Today, on my instructions, my lawyers instituted legal proceedings at the High Court of Benue in Makurdi against the governor of Benue, Father Hyacinth Alia, (along with 4 others: the state attorney-general; speaker of House of Assembly; the House of Assembly; and the special adviser, Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs as the 5 respondents) marked suit number MHC/347/2023, for sacking (indefinitely suspending) all elected local government officials exactly 4 months ago today, on 23 June, leaving the local government system—which is the most critical tier of government, being closest to the people—rudderless with no executive or legislative councils and no governance going on at all.
It would be recalled that on 15 June, the National Industrial Court in Makurdi ordered the respondents against suspending the 23 local government chairmen of the state, but out of impunity and outright disregard for the law, the respondents flouted the direct order of the court and not only suspended the chairmen but the entire local government executive and legislative councils.
It is also important to note that, the 1999 Constitution which is the supreme law of the land under which every other law bows recognises ONLY democratically-elected local government councils. Further to this, the Supreme Court, which the highest court in the land in a plethora of cases has condemned the suspension/removal of elected local government officials and the appointment of unelected officials. It has vehemently stressed that elected local government officials are NOT employees of the state government and, therefore, CANNOT be suspended, sacked or councils dissolved by a governor and/or House of Assembly, not even on allegations of corrupt practices. It has gone further to nullify provisions of local government laws in Nigeria that authorise governors and Houses of Assembly to suspend/remove elected local government officials and/or appoint unelected officials.
Drawing from the above, in this suit I ask the court to determine whether or not the governor and House of Assembly have the power to suspend elected local government executive and legislative councils; whether or not the appointment of local government transitional/caretaker committees, interim/sole administrators (or whatever name called) is lawful; and whether or not sections 62, 147 and others in the Local Government Law that provide for the suspension of elected officials and appointment of officials are valid and constitutional?
Furthermore, whether or not the action of suspending the 23 local government councils despite an order of court stopping it is in order; and finally whether or not the removal of elected officials is not a coup d’etat? A coup d’etat is defined by the dictionary as ‘an illegal and overt attempt by military or government elites to unseat the incumbent leaders. A coup d’etat, therefore, is not only carried out by the military but by civilians as well.
I ask the court to declare the obvious that the governor and House of Assembly have no power whatsoever to suspend elected local government officials, not even on allegations is corrupt practices, and that it is an abuse to do so; and that any local government administration, insofar as it is not democratically elected is an illegality.
The court is further asked to declare the sections that allow for suspension/removal of elected local government officials and the appointment of local government administrations null and void and to in fact, order them expunged from the Local Government Law outright. Also to declare the suspension after an order of the court stopping it as contempt for the court; and to state emphatically that any removal or suspension of elected local government officials as a coup.
Beyond declarations, the court is prayed to order the respondents to not appoint any transitional/caretaker administrations and where this is done during the pendency of the suit, an order sacking them. Another is an order setting aside all communications and decisions of the respondents pertaining to this suspension of local government councils.
And finally, an order for the respondents to reinstate all the suspended officials immediately and to fully restore their authority, rights, privileges, and entitlements and to immediately pay all their salaries and allowances for the months they have been away, and to offer them unreserved apologies.
Due to the importance and urgency of this matter, a further application marked motion number MHC/1982M/23 praying the court to set aside its usual protocol and procedures, but to hear and conclude this matter expeditiously, was also filed along with the main suit. A date is yet to be fixed for the matter to commence in court.
The novelty in this lawsuit is the prayer to designate the suspension/removal/dissolution of elected councils as a coup, and rightly so; and the prayer to the court to NOT grant a stay of execution of the judgement pending an appeal if/when we get victory at the trial court.
Lawless governors in Nigeria, full of impunity, deliberately violate the law because there are usually no consequences for their misbehaviour. By designating the removal/suspension as a coup, the governors, though with immunity whilst in office, would have cases to answer when their tenures
are over. The political appointees and civil servants involved in the abuse (whether purportedly only carrying out instructions or not) however, would be liable to facing trials for coup plotting. This would be a deterrent to partaking in the abuse, and will signal the end of suspending elected local government officials and of appointed local government administrations in Nigeria.
Second, lawless governors know that they are not on the side of the law with the abuse but proceed with the impunity with the hope of exploiting the bureaucracy and slowness of the court system. They ensure that the tenures of the victims elapse by the time the appeals are exhausted at the Supreme Court, at this time there is nothing to be done about returning the suspended official back to office.
In this suit, the court is passionately moved to deny any application to stay execution of the judgement (if the judgement is favourable), to allow for an appeal, but to restore the offices of the victims, as the lawbreaking respondents go on appeal (if they so wish). The court is at liberty to deny such applications, and is moved to so do, where judgement is entered in our favour and there is any such application.
The justice of this case is the reinstatement of the victims of this gross injustice and abuse to office to complete the term for which they were elected. If, therefore, they are reinstated on one hand and the same reinstatement is withheld with the other hand, clearly justice cannot be said to be done and seen to be done.
With the full restoration of back to office to the end of their terms in June 2024, the evil machinations of lawbreakers would not only be defeated, it would lay the precedence for courts in other states to rely on this case when deciding similar cases henceforth. With this, slowly but steadily, the menace of sacking elected local government officials and replacing them with stooges or not conducting elections as and when due and appointing stooges will be in the past in Nigeria, a critical first step towards the much desired local government autonomy.
23 October 2023