Suspension Saga: LG chairmen, vices clash ahead court hearing

The battle of survival for the suspended Kwara State Local Government Council chairmen took a new twist lately when their vices, councilors and speakers requested the State Government to swear them in after it extended the suspension of their principals. Head Politics, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the development.
Last year December, suspended vice chairmen and councillors across the 16 Local Government councils of Kwara State literally abandoned their principals in the suspension saga playing out between them and the Kwara State Government over allegation of misappropriation and embezzlement of funds leveled against them.
The affected vice chairmen and councilors who had hitherto been largely quiet since the issue began suddenly found their voices shortly after the government announced the extension of the suspension of their principals for additional six months.
According to the State Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, in a statement by its Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, the extension was in furtherance of the powers conferred on him by a June 18 resolution, 2019,  of the Kwara State House of Assembly to “extend the suspension of the executive and legislative committees of all the 16 local government areas for another six months with effect from 18th December, 2019, pending the outcome of the investigation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)”. The Governor noted that all the officials were indicted in the probe by the House of Assembly. “The report of the State House of Assembly indicting the executive and legislative committees of the local government areas for misappropriation of public funds has been sent to the EFCC for necessary action and possible prosecution. The members of the executive and legislative committees of the 16 local government areas are currently under investigations by the EFCC”, the statement added.
But addressing a press conference recently over the issue, the local government vice chairmen and councillors rejected the extension of the suspension of council chairmen by the government describing the action as illegal. They adding that they have approached the court over the matter to adjudicate on its behalf against the administration of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq. It added that the case which was instituted at the Ilorin High Court, has been slated for hearing on January 17, this year.
The Chairman of the group, Hon Yusuf Salihu Mohammed in the statement jointly signed his counterparts of Kwara State Local Government Councillors, Hon Habeeb Olalere Quadri, described the extension as act of lawlessness and impunity and directed all elected councillors, vice chairmen, secretaries and supervisors to immediately resume work since the period of illegal suspension has expired.
According to the statement, “…Both the Executive and Legislative Councils of the 16 LGAs in Kwara State were suspended on the 18th June, 2019 based on the recommendation of the State Assembly arising from a frivolous petition written by one Saidu Aliyu from Ilorin West LGA which alleged misappropriation of funds amounting to N33billion FAAC and over N10billion IGR accruing to the councils. To our dismay, the petition was deliberated upon by the State House of Assembly on Tuesday 18th June, 2019, resolution was passed on the same day Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, graciously approved the House recommendation the same day.
“The speed at which the event took was a clear breach of the section 29 of Kwara State local government law Cap 33. The action of the Governor and House amount to executive and legislative rascality…
“Based on public outcry on the ways and manners the House handled the petition, the lawmakers later invited the Council Chairmen, speakers, DPMs, accountants and treasurers for questioning, an action that supposed to have taken place before the illegal suspension which was based on suspicion.
“The House recommendations allegedly indicted the 16 Council Chairmen on the remittance of 10% IGR being paid to their personal accounts. As at this moment, the concerned Sixteen Local Government Vice Chairmen have not been invited for either questioning or interrogation, while the speakers who were invited by the House of Assembly were not found guilty. It’s our contention that the whole episode is a breach of our fundamental right to fair hearing as contained in Section 36(1) of 1999 constitution as amended”, the statement added.
They however implored the Governor and the State House of Assembly to extend their hands of magnanimity to the councils in order to move the State forward adding that they “strongly believe that the Government will abide by the rules and regulations as enshrined in the 1999 constitution which recognizes the Local Government Councils as the third tier of Government.
“The constitution made provision for only democratically elected Local Government. So, if the local government is democratically elected and they have fixed tenure, then nobody can remove them based on suspicion…
“Most unfortunately, in flagrant disobedience of the constitution and the local government law, the State Government foist an illegal 6months Suspension on us. The illegal Suspension was not accepted because we were not guilty of any offence; but we remained at home for peace to reign.
Curiously again, on 17th December 2019, an illegal extension was pronounced by the Government. This extension is not known to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore, it is nothing but a rape on our fundamental right. The suspension is therefore rejected”, they noted.
They embattled officials further said “We are in support of Federal Government strategies aimed at fighting corruption because it is now universally accepted that corruption poses critical challenges to economic and social development and diverts resources from legitimate causes beneficial to society at large; but due process is key in curbing the menace”.
However, they had barely finished their submission when the suspended chairmen literally attacked their colleagues over their decision. Under the Kwara chapter of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), the suspend chairmen justified the inclusion of their vice chairmen and councilors in their suspension by Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq. ALGON expressed its support for the action in a statement signed by its Chairman and Secretary, Mr Joshua Omokanye and Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar-Bata.
It said that both the executive and legislative arms of the local government councils were guilty of the financial impropriety adding that the vice chairmen could not exonerate themselves of the financial misappropriation against the councils because they were the Supervisory Councilors in their respective Local Government councils and represented the councils at the statutory monthly Local Government Allocation meeting.
The statement also said that council chairmen could not spend any money not appropriated by the legislative arm of the council headed by the Speaker.
“It therefore goes without saying that the Chairmen, Vice Chairmen, and the Councilors are in the know of every financial transactions of the Local Government.
“It is most unfortunate and comical that the vice chairmen and councilors presently on suspension with council chairmen on allegation of financial impropriety could now embark on fabricating white lies to justify their ignoble role with seemingly logical and plausible reasons, when in actual facts these are far from the truth.
“They do this with their press statement deceitfully before the general public in order to scapegoat the chairmen and heap blame on them with a view to exculpating themselves from guilt so that they could be returned to office as Chairmen and Councillors respectfully,” the ALGON said in the statement.
The statement said that the claim by the councils’ Vice Chairmen that the state government did not allow them to take charge in place of chairmen was a shallow way of exonerating themselves in the financial dealings of the councils, so that they could continue in office.
“This, to us, is a self indictment on the part of the councilors who had seemingly shown dereliction of duty by looking the other way while the Chairmen “misappropriate funds” instead of curbing it. They are therefore either partakers or onlookers in the crime who should not be allowed to benefit from same. Their claim is not only preposterous, self-seeking, self-serving, malicious but also a deliberate attempt at scapegoating the chairmen alone by tactically passing the buck on them in order to extricate themselves from the political pit into which Local Government councils in Kwara State have been condemned,” the statement further read in part.
ALGON, however, said that the suspension of both arms of government of the Local Government Councils came after the probe of the alleged petition to the House against the 16 councils was right.
“In the light of the foregoing, it is therefore our position that the State Government should not backpedal on the extension of the suspension slammed on the Local Government Councils in the State and should not be distracted by the so called action instituted against her by the frustrated Vice Chairmen and Councillors who merely wanted to reap where they never sown,” ALGON stressed.
As the concerned parties for the “January 17 hearing” await the date, hoping to benefit from the “Supreme Court Judgment that has reportedly laid to rest argument whether or not the State Governor has power to dissolve the duly elected council chairmen and councillors, what is certain now is that issue has not only divided the council chairmen and their deputies but even along party lines. While the chairmen have been rumored to be heading to the APC to fulfill its call for a political solution to the matter, their vice appeared to be opposed to such arrangement and decide to remain in the PDP as the tone of their responses to the issue have indicted.
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