February 25, 2024

Federalism at grassroots: 17 states run 323 LGAs with caretaker committees

Federalism at grassroots: 17 states run 323 LGAs with caretaker committees

LAGOS — AS Nigeria struggles to deepen her democracy, no fewer than 17 state governments are running their local councils with transition or caretaker committees.

Currently, 323 (41.73 per cent) of the 774 local councils are without elected chairmen and councillors. This is contrary to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which guarantees the system of local government by democratically elected officials.

However, 451 LGAs (58.27%) across 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, have elected LGAs, according to Vanguard’s checks.

Factors fingered for the inability of many states to conduct council polls include insecurity, paucity of funds, and political and legal battles. A few of the states had the elected chairmen suspended by their governors over alleged corruption.

In July 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that state governors do not have the power to sack elected council officials.

The apex court, while delivering judgment in the case of the removal of 148 elected local government officials by the Abia State Government in 2006, unanimously held that the action was illegal and amounted to “official recklessness” by the governor.

Also, in 2019, the Supreme Court councils without elected officials should not receive federal allocation, but this is yet to be implemented. The move to ensure direct allocations to the councils via the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, guidelines on the management of local governments’ funds guidelines in 2019 was aborted by governors.

Anambra, Imo, Borno, others as worst cases

Among the 36 states of the country Anambra, Imo and Borno are the worst.

The last local government election in Anambra State was conducted in November 2014, at the twilight of the administration of Governor Peter Obi. Thereafter, the state has been without elected council executives since 2017.

Next year, it will be 10 years of no council election in Anambra. Borno State is back in the league of States without elected LGAs. The Boko Haram insurgency deprived Borno State of the opportunity to hold council elections from 2007 to 2020 (a period of 13 years. The state conducted council polls in 2020 but could not sustain it when the tenure of the elected executives expired last year.

Governor Babagana Zulum, on December 29, 2022, appointed transition committee chairmen for the 27 LGAs of the state. And last July, new transition committees were raised after the six-month tenure of their predecessors lapsed.

In Imo, the last LG poll was conducted on August 25, 2018. It was the first LG poll in seven years.

In Kwara, the last council election was in November 2017; caretaker committees have been in charge since 2020.

In Zamfara, the last LG poll was held on April 27, 2019, and the state returned to appointees after the tenure of the chairmen expired.

Bauchi is another state that has not fared well in ensuring democracy at the council level. For 12 years between 2008 and 2020, there was no LG election in the state.

In October 2020, council polls wer held and when the tenure of the elected executive ended in October 2020, Governor Bala Mohammed appointed caretaker committees.

Benue suspends chairmen over alleged graft

In Benue, the last LG poll was held on May 1, 2022. However, Governor Hyacint Alia, on June 24 acted on the correspondence from the State Assembly that recommended suspension of the council chairmen, pending when they will complete investigations into cases of alleged corruption against them. The chairmen went to court but currently the councils are administered by appointees.

How Mutfwang sacked Plateau LG chairmen

Out-gone Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau swore in elected council chairmen on October 11, 2022 following their election on October 9.

However, his successor, Governor Caleb Mutfwang, on June 1, suspended all democratic structures in the 17 local councils following recommendations of the Plateau State House of Assembly, and appointed transition chairmen.

Justifying the sack, Governor Muftwang said: “The suspension followed their inability to produce documents related to financial transactions in the various local governments,” saying all efforts to make them produce the documents proved abortive.

He explained that “the state government, after careful study of the recommendations, resolved to suspend the chairmen to conduct an efficient and proper investigation into the development.”

Muftwang urged the transition chairmen to cooperate with the PLHA and ensure that all documents required for the investigation were provided for appropriate action.

N-East, South-East zones worst hit

Among the six geo-political zones, the North-East is the worst. Only one of the six states operates democracy at the grassroots. Only Adamawa (21 LGAs) have elected executives. The other five states – Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe (91 LGAs) don’t have elected councils.

In the South-East, three of the five states (Abia, Anambra and Imo) with 65 local councils are without elected executives. Only 30 councils in Ebonyi and Enugu are democratically administered.

Conversely, the North-West zone is the best; only two out of its seven states (Sokoto and Zamfara) with 37 LGAs are not under democratic rule. The other states (Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Kebbi) with 149 LGAs have elected executives.

How other zones fare

In the South-West only 48 LGAs from Ondo and Osun are without elected councils as the remaining four- Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun and Oyo have democratically administered 69 LGAs.

The North-Central has 65 democratically administered LGAs and 56 without.

In the South-South, 97 LGAs from four states (Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Edo are democratically administered while 26 LGAs in Bayelsa and Cross River are not.

Until last week, Edo State had been without elected council executives since 2020 when the tenure of the officers elected in 2018 lapsed.

Govs carried out coups against LGAs— Agbakoba

A disappointed Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, who took the governors to the Supreme Court and got a judgment that local councils not democratically administered should not get federal allocation, said governors were preventing LGs from having polls because they wanted to control the third tier of government.

His words: “Section 7 of the constitution provides for democratically administered local governments. A lot of governors manipulated the process and failed to conduct LG polls through state Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECs, which they control.

“I took the case to court to determine whether undemocratic councils should get allocation. The court ruled in my favour. However, one of the judges said. If the undemocratic LGs are denied funds it would hurt the grassroots.

“What the governors did was a coup against the local governments. 90 per cent of our problem is with the state structure. We must question what the governors do.

In states, governors can do anything. Why are state governors preventing LGs from holding democratic elections? It is because they want to control the councils.”

We’ve peculiar circumstances in Nigeria– NULGE

Decrying the scenario, National President of the National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, Mr. Ambali Kazeem, said: “The Supreme Court had ruled against illegal caretaker committees in local government administration.

The NULGE Secretariat is addressing the issue. Our preference is that state governments should run local governments with the provisions of the constitution. You can’t be wrong with that .

“We have peculiar circumstances in the country. I want to thank Vanguard Newspapers for the story and support in deepening democracy at the grassroots. The effort to amend the constitution and address the local council problem is ongoing.”

Imo’ll hold LG poll this year – Uzodimma

Contacted on the issue, Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo, who is Chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum, blamed insecurity for his inability to hold council polls in the last three years and assured that the elections would be held before the end of 2023.

Imo State Information Commissioner, Chief Declan Emelumba, said: “The truth is that we have concluded plans to conduct local government elections. The governor has announced that he will conduct the election. The reason we have not been able to hold LG polls is insecurity. It will be held very soon, before the end of this year.”

Democracy not working at LGAs — Akhaine

Speaking on the rising number of LGAs without elected officials, Professor Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, who teaches Political Science at the Lagos State University, LASU, decried the absence of democracy in many councils.

Akhaine, a rights activist and governorship aspirant in Edo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, said: “Democracy is not working at the local level at all because democratic principles have been emasculated by the governors.

I think the governors need to buckle up and let due process, rule of law and democratic principles flourish at the local level. People at the local government need to elect their local councillors, and chairman and hold them responsible.”

Those aggrieved with govs’ conduct should go to court – NGF source

On the position of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, on the issue of 17 members of the body breaching Section 7 of the constitution by running local councils with caretaker committee, a source who did not want his name in print, said: “The matter sounds political and the NGF does not dabble into politics.

‘’The issue varies from state to state. We don’t sit as a council in the NGF to discuss what happens at the local governments. The things we talk about are things that affect our core mandate on good governance. We can advise governors on good governance but if they don’t take the advice, there is nothing we can do.

“All governors must abide by the provisions of the constitution. If any governor is doing something illegal, those aggrieved should go to court.

“Talking about local government finances, until the Joint Allocation Accounts Committee, JAAC, is abolished, there is no way any LG will get its allocation directly. If any local government chairman is not running its council properly, he may not get allocation from the governor.”

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