Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State triumphed at the Court of Appeal, Ibadan Division, on Wednesday against the 33 local government chairmen and the 35 chairmen of Local Douncil Development Areas (LCDAs) that his administration sacked on May 29, 2019.
All the 68 chairmen were elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on Saturday May 12, 2018, when the late Senator Abiola Ajimobi was the governor of the state. They had obtained an injunction from the Oyo State High Court on May 6, 2019, that restrained the governor of the state, the state House of Assembly and agents of government from sacking them.
The sacked chairmen had held on to the injunction when Makinde’s administation sacked them that the government had no power to dissolve local government executive councils. But the government under Makinde approached the Court of Appeal and sought to quash the order, telling the higher court that the injunction was speculative because he had not been sworn in as governor when it was obtained.
However, in the unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal, read by Justice Simon Haruna Tsammani, supported by Justices Olujinmi Bada and Afolashade Ayodeji, the order of the lower court was set aside on the grounds that it was speculative and premature at the time it was obtained because the incumbent administration had not come to power then.
Justice Aderonke Aderemi of the Oyo State High Court sitting in Ibadan had in the ruling on Monday, May 6, 2019, restrained the governor of the state and the House of Assembly from suspending or removing elected local government chairmen, vice chairmen and councilors, adding that the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) could not conduct another election into the positions, until the expiration of the three-year tenure of the incumbents.
She gave the ruling in a suit filed by 11 chairmen and councilors led by Bashorun Bosun Ajuwon. They were the claimants in the case before the high court. The suit challenged the constitutionality of the Oyo State Local Government Law 2001 (as amended), which empowers the governor to remove the chairmen and the councillors. The lower court also restrained the state government from freezing or withholding the bank accounts of the councils while their tenure lasts.
Section 11 of the Local Government Law of Oyo State, 2001(as amended) empowers the Governor of Oyo State to appoint a seven-member transition committee to run the affairs of the council for a period to be determined by the Oyo State House of Assembly. Section 21 of the same law also empowers the Oyo State House of Assembly to remove a democratically elected chairman and vice chairman whose tenure is yet to expire by a resolution.
The chairmen sacked by the state under Makinde had said the then outgoing governor, Abiola Ajimobi, now late, had held a meeting with the chairmen, other elected members and top leaders of APC shortly after the 2019 elections, adding that at the meeting Ajimobi announced that he would dissolve the elected local government leaders as empowered by the Oyo State Local Government Law 2001 (as amended) and would appoint caretaker teams with a view to restructuring the party in the state. The claimants sought 10 prayers and had all of them granted.
It was gathered that at the time the ruling was delivered, the APC had lost governorship poll in the state to Seyi Makinde of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and at that the the PDP had won 26 seats out of the 32 seats in the House of Assembly, with APC winning five seats, and Action Democratic Party (ADP) won one seat.
The court held that the Oyo State Local Government Law was in conflict with Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended) and thus unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void. It declared that the Oyo State law breached Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended) and is thus unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
Justice Aderemi, who also affirmed the three-year tenure of the elected officials, relied on the Supreme Court case of Governor, Ekiti State versus Olubunmi (2017) All FWLR (Pt. 873), Attorney-General of Plateau State and others versus Hon. Chief Anthony Goyol and Others(2007) LPELR-12875 (CA) and other cases in granting the reliefs.
In an interview with journalists after the judgment of the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, counsel to the respondents in the appeal, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, SAN, who fielded questions on whether his client would go to the Supreme Court, said: ‘The case has been decided by their lordship and is too late to feel bad. Whatever action that we deem necessary will be in accordance with the instructions of our clients. Until that is done, the legal team cannot do anything until we receive necessary instructions from our clients.’
Asked whether the judgment was fair enough, Akintola responded: ‘It is premature to say that. We are yet to see the judgment. The reasons they advanced, we may not agree with that on the position of the law. But they have delivered the judgment the way they saw it, and that is the position of the law, as it stands today. We are bound by the judgment of the court.’
Akintola further explained that court of appellate jurisdiction held that at the tine the action was filed before the Oyo State High Court, ‘it was premature, and the governor in question (Seyi Makinde) was yet to come to office, and that the action was filed before he was sworn in, and that he denied any attempt to dissolve the local governments. But the blind man in Nigeria knows that the local governments were dissolved.
‘The deafs are aware of the fact that the caretaker committees have been set up in Oyo State, against the position of the law, which their lordship alluded to. The man said he was a law-abiding citizen, he would not do that in his counter affidavit, which was filed by our colleague then. And that was the position then as at that time when the matter was file before the High Court of Oyo State.’
The lead counsel to Oyo State Government, Otunba Kunle Kalejaiye, SAN, also told journalists: ‘The summary of the judgment is very simple: that the action that was filed by them at the lower court was a speculative action. Court deals with facts. You don’t stay in one corner and say that some people told you that they are going to send you away, when they have not sent you away. That was what was brought to court. Nobody complained to court that anybody was sent away. That was the basis that the court made the judgment.’
Answering question on the appointment of caretaker committees for the local governments by the administration of Makinde in the last quarter of 2019, Kalejaiye stated: ‘If anybody is disgruntled with that, they know what to do. That would be a fresh complaint. What was brought to court was that there was a rumour that they were going to send them away.
‘What we told the lower court and what we said here was that they do not have a cause of action. There is a difference between a cause of action and a right of action. The Court of Appeal has just distinguished that. It is a very simple matter really.’
Meanwhile, the APC in the state has reacted to the judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal, in a statement entitled: OYSG vs Aleshinloye led Oyo ALGON Appeal Court Verdict, issued by Dr AbdulAzeez Olatunde, the Publicity Secretary of the party, saying: ‘The judgement of the Court of Appeal in the unconstitutional and illegal dissolution of the Elected Local Government Administration in Oyo State of Wednesday 15th July 2020 would be given to Oyo State APC Legal Team for scrutiny when received.
‘Thereafter, the Oyo State APC would await the legal advice on the next step and way forward. APC Oyo State has been known for peace and as such would counsel all APC members in Oyo State to go about their endeavours peacefully and await the next step to be taken in line with the advice of our team of legal experts.’