Tug of war over Kwara LGAs
BIOLA AZEEZ captures the claims and counter-claims by lawmakers and political parties trailing the suspension of local government area bosses by the state government.
REPORTS that the Kwara State House of Assembly recommended the suspension of 16 local government councils to Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq over an allegation bordering on misappropriation of N33billion did not surprise many pundits in the state. Observers had pondered since the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last general election in the state that the new administration would not be comfortable working with the council administrations that were put in place by the last Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government.
A lot of people had predicted the friction because the 16 council chairmen are all PDP members, and the 24-member House comprise APC lawmakers, just as the governor belongs to the APC. It was gathered that the recommendation for the suspension of the councils followed a resolution of the House after it considered a petition written by one Seidu Aliyu and presented at a plenary on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.
The House Leader, Mogaji Abubakar Olawoyin, tabled the petition, which was unanimously considered after a debate, prompting the lawmakers to recommend the suspension of the local government councils. According to the petitioner, the council chairmen had mismanaged and misappropriated a total sum of N33 billion received from the federation accounts in the last two years. The House Leader called for a thorough investigation of the council chairmen in view of their alleged misconduct that caused the petition against them.
In his submission, a member representing Ipaye/Malete/Oloru, Babatunde Abdulkareem Paku, said that the House had been inundated with reports over alleged fraudulent activities in the third tier of government in the last two years. His counterpart from Afon Constituency, Abdulwahab Opakunle, urged the House to look into the matter critically since the lawmakers represent the interest of the people. Also speaking, a member representing Ojomu/Balogun Constituency of Offa Local Government Area, Saheed Popoola, said there was need to properly investigate the alleged financial impropriety against the council authorities, adding that local government chairmen are public officers and thus accountable to the people.
Salaudeen Ganiyu of Omupo Constituency moved a motion for the suspension of the council chairmen pending the outcome of the investigation and was seconded by Awolola Olumide of Isin Constituency.
Reading the resolution of the House, the Speaker, Honourable Salihu Yakubu Danladi, urged Governor Abdulrazaq to suspend all the council chairmen to allow proper investigation of their alleged mismanagement of funds in the last two years. He referred the petition to the joint House Committees on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Ethics, Privileges and Judiciary, asking the committees to report back in the next two weeks.
A few hours after the recommendation was made by the Assembly, Governor Abdulrazaq suspended the entire local government council executive and legislative committees. “Pursuant to the resolution of the Kwara State House of Assembly dated this 18th day of June, 2019, and Section 29 of the Kwara State Local Government Law Cap. K33, 2006, I, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, the executive governor of Kwara State, hereby suspend the executive and legislative committees of all the Sixteen (16) Local Government Areas in the state for a period of six months or pending the outcome of the investigations into allegations of misappropriation of public funds by the Kwara State House or Assembly, whichever is earlier in time”, a statement signed by the governor stated.
The Assembly had, in the resolution earlier in the day, urged the governor “to immediately suspend all the 16 Local Government Executive and Legislative Committees in the state pending the outcome of the investigation into the allegations of misappropriation of public funds levelled against them so as not to jeopardise the process of investigation.” The governor’s statement also said that Section 29 of the Kwara State Local Government Law Cap. K33, 2006 empowers the governor to suspend the chief executive of the local council for six months. It added that the Constitution, on the other hand, empowers the House of Assembly to investigate the local councils for alleged infraction and corruption.
In a swift reaction, the state PDP kicked against the recommendation by the Assembly for the suspension of the local council chairmen, demanding its immediate retraction. In a statement by its chairman, Honourable Kola Shittu, the party described the move by the legislature as illegal and undemocratic, stressing that it was wrong for the House to recommend the suspension of the council bosses on allegation of financial misappropriation when they had not been properly investigated or invited for questioning. It should be noted that neither the House nor the governor has the power to suspend the council chairmen who were lawfully elected by their people. The council chairman were lawfully elected in 2017 by the people for a three-year tenure which will expire in 2020. Neither the governor nor the State assembly has the power to suspend or sack them before the expiration of their administrations. We wish to remind the lawmakers of a subsisting court order barring the State Governor nor any of his representatives including the State House of Assembly from suspending or dissolving elected local government chairmen or interfere in their financial activities until the lawful expiration of their tenure in 2020. It is also instructive to note that the Supreme Court had also declared as illegal and unconstitutional the dissolution of local government councils by State governor and the state assemblies. The decision of the Kwara State House of Assembly to suspend the elected council chairmen, therefore, amounts to reckless disregard of court order, abuse of power, and rape of democracy that must be resisted by all lovers of democracy. We must not allow our democracy to be subverted by anti-democratic elements. It is unfortunate that lawmakers who are supposed to be advocates of justice and due process are the ones compromising the law and perpetrating illegality to serve the interest of their paymasters. We wish to state that we are currently studying the situation and will contest the suspension of the council chairmen and ensure that justice is served. The party, therefore, urges Kwarans to disregard the illegal suspension of the local government chairmen they freely elected into office. As far as our laws are concerned, they remain the duly elected chairmen and will remain so till their tenure expire next year.”
Corroborating the position of the PDP, a former Majority Leader of the Assembly, Honourable Hassan Oyeleke, viewed the suspension of the council bosses as unlawful. He posited that the suspension of those whose investigation are not yet commenced let alone indicted is alien to the legislature’s tradition and looks like a wild goose chase. Oyeleke further clarified: “With great respect, I wish to shed light on the issue under discussion; the suspension of the 16 local governments council by the state house of Assembly based on a petition from one Mallam Aliu. As a member of the state House of Assembly for eight years and as a former chairman, Public Account Committee and House Leader, I humbly wish to enlighten us on some of the relevant House Rules and local government laws. When a petition is read at the plenary and the House agreed to discuss it further, a relevant committee of the House or ad-hoc committee shall be set up to go into the issues.
“The committee shall be given a duration of time to report back to the House. The committee shall invite the petitioner and the respondent. The committee shall write the parties concerned, indicating the day, time and venue of the meeting. The sittings of the committee shall be recorded on tape and verbatim. The House committee shall report back to the House for further decision.”