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FG sues 36 govs, seeks full autonomy for LGs

The federal government has asked the Supreme Court to void the alleged misconduct of 36 states in withholding local government funds.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), instituted the action on behalf of the government.

The AGF also asked the Supreme Court to stop the 36 state governments from disbandment of elected local government chairmen and replacing them with caretaker committees.

In the suit dated May 20, 2024, the federal government sought a declaration “that by virtue of Section 162(5) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999, the state government is merely an agent of the local government in the state to collect the amount standing to the credit of the local governments in the federation account and received by a state on its behalf, and paid into state joint local government account, is liable to be paid directly to each local government on its behalf.”

In the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024 with 27 grounds, the federal government further sought to invoke sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the constitution to declare that the governors and houses of assembly are under obligation to ensure democratically system at the third tier of government in Nigeria.

The 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the originating summons deposed to by one Kelechi Ohaeri from the Federal Ministry of Justice averred that the suit was on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

The deponent also attached publications from national newspapers and broadcast media from 2023 to 2024 showing the public interest nature of the litigation.

The AGF also requested the invocation of sections 1,4,5,7 and 14 of the constitution to declare the 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.

He also sought a declaration that states that have not put in place a democratically elected local government system and are in breach of sections 1(1),(2) and 7 of the 1999 Constitution by failing to comply with the mandatory provision of the 1999 Constitution cannot be entitled to receive and spend funds meant for the local government councils under Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 162(5) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution.

Among relief sought was “a declaration that a local government council is entitled to a direct payment from the federation account of the amount standing to its credit in the said federation account where the state government has persistently refused or failed to pay to it the said amount received by the state government on its behalf.

“An order of injunction restraining the defendants, by themselves, their privies, agents, officials or howsoever called from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the federation account for the benefit of local government councils when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the state.

“An order that the federation through its relevant officials shall pay to local governments in the states directly from the federation account the amount standing to their credit therein, where the said state has refused or failed to pay to each of them or anyone of them, the amounts if received or has been receiving on their/its behalf.

“An order of immediate compliance by the states, through their elected or appointed officials and public officers, with the terms of the judgment and orders made in this suit: and successive compliance by successive state government officials.”

The Supreme Court has fixed May 30 for hearing.

There was no reaction to the suit by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum as of the time of filing this report.

When contacted by Daily Trust via a telephone call, the acting Head of Media of the NGF, Halimah Salihu Ahmed, declined comment.

The Supreme Court had on December 9, 2016 voided the law that allowed state governors to appoint caretaker chairmen in place of democratically elected ones for local government areas. Despite this, many governments have continued to violate the ruling.

Findings by Daily Trust showed that over 300 local government areas in 17 states across the country are being run by unelected officials operating under different nomenclatures such as caretaker chairmen, sole administrators and transition implementation committees.

The local government areas are in Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara States.

The Senate had, on December 1, 2023, following the adopted of a motion by Minority Leader Abba Moro, urged the federal government to stop the statutory allocation of funds to local government councils whose chairpersons were not democratically elected.

The states had hitherto rejected local government autonomy.

On January 24, 2023, the Senate, while transmitting 35 bills out of the 44 constitution amendment bills to former President Muhammadu Buhari for assent, revealed that among the bills rejected by the state assemblies were those seeking financial and legislative autonomy for local governments.