In the past two weeks, one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet member, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, had continued to be in the news for two major controversial reasons. The first was his pronouncement of Southwest security outfit, Operation Amotekun, as illegal, while the second was his letter to the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, asking him to immediately disband caretaker committees and restore the elected local government representatives in the state.
Malami, had on Tuesday, January 14, issued a letter addressed to Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State, entitled; “Unconstitutionality of dissolution of elected local government councils and appointment of caretaker committee: The urgent need for compliance with extant judicial decisions”, urged the state governor to disband the caretaker committees, which he inaugurated in December 2019 to oversee the affairs of 33 LGAs and 35 LCDAs in the state.
The AGF in his letter pointed out that “the need to immediately disband all caretaker committees and restore democratically elected representatives to man the local governments has therefore become obligatory”, just as he also requested that the state’s Commissioner for Justice takes positive steps to ensure compliance, adding that the president and other relevant agencies would advise on further compliance measures to be taken in national interest.
According to Malami, “In view of the decision of the Supreme Court on the matter that is binding on all 36 States of the Federation, the common practice by some state governors in dissolving elected local government councils is unconstitutional, null and void.
“So also, any system of local government run by Caretaker Committees is outrightly illegal and unconstitutional”, he said, urging Makinde to reverse himself over the dissolution of local government administration in the state.
The letter reads further; “to this end, I hereby request all their Excellences, State Governors and Speakers of State Houses of Assembly, who are currently acting in breach of the provisions of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“And also acting in disobedience of the Supreme Court judgment highlighted above to immediately retrace their steps by ensuring compliance with the above in the overall interest of the rule of law and our democracy,” it said.
The news of Malami’s letter to the Makinde was received by many with joy and merriment, especially the sacked chairmen who were elected under the administration of Abiola Ajimobi.
Oyo Government Reacts
While justifying the sack action, the state government explained that the local government election that was conducted by the Ajimobi’s administration was illegal as it contravened court order.
Makinde clarified that the actions of his administration in dissolving the former local government chairmen and appointing caretaker chairmen was in righting the wrong of the immediate past administration.
According to him, the Senator Abiola Ajimobi administration erred ab initio by violating a court order to conduct the “kangaroo” local government election, thereby rendering the constitution of ALGON Oyo null and void.
With the Minister of Justice’s pronouncement, controversy has, however, continued to trail the administration of local governments in the state. Makinde, had in his response to AGF’s letter, warned him (Malami) not to meddle in Oyo council issue.
Speaking through Oyewo, Oyo State’s Attorney-General Makinde insisted that the AGF has no business dabbling into the matter of local government dissolution in his state, a matter, which he said is pending before the Court of Appeal.
Many have faulted the decision of the AGF, accusing him of causing confusion in the state. “Before the AGF came out with his letter, there was no much noise on this issue but see what his pronouncement has led to now. The issue is already causing crisis in the state, there is no doubt the AGF has an intention and we are aware he is up to something”, said a source within the Oyo State cabinet who doesn’t want his name in print.
Some sources have also argued that the Minister of Justice is taking advantage of the matter to settle scores on Amotekun.
Another reliable source who begged to remain anonymous said, “Malami is just trying to cause unnecessary distractions for the governor. Just because the governor is in the opposition, they have chosen to victimise him. We know those who are behind this. They are well aware of the role Makinde played in ensuring that Operation Amotekun saw the light of the day. We are well aware of their gambits and we can never be cowed to join them or bow to them.
“On this issue, Malami is just wasting his time. He has no power to control us in the state. He should stop causing confusion because the letter he wrote has already stirred up controversies. The case of the Chairmen’s sack is in court, would Malami claim not to be aware of this? If he is aware and still went ahead to accuse Makinde of acting unconstitutionally, then he also should be accused of acting as an APC partisan. In any case, Malami should be aware of the court cases surrounding the LG dissolution, and ought to have been more cautiously restrained in making his latest intervention, considering the legal knots he had become entangled in recent years, including his misspeak on Amotekun,” the source told Daily Independent.
The Oyo State Government, in his reply to the AGF, maintained that his letter was uncalled for, misguided and lacking in merit, as far as the constitution of Nigeria is concerned.
The government insisted that Malami’s letter was written without adequate information and knowledge of the current position of the subject matter of dissolution of local government in the State.
According to the statement, which was signed by Taiwo Adisa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Makinde, the issue of local government dissolution in Oyo state is a subject of stay/appeal that is pending before the Court of Appeal in two cases including Governor of Oyo State Vs Basorun Bosun Ajuwon, Appeal No CA/IB/300/2019 and Basorun Majeed Bosun Ajuwon Vs Governor of Oyo State CA/ IB/362/2019.
“It is also instructive to note that parties have filed their respective briefs of argument and the appeals have now been fixed for the 19th of February, 2020,” the statement read.
The state government equally declared that only the court and not the AGF could pronounce an order on the matter, which was sub-judice. The state government, however, called on Malami to rise above partisan politics and advise parties to await judgment of the court in the various appeals.
It added that the Constitution of the country had empowered States to ensure the existence and functioning of local governments, noting that it was not aware of any Act of the National Assembly that empowered the AGF to write the letter in which he purportedly barked orders at the State Government.
Anxiety As LG Chairmen Resume
On Monday however, the sacked chairmen decided to act based on Malami’s pronouncement as some of them resumed back to their offices. This followed an order given by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, who directed the Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Shina Olukolu to ensure the reinstatement of the sacked chairmen.
Despite warning from the state government that the sacked chairmen should allow the court to determine the dispute, they resumed yesterday, as reports from all the 68 councils revealed that majority of the chairmen resumed. However, there were reports of violence in some of the councils.
In its reaction to this, the state government though Taiwo Adisa, the governor’s CPS, warned the chairmen that it would not allow any group of persons to throw the state into crisis as a result of the ongoing debate on the management of local governments in the state.
The State also insisted that it was insisting on the full observance of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) in relation to the ongoing controversy surrounding the dissolution of the 68 illegal local council chairmen in the State.
It warned some individuals who have been threatening to derail the peace of the state to desist from such ruinous path or face the full wrath of the law.
The government said its position became imperative following the threats of violence by the sacked chairmen and the stay-at-home order issued to all local government workers in the state by the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE).
Though the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) has pledged it readiness to cooperate with the governor to move the state forward at the grassroots level, but it is glaring that the state government is not ready to go into any negotiation with the ousted chairmen.
Ayodeji Abass-Aleshiloye, the state Chairman of ALGON, said at a press conference on Monday in Ibadan, that he and his members had employed all peaceful and legal options to reclaim their mandate eight months after they were sacked. He said their resolve to resume was premised on the Supreme Court judgment, which declared that no governor has the right to unjustly dissolve elected chairmen.
He accused the governor of being intransigent on the issue, stressing that, local government chairmen who were illegally sacked in Ogun, Ekiti, and Kwara had been returned.
Reacting to the controversy, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Oyo State described the desire of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) for a return to running the local government system in the state as one that cannot be assisted via a directive by Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
In a statement by the party’s publicity secretary, Akeem Olatunji, the PDP advised the Oyo APC to look for another saviour, mentioning that Malami was not constitutionally empowered to “assist them in foisting illegality on the good people of Oyo State at the grassroots level.”
The party tasked the caretaker in the 33 local government areas and 35 local council development areas to continue to face governance, noting that the members of the All Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Oyo State chapter were merely seeking attention.
Chiding Malami, the PDP referencing December 10, 2004, Supreme Court judgment delivered by Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, pursuant to section 162 (5) of the Constitution said: “if the President or any of his agents had any grievances or whatsoever with any tier of government, they should go to court.”
The statement read in parts, “Oyo State PDP as the ruling party is advising APC in Oyo State to look for their saviour elsewhere as Mr Abubakar Malami is not constitutionally empowered to assist them in foisting illegality on the good people of Oyo State at the grassroots level.
“Hence, the Caretaker Chairmen across the 33 Local Councils and 35 LCDAs are enjoined to face the herculean task before them and disregard the former illegal Chairmen who are merely seeking attention.
“Rather than poke nose into the internal affairs of Oyo State, Mr Abubakar Malami should be more concerned about Federal Government’s various disregard of judiciary pronouncements and lack of respect for rule of law.
“Nigeria as a federation is governed by constitution not by a decree fiat and it’s not anybody’s fault that the drafters of Nigerian Constitution put the control, legislation and supervision of the local governments under the purview of the State governments through the various State House of Assemblies.
“I want to reiterate that nowhere in the 1999 Constitution is the President or his agents given the power to withhold funds due to States or Local Government Councils or even the National Judicial Council by virtue of the provision of Section 162 subsection (9) thereof. In other words, the President has no supervisory power over the state and the local government councils”.
“Nigeria as a country is practising federalism not a unitary system of government, hence the needs for separation of power and avoid ridiculous action that can jeopardize the image of Nigeria within the comity of Nations.
“Furthermore, the Supreme Court judgement delivered by Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, CJN, on 10th of December 2004 stated clearly that pursuant to section 162 (5) of the Constitution; if the President or any of his agents have any grievances or whatsoever with any tier of government, he should go to court.
“Oyo State PDP as the ruling party is advising APC in Oyo State to look for their saviour elsewhere as Mr Abubakar Malami is not constitutionally empowered to assist them in foisting illegality on the good people of Oyo State at the grassroots level.
“Hence, the Caretaker Chairmen across the 33 Local Councils and 35 LCDAs are enjoined to face the herculean task before them and disregard the former illegal Chairmen who are merely seeking attention.”
In a matter of days, political observers will be waiting to see how far Malami, the ousted council chairmen and the Oyo State government are all willing to go on the matter.