Sack of Oyo, Katsina LG chairmen illegal, Supreme Court rules

THE Supreme Court on Friday declared the dissolution of local government councils in Oyo and Katsina states and their replacement with caretaker committees as illegal and unconstitutional. 

The five-man panel of Justices of the apex court set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan which approved the sack of the elected council officials in Oyo State by the governor, Mr Seyi Makinde. 

It said the governor erred by sacking the elected council officials and replacing them with caretaker committees. 

The sacked chairpersons, led by Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, had approached the court to vindicate them, saying they were illegally sacked. 

The apex court, in a unanimous judgment, held that Governor Makinde acted beyond his powers when, on assumption of office on May 29, 2019, he sacked the chairmen of the 33 local government areas, as well as 35 local council development areas in the state. 

The apex court stressed that no governor has the constitutional power to illegally terminate the tenure of democratically elected local government chairmen and councillors. 

The Supreme Court, in its lead judgment read by Justice Ejembi Eko, noted that Governor Makinde took the action despite a subsisting court order and added that the governor acted “invidiously and in contemptuous disregard of a High Court judgment” when he dissolved the democratically elected chairmen and councillors and appointed caretaker committees in their stead. It held that his action was in breach of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, adding that governors were duty-bound to preserve democratically elected local government councils. 

Consequently, the apex court invoked its original jurisdiction under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act and vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan which earlier validated governor Makinde’s action. 

It held that the appellate court was wrong when it held that there was no reasonable cause of action in the suit the appellants filed to forestall their sack. 

Although the Supreme Court acknowledged that the three-year tenure of the sacked chairmen and councillors had since expired, it held that they deserved to be compensated for their tenure that was “illegally truncated” on May 29, 2019. 

It, therefore, ordered the Oyo State government to pay each of the sacked chairmen and councillors their accrued salaries and allowances and further directed the AttorneyGeneral of Oyo State to, before August 7, file an affidavit attesting to the payment of such salaries and allowances to the appellants. Besides, the court awarded a cost of N20 million in favour of the appellants. 

Other Justices that concurred with the lead judgment the apex court delivered during a virtual session it held on Friday were Justices Kekere Ekun, Inyang Okoro, Ibrahim Saulawa and Adamu Jauro. 

The local government bosses who were elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and sworn in by the former governor of the state, Abiola Ajimobi, had, before Makinde of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took over, filed a suit to secure their positions. Following their suit, Justice Aderonke Aderemi of the Oyo State High Court, in a judgment on May 6, 2019, restrained the state from dissolving the elected local government chairmen and councillors. However, immediately after he assumed office on May 29, 2019, Governor Makinde lodged an appeal against the High Court judgment, even as he sacked all the local government chairmen and councillors. The appellate court subsequently dismissed the case of the council bosses on the premise that it was “preemptive, premature, speculative and failed to disclose reasonable facts.” 

In a similar judgment, the apex court declared the dissolution of the duly elected local government council chairmen on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State as unlawful. In a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Adamu Jauro, the apex court consequently directed that the unlawfully dissolved council officials be paid all their entitlements from the date of their illegal dissolution to the date they were to vacate office. 

The court, in arriving at its decision, set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and allowed the appeal marked SC 244/218 filed by Abubakar Ibrahim Yantaba and others against the governor of Katsina State. Governor Bello Masari had, on assumption of office in July 2015, dissolved the duly elected council officials on allegation of financial misappropriation of council funds, a decision which the apex court declared as illegal, unconstitutional, null and void. 

The Supreme Court also awarded costs to the appellants and insisted that it should be complied with within a time frame. 

Before the legal action got to the apex court, the Katsina State chapter of the PDP had dragged Governor Masari and the state House of Assembly to court over alleged move to dissolve the 34 local government councils in the state. Joined in the suit were Governor Masari as the first defendant, the state Attorney General, second defendant and the state House of Assembly, third defendant. In a writ of summons with reference number KTH/38/2015, dated July 1, 2015, the PDP prayed the court to restrain the defendants from sacking the council chairmen. 

The PDP also sought a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from suspending or in any other way removing all or any of the 34 local government councils in Katsina State before the expiration of their tenure. The party also asked for a declaration that upon declaration of relevant laws, including the amended Katsina State Local Government Law, the tenure of the 34 local government councils in the state is two years. 

It alleged that Masari had no legal right to dissolve, suspend or remove any of the 34 local governments before expiration of their tenure. The PDP insisted that its move was informed by an announcement by the governor, indicating the intention of his administration to dissolve the local government councils.

Minister hails Supreme Court judgment on sacked Oyo LG chairmen

THE Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Dare, has described Friday’s judgment of the Supreme Court declaring the sack of elected local government executives in Oyo State by the state governor, Mr Seyi Makinde, as null and void as a landmark achievement in the bid of the current administration in the country bid to deepen democracy at the grassroots. 

Mr Dare said with the “unsparing, unequivocal and unambiguous” judgment by the highest court in the land, it had become clear that no state government has the power to sack any elected council chairman or councilor, “as correctly envisioned by President Muhammadu Buhari.” 

He commended the gallantry of the local government chairmen under the leadership of Prince Abass Alesinloye, stressing that their steadfastness and doggedness eventually paid off not only for themselves but also for democracy at the grassroots. 

The minister also praised their legal team led by Chief Niyi Akintola for a thorough and painstaking legal battle fought almost without payment for the sake of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the cause of democracy. 

Mr Dare praised the immediate past governor of the state, the late Senator Abiola Ajimobi, for his role in ensuring that due diligence was done in the conduct of the local government election and the profound leadership given to the local government executives in the pursuit of the case until his death. 

The minister said he was particularly elated that “our party, the All Progressives Congress, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Caretaker Chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni and the Oyo State caretaker chairman, Chief Akin Oke, was able to finally lay this issue bordering mainly on tyranny of power by state governors to rest.” 

While congratulating the chairmen and councilors, Mr Dare urged them to remain committed to the party in order to win back Oyo State for the APC. 

 

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