By OLUSESAN LAOYE
The local government dissolution crisis is becoming a major threat to the government and has now plunged Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo state into the worst political fight of his life. The fear is that this may become the beginning of the end for the governor whose unlikely emergence may be short lived.
Although he has said that he is on top of the eight months crisis, tension is still high in the state as all the principal actors in the saga are bent on fighting to the bitter end. It appears there could be no solution without a major political casualty.
Oyo state governor Seyi Makinde on assumption of office in May 2019 had dissolved the elected local government executives put in place by his predecessor Senator Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi of the APC and went ahead to put in place caretaker committees, in all the 25 local governments and the 35 Local council development Authorities (LCDAs,) which are also the creation of Ajimobi.
Makinde took that action based on the information that the election which was conducted by the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) in the twin light of Ajimobi’s tenure, was done in bad faith because there was a court order, which put the election on hold. But the APC government of Ajimobi went ahead with the election, which many people believed was more of a selection than election. While other political parties boycotted the election, only the All Progressive congress Party APC candidates participated.
Even then, there was a big rancour within the APC as some .members and aspirants were aggrieved and protested that the then governor only handpicked his favourites at the expense of others preferred by the people in their respective areas.
Before the councils were dissolved by Makinde. the APC elected council Chairmen and councillors went to court in anticipation that the Makinde government would ask them to go and sought an order of the court that they should not be dissolved. They also sought a court order that the OYSIEC which conducted their election should not be allowed to conduct a new election till the expiration of their tenure as elected council executives..
Their request was granted by the Ring Road High court Ibadan presided over by Justice A.A. Aderemi. The case was filed on behalf of other chairmen, by Hon. Bosun Ajuwon. The court in granting their request relied on the Supreme Court verdict in respect of a similar case in Ekiti State.
But despite this the new PDP government of Makinde still went ahead to cancelled the councils with the backing of the State House of Assembly which has a PDP majority. The government subsequently appointed caretakers to run the Local governments.
The government in order to pursue the matter to a logical conclusion approached the appellate Court in Ibadan to appeal against the judgment which restrained it from dissolving the LGs. The case has been fixed for February 19 2020 at the Court of Appeal Iyaganku Ibadan.
However, there is now tension and the premonition that a state of emergency, may be the likely outcome is the direct intervention of the federal government and the involvement of the two political parties – the APC which installed the dissolved LGS and the PDP which controls the Oyo state government. Since the involvements of the political parties and the federal government, the crisis has taken a new dimension and continues to escalate in spite of the pending court case. In the final analysis, it seems that whatever, is he judicial outcome, only a political solution will end the imbroglio.
While the dissolved APC relied on the Presidency for support, Makinde relied on the support and the good will he enjoys from the people which is the reason for the protest against the council chairmen and councillors triggered off by the controversial letter to the Oyo state government, by the Attorney General of the Federation, and Minister of justice, Abubakar Mallami, that the state government lack the constitution power to sack the duly elected local government chairmen and councillors
The Attorney General of the federation had ordered the state governor to reverse the sack and ordered them to go back to their offices after directing the Commissioner of Police in the state to ensure compliance.
The order emboldened the sacked LG executives to want to take over the councils by force, but they met a strong resistance from the supporters of the government and the new council bosses. The situation turned violent as some of the sacked men were beaten up and seriously wounded; not even the presence of the police could stop the confrontation.
The government through the state Attorney General and commissioner of Justice, Professor Oyelowo Oyewo, lashed out at the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami for his interference on the dissolution of local government leadership in Oyo State saying that his action was selective and as a result lacked adequate history of the case. Oyewo maintained that the AGF was not properly briefed on the local government situation in Oyo State.
According to him, the dissolved council chairmen were not properly constituted, having emerged from an election that was held in disobedience to an existing court order.
He said: “If he [AGF] were to be aware of the fact that the matter was sub judice, probably he would not have taken such wanton liberal interpretation of his powers. His powers are guided by law, by the Constitution of the land and as interpreted by the court.”
Oyewo, a professor of Law and former Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, added that the AGF lacked the power at large to enforce judgment without going through the process of the enforcement of judgment in compliance with the rules of the court that gave the judgment.
He added that Malami’s actions were partisan and not based on the Constitution, noting that though many APC-controlled states were operating Caretaker Committees and had dissolved elected local government leadership, policemen have not been sent to enforce “anybody’s rights as it were.”
Oyewo stated that though his office was not served with the AGF’s letter dated 14th January, 2020 and that the letter only came to its notice on 22nd January, 2020. However, due to the seriousness of the letter, he was compelled to send a rejoinder to the AGF in which he made the following facts clear.
“One; there is no such Supreme Court judgment against Oyo State. Two, the Attorney General of the Federation does not have power, at large, to be enforcing judgment without going through the process of enforcement of the judgment in compliance with the rules of the court that gave the judgment.
“As if that was not alarming enough, a letter was written through the Inspector General of Police giving a direction that was supposed to be given to the chairman of APC in Oyo State and the chairman of ALGON to, as it was, reinstate local government and LCDA chairmen who have a matter in court against the Oyo State government. And the matter at that time was, and still is, at the Court of Appeal.
“We wrote this to bring to the attention of the Inspector General of Police and, at the same time, we took steps before the proper forum for it to be decided, which is before the court, and that seemed to have untamed the ravaging effort of the Police and the people that they were trying to use.
“As you have heard, there was violence and all that, but carefully an ex parte order was granted against any further action of such parties without any court order that is emanating to give priority to the AGF or the Inspector General of Police to take those actions.”
According to Oyewo, the AGF’s actions were clearly not based on law or the Constitution of the land but purely partisan.
He further said: “Basically, the Attorney General of the Federation will have his reasons but they are not based on the Constitution. They are not based on law, because it [the action] was so partisan. You do not write a letter to the chairman of a party in a state directing the Governor to review to review his action.
“We run a federal system of government. If there is anything, and this has been settled by the Supreme Court, even under the regime of President [Olusegun] Obasanjo, where there was a dispute as to the creation of local governments and the government withheld the funds of Lagos State, the Supreme Court came out. If you have such issues you go to court and that was what we have done.”
Responding to the question on whether Governor Makinde had the powers to dissolve elected local governments chairmen, Prof. Oyewo noted that the election that brought the chairmen in was null and void, as it was conducted against an existing court order, which invalidated the constitution of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission.
He added that the Makinde administration inherited litigations between the sacked APC local government chairmen and the APC-controlled State Government under Senator Abiola Ajimobi and that the existence of a stay of execution on a judgment secured by the sacked chairmen left a vacuum in the local councils.
He stated that Governor Makinde only filled the vacuum pending the resolution of the matters or the time his administration could conduct a proper election into the local governments.
The Oyo AG said: “I think I have to give background to that. Before the present administration came into existence, the previous administration of Governor Ajimobi ran the caretaker committee system for seven years. In the twilight of that administration, against an existing court order that invalidated the composition of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission and also made any attempt to use that [OYSIEC] to conduct that election null and void.
“Be that as it may, towards the twilight, it was supposed to be a booby trap so that by the time our administration comes in, irrespective of the mandate of the people that there should be a party alternation from APC to PDP, we now had to have an administration of APC at the local governments. Now, that is not even a problem. The matter is, that same APC local government composition went to court against Governor Ajimobi, which is the case that we inherited challenging the State Government because they heard rumours that the Governor wanted to dissolve them.
“Before we came in, the pleadings were there; Ajimobi said ‘I am not going to sack you’ and the matter should have ended there. But for one reason or the other, the judgment was given against the Government and that became the subject matter of appeal. That appeal led to a stay of execution and because there was a stay, there was a vacuum. And, of course, don’t forget that under Section 7 of the constitution, the State Government makes laws and there is the local government law that regulates the activities of Oyo State local governments.
“We must make a distinction in the light of the decisions of the court, between the local government administration and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). The LCDAs basically are inchoate creations within the realm of the arrangement of the State Government. So, a distinction must be made between the LCDAs and the local governments as they were. That distinction has never been made due to the conduct of the affairs as we inherited them.
So, it was thought that this administration seems to have inherited an APC infrastructure including those on ground. It was thought let us have an audit, to see what was actually on ground and that was what led to the action of saying that they should step aside and allow some other people take a look at the account and all the affairs of the state and manage them until the matter is resolved. And the moment we resolve the matter of OYSIEC, then we can properly plan for the conduct of the election.”
When asked whether there was a possibility of the sacked chairmen coming back to office, Prof. Oyelowo said what the State government did was to dissolve them and that if the court eventually pronounces the government’s action null and void, Governor Makinde as someone who believes in and maintains the rule of law would not act in contravention.
“Of course, the bottom line of it is that the administration of Governor Makinde believes in the rule of law and we maintain it. If a judgment comes out of the court directing as it were that our action is null and void, of course that will be done.”
Prof. Oyewo further maintained that once all the ongoing issues surrounding the local government administration in the State are resolved, the government would, within a short time, conduct a credible local government election and have the local government system running properly.
He said: “Seriously, some of these matters are not legal matters but political matters that need to have a legal context. What everybody wants is for the State to be able to resolve this matter, both in the aspect of the legality of it and in terms of the political process.
“Within a short time from now, we hope to conduct the election and have the administration properly running. If not for the litigations that are pending, it is something that should have been done almost immediately but we inherited those problems and we have to find a political and legal solution.
“As it is now, the local government matter is at the court of appeal; it is coming up now on the 27th of February. All things being equal, before the end of the first quarter, everything should be resolved. And we should be able to conduct a free and fair election into the local governments.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) waded into the local government crisis in Oyo State, urging Governor Seyi Makinde to either allow the sacked elected Chairmen to serve out their tenure or pay them off if they won’t be allowed to complete their tenure. Falana who held that caretaker chairmen were unknown to the nation’s constitution, charged Makinde to rather speed up the process of conducting a local government election in the state.
As the crisis still rages, Governor Makinde has said that some people intend to use the crisis to foment trouble and disrupt the peace of the state so that President Buhari could declare state of emergency. He insist that his caretaker committee in the government would stay pending when fresh election would be held after the outcome of the cases on the issue still pending in court, adding that if the court verdicts go in favour of the sacked LG executives, he has no option than to obey the court order.
When contacted. the chairman of the sacked ALGON, Gone Abass Aleshinloye said that they cannot be intimidated because Governor Makinde acted contrary to the court order and the constitution of Nigeria. He said they are still the elected chief executives of the councils in Oyo state until their tenure expires.
According to him “we are going to fight for our right as long as we live”
He pointed out that Governor Makinde was playing politics rather than allow us to complete our tenure before electing his own. He chose to ignore the facts, the truth and the laws of the country”
While the APC and the PDP are busy attacking each other, there appears to be underground moves by some elders and politicians across party lines to resolve the crisis to avoid Oyo state being turned to theater of war. It was learnt that these leaders have met with governor Makinde and some party leaders which include the former Senate Majority leader Senator Yemi Folarin after he had met the Inspector General of Police with the APC caucus and other legislators at the National Assembly.
Their intention, according to sources was to give both parties involved a soft landing by settling the matter out if court. This may eventually lead to the government of Makinde paying off the sacked council executives as he would not want to retain them because keeping them could lead to the council chairmen who mainly APC working at variants with the plan of the government.