What informed the Friday, the January 24, 2020 directive by the leadership of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Oyo State Chapter, headed by Comrade Titilola Zodo, that his members should stay away from their duty posts commencing from Monday January 27, 2020, was fallout of clash between traditionalism and constitutionalism.
Right from 1999, every governor in the country always dissolved sometimes through the State House of Assembly, the local government executives it inherited from his predecessor, and set up a caretaker committee until elections into the council were conducted.
For instance, upon his election as governor in Plateau State in 2015, Governor Simeon Lalong, who is a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly and Chairman of Nigeria’s Conference of Speakers, dissolved the LG councils he inherited in the state and appointed caretaker committees.
Oyo State was not any different. Following dissolution of such council executives, it had been electing its council bosses through the instrumentality of the state Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC), and ridiculously producing winners that sweep the whole councils. Opposition parties were always defeated outright, most times, not even winning a local council. In fact, the tradition has been that of writing of results even before the election.
Upon assuming office by a new government, the former occupiers of local governments would be sent packing because they cannot work with the incumbent. Litigation had been recorded with courts ordering that the sacked bosses be paid their dues since their tenures had not expired when they were kicked out.
The immediate past elected Chairmen of the past All Progressives Congress (APC) administration of Governor Abiola Ajimobi led by the Chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, did not allow the tradition repeated, though the incumbent Governor Seyi Makinde of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) might be willing to pay them off like he attempted of the OYSIEC staff that were also sacked.
Within 24 hours of his inauguration on May 29, 2019, Makinde’s Chief of Staff, Chief Olabisi Ilaka, announced the dissolution of all the 33 Local government councils and the 35 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs), put in place on May 12, 2019 by Governor Ajimobi who had administered the state for seven years without conducting a local government election. He had utilised Caretaker Chairmen he handpicked for over seven years.
Many political pundits questioned, if the intention was altruistic, why conducting the council election when another transition election was barely a month ahead? Why not for the whole of seven years when the residents of the state were denied the dividends of grassroots development, if not intended to be a booby trap?
Preempting the result and accustomed to the tradition that the APC government would manipulate the election and ensure all the 33 councils and the illegal 35 LCDAs would be swept by the party, other parties stayed away from participating in the election. The result was better imagined. APC swept all the polls.
As if envisaging that APC would be defeated in the March 9 gubernatorial election, eight of the elected council bosses under the banner of ALGON represented 57 others and sued the then governor (Ajimobi), the House of Assembly, the Accountant-General of the State and others, claiming that the government was allegedly at a meeting planning to dissolve them.
According to a lawyer, the APC council bosses filed their action through an Originating Motion on March 25, 2019 before Justice Aderemi asking for a declaration that governor of the state had no power to dissolve a democratically-elected council local government and asked that the governor then (Ajimobi) be restrained from dissolving them. The Ministry of Justice however, filed counter affidavit that there was no such meeting where dissolution of the council was allegedly mooted.
“The claimants and the defendants were both APC and the suit was filed through an Originating Motion when indeed there was a disagreement between the parties. The matter was heard and on May 6, 2019 before the inauguration of Makinde’s government, judgment had been delivered restraining the governor. The other party which was still APC, did not file any counter-claim or challenge the decision.
“This to me was a legal ploy to preempt the PDP in case it won the governorship election. And this is exactly what is playing out. However, the case now being relied on is before an Appeal Court” a lawyer said.
In his opinion, the lawyer quneried: “Why did the sacked council bosses not wait till February 24, 2020 when the Appeal Court would decide on the matter before the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami was brought in to issue a directive that the ex-council bosses should go and resume in their offices because a Supreme Court judgment had forbidden any state government from dissolving any democratically-elected council chairmen? Why the rush? Was Oyo State a party in the case which the Supreme Court decided? Are legal orders given in the comfort of anyone’s room?
“Why did the AGF not send the same letter to the Attorneys-General of other states with similar crisis? AGF is not a court. It is a court that restrains an action and dictates what should follow. Whose prerogative is it to determine whether an action has been completed or no?,” the lawyer queried.
The seeming cold war got escalated when the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, issued an order to the Oyo State Commissioner, Shina Olukolu, to guard the ex-Council bosses to resume in their offices on Monday, January 27. Some Ajimobi’s council bosses entered their offices, some forcefully while policemen were watching. In some other councils, however, the gate to the councils were locked. Example of this is Ibadan North East Local Government.
There were pockets of skirmishes that attended the come-back as in Afijio LCDA in Oyo, where the ex-Chairman, Hon. Samuel Aderemi, was reportedly abducted, beaten to stupor and whisked away for two hours before being freed. In some councils, Makinde’s government alleged that some property of government were destroyed in the course of forceful entry. The police, however, said that its men were at alert at the councils to forestall break down of law and order.
However, apparently, the police did not allow some ex-council bosses to enter. For instance, the Council Chairman of Ajorosun Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mr. Adeyinka Adeyemi, on Monday alleged that police officers in the council went against the order of the IGP as he was denied access to the council secretariat alongside other elected councilors.
Reports from Ibarapa zone and Oke Ogun area of the State showed similar experience as many of the council secretariats were locked. In the Oluyole local government council of the ALGON Chairman, it was gathered that Abass Aleshinloye entered his office. Similarly,
Lanre Olaosegba of Ibarapa North-East LCDA, Lanlate, resumed at the council secretariat with his councilors while, Barr. Daud Suleiman Abayomi of Ogbomoso Central LCDA also resumed with his councillors.
To nip the crisis in the bud, Governor Makinde’s government on Monday obtained an ex-parte order, restraining the 68 sacked council Chairmen and Chairmen of Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs), “from forceful and illegal take-over of the council offices across the state”.
Justice Moshud Abass granted the four reliefs contained in an ex-parte application brought by Dr. Akin Onigbinde (SAN), on behalf of the Oyo State Government, including “an order of interim injunction restraining the sacked chairmen from forcefully taking over the Local Government Councils or taking steps capable of causing breach of peace in the State”.
The order of injunction however did not have the desired effect as Aleshinloye said that there was nothing to restrain since they had completed the act of resuming their offices before the Monday’s restriction order. Aleshinloye said, “We were never removed from office in pursuance of any Order and there is no law that can be employed in aid of an illegality that will stand in a constitutional democracy”.
While a lawyer had floored the position of Aleshinloye, another senior lecturer at the Nigeria Law School, Sylvester Udemzue, said that “Injunction doesn’t and can’t restrain an already completed act. The act of taking over of the said LG Councils by the earlier sacked LG Chairmen had started and ended on Monday, 27/01/2020”. He cited the case of AMAECHI V. INEC & 2 ors (2008) 1 SCNJ 1; (2008) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1080) 227, (Supreme Court of Nigeria (per PIUS OLAYIWOLA ADEREMI, JSC to justify his claim.
However, another lawyer argued that the order of any court must be obeyed as according to him, “Compliance with court order is not a subject of interpretation either by any individual or any politician. Parties must comply immediately whether the order is for an ongoing act or a completed act. Parties can there after place their complaints before the court when the substantive Motion on Notice comes up for hearing”, the lawyer said.
Another lawyer corroborated the position that the sacked chairmen must obey the court order, saying: “Did the sacked Council Chairmen sleep in the office? Since the order has been given restraining them, must they go back to the same office on the ground that the action has been completed? Is the action not ongoing that way” he queried.
To douse the tension, Makinde, on Wednesday, January 28 went to seek audience with the IGP at Abuja, telling him of the grave consequence of his directive to the Oyo CP. Afterwards, he said he would obey the judgment of the court, once the pending appeals on the local government dissolution in the state are decided.
While many of the sacked chairmen were still occupying their offices, Governor Makinde met with the Caretaker Chairmen he appointed, urging them to see their appointments as opportunities to serve, noting that “despite the distractions of parts of the councils by the sacked illegal chairmen, you (the caretaker chairmen) must remain strong, steadfast and dedicated to delivering the dividends of democracy to the people at the grassroots.
“As far as I am concerned, when we came in, in the eyes of the law, we did not meet any elected local government officials. We met pretenders and we have asked them to leave. And that is also the position of the law until the court says otherwise. So, I want you to be focused, single-minded and move away from business as usual”, Makinde admonished.
He further reiterated that “Whatever happened in the past remains in the past. We have looked for the best hands we can join hands together to move this state forward and that exactly is what this Government is all about. They can peddle half-truths and outright lies but we should not be distracted. We need to be focused on the task at hand”.
Since Makinde has pledged to abide by whatever decision the Appeal Court makes on February 24, flexing of muscle will continue in the state. However, the possibility of a PDP-controlled administration working with council chairmen from the opposition party, still remains hazy because both are likely to work at cross purposes. Time will soon reveal the outcome as the incumbent council workers are still at home having been directed to stay away from their offices.
Observers believe the outcome of the entire legal tussle along with it huge political content will have huge consequences on governance in the state in the next few years.