LG Funds: Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Five Others Absent, As Supreme Courts Grants State Seven Days to File Defence

The Supreme Court, on Thursday, gave the 36 state governors of the federation, seven days to file their defence to the suit brought against them by the Federal Government through the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN).

The apex court held that filing of all processes and exchanging of same must be completed within nine days.

It, therefore, adjourned till June 13 for the hearing of the suit.

In the suit, marked SC/CV/343/2024, the Federal Government wants the apex court to enforce the autonomy of the local government by, among other things, stopping state governors from appointing caretaker committees to administer local governments in their states.

The Federal Government wants the Supreme Court to rule that any local government manned by a caretaker committee instead of an elected local government chairman and councillors should have their funds from the Federation Account withheld.

It also wants the court to rule that funds due to local governments from the Federation Account should be paid directly to them instead of through the state government to guarantee their autonomy.

The suit came up for hearing for the first time on Thursday before a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Garba Lawal.

The AGF appeared in person for the Federal Government, while 28 states 36 states were represented by their attorneys general.

The states not reprsented were Borno, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, Osun , Oyo and Sokoto.

The AGF, while addressing the court, said the suit was urgent and moved an application for an abridgment of time to ensure an accelerated or speedy hearing.

“We have filed our written address. From the nature of the case, it is one that requires urgency and I am happy to report that there is no counter-affidavit,” the AGF said.

The Attorney General of Ebonyi State, Dr Ben Odo, who is the Chairman of the Body of States Attorneys General, speaking on behalf of the body, said they had a meeting and he had their consent not to object to AGF’s motion for abridgment of time.

“I have the consent of all the attorneys general not to oppose the motion,” Odo said.

However, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), who represented the Anambra State Attorney General, asked for more time.

“Some of us have just become aware of the summons. There are vital issues. From the report I received, the AG of my state has yet to receive the process. I am asking for 10 days instead of five,” he submitted.

The AGF, however, asked the court to give them seven days as nine days had already elapsed.

The apex court, in its ruling, agreed with the AGF and gave the states seven days to file their defence.

The court also directed that the AGF would file his reply two days after being served with the defence of the states.

“That within two days of service, the plaintiff will reply after being served the reply of the defendants’ counter-affidavit.”

The court while adjourning to June 13 for the commencement of hearing, ruled that: “All defendants absent should be served with fresh hearing notice and be in court on the adjourned date.”

In the court papers made available to The PUNCH, the Federal Government is urging the apex court to issue “an order prohibiting state governors from unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders for local governments.”

In the suit predicted on 27 grounds, the Federal Government accused the state governors of gross misconduct and abuse of power.

The FG, in the originating summons, prayed the Supreme Court to make an order expressly stating that funds standing to the credit of local governments from the Federation Account should be paid directly to the local governments rather than through the state governments.

The justice minister also prayed 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 Federal Government further sought “an order stopping governors from constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognised and guaranteed democratic system.”

The originating summons was backed by a 13-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Kelechi Ohaeri of the Federal Ministry of Justice.

Ohaeri, in the affidavit, averred that the AGF instituted the suit against the governors under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on behalf of the Federal Government.

He said, “The Constitution of Nigeria recognises federal, state and local governments as three tiers of government and the three recognised 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 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.

“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, urged 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 a 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.

Furthermore, he urged to invoke sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that “the 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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