Last week, the suspension of the 16 Local Government chairmen by Kwara
State Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq has sparked another round of
controversy in the state with differing comments by stakeholders about
the propriety or otherwise of the action In this report, Head Politics
Desk, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM weighs the argument from both sides and how
it has affected the polity.

Wielding the stick

It came like a tsunami of sort on Tuesday last week in Ilorin when
Governor Abdulrahman Abdularazaq of Kwara State wielded the big stick
by announcing the suspension of the entire sixteen Local Government
council chairmen in the state. The move which some opponents has since
described as antithetical to the constitutional powers of the Governor
has put Kwara in the front burner of national discourse with debate on
its propriety or otherwise taking the centre stage.
For those who thought the Governor would operate on a different stream
away from the rivers that his counterparts in Imo and Oyo, Governors
Emeka Ihedioha and Seyi Makinde respectively swam to dissolve the
chief executive officers of the third tier of government at the
grassroots, it was a different ball game altogether for there was
another thing coming.
The expectations which quite a sizeable number of the populace had
nursed that the governor would “disappoint” proponents of the
dissolution or suspension of the council chairmen and reversal of
other government policies of the last administration was fueled by his
utterances at several public fora that his government would be all
inclusive one that will dwell much on how to get the state working
better rather than dwelling too much on the journey so far because it
garnered votes across board.
Reliable sources in the party who confided in National Pilot said the
Governor have recently been shunning calls from top chieftains who he
felt might derail him in the task of building the state due to
political inclination.

Build-up

The build-up to the present narrative started prior the inauguration
of the new government after the general election. Following the
Supreme Court judgment which ruled that State Governors lacked the
right to sack Local Government chairmen, the 8th Kwara State House of
Assembly under the leadership of Dr Ali Ahmad domesticated it in Kwara
making it illegal for Governor Abdulrazaq to tamper in any form, with
the tenure of the local government chairmen he inherited. Sensing
“danger” that the government might wield the stick, the chairmen
approached the state High Court for the interpretation of the judgment
in Kwara.
Subsequently, a state High Court sitting in Ilorin restricted the
Kwara State government from terminating the tenures of the 16 local
government chairmen. The judgment which was delivered by Justice E.B
Mohammed in suit numbered KWS/115/2019 has the Governor of Kwara
State, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, Attorney General and Commissioner for
Justice and the Kwara State House of Assembly as defendants.
In the judgment, the court declared that the claimants represented by
the sixteen local government chairmen in Kwara State, having been duly
and democratically elected for a-three year tenure, the defendants
lack the right to dissolve the local councils before the expiration of
the tenures without following due process.
According to the Judge, the tenures of the claimants in Kwara State
are protected and guaranteed under the constitution of the federal
republic of Nigeria and extant law.
The court further stopped the defendants or their privies from
freezing the bank accounts of the sixteen local government chairmen in
any of their respective banks in accordance with the relevant
constitutional and statutory provision and also made reference to the
case of Supreme Court Judgment in Ekiti State titled “Ekiti State &
Ors vs Olubunmo and 13 Ors (2016) 12 S.C (Pt 11) 1 at 35-43.
They alleged in their statement of fact that the 1st and 3rd
defendants (Governor and House of Assembly) respectively, are
threatening and concluding plans to dissolve their offices as a fall
out of the 2019 general elections in Kwara State and blaming them for
the poor performance of the claimants at the said elections.
That was the status quo until the Governor “struck” on Tuesday last
week “suspending” the council chairmen for 6 months over allegations
of misappropriation of public funds by the Kwara State House or
Assembly.

Legislative “Resolution”

The House resolution to suspend the chairmen followed the presentation
of a petition by the House Leader, Hon Abubakar Olawoyin Mogaji at the
floor written by one Seidu Aliyu of Isale Ajanaku in Ilorin alleging
misappropriated over N33bn from the Federation Account and N5.2bn
Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), within the stipulated period,
without any commensurate development at the third tier of government
in the state and directed its Joint Committee on Local Government and
Chieftaincy Affairs and Ethics, Privileges and Judiciary to
investigate the fund accruable to the councils since November, 2017.
Speaker, Hon Yakubu Danladi directed the Joint Committee to report
back to the House by 10th July, 2019 and mandated the House Clerk,
Hajia Halimat Jummai Kperogi, to communicate the “resolutions” of the
House to the State Governor for action.

Acting on call for action

It was based on the call for “action” by the state legislature that
the Governor few hours later same Tuesday in a statement by his Chief
Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye  to “suspended” the council bosses.
Posers
However since the development, there have been some pertinent
questions being asked by political watchers? Can the House based on a
petition from one “Seidu” who resides in Kwara Central rely on that to
pronounce sweeping suspension on all the council chairmen?
Furthermore, can the legislature which is a House of Records just
resolve to suspend the entire council bosses based on a petition that
was read on the floor without referring the issue to a committee set
up to look into it and mandated to report back to the House within a
stipulated period of time? Can only the House Leader “resolve” for the
House?, among many others questions have remained unanswered.
The Vilification
While the governor through the CPS has continued to defend the action,
the act had come under serious attack from former respected bodies,
former lawmakers and legal luminary in the state including a Senior
Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) among others.
According to the Kwara State branch of the Nigerian Bar Association
(NBA) which spoke in a telephone chat through its chairman, Barrister
Muhammed Idowu Akande (MIA), the aggrieved chairmen should approach
the court as a matter of importance to seek redress.
He said, “The position of law is clear, there is a subsisting judgment
which the government must follow and we urge government to obey rule
of law. Power can either be here nor there, it could change tomorrow
but we should always strive to do what is just”.
Similarly, Abeni Mohammed (SAN) in his response to the issue noted
that the Governor might be starting his leadership as a lawless State
executive “if he is seen disobeying court orders.
“The local government chairmen were elected. They should go to court
to challenge the suspension immediately. You cannot remove elected
council chairmen without recourse to the people that elected them.
People here a very timid and don’t know how to follow the rule of law.
They shouldn’t waste time but proceed to court to restrain the
governor from suspending, dissolving or removing them as the case may
be pending the hearing of the suit. The law must prevail even if
heaven falls and once the court has been able to give that order and
directive, the Governor is bound to implement it otherwise he would be
seen as a lawless Governor who had started by disobeying court orders.
We should not be pre-emptive, let them go and do the needful first by
challenging their suspension”, he added
In the same instance, immediate former House Leader of the 8th
legislature, Hon Hassan Oyeleke said, “the procedure of the suspension
was faulty ab initio and they did not consult the local government
auditor general to confirm the issues with the account of the years
they are talking about.
“The local government Auditor-General is the one empowered by law and
I think they should have even given the report to him which he had
already done during our time and the House has also looked at the
issue and we have given our report. Now what are they talking about
again? I think there is ulterior motive behind the action which is
basically to get the PDP not to be part of the government. It is
unfortunate we have not really wise up in our democracy in Nigeria. I
am aware that the chairmen have gotten court judgement which has been
served on the House and the state government, why are they not
appealing it which is even at a state court. It is not a good example
when a government refused to appeal but resorted to impunity?
Also his counterpart and chairman of the Judiciary committee, Hon
Kamal Oyekunle Fagbemi on his part described the action was illegal.
“The action is illegal. Those who were citing the dissolution in Ogun
State have nothing to stand on because that was a caretaker committee
which is not recognised by the constitution and not a democratically
elected councils like what we have in Kwara who are legally elected.
“They said somebody wrote a petition but we all know the proceedings
in the House, when that is done, the petition is laid and a committee
is set up to look into it. It is after the report of the committee
that we now come out with position. But immediately they finished the
thing, one cabal in Ahmadu Bello way said he has suspended the local
government, can he do that.
“We are in a very serious situation and only God can save us. Moreso,
the affected council chairmen had gone to court to restrict the
Governor or House of Assembly from any impending suspension and the
court had granted that.
“Considering the fact that section 287(3) of the constitution which
says the High court judgment is binding and the Supreme Court has
given a judgment in a similar fashion where they are supposed to have
learnt from in the case of Fayemi and Ekiti state council chairmen
recently. Honestly, I don’t know where we are heading to, but this is
a serious anarchy. Before, they were saying it was Saraki who owns
Harmony Holdings, Aviation College and Kwara Diagnostic Centre among
others, but now they said they have dissolved the Harmony board  and
17 others, Is Saraki no more the owner? They are misleading the people
and I think the press has a duty to let the people understand these
issues”, he submitted.

Daring the Executive

On Wednesday, the council bosses dared the governor and insisted they
will remain in office until the expiration of their tenure in 2020.
They noted that Governor AbdulRasaq and the State House of Assembly
lacked the powers to dissolve the council under the law maintaining
that they were democratically elected into office by the people.
While rejecting the suspension, ALGON chairman, Adekanye Joshua who
was flanked by other 15 council chairmen, at a press conference held
in Ilorin, described the governor and the legislators action as”
unconstitutional, null and void and abuse of office.”
“The Governor should obey the subsisting judgement of the Kwara State
High Court, Ilorin, delivered on 13th June, 2019 in suit No.
KWS/115/2019 between Hajia Risikat Opakunle and 15 others Vs. Governor
of Kwara State & 2 others… Members of the public are also being
informed that the judgement referred to also affirmed that the
(defendants) cannot freeze the bank accounts of the 16 councils…
Till date, the judgment of the Kwara state High Court delivered on the
13-06-2019 has not been set aside, vacated or nullified by any court
of competent jurisdiction in Nigeria, be it the High Court that
delivered the judgment or Court of Appeal and it is not to our
knowledge that any appeal has been lodged before any Court of Appeal
by the Governor of Kwara State or Kwara State House of Assembly”.
“We therefore want to state categorically that we remain the authentic
and legitimate local government chairmen for the 16 council areas in
Kwara state, the action of the Governor and the House of Assembly
cannot stand in the face of the constitution and subsisting judgment
of the state high court.
The Complainants, in order to enforce the subsisting judgement,
through the Chambers of Wahab Bamidele & Co has since filed contempt
of proceedings against the Governor, Attorney General and Commissioner
for Justice as well as the House of Assembly praying that the court
must compel the trio to respect its judgment (to) avoid breakdown of
law and order.

Whither both parties

As things stand now, while the government insisted that the embattled
chairmen and their councils remain suspended and even went ahead to
direct the DPMs to take over the administration of the local
government, the chairmen on their parts have maintained that they
remain the authentic chairmen of their respective councils and vowed
to enforce the high court judgment in their favour on the issue. The
days ahead will be an interesting one for all parties in Kwara no
doubt.