LG Autonomy:Supreme Court reserves judgement

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Caption:Supreme Courts Building

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved judgment in the suit filed for the Federal Government by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Lateef Fagbemi, against States in relation to the dispute over the autonomy of Local Governments in the country.

A seven-member panel, led by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, said a date for the judgment will be communicated to parties and their counsel.

Justice Garba made the announcement on the reservation of the judgment shortly after lawyers to parties adopted their final addresses and made final submissions.

The Federal Government had filed a suit at the Supreme Court seeking to secure full autonomy for the 774 Local Government Areas in the country.

The apex court had on May 30, ordered the Governors of the 36 States of the federation, to within seven days, enter their defence to the suit by the FG.

The order followed an application that the Federal Government, through the AGF filed for an accelerated hearing of the matter and for the abridgement of the time allowed for all state governors to file their response to the suit.

FG had in the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, prayed to the Supreme Court to okay full autonomy for all the LGAs in the country as the third tier of government.

It prayed the court to issue an order, prohibiting state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders.

As well as 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.

Besides, FG, prayed the Supreme Court for an order, stopping governors from further constituting Caretaker Committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

It equally 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.

Governors of the 36 States were sued through their respective Attorneys General.

Meanwhile, governors are divided on the issue of propriety of full local government autonomy as exemplified in the positions of Governor Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State and Abdulrahman Abdulrazak of Kwara State in the last 24 hours.

Speaking at The Platform Nigeria, a programme by Lagos-based church, Covenant Nation, to mark the 2024 Democracy Day, Soludo said: “Funny enough, more recently, some people are arguing for the autonomy of local governments including some APC persons, which would take Nigeria back many decades from what a true federation is about.

“There is no federal system in the world where you have three federal units. The counties in America where we copied (democracy), their local governments don’t go to the centre to collect money directly.

“Each state must have the power to design the kind of local government system they want. That is what true federalism is about.”

But Kwara State Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq says he believes in full autonomy for local government areas.

Abdulrazak, in a statement signed by his media aide, Rafiu Ajakaye, clarified that the position of the state in the ongoing legal proceedings on local government is that the state does not violate any section of the law regarding autonomy.

He said, “It is my personal belief that each local government should manage its resources and be responsible for its obligations, including wages that are first line charges. I also believe that the state governor should not be held liable if any local government is unable to pay salaries since we do not touch a kobo of their money.

“We also do not have any joint project accounts with any local government in the state, as was the case with the previous administration in our state.

“These are my personal beliefs. But my personal belief is not necessarily the same as the letters of the law, including the provisions of the JAAC, which is a creation of the Constitution. As of today, local government allocations are sent to the JAAC as required by the law. Section 162 of the Constitution is very clear on this.

“As things stand today, no activity of the local government in Kwara State is at variance with these provisions of the law. Our case in the court is not about my personal belief. It is, we believe, in the defence of the constitution, which created JAAC for reasons that are well-grounded in our experiences as a people. JAAC, in summary, pulls resources together to pay all teachers, health workers, traditional rulers, and other statutory duties listed in the schedule of the local government areas. If we all want these to change as a national consensus, we believe that the constitution will have to be amended to expunge JAAC.”

ALSO READ:Kwara Gov throws weight behind full autonomy for LG

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