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Nigeria Crisis: Time for System Change

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9 February, 2005

Lagos State National Conscience Party statement

LAGOS LOCAL GOVERNMENTS CRISIS

MASS CAMPAIGN NEEDED TO:

  • SECURE MONEY OWING FROM FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
  • DISBANDMENT OF THE 57 ILLEGAL LOCAL COUNCILS
  • IMMEDIATE DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS TO THE 20 LEGAL COUNCILS
  • INTRODUCTION

    Since the inception of civil rule on May 29, 1999, the administration and running of local councils across the country and in Lagos State especially have been bedeviled with several undemocratic and unconstitutional problems. For almost a period of two and a half years, local councils across the country, including Lagos State, were run by handpicked nominees/appointees of the respective state governments contrary to the provisions of section 7 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantee the running of local councils only by elected officers.

    Against persistent agitations mounted by well-meaning members of the society including ourselves in the NCP that proper elections, as envisaged by the above cited section of the constitution be organised at the local council level, the Lagos State government eventually gave the impression that it was prepared to comply with the above cited constitutional requirements when Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), its handpicked body fixed March 27, 2004 as the election day into the local councils. Unfortunately however, signs began to emerge to show that government preparedness/announcement of an election were based on wrong footings and that major problems would still persist on the democratic running/administration of the local councils.

    Firstly, LASIEC rolled out several electoral rules/guidelines which not only fundamentally violated the democratic rights of Lagosians as provided in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but also many that violated the very law passed by Lagos State House of Assembly which forms the basis of LASIEC existence and operations. As a result of this unwholesome development, we in the NCP together with some other political parties went to court to challenge LASIEC's unconstitutional conducts. A day before the March 27, 2004 date slated for the election, a Lagos High Court ruled on our case. While upholding most of our objections as valid, the Judge, in the inglorious judicial tradition that believes that the ruling government is always right against its citizens, refused our prayer that the election be postponed pending the time LASIEC would be able to comply with the relevant electoral regulations.

    Another dangerous signal that the March 27, 2004 local council election in Lagos State was going to be nothing but a rude violation of the constitution, and in that respect a mockery of democracy was the decision of LASIEC to conduct the said election in the so-called 57 local councils newly created by the Lagos state government as opposed to the 20 local councils which exist in Lagos state. After a careful perusal of the constitution, we in the NCP proposed to the LASIEC not to conduct the said election in the so-called 57 local councils on the basis of the fact that the said newly created councils were not yet made in accordance with all the relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution. But as to be expected of a body solely existing for the pleasure, whim and caprices of its mentor - the Lagos state government - LASIEC unceremoniously rejected our proposal and went ahead with its pre-conceived exercise. Faced with this apparent unconstitutional and biased approach in favour of the ruling AD government, we in the NCP and several other parties including the PDP boycotted the purported local council election which held on 27 March, 204 in Lagos state.

    Using its financial muscle as a result of its control of the government of the federation, the PDP government of General Olusegun Obasanjo subsequently withheld the allocations from the federation account, meant for local councils in Lagos state, ostensibly because the state government claimed to have conducted election into what the federal government considered illegal councils. As a result of this development, Lagos state filed an action before the Supreme Court challenging the federal government exercise and the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on this issue on December 10, 2004.

    THE DECEMBER 10, 2004 SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT

    There were two major aspects of the Supreme Court judgment made on December 10, 2004 in respect of the suit filed by the Lagos state government:

    1. The Supreme Court held that the federal government had no right whatsoever to withhold allocations meant for local councils in Lagos state or any other state for that matter under the relevant provisions of 1999 constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

    2. The Supreme Court also held that the 57 local councils purportedly created by the Lagos state government are "inchoate", that is, inconclusive because specifically, the national assembly has not passed a consequential act as provided by section 8(5) of the 1999 constitution and that for this reason, this purported councils are not entitled to and should not be funded with public money.

    OUR STANCE

    1. We in the Lagos state NCP hereby call on the federal government to unconditionally release forthwith all the withheld allocations for local councils in Lagos state. On the basis of the relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution and the unambiguous pronouncement of the Supreme Court, the federal government has no any valid basis to continue to withhold the allocation meant for local councils in Lagos state even for a second. We consequently demand that the federal government stops all acts of subterfuge and diversions by creating baseless conditionalities before doing its duty under the law. In stating the above position, we wish to state categorically that we are not persuaded nor impressed by the tendencious and blatantly biased analysts, jurists, political jobbers who are often too eager to uphold this aspect of the Supreme Court decision while conveniently ignoring or down played the other crucial aspect of Supreme Court decisions, which we will come to presently.

    2. Although the Supreme Court declined to invalidate the purported election held into the so-called 57 local councils in Lagos State because according to the Supreme Court, the concerned "elected" officers were not parties to the suit ruled upon. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court emphatically pronounced the process of their creation (i.e. local councils) as "inchoate" and in fact, emphasized in different aspects of the judgment in issue that no public fund must be appropriated for the running of the so-called 57 local councils newly created in Lagos state. In fact, to avoid any ambiguity whatsoever, the Supreme Court ruled that the allocation which the federal government must unconditionally release to Lagos state is to be solely used for the running of the 20 local councils listed for Lagos state in the schedule to the 1999 constitution.

    In this respect, amongst other decisions, the Supreme Court held as follows:

    (a) "The Lagos State Government has the constitutional competence under section 8(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to promulgate the Creation of Local Government Areas Law No. 5 of 2002 and to amend it by passing the Creation of Local Government Areas (Amendment) Law 2004 which created the 57 Local Governments. Consequently, they are valid, legal and constitutional but that these Laws cannot be operational and cannot have effect until the National Assembly performs its constitutional duty under section 8(5) of the 1999 Constitution.

    (b) However, the 57 Local Governments created by the government of Lagos State out of the 20 Local Governments contained in First Schedule Part I of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 are not operational and cannot take effect until the National Assembly promulgate an Act containing consequential provisions to amend section 3 subsection 6 and First Schedule Part I of the Constitution by increasing the number of Local Governments specified in section 3(6) and particulars of the new Local Governments under Lagos State in First Schedule Part I of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

    (c) The statutory allocation which the Federal Government must release to Lagos State Government must be for the 20 Local Governments in Lagos State contained in the First Schedule Part I of the Constitution since the National Assembly has not promulgated an Act making consequential provisions in respect of the 57 Local Governments created by Lagos State.

    (d) The new 57 Local Governments of Lagos State established by Creation of Local Government Areas Law No. 5 of 2002 as amended by Creation of Local Government Areas (Amendment) Law 2004 are not entitled to receive fund from Federation Account because those Local Governments do not exist at the moment under the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and those Laws can only be operational when the National Assembly makes consequential provisions in an Act pursuant to section 8(5) of the Constitution".

    On the basis of this clear ruling of the Supreme Court, we in the Lagos state NCP therefore demand:

    1. The unconditional and immediate disbandment of the purported 57 local councils newly created in Lagos state.

    2. That the Lagos state government immediately and fully restore, without any infraction or loss of asset, the structures of the 20 local governments listed in the schedule to the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This becomes necessary because of the dubious but futile exercise recently carried out by the Lagos state House of Assembly when it decided to retain merely the names of these 20 listed local councils while stubbornly holding that their buccaneering and cannibalization through fragmentation into 57 local council entities stay.

    3. An immediate election into the 20 listed local councils in Lagos state in accordance with the relevant provision of the 1999 constitution and the Lagos State electoral law, especially on the basis of the judicial interpretation of that law by the Lagos state High Court. This becomes necessary because even if the Supreme Court did not invalidate the purported election held on March 27, 2004 into the so-called new councils, this fact without further ado justifies the call for fresh election into the 20 local councils which actually exist in Lagos state, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that there are only 20 local councils in Lagos state and not 57 which was the basis upon which the March 27, 2004 local councils election in Lagos state was conducted.

    4. We call on Lagosians in particular and Nigerians in general to commence forthwith, acts of civil disobedience against the illegal local councils being operated presently in Lagos state. Citizens should henceforth refuse to pay taxes, tenement rates, fines, levies to these illegal councils and neither should their Bye laws be obeyed. Their existence is unknown to the law as pronounced by the Supreme Court and consequently, their activities are illegal and illegitimate.

    5. We in Lagos NCP hereby call on all those parading themselves as elected chairmen and councillors of these "inchoate local councils" to stop doing so forthwith. Simultaneously, we call on Lagos state government to stop forthwith the appropriation of public fund for the running and maintenance of these elements because they do not exist under the relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution.

    CONCLUSION

    The concept behind the creation of local councils is hinged on the premises that positive government services can be brought nearer to the people at the grassroot levels. Unfortunately however, the experience of most Nigerians, particularly those in Lagos state, over the activities of local councils has been a total disappointment. Rather than provide succour to the people, the so-called newly created local councils have only constituted themselves into menace on the living standard and democratic rights of Lagosians through many exploitative levels, fines and obnoxious Bye-laws and Regulations. Far from providing any tangible positive service to the community, these councils individually and collectively have been behaving more like locusts with relentless determination to make life difficult for ordinary citizens.

    Unfortunately however, these self-serving acts and political brigandage constitute the most dominant features of governance at all levels of the society in today's Nigeria. Therefore, to tolerate the existence of illegal local councils funded with public fund at the grassroot levels represents the surest way to kill the prospect for genuine political and economic accountability of the governors to the governed and as such, the quickest way to kill Nigeria's so-called nascent democracy.

    As for us in the NCP, we will remain committed and undaunted with our tradition of steadfast and fearless defence of the democratic rights and welfare of the working people at all times against the self-serving interests and egos of a few that may temporarily find themselves in the position of power.

    Segun Sango

    Chairman