LGs autonomy: Supreme Court orders governors to file defence in seven days

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The Supreme Court has ordered the 36 state governors to file their defence within seven days to the suit filed against them by the federal government over the management of funds belonging to the various local governments.

A seven-member panel of the court, led by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba also ordered the Fed Govt to, within two days of being served with the defendants’ responses, to file its reply.

The court issued the orders on Thursday in a ruling on an application by the Fed Govt for abridgement of time for parties to file all relevant papers in relation to the suit.

 

While arguing the federal government’s application, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) prayed the court to order the defendants to file their defence within five days given the urgent nature of the case.

The chairman of the Body of Attorneys General of the States of the Federation, Ben Odoh (who is also the Attorney General of Ebonyi State) did not object to the request for abridgment of time.

 

Odoh however requested that the defendants be given 15 days as against the five days requested by the Fed Govt.

Justice Lawal, who read the ruling, said the court’s decision to restrict the defendants to seven days was predicated on the national importance and urgency of the suit and also because the defendants did not object to the plaintiff’s request for abridgment of time.

He added that the filing of all relevant processes and the exchange of same by parties must be completed within the time allocated.

The judge then adjourned till June 13 for a hearing.

During Thursday’s proceedings, the Attorneys General of Borno, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Sokoto states were absent and not represented by any lawyer

 

Justice Lawal ordered that the eight absent states should be served with fresh hearing notice against the next adjourned date of June 13.

 

In the suit, marked SC/CV/343/2024 filed for the federal government by the AGF, state governors are accused among others of arbitrarily running the local governments.

 

It is also alleged that most of the governors run local governments with appointed administrators as against elected officials prescribed by the Constitution.

The Fed Govt is praying to the Apex Court for an order prohibiting State Governors “from unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected leaders for local governments.”

 

It is also praying to the Supreme Court for an order permitting the funds standing in the credits of Local Governments to be directly channelled to them from the Federation Account in line with the provisions of the Constitution, as against the alleged unlawful joint accounts created by governors.

 

It wants an order stopping governors from constituting Caretaker Committees to run the affairs of Local Governments as against the constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

Also, the Fed Govt wants an order of injunction restraining the governors, their agents, and privies from receiving, spending, or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefit of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states.

 

The states were sued through their respective Attorneys General.

 

The federal government premised its prayers on 27 grounds, including that the country is a creation of the Constitution with the President as Head of the Federal Executive arm of the Federation and has sworn to uphold and give effects to the provisions of the Constitution.

“The governors represent the component states of the Federation with Executive Governors who have also sworn to uphold the Constitution and to at all times, give effects to the Constitution and that the Constitution, being the supreme law, has binding force all over the Federation of Nigeria

 

“The Constitution of Nigeria recognizes federal, state, and local governments as three tiers of government and that the three recognized tiers of government draw funds for their operation and functioning from the Federation Account created by the Constitution.

 

“By the provisions of the Constitution, there must be a democratically elected local government system and the Constitution has not made provisions for any other systems of governance at the local government level other than a democratically elected local government system.

“In the face of the clear provisions of the Constitution, the governors have failed and refused to put in place a democratically elected local government system even where no state of emergency has been declared to warrant the suspension of democratic institutions in the state.

 

“The failure of the governors to put democratically elected local government system in place is a deliberate subversion of the 1999 Constitution which they and the President have sworn to uphold.

 

“All efforts to make the governors comply with the dictates of the 1999 Constitution in terms of putting in place, a democratically elected local government system, has not yielded any result and that to continue to disburse funds from the Federation Account to governors for non-existing democratically elected local government is to undermine the sanctity of the 1999 Constitution.

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