Federal Govt To Rescue Local Council From Jaws Of State Governors

…sues 36 governors at Supreme Court over LG autonomy

The Federal Government of Nigeria has dragged to the Supreme Court the 36 state governments, seeking the enforcement of full autonomy for the local governments in Nigeria.

The 774 local government areas in Nigeria have been suffocating under the jaws of the state governors, who have cornered all their allocations, denying them of their full autonomy to operate and have their allocations remitted to them.

As the However, third tier of government closest to the people, their legitimacy have been hampered as they have been stifled of funds by state governors.

It was learnt that funds meant for local governments in the Federation Account are paid monthly to them through their respective state governments. As a result, the governors of the states had kept such funds in joint accounts in the respective states and only release to the local governments what they wish.

This has got most of the local government financially marooned as they have been unable to fulfill their financial obligations towards communities in the area of infrastructural developments; payment of salaries and other demands as expected of a local government.

Instead of allowing unfettered access to such allocated funds, the state government dump such funds in the joint accounts controlled by the respective state governors.

Due to this shortcomings; the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has instituted a suit at the Supreme Court, seeking an order to better guarantee the independence of the local governments.

In the suit marked: SC/CV/343/2024, the federal government urged the court to issue an order prohibiting state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders.

The plaintiff also prayed the Supreme Court to make 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.

In addition, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Lateef Fagbemi, begged the court to stop the governors from further constituting caretaker committees administer the affairs of local governments in violation of the constitutionally recognised and guaranteed democratic system.

Mr Fagbemi further asked 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.

Court filings showed that the governors were sued through their respective Attorneys General and Commissioners for Justice.

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Laying the legal basis for the case, the federal government contended that the Nigerian federation was a creation of the the Constitution with a President as head of Government whose key responsibility is to uphold the provisions of the Constitution.

The Attorney General, therefore, argued that the Constitution recognises the three tiers of government – Federal, State and Local Governments.

The plaintiff further contended 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.”

The justice minister said despite the statutory provisions, “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 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, has 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,” the AGF stated in the suit.

The suit has been slated for hearing on 30 May, but it is not clear if the state governments have filed their defence.

The state governments opposed the moves by the former President Muhammadu Buhari administration to enforce the constitutional provisions stipulating that local governments were entitled to receive the funds meant for them in the Federation Account.

But the state governments, through Mr Fagbemi who was then a private lawyer, filed a suit to stop the specific move by the
Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to abolish the joint accounts into which the the various state governors were diverting their local governments’ funds.

The governors argued in the suit that the NFIU’s move was illegal under a federal system of government. They said under the federal system, the NFIU, a federal government body, lacked the power to decide for the state governments how to use their funds.

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