Oyo LG saga: Nigeria’s ‘unitary’ system on trial?

Against the background of the crisis and mounting tension over the attempt at reinstating the sacked local government chairmen in Oyo State, KUNLE ODEREMI and DAPO FALADE examine the crisis of confidence imbued in the nation’s political system by a convoluted federal arrangement.

 

Within the first month of 2020, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has stirred whirlwinds resulting in frightening eddies, especially in the south-western part of the country. He served the first salvo, when the minister was quoted to have declared the Western Nigerian Security Network, named Amotekun, as illegal. While the attendant outrage generated over his statement on the security outfit was still spreading like a Harmattan fire, the minister wrote to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, ordering him to quickly dismantle the caretaker arrangement put in place in all the local government areas in the state and remove all the caretaker chairmen, as well as restore to office the chairmen, who were elected under the last administration in the state.

Even though the Attorney General of the Federation stated that the letter was addressed to all governors having caretaker committees administering their local councils, it appeared that there has been a concerted effort by agents of the Federal Government to force the order down the throat of Makinde and his administration in Oyo State. This was in the light of the fact that the other affected states are yet to effect the order.

Malami had, in the letter dated January 14, 2020, addressed to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State, Professor Oyewo Oyelowo, asked Makinde to reverse the dissolution of local government administration in the state. He said Presidency and other relevant agencies would be advised further on compliance measures that should be taken in national interest because it was obligatory to immediately disband all caretaker committees and restore democratically-elected representatives to man the local governments. He cited the judgment of the Supreme Court, delivered on December 9, 2016, which voided laws enacted by state Houses of Assembly that empowered governors to sack elected local government chairmen and councilors and replace them with handpicked administrators.

The apex court described the sacking of elected local government administrators as “executive recklessness” that should stop immediately. The judgment by the five-man panel, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, was given in an appeal over the dissolution of the 16 local government executives in Ekiti State by Dr Kayode Fayemi during his first term as governor. The court held that Section 23(b) of the Ekiti State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, 2001, which empowered the governor to dissolve local government councils, whose tenure was yet to expire, violated section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) from which the state House of Assembly derived the power to enact the local government law.

“I hereby request all state governors and speakers of state Houses of Assembly, who are currently acting in breach of the provisions of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and also acting in disobedience of the Supreme Court judgment highlighted above to immediately retrace their step by ensuring compliance with the above in the overall interest of the rule of law and our democracy,” Malami had directed in his letter.

Copies of the letter were sent to the Inspector-General of Police; Director-General, Department of State Security (DSS); acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the NFIU. One of the leaders of the sacked elected council chairmen, Prince Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, applauded the directive, but which drew instant flak from a broad spectrum in the political circle in the state.

 

Fishing in troubled waters?

The directive by the AGF has since snowballed into heightened tension in Oyo State following a directive by the Inspector General of Police to the state police command that the directive by the AGF should be enforced. And for the past few days, the crisis engendered by the directive of the AGF letter on the local government administration has culminated in violent clashes, vandalisation of public properties, as the sacked chairmen inherited by the current administration, have forcefully broken into and occupied the premises of the local governments across the state. Though others who made similar efforts failed to take over in quite a number of local government areas and local council development areas, following stiff resistance from the interim leadership, the development has created a charge political atmosphere and climate of uncertainty within and around the state.

For example, the unpredictable act of violence arising from the directive has impacted negatively on governance, as local government workers have been sitting at home to avoid been caught in the web of physical confrontations and attacks. This followed a directive, issued to that effect last Friday, by the state chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employee (NULGE). The attendant economic losses, consequent upon the security threats, have continued to increase because of the logistic demands on the part of the authorities to sustain peace and order across board, just as the citizens are on edge because of perceived deliberate move in certain circles to orchestrate tension in the state.

Buhari, Aid worker, Investment programmes, newspaper editorial, school feeding programme, cash transfer, national social investment,
President Muhammadu Buhari

Police partisanship

Some individuals and groups have frowned on the role of the police in the whole crisis over the dissolution of the Oyo local council by the Makinde administration. They accuse the top echelon of drawing the police into the murky waters of politics over an issue that it ought to act as a neutral and independent law enforcement agency. The action of the IGP, according to them, contributed in aggravating the crisis following the order from IGP Mohammed Adamu to the state Commissioner of Police, Shina Olukolu, to help reinstate the sacked local government chairmen back into their offices, in compliance with the directive of the AGF. The aggrieved individuals hinged their grievances on the directive, as contained in a letter signed by the principal staff officer to the IGP, Idowu Owohunwa, and addressed to Abass-Aleshinloye, who was the chairman of Oyo ALGON. The IGP, in the letter, asked the sacked chairmen to liaise with the police commissioner to facilitate a smooth takeover of the local government areas in the state. It read: “Your letter dated 21st, January 2020 on the above underlined subject, refers: “I am to inform you that the Inspector-General of Police has directed the Commissioner of Police, Oyo State to initiate appropriate actions in line with the legal opinion of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice on the matter. You may accordingly, liaise with him to facilitate. Accept the assurances of the esteemed regards of the inspector general of police, please.”

Many people see the content of the letter as nothing but an open display of partisanship by the law enforcement agency. They also saw it as a direct affront aimed at undermining the authority of Governor Makinde who is the constitutionally-mandated chief security officer (CSO) of the state.

 

State government

In a way, there is a tinge of provocation in the unfolding scenario so far. The unease created by the situation has led to the Oyo State government drawing a battle line against those believed to be trying to jeopardise the peace and security prevalent in the state.  It is also miffed by infraction of the central authorities on federal principles and attempt to further preserve the weird culture of command control structure over local council administration in the state in a federal entity.  Therefore, the state government picked up gauntlet of protecting the rule of law and the sanctity of justice and fairness in the face of what it saw as a selective action by the AGF and the IGP.  The state government has been forced to talk tough in the wake of a resurgence of brigandage by pro-federal establishment to forcefully takeover the local council offices. In a statement by the Special Adviser on Strategy and Political Matters, Honourable Babatunde Oduyoye, the government promised to bring the full weight of the law to bear on the criminal and violent takeover of some local governments and LCDAs’ secretariats by the dissolved council chairmen who were all elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). It decried the alleged resort to break-ins and vandalisation of government properties and forceful seizure of offices of council chairmen by those it described as impostors. Oduyoye added that, as a responsible government, it would toe the line of the rule of law, instead of the path of anarchy some individuals have chosen. The government maintained that the action of the sacked chairmen amounted to criminality and unwarranted provocation.

national depository of treaties, FG, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN)
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami

Oduyoye maintained that the Court should be allowed to take its decision on who is right or wrong on the matter on ground, insisting, however, that the government, under the leadership of Governor Makinde, would not sit down and watch some desperate elements destroy the state and create fear in the minds of the people. “Whether one is right or the other is wrong, it is not for me to decide. The court will decide.  This is a very simple matter. An election was held when there was an injunction. Second, elections took place in LCDAs not recognised by the constitution. These are matters before the court. As I said, the court will decide if you can conduct elections in areas not recognised by the constitution and if you can go ahead to conduct an election when there was a pending injunction.”

On the heels of the initial threats by those behind the confrontations and attacks, the government had also preached peace and the sanctity of the laws of the land. It reassured the citizens that it would insist on the full observance of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) regarding the ongoing controversy surrounding the dissolution of the 68 local council chairmen in the state. The administration, in a statement signed by Taiwo Adisa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Makinde, maintained that the government’s position became imperative following the threats of violence by the sacked chairmen and the stay-at-home order issued to all local government workers by the state by the chapter of NULGE.

The statement read: “The attention of the government of Oyo State has been drawn to a sit-at-home order announced by the state chapter of NULGE. The government understands that the sit-at-home order was a response to persistent threats emanating from the sacked chairmen of local councils and LCDAs.  Whereas the administration of Governor Seyi Makinde will not begrudge NULGE for seeking to preserve its members from a perceived Armageddon as promised by the sacked council chairmen, the government would like to put it on record that it will continue to stand by the dictates of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.

As earlier stated in a position by the state Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Professor Oyelowo Oyewo, issues concerning the tussle over local government administration in Oyo State are before the Court of Appeal and the two cases are scheduled for hearing on February 19, 2020. Any lover of peace, progress and democracy would have no problems waiting to hear from the court on the day stated. We, however, urge all workers in the state to reject any act of brigandage by any persons or groups who are merely seeking to derail the peace and progressive governance that have been the lot of the state since May 29, 2019. We call on the workers and the teeming people of Oyo State to please ignore the threat of violence and brigandage from the sacked chairmen and rest assured that the train of unmatched groundbreaking good governance in Oyo State started by Governor Seyi Makinde cannot be stopped.”

 

Curious constitutional issues

The action, utterances and directives emanating from the AGF and the IGP have thrown up a number of issues bordering on the Nigerian federal arrangement, the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the attitude or mentality of those saddled with guaranteeing the rule of law. There is the question over if the governors are indeed the Chief Security Officers of their state as enshrined in the constitution. In a federal system, both the centre and states exist in a coordinate relationship, with none to be regarded as being vassal states.

The other worry is the fact that only the centre and the state constitute the federation, as each state seems to have dominion over the local government, with powers to create the number it deemed necessary to ensure good governance at the grassroots. But there is an aberration in the 1999 Constitution, which lists the number of local councils and stringent conditions for their creation. The snag is responsible for the lopsided or imbalance in the structure of local government administration in the country, coupled with lack of initiatives by government officials, especially concerning generation of revenues into the Federation Account.

Police, Swap deal
IGP Adamu

Perhaps, of greater concern to many is the growing belief that the action of the AGF and the IGP has political undercurrent. This is because more than 12 states currently have caretaker committees at the helms of affairs at the local government level across the country. In fact, a lot of people faulted the AGF on the ground he hinged his order to the Oyo State governor and the IGP to the effect that the caretaker committee chairmen be removed.

Lastly, there is a fundamental issue concerning the brand of federalism being practised in Nigeria, with all the contradictory features of a unitary system. Inherited from a discredited era of militarism, the system has subsisted, manifesting in flagrant display of structure of command and control, as opposed to constitutional order, democratic ethos and finesse. The anomaly is captured by the foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, thus, “The constitution is defective and unfit for the no less fundamental reason that, while federalism is generally accepted as the best suited to the circumstances and needs of the country, the type of federal system which it establishes for the government of the state is too lopsided and unbalanced by over-concentrating much power and financial resources at the centre at the expense and to the detriment of the states, which comprises the ethnic nationalities.”

These shortcomings and many other inadequacies have informed the question of morality, justice and fairness raised by stakeholders concerning the action of both the AGF and the IGP on the current situation in Oyo State. Many are of the view that there is no proof of justice being guaranteed across board. Besides, others questioned the action of both Malami and Adamu on the ground of the rule of law since there is a pending appeal for February 19, 2020 against the judgment obtained by the sacked local government chairmen in the state. It is also a fact that a lot states operated with caretaker committee arrangement sometimes until late in the day of their two terms of four years each allowed by the constitution before now.  States like Borno and Yobe use caretaker committees for their local council because of the insurgency in the North-East.

The activities of both the AGF and the IGP equally raise realistic questions concerning the relevance of the provision in Section 214 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) on the establishment of the Nigeria Police Force, as well as Section 215) on the status of the IGP and Section 216 which dwells on the powers of the president of the country on the Nigeria Police. In all these provisions, the police leaves such critical organ of the state as the lap dog of the central government, whereas the federating units: states and the centre, are responsible for all logistics, needs and funds for the police and other security agencies in the country.

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