Makinde in dilemma over Oyo council debacle

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By Bisi Oladele

 

The collapse of out-of-court settlement of the logjam over the sack of local government councils in Oyo State may have created a slippery path for Governor Seyi Makinde in local government administration and ultimately, the journey to 2023, writes Southwest Bureau Chief BISI OLADELE

Governor Seyi Makinde has been projected in the public sphere as a leader who brought change to Oyo State since May 29, last year. But if he has recorded any good scores at the state level, grassroots administration has suffered in his hands since he took the reins of governance nine months ago.

His decision to sack elected chairmen and councillors is proving to be both a legal and political mistake judging by the crisis it has created.

Makinde removed the councils only two hours after he was sworn in as the 8th civilian governor of the state. He made the pronouncement through his Chief of Staff, Chief Bisi Ilaka.

But the sacked chairmen, under the aegis of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), have fought tooth and nail through legal means to reclaim their mandate. Their efforts have prevented proper governance at the 33 local governments and 35 Local Council Development Areas (LCDA) of the state as their positions were vacant till November last year when the governor appointed caretaker chairmen to the local governments and sole administrators to the LCDAs.

Yet, the appointed caretaker chairmen have been having it rough with the sacked chairmen. Civil servants were also reluctant to cooperate with them initially due to the litigations surrounding their appointment.

The workers withdrew their services earlier in February when the Inspector General of Police Abubakar Adamu directed the Commissioner of Police in Oyo State to supervise reinstatement of the sacked councils. They only returned to work after both parties opted for the court to resolve the reinstatement issue.

Preparing for Makinde’s foreseen action, the Oyo State chapter of ALGON had obtained a judgment from an Oyo State high court restraining the incoming governor and the House of Assembly from sacking them early May last year. The judgment also restrained the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) from conducting another election into the local governments until after the expiration of their tenure on May 11, 2021. They were sworn in on May 12, 2018.

In a letter dated January 23, 2020 and addressed to the Oyo State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Akin Oke, Adamu asked him to liaise with Olukolu to facilitate the implementation of the legal opinion of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).

The AGF had, in a January 14 letter, advised the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state to advise Governor Seyi Makinde to sack the recently appointed caretaker chairmen and reinstate the elected councils. He based his legal advice on the judgment of the Supreme Court which stated that governors and houses of assemblies do not have the power to sack democratically elected local government councils.

How the crisis developed

The last election conducted into local government offices in Oyo State was during the reins of former governor Rashidi Ladoja between 2003 and 2007. Ladoja’s successor Adebayo Alao-Akala was unable to conduct election due to litigation by sacked elected council members against the government and the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) Board. The litigations dragged till 2018 when Governor Abiola Ajimobi dispensed with them according to the Chairman, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in the state, Hon. Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye.

The 2018 local govt. election

The immediate past administration of Governor Abiola Ajimobi of the APC conducted election into the 33 local governments and 35 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) on May 12, 2018. The poll was boycotted by many political parties, paving the way for APC candidates to clear all the seats including those of councilors.

The major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), held that there was a high court judgment which restrained the state electoral commission from conducting the election, particularly because of the LCDAs whose delineation was contested in some communities. But the APC insisted there was none.

2019 general election

The PDP won the governorship election last year, making Makinde succeed Ajimobi. But the elected local government councils are APC members.

Before the new governor was sworn in, the elected chairmen dragged the state government, the House of Assembly and the state electoral commission to court, seeking an order restraining the first two from dissolving them, and the third from conducting a fresh election before the end of their three-year tenure in 2021. An Oyo State high court granted their prayers in a May last year judgment.

Makinde’s tactics

After Makinde was inaugurated as the new governor on May 29, 2019, he ignored the judgment and announced the sack of the councils, just two hours after he was sworn in. He said their election was illegal because the 35 LCDAs were not recognized by the constitution.

The elected chairmen under the aegis of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) dragged the governor to court for contempt. The appeal is being heard. The appellate court has fixed February 19 for adoption of addresses by parties in the case.

But while the appeal was still ongoing, Makinde sacked members of the state electoral commission with a firm promise to pay them off.

But the OYSIEC Board members have since challenged their sack in court.

The court case made the governor realize that he could no longer deliver on his promise to organize another local government election in the first quarter of this year.

The reality prompted him to appoint caretaker chairmen.

Though the governor earlier claimed that the 2018 election was illegal, he eventually offered to settle the case out-of-court, possibly after realizing some facts. He offered to pay the chairmen and councillors off for the remaining months of their tenure but his offer was rejected by ALGON. While thanking him for eventually acknowledging that they were validly elected, they insisted on completing their tenure. ALGON also offered Makinde the opportunity to appoint two supervisory councillors to work with them as they complete their tenure, in the overall interest of the state.

The rejection of Makinde’s offer leaves him with only two options of either continuing with litigation or work with the sacked council members. The latter has repeatedly declared their interest in cooperating with the governor in the interest of peace.

Should Makinde continue with litigation, he stands the risk of having purely opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) members governing the third tier of government in the state if he loses in court. Should this happen, ALGON will no longer allow him appoint supervisory councillors to work with them. This will have negative implications on his party and second term ambition.

Alternatively he may accept ALGON’s offer to allow them complete their term in peace while appointing his own men to work with them. If the governor takes this route, his losses will be minimized though it will mean admission of a grievous mistake.

ALGON’s reactions

In response to the nomination of caretaker chairmen, ALGON kicked by declaring the action illegal. It said Makinde’s administration was building illegality upon illegality because it was illegal to have sacked elected councils in the first place.

When the government went on with the appointment, ALGON and the state chapter of APC sent a petition on the governor’s action to the Presidency, Office of the AGF and the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

The AGF responded with the letter advising Makinde to obey the Supreme Court judgments on the issue. Seeing that the governor failed to heed the advice, he sent another letter to the IGP, directing him to effect reinstatement of the sacked elected council members. The IGP also followed with a January 23 directive to the Commissioner of Police in Oyo State to ensure reinstatement of the elected council chairmen and councilors.

ALGON Chairman, Abass-Aleshinloye stated that the members were taking legitimate bids to reclaim their mandate while simultaneously defending the rule of law which they swore to uphold as it is enshrined in the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

While addressing reporters at a gathering last month, Abass-Aleshinloye said: “You will recall that shortly after the inauguration of Engr. Seyi Makinde as the governor of Oyo State on the 29 May, 2019, he announced through his then yet to be sworn-in Chief of Staff, Chief Bisi Ilaka, the dissolution of the democratically elected local government councils and Local Council Development Areas, LCDAs. It will be recalled that we came into office through elections which were conducted during the regime of Senator Abiola Ajimobi.

“By Chief Ilaka’s illegal declaration, we were directed to hand over to our respective Heads of Local Government Administration (HLA) or the most senior directors in our local government areas and councils. The order we never and we will never comply with because it was illegal and unconstitutional.

“We considered the steps taken by the Governor as illegal, undemocratic, a violation of the rule of law and also contempt of a subsisting court injuction against the purported sack. In its defense, the state government said the local government election that was conducted by the last dispensation was illegal because it contravened court order. The government run by Engr. Seyi Makinde has been asked since then to produce and give evidence of the so-called “court order” they repeatedly claimed restrained the conduct of local government election organized during the tenure of Sen. Abiola Ajimobi, but all this was to no avail. The order only exists in their imagination.

“I will like to tell you today as ever before, that the continuous disregard of the Supreme Court judgement and High Court judgement that forbid dissolution of democratically elected local government functionaries by the governor shows clearly a flagrant disobedience and abuse of rule of law by the government led by Engr. Seyi Makinde.

“As if were not enough, the governor in his usual characteristics, displayed yet another contempt to highest court of the land with the swearing-in of the outlawed caretaker committee to forcefully take over our seats that were not vacant by law.

“With this and other related reasons, we want to reiterate our stand and position by continuously saying NO and reject these serial illegalities in its entirety which we consider as a crude assault on our democracy and a rape of our constitution, especially when the appeal filed by the state government against the High Court judgement is yet to be determined.

“With all our hues and cries, Governor Seyi Makinde went ahead to inaugurate caretaker chairmen for the councils, not even minding the petition written to Present Muhammadu Buhari , leadership of National Assembly and all well meaning Nigerians by both the ALGON and Oyo State Chapter of APC.

“We want to use this gathering to let the whole world know that there is never in the history of this country, Nigeria, where a governor will wield such an enormous power to the extent of holding to ransom the executive offices in all the local government councils for more than six months.”

But in response to the letter directing the reinstatement of the elected officers, the state government said the AGF lacks the power to overrule the decision of a state in federalism. It said only a court can make such pronouncement. It spoke through its Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo.

Employees’ perspective

Shortly after the elected council members were sacked in May, the ALGON wrote HLAs, directors at the councils and commercial banks, warning them against signing or honouring bank cheques for the local governments and the LCDAs without the authority of the sacked elected officers. The association attached a copy of the judgment which restrained the state government from sacking them, insisting that they were still the legal occupants of the seats.
ALGON copied the Oyo State Police Command the same letter for its notice.