected local government is in place.”

Consequently, the federal government prayed the Supreme Court to invoke sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that the State Governors and State Houses of Assembly are under obligation to ensure a democratic system at the third tier of government in Nigeria and to also invoke the same sections to hold that the governors cannot lawfully dissolve democratically elected local government councils.”

The federal government also prayed for the invocation of Sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the constitution to declare that dissolution of democratically elected local government councils by the governors or anyone using the state powers derivable from laws enacted by the State Houses of Assembly or any Executive Order, is unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.

We commend the Tinubu government for its recourse to the rule of law in finding a lasting and sustainable solution to the lingering controversy over local government autonomy. This initiative will not only enrich the nation’s jurisprudential lexicon and institution but will also go a long way to develop Nigeria’s democratic principles and practice.