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LGs autonomy: Supreme Court gives Govs 7 days ultimatum to file their defence

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The Supreme Court has ordered the 36 state governors in the country to file their respective defence in the suit seeking full autonomy for the 774 Local Governments in the country filed against them by the Federal Government within seven days.

The apex court also on Thursday ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), who filed the suit on behalf of the federal government to reply to the governors processes within two days
upon receipt.

A seven member panel of Justices of the apex court, led by Justice Garba Lawal issued the order while ruling on an application filed by the AGF, seeking abridgement of time in the filing and exchange of processes in the matter.

Fagbemi, while arguing the application requested the court to order the governors to file their defense within five days in view of the urgency and importance of the matter.

Although, the Chairman, 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 abridgement of time but however requested that they be given 15 days as against the five days proposed by the AGF.

Justice Lawal, in his ruling said, the decision of the court to give 7 days was predicated on the national importance and urgency of the suit and the non objection from the Attorneys General of the 36 states of the federation.

The Supreme Court held that filing of all processes and exchanging of same must be completed within the time and subsequently fixed June 13, 2024 for hearing of the suit.

At Thursday’s proceedings, the Attorneys General of Borno, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, Osun , Oyo and Sokoto states were absent in court and not represented by any lawyer despite been served with hearing notice.

Justice Lawal ordered that the eight states that were not in attendance at Thursday’s proceedings must be served with fresh hearing notice against the next adjourned date of June 13, 2024 for hearing of the matter.

The AGF, on behalf of the federal government instituted the court action against the governors primarily seeking full autonomy for local governments as third tiers of government in the country.

In the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, the AGF is praying the Apex Court for an order prohibiting state governors from unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders.

The Chief Law Officer of the Federation, in the originating summons he personally signed, is also praying 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.

He also wants the Apex Court to make an order stopping governors from constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

The FG further applied for 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 benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states.

The Governors were sued through their respective State Attorneys General in
the suit predicted on 27 grounds, among which are that, “The Constitution of Nigeria recognizes federal, states 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.

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

“That, 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.

“That, 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.

“That, 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.

“That, in the face of the violations of the 1999 Constitution, the federal government is not obligated under section 162 of the Constitution to pay any state, funds standing to the credit of local governments where no democratically elected local government is in place”.

The AGF therefore asked the Apex Court to invoke Sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that the State Governors and State Houses of Assembly are under obligation to ensure democratic system at the third tier of government in Nigeria and to also invoke the same Sections to hold that the governors cannot lawfully dissolve democratically elected local government councils.

He is also praying for invocation of Sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that dissolution of democratically elected local government councils by the Governors or anyone using the State powers derivable from laws enacted by the State Houses of Assembly or any Executive Order is unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.

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