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Can Judiciary Save Council System in Anambra?


By Chekwube Nzomiwu

Another opportunity has beckoned for the judiciary to resolve the prolonged impasse in local government administration in Anambra State. Since 1999, Anambra State has witnessed only two democratic transitions at the local government level. Within the same period, there were transitions to five democratically elected administrations at the state-level under different governors. The governors were Chinwoke Mbadinuju (May 1999 to May 2003), Chris Ngige (May 2003-March 2006), Peter Obi (March 2006-March 2014), Willie Obiano (March 2014-March 2022) and Professor Charles Soludo (March 2022 till date). All these administrations had their democratically constituted legislative arms, comprising elected members of the House of Assembly who make laws for the state.

But, at the local government level the opposite is the case. Rather than conduct election to elect chairmen and councilors for the 21 councils and 326 wards in the state, respectively, governors preferred to run the local government administration with handpicked officials, in contravention of the law and a subsisting judgment of a competent court, which held that the state government cannot impose leaders on the local government areas.

Section (7) 1 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) guarantees a local government system by democratically elected councils. The constitution further imposes a duty on the state government to ensure the existence of such democratically elected local government. In Anambra State in particular, the Local Government Law of 1999, provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of the local government councils, and for related purposes.

It will be recalled that the Federal High Court Enugu, in a landmark judgment on suit no. FHC/EN/CS/90/2005, declared that the Anambra State Government has no power to appoint officials to govern local government areas. Justice A. L. Allagoa entered the judgment on September 26, 2006, in favour of an activist and politician, Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, who was the sole plaintiff in the matter.

The judge held that by the combined effect of Section 7 (1) and 318 (i) (c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Governor of Anambra State has no power for appointment and approval of caretaker management committee, or in whatever name so called, to administer respectively, the 21 Local Government Council Areas in Anambra State.

Dr. Okonkwo had complained to the court that he was being denied the right guaranteed him in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right, Cap A, 9 Articles 13 (1) 24; 28 and 29 (2) of the L.F.N.2004 vol. 1, to participate in his domestic government in Idemili South and the third tier of government – the Local Government Council – which Section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution decreed.

In his judgment, Justice Allagoa held that the Anambra State law providing for caretaker committee is inconsistent with Section 7 (1) of the Constitution. “Looking at the provision literally, it is clear that the constitution of the local government by democratic system is guaranteed by the constitution itself. The constitution then imposed a duty on the state government to ensure the existence of such democratically elected local government,” Allagoa said.

He further made it clear that the powers of the State House of Assembly under Section 7 (1) of the Constitution, to legislate concerning local government councils, clearly did not include power of the state government to appoint caretaker committee to run local government. Consequently, the court ordered the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents – the Governor of Anambra State, Anambra State House of Assembly and Commissioner for Justice, Anambra State – to pay the sum of N5million as exemplary damages to the plaintiff. The defendants complied with the judgment and it subsists till date.

Eighteen years after the judgment, governors in Anambra State continue to run local government administration with undemocratically elected officials, wearing the garb of transition committees. The last local government election in Anambra State was held eleven years ago at the twilight of the Obi administration in November 2013. Incidentally, it was the only council polls held during the eight years of Obi administration, which ran the councils with transition committees.

Piqued by the obstinacy of the governors, Dr. Okonkwo recently dragged Soludo and three of his predecessors to the Federal High Court, Awka Division, over alleged use of undemocratically elected officials to run the councils. In the fresh suit brought through originating summons, he is requesting for nine consequential reliefs/directing orders, premised on the interpretation of the previous judgment of the court in suit no. FHC/EN//CS/2005, delivered on September 26, 2006.

Listed as 1st to 8th defendants respectively in the latest matter are the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Governor of Anambra State, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Anambra State, and Anambra State House of Assembly. Others are former governors, Ngige, Obi, Obiano, for themselves and on behalf of their transition chairmen and councilors, and Mr. Livinus Onyenwe for himself and on behalf of transition chairmen under the Soludo administration.

Besides redefining local government administration in Anambra State, the suit has wider implications. For instance, having acted contrary to the constitution which they swore to uphold, the governors risk being barred by the court from contesting election or occupying public office or seeking for re-election under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In particular, the suit constitutes a threat to the second term ambition of Soludo.

The plaintiff is also asking for an order to compel the 2nd to 8th defendants to render public account before the court, of all funds, illegally expended by them or agents and privies, during their respective administrations, while executing their illegal and unconstitutional usurpation of offices at the local government council areas in Anambra State, by tampering with public funds, excluding salaries and allowances of local government council employees and workers expenditure. If the court grants the orders, it will serve as a deterrence to governors from usurping the functions of the councils and scare people away from accepting illegal council appointments. It will equally encourage the conduct of local government election.

The plaintiff is further asking for an order, directing the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 8th defendant to publish before the Honourable Court, the FAAC Allocation to the respective 21 local government areas in Anambra State from 2006 to 2024. This will improve accountability in the councils.

In addition, he is urging the court to order the 1st respondent (the Federal Republic of Nigeria) to put into the effect the unanimously passed resolution of the Senate, asking the Federal Government to halt the statutory allocation of funds to local government area councils, where chairmen and councilors were not democratically elected. Chief Okonkwo demanded for exemplary damages of N100billion in his favour, against the 2nd to 8th defendants.

The case will impact positively on the traditional institutions and town unions in Anambra State, which have been bedeviled by crisis as a result of imposition of leaders, giving rise to grassroots autocracy and financial malfeasance. The plaintiff wants an order nullifying/setting aside all the purported directives, financial expenditures, presentment of “Igwe elects” by town unions to chairmen of transition councils, and issuance of certificates of recognition to them as His Royal Highnesses (H.R.H) for government recognition, purportedly made by the illegal and unconstitutionally constituted caretaker/transition committees with effect from September 26, 2006 by the 2nd to 8th defendants, having not been democratically elected.

  • Nzomiwu writes from Awka, Anambra State.
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