Constitutional crisis looms over a resolution by the Nigerian Senate asking President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to withhold statutory funds to Local Government Areas without elected councils in place.
The Senate’s resolution is contrary to several Supreme Court judgements, stating that the President has no power to withhold funds allocated to the state and local governments.
During plenary on Friday, the Senate urged President Tinubu not to release funds to the Local Government Areas being run by unelected appointees.
The resolution followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by the Senate minority leader, Senator Abba Moro, who lamented the inability of some state governments to conduct local government elections.
The Upper Legislative Chambers particularly condemned the arbitrary dissolution of democratically elected Local Government Councils in Benue and other States in Nigeria.
It urged the governor of Benue State, Hyacinth Alia, to adhere to his oath of office to obey the rule of law and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
Governor Alia was asked to review his dissolution of the elected councils and constitution of caretaker committees and reinstate the elected council executive forthwith in his state.
While moving the motion, Senator Moro also noted that placing Caretaker Committees to replace elected Councils was an aberration and alien to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“Aware that Section (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees a system of local government by Democratically Elected Councils;
“Also aware that it is the Constitutional responsibility of every state to ensure the existence of Local Government Councils by law.
“Further aware that there are subsisting court rulings directing the Governor, the House of Assembly, their agents, privies etc not to tamper with the tenure of the elected Councils, and
“Equally aware that the Governor/Government of Benue State have not appealed these judgments and that it is against the grain of the rule of law,” he said.
Contributing to the debate on the motion, Senator Adams Oshiomhole (Edo North) said about 16 states in Nigeria are currently without democratically elected local government council officials.
He said the Senate should direct the Finance Minister to stop funding LGAs without elected council officials. The suggestion was also supported by the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Ali Ndume.
Also, Abdulfatai Buhari (Oyo North), who raised a different issue to the debate, said the Electoral Act should be amended to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct local government elections.
The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, just as the Senate leader, Opeyemi Bamidele and the Senate Committee Chairman on Judiciary, Mohammed Tahir Monguno, frowned at the establishment of multiple federal agencies, but advocated for the creation of the National Electoral Commission for Local Government so that governors would no longer have overbearing influence on local government council polls.
Recall that the Supreme Court of Nigeria had on Friday, December 10, 2004, in a judgement delivered by Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, in a case number S.C. 70/2004 between Attorney-General of Lagos State (Plaintiff) And Attorney-General of the Federation (Defendant) on the issue of its withheld funds, said: “The president has no power vested in him (by executive or administrative action) to suspend or withhold for any period whatsoever the statutory allocation due and payable to Lagos State Government pursuant to the provision of section 162 (5) of the 1999 Constitution but in respect of the 20 Local Government Areas for the time being provided by section 3 subsection (6) of the Constitution and not the new Local Government Areas created which are not yet operative.”
The current president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was incidentally the governor of Lagos State when then President Olusegun Obasanjo withheld local government funds due to Lagos State, which was later released by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Also, the Supreme Court in two separate judgments delivered on Friday, May 7, 2021, declared that the dissolution of elected local government administrations in Oyo and Katsina States by their respective State governments, is illegal and unconstitutional.
In suits filed by the local government administration in both States, elected local officials challenged the two governors on whether they had powers to dissolve the two local government councils.
The local council officials argued that the purported dissolution of their councils was in violation of section 7(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, which provides as follows: ‘The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils’.
Also, the supreme court adjudicated on the issue, declared Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi’s dissolution of local government councils in Ekiti State, in his first term in office, as unconstitutional.