Furore over LG dissolution in Ondo

The recent sack of duly elected Ondo State local government chairmen by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state has continued to elicit fireworks in the state’s political space. In this piece, Hakeem Gbadamosi captures the divergent tunes from both the opposition PDP in the state and the APC on the matter.

THERE is uneasy calm in Ondo State last weekend over the ruling of an Akure High Court dissolving the administration of local government chairmen in the state and the subsequent action of the state government to hurriedly approve Caretaker Chairmen for the all the 18 local government areas in the state without the approval of the state House of Assembly.

Though dissolution of Chairmen by every new administration is not strange in Nigerian system and no one expected the administration of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to be different. But the new governor as a professional legal practitioner, had cleverly explored a lingering and almost dead suit over the conduct of the last year April local government election to sack the democratically elected chairmen and councillors.

The ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are singing discordant tunes with one pointing accusing finger to each other over the sack of the chairmen and councillors of the 18 local government councils in the state.

Akeredolu, as a  lawyer had been careful and diplomatic enough from dabbling into the local government affairs from inception, but his body language pointed towards intent to dissolve the council officials, sooner than later. He critically studied the situation around him and avoided trampling upon a Supreme Court judgement on the issue of elected local government officials, as well as studying the strong posture of President Muhammadu Buhari, against hand picking local government caretaker committee.

Akeredolu was however, smart enough to hide under the law, through a litigation instituted before the High Court, resurrecting a rested case instituted by the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) over the last year local government election,  where the Presiding Judge, Justice Adesola Sadiq held that the state electoral commission illegally shut out PRP from the election.

While the party had rested the above suit, because the party eventually participated in the election, against the earlier complaints to the electoral umpire that it was shut out of the election process, the judge ruled in favour of the party last Friday sacking all the 18 local government chairmen in the state elected under the platform of PDP.

But the judgement of Sidiq was not without series of controversies, as the two parties involved picked holes in the ruling. There was a serious shouting order between lawyer representing the PRP, Mr . Femi Aborisade  and Justice Sadiq over the legal representation of PRP in the suit.

Aborisade who filed the suit challenging the Ondo State Electoral Commission (ODIEC) on behalf of PRP was in court to appear for the party, to inform the court that the party had filed an application to discontinue with the case.

But to Aborisade chagrin, when the case was mentioned and he announced his appearance for PRP,  Justice Sadiq recognised one Mr Segun Ogodo as the counsel to PRP and insisted in continuing with the case irrespective of the application for the withdrawal of the suit, while he advised Aborisade to challenge the ruling at the Court of Appeal.

Also,despite the insistence of the National Chairman of the PRP, Alhaji Balarabe Musa that he never briefed Ogodo but Anorisade. Notwithstanding, Justice Sidiq sacked all the local government chairmen and ordered for a fresh election Aborisade while speaking on the outcome of the suits said, “The judge surprisingly deprived my client, the PRP led by the national chairman, the former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Musa, the right to be heard. My client filed the suit and the course of action has been removed with my client having been allowed to participate in the local government election, we have come to inform the court that we have withdrawn the matter.

“Unfortunately, the court is insisting that somebody else who was never briefed by my client is the counsel recognised by the court. This is a  violation of section 36 sub section 1 of the constitution. Every person is entitled to be heard at the court. I can only be heard by the court through the counsel chosen by the PRP. This is very strange, it is unconstitutional.

“But we have informed the court that whatever they do in this case is a nullity because we have filed notice of withdrawal. My client has filed an affidavit that he does not recognise Ogodo in the court. This is a new phase in our experience in our constitutional democracy.”

The state government immediately ordered all the local government chairmen to vacate their offices   and hand over all government properties in their care. The government directives which was contained in a press statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary, Segun Ajiboye, said the directives was sequel to the order of Justice Sadiq that ordered for a fresh election for local government.

As if this is not enough, less than 48 hours to the dissolution of the council chairmen, the state government rolled out names of the caretaker Chairmen for the 18 local government councils in the state on Sunday evening and were subsequently inaugurated by Monday morning.

To watchers of political activities in the state, the whole exercise leading to the dissolution of the local council chairmen was not without the knowledge of the state government. According to an analyst, necessary steps had been put in place by the state government before the final pronouncement of the Justice Sadiq on the suit, apart from the judgement, Akeredolu had tactically shut out the local government administration in the state by freezing the account of all the 18 local councils and was only waiting for the court judgement to legitimise his plans,  hiding under the court order in removing the chairmen.

He however, noted that the names of the council caretaker chairmen had been compiled even before the judgement and queried the state government over hurry in inaugurating the chairmen in a hurry with due process.  He noted that while the inauguration of the Caretaker Chairmen was going on at the Dome, 13 factional lawmakers were simultaneously sitting at the Assembly complex to ratify the approval of the council officials.

The analyst wondered the reasons behind the rush about the whole issue and summarised that the factional lawmakers and the state government plan a coup against democracy, describing it as another impunity on the part of state government, putting the cart before the horse.

The ruling APC however hailed the judgement of Justice Sidiq describing the judgement as victory for democracy and the people of the state.  Speaking through its Director of Media and Publicity, Steve Otaloro, said the party refused to participate in the election in order not to support illegality of the  immediate past government and because they believed that the election could not stand test of time.

Otaloro said “As law-abiding party we reminded our members and supporters of the subsisting case on the matter at the Supreme Court by the aggrieved elected chairmen under the late Dr Olusegun Agagu-led administration, who Mimiko terminated their tenure abruptly at the assumption of office in 2009. The governor had therefore been refrained from conducting the local government election for the past seven years for this reason.

“We considered the conduct of a new election before judgment was delivered could amount to illegality, while the entire process might just be an exercise in futility in case the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs. In addition, it would amount to waste of public resources , particularly when state workers were not paid salaries for five months then.”

But the opposition PDP stated that Justice Sidiq judgement was predicated on fallacies and absolute intention by the judge to entrench injustice to favour the present government in the state who needed legitimacy to persecute an illegal action to ease out the democratically elected council chairmen.

Speaking on behalf of the elders, a former commissioner in the state, Chief Segun Adegoke, described the outcome of the suit as an act of institutional rape and clear abuse of privileges, saying that the manner in which Justice Sidiq handled the matter before him was unprofessional.

Adegoke said “It is sad that the said judgement was predicated on fallacies and an absolute intention by the said judge, S A Sadiq to entrench injustice. Obviously, it was contrived to arrive at this conclusion simply because the administration of Governor Akeredolu needed a legitimacy of whatever kind to prosecute an illegitimate action.

“The facts of this case are not many, they are so clear that even the blind can see them. The PRP went to court last year shortly before the local government elections were conducted on the premise that it was excluded from the election simply because INEC refused to include its name and logo in the list of registered political parties sent to ODIEC, its prayers were that it should be allowed to contest the election.

“However, ODIEC used its discretion to include the name and logo of PRP on the list of parties on the ballot paper, it equally included the names of other parties like APC that had earlier announced its boycott of the elections, aside APC, many other parties did not send nominations to ODIEC, but their names and logo appeared on the ballot paper.”

The party stated that PRP participated in the election and fielded candidates in the election and said it was wrong to declare that PRP did not contest the election describing as “fallacy and sad that a Judge could use his position to perpetrate this fraud.”

Adegoke said “It is equally important to declare that the manner in which Justice S. A. Sadiq handled this matter is anything but unprofessional. Most unfortunately, he compromised the law, rules and order of the court to perpetrate this illegality. Firstly, he shut out parties that should ordinarily have been part of the litigation.

“Secondly, he contrived with those who initiated this action to shop for a counsel to prosecute a case he did not initiate and when finally the lawyer who initiated the case originally, Femi Aborishade appeared before him to claim ownership of the case, he again shut him out.

“Thirdly, Alhaji Balarabe Musa who hired Mr Aborishade to handle the case originally deposed to an affidavit withdrawing the case simply because the reason for its initiation no longer existed, Justice S.A. Sidiq refused to entertain it.”

PDP expressed disappointment over the judgement saying that the judiciary has become an extension of inter-party politics in Ondo State as manifested by the ignoble manner S. A. Sadiq handled this matter,  a very senior judge of his status simply chose to perpetrate injustice, it is indeed a sad day for our State.

Adegoke however said the party will contest the decision of Justice Sidiq at the higher court to ensure that the perfidious contraption that the judgement represents and the action of the state government reversed, and called on all members of the party to keep the hope alive.

However a number of divergent views have been tabled over the judgement of Justice Sidiq and the abruptly ratification of the list of Caretaker Committee Chairmen by the 13 lawmakers. While a number of lawyers faulted the judgement of Justice Sadiq and predicted that the Appeal Court will upturn the injustice, others absolved Akeredolu of any wrong doing, since the suit was not instituted by him.

Many political watchers in the state condemned the illegal decision of the lawmakers,  but they however concluded that they have become pawn in the hands of the governor, in order to find favour in his sight, hence their action was not surprising.

The faction did not only approve the list sent to the House, they went ahead to elect a new Speaker despite the truce initiated by the governor between the two warring factions some 24 hours earlier, urging them to ceasefire.   Bamidele Oleyelogun emerged as the Speaker with only 13 of the 26 lawmakers voting in the exercise while the other half were shut out.

Though the former Speaker, Jumoke Akindele faction had since described the exercise of the other faction as a futile effort, but as part of effort to legitimise his new post as the Speaker of the House, Oleyelogun and four others from the PDP camp defected to the ruling party in the state, APC. This, many perceived as means to provide soft landing for him and to retain the Speakership post even after the crisis must have been settled.

Political watchers however predicted that crisis in the House of Assembly portends serious challenge for Akeredolu unless he acts fast to nip the impending face off between the legislature and the executive in the bud on time and advised the governor against leaning towards any side of the faction, but to keep managing the lawmakers for the next two years when another election will come up.