Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Supreme Court, on Saturday, ordered the Ekiti State Government to immediately restore the headquarters of the local government to Eda-Oniyo from where it was relocated to Iye-Ekiti shortly after the state was created on October 1, 1996.
The unanimous judgment has put to an end, the 19-year legal dispute over the right location of the headquarters of Ilejemeje Local Government Area of Ekiti State.
The legal dispute commenced via a suit filed before the High Court of Ekiti State in 1999 wherein, the traditional ruler of Eda-Oniyo, Oba Julius Awolola, the Eleda of Eda-Oniyo, challenged the sudden relocation of the headquarters of Ilejemeje local government from his town, as established by the state’s law, to Iye-Ekiti.
Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour-who led five Justices of the apex court, held that the establishment of the headquarters of the Local Government in Eda-Oniyo was backed by statute and could not be relocated elsewhere without the promulgation of a new law.
The judgment was read by Justice Paul Galinje, who held that the act of the Ekiti State Government, relocating the headquarters of the local government from Eda-Oniyo to Iye-Ekiti ‘has no legal basis’.
“The location of the headquarters of Ilejemeje Local Government in Eda-Oniyo is a product of statute and no law has been promulgated to relocate it to any other place,” he ruled.
Justice Galinje upheld the earlier judgment of the Ekiti State High Court which had in 2001 affirmed that Eda-Oniyo was the lawful location of the Ilejemeje Local Government Area’s headquarters.
The apex court set aside the March 6, 2006 judgment of the Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal which had ruled otherwise.
Oba Awolola had instituted the appeal in 2008 to challenge the judgment of the Court of Appeal which had ruled in favour of the respondents.
Respondents to the appeal are the Governor of Ekiti State, the Attorney-General of the state and the Chairman of the Ilejemeje Local Government Area of the state.
It will be recalled that the Federal Military Government had October 1, 1996, created among others, Ekiti State with Ilejemeje Local Government Area as one of its 16 local government areas.
The headquarters of the Ilejemeje Local Government Area was located in Eda-Oniyo with the backing of the States Creation (Transitional Provisions) Decree No. 36 of 1996.
But three months later, by a radio announcement, the Ekiti State Government notified the public of the relocation of the local government from Eda-Oniyo to Iye-Ekiti.
Oba Awolola was said to have on behalf of the people of Eda-Oniyo protested to the office of the Head of State which informed him that it did not authorise the movement of the local government to Iye-Ekiti and continued to recognise Eda-Oniyo as the headquarters of Ilejemeje Local Government Area.
But the protests were said to have failed to produce the desired result, following which the traditional ruler, representing the people of Eda-Oniyo, filed an action in the High Court of Ekiti State in 1999 against the Governor of the state, the Attorney-General and the Chairman of Ilejemeje Local Government Area.
He sought, among others, declaratory orders that by virtue of the State Creation ( Transitional Provisions) Decree No. 72 Vol. 83 of 1996, and the Local Government (Basic Constitutional Provisions) Decree of 1997 and 1998, the headquarters of Ilejemeje Local Government area was Eda-Oniyo.
He also sought a declaration that the relocation of the headquarters for Eda-Oniyo to Iye-Ekiti as illegal, null and void.
He also sought an order restraining the defendants from recognising Iye-Ekiti as the headquarters of Ilejemeje Local Government Area and a perpetual injunction restraining them from carrying out the administration of the Local Government Area from any other town apart from Eda-Oniyo.
The High Court ruled in 2001 in favour of Oba Awolola, but the Ekiti State Government had appealed against the judgment and won at the Court of Appeal.
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To challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal, Oba Awolola, through his lawyer, Mr. Oluwadamilare Awokoya, filed the appeal marked SC.194/2008 before the Supreme Court.
In its judgment on Friday, the Supreme Court on Friday set aside the Court of Appeal’s judgment and affirmed that of the High Court.
Agreeing with Oba Awolola’s lawyer, the apex court ruled that non-filing of the suit at the High Court within three months when the dispute arose in 1996 as stipulated in the Public Officers Protection Law of Ekiti State did not render the suit incompetent.
While the dispute over the location of the headquarters of the Ilejemeje Local Government Area started in 1996, the plaintiff who was exploring other means of settlement did not go to court to challenge the decision of the Ekiti State Government until 1999.