By Akanimo Sampson
Oyo State Government in South Western Nigeria has taken on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami, claiming that the decision of the minister on the local government crisis rocking the state is partisan.
Malami’s counterpart in the state, Oyelowo Oyewo, a law professor, is insisting most of the minister’s actions in the affairs of Nigeria are partisan and not based on the Constitution, pointing out that many All Progressives Congress (APC)-controlled states are operating caretaker committees and dissolved elected local government leadership, “yet policemen have not been sent to enforce anybody’s rights as it were.’’
Oyewo, a former Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UniLag) who was speaking on Monday on a Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily on the dissolution of local government leadership in Oyo, added that Malami’s decision was selective and largely due to lack of proper briefing.
The Oyo state Attorney-General and Justice Commissioner stressed that his counterpart at the federal level was not properly briefed on the local government situation in the state.
He, however, explained that the dissolved council chairmen were not properly constituted, having emerged from an election that was held in disobedience to an existing court order.
“If he (AGF) were to be aware of the fact that the matter was sub judice, probably he would not have taken such wanton, liberal interpretation of his powers,’’ Oyewo argued, pointing out that the powers of the AGF are guided by law, by the Constitution of the land and as interpreted by the court.
Continuing, he said Malami lacked the power at large to enforce judgment without going through the process of the enforcement of the judgment in compliance with the rules of the court that gave the judgment.
He claimed that though his office was not served with the AGF’s letter dated January 14, 2020, and that it only came to its notice on January 22, they, however, responded to it due to its seriousness.
The state made the following facts clear: One, there is no such Supreme Court judgment against Oyo State. Two, the Attorney General of the Federation does not have power, at large, to be enforcing judgment without going through the process of enforcement of the judgment in compliance with the rules of the court that gave the judgment.
“As if that was not alarming enough, a letter was written through the Inspector General of Police giving a direction that was supposed to be given to the Chairman of APC in Oyo and the Chairman of ALGON to, as it was, reinstate local government and LCDA chairmen who have a matter in court against the state government. And the matter at that time was and still is, at the Court of Appeal.
“We wrote this to bring to the attention of the Inspector General of Police and, at the same time, we took steps before the proper forum for it to be decided, which is before the court, and that seemed to have untamed the ravaging effort of the Police and the people that they were trying to use.
“As you have heard, there was violence and all that, but carefully an ex parte order was granted against any further action of such parties without any court order that is emanating to give priority to the AGF or the Inspector General of Police to take those actions.’’
Not yet done. Oyewo said, “basically, the AGF will have his reasons but they are not based on the Constitution. They are not based on law, because it (the action) was so partisan. You do not write a letter to the chairman of a party in a state directing the governor to review.
“We run a federal system of government. If there is anything, and this has been settled by the Supreme Court, even under the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, where there was a dispute as to the creation of local governments and the government withheld the funds of Lagos State, the Supreme Court came out. If you have such issues, you go to court and that was what we did.’’
On whether Governor Makinde had the powers to dissolve elected local government chairmen, Oyewo noted that the election that brought the chairmen in was null and void, as it was conducted against an existing court order, which invalidated the constitution of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission.
According to him, the Makinde administration inherited litigations between the sacked APC local government chairmen and the APC-controlled state government under Senator Abiola Ajimobi and that the existence of a stay of execution on a judgment secured by the sacked chairmen left a vacuum in the local councils.
“Governor Makinde only filled the vacuum pending the resolution of the matters or the time his administration could conduct a proper election into the local governments,’’ he said.
Giving a background to that, he said “before the present administration came into existence, the previous administration of Governor Ajimobi ran the caretaker committee system for seven years. In the twilight of that administration, against an existing court order that invalidated the composition of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission and also any attempt to use that to conduct that election, it is null and void.
“Be that as it may, towards the twilight, it was supposed to be a booby trap so that by the time our administration comes in, irrespective of the mandate of the people that there should be a party alternation from APC to PDP, we now had to have an administration of APC at the local governments. Now, that is not even a problem.
“The matter is, that same APC local government composition went to court against Governor Ajimobi, which is the case that we inherited challenging the state government because they heard rumours that the governor wanted to dissolve them.
“Before we came in, the pleadings were there; Ajimobi said ‘I am not going to sack you’ and the matter should have ended there. But for one reason or the other, the judgment was given against the government and that became the subject matter of the appeal.
“That appeal led to a stay of execution and because there was a stay, there was a vacuum. And, of course, don’t forget that under Section 7 of the constitution, the state government makes laws and there is the local government law that regulates the activities of Oyo local governments.
“We must make a distinction in the light of the decisions of the court, between the local government administration and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs).
“The LCDAs basically are inchoate creations within the realm of the arrangement of the state government. So, a distinction must be made between the LCDAs and the local governments as they were. That distinction has never been made due to the conduct of the affairs as we inherited them.
“So, it was thought that this administration seems to have inherited an APC infrastructure including those on ground. It was thought let us have an audit, to see what was actually on the ground and that was what led to the action of saying that they should step aside and allow some other people take a look at the account and all the affairs of the state and manage them until the matter is resolved. And the moment we resolve the matter of OYSIEC, then we can properly plan for the conduct of the election.’’
On whether the sacked chairmen could come back to office, Oyewo said what the state government did was to dissolve them and that if the court eventually pronounces the government’s action null and void, Governor Makinde as someone who believes in and maintains the rule of law would not act in contravention.
“Of course, the bottom line of it is that the administration of Governor Makinde believes in the rule of law and we maintain it. If a judgment comes out of the court directing as it were that our action is null and void, of course, that will be done.’’
He further maintained that once all the ongoing issues surrounding the local government administration in the state are resolved, the government would, within a short time, conduct a credible local government election and have the local government system running properly.
“Seriously, some of these matters are not legal matters but political matters that need to have a legal context. What everybody wants is for the State to be able to resolve this matter, both in the aspect of the legality of it and in terms of the political process.
“Within a short time from now, we hope to conduct the election and have the administration properly running. If not for the litigations that are pending, it is something that should have been done almost immediately but we inherited those problems and we have to find a political and legal solution.
“As it is now, the local government matter is at the court of appeal; it is coming up now on February 27. The one that we have got is coming up on the 5th of this month. All things being equal, before the end of the first quarter, everything should be resolved. And we should be able to conduct a free and fair election into the local governments,’’ he said.