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.”