Two weeks ago, the media was awash with an unsettling report: new governor of Ondo State, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) has frozen the accounts of the 18 local government councils in the state. That step, apparently came in the wake of a legal roadblock that barred the governor from dissolving the entire 18 councils.
Only with the trample of an elephant upon an unfortunate rat, Akeredolu was widely expected to sack all the council officials. That action, if taken, would have resonated as Nigeria’s familiar thing, concomitant with the muzzle pull of a shark confronted by a drunken little fish.
This is simply because, virtually all the managers at the 18 local councils were elected on the platform of opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Here is a party whose governorship candidate, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) lost the guber contest to Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last election. However, going by the outcome of last year’s governorship poll, the council chairmen and their respective councillors – all of the PDP, needed not be told that the foreboding of an APC governor in charge was no more than a class suicide. A king not given to their ‘Josepharian era’ had taken over power.
The council officials were elected while a PDP governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, was in charge. While the better part of the Mimiko period was dotted with the reign of unelected caretakers in the councils, that era too was marred by a disapproving gesture from the APC.
The then opposition party heckled even as Mimiko eventually decided to return the councils to democracy. In boycotting the conduct of the council poll then, the APC averred that it had a pending case in court wherein it faulted the composition of the state’s local electoral umpires.
But seizing the moment, the ruling PDP did a walk-over poll and cleared all the seats. But as it became as sure as death that an APC governor was coming to superintend over the affairs of not just the state but of the council administration itself, the chairmen and councillors elected on the platform of the PDP raced to court, seeking an order to stop Akeredolu from dissolving them until the expiration of their tenure on April 25, 2019.
And in a landmark judgement delivered on January 17, this year, an Ondo State High Court sitting in Akure, the state capital, ruled that the governor has no right to tamper with the tenure of the local council officials and as such, should not dissolve the councils in any way.
Delivering the verdict, the then state Chief Judge, Justice Olasehinde Kumuyi (now retired) cited relevant provisions in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which forbid the state arm of government from truncating the lifespan of government at the third tier.
The judge was also emphatic that the state, through itself or its proxies, should not take any action that would obstruct the functions, duties or rights of not just the council officials but also of the local administration as would concern all the 18 local government areas.
Although the state government has proceeded to the Court of Appeal to challenge the judgement of the lower court, the truth is that, the verdict of the Ondo State High Court is still in force as it has not been upturned or put on hold by the appellate court. Accepted that there are pending cases bordering on the Ondo local councils which date even to the emergence of Mimiko as governor in 2009, no known verdict has been delivered as to rival the Kumuyi ruling, which asserts the legitimacy of the local councils’ elected officials.
Therefore, for Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who ordinarily should wear the toga of a legal high priest in ensuring absolute obedience to the rule of law, to now act in a way that is widely seen as legally sacrilegious, is benumbing, to say the least.
In an apparent defiance to the court order, the governor, two weeks ago, ordered that the accounts of the 18 local government councils be frozen, thus leaving the councils in morbid paralysis.
Specifically, he ordered that salaries and allowances of all political appointees in the councils be stopped, in a clear move to weaken the support base of the council chairmen and belittle them before all those who had placed them in high esteem.
Though a lawyer, it should also be understood that the governor is a politician, one who is subject to various suggestions and whispers from hangers-on, political jobbers and sundry aides. That, in itself, is not enough to make the governor bring down the principle of adherence to the rule of law to this low valley of executive recklessness; apparently borne out of either political vendetta or self-aggrandizement.
When the councils’ accounts are frozen, it renders them incapacitated from discharging their duties to the electorate, and this is a flagrant disobedience to the court order that the councils’ functions, duties and rights must not be tampered with or overthrown, pending the expiration of their tenure of office. So, stopping the funds accruable to the councils is not only subjudice but also contemptuous of an existing court order, and as such, a wicked act.
Though Akeredolu holds the knife and the yam towards tackling the problems of Ondo State head-on, he should, however, draw the lines through his entrusted discretion, by shunning the low road to power drunkenness, exemplified in this raging local council saga.
•Fasua, a journalist, lives in Lagos.
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