A Governor, as Chief Executive of the State has no power to dissolve, truncate or suspend a democratically elected Local Government Council and unilaterally appoint his cronies.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
HOLDEN AT ABUJA
ON FRIDAY, THE 7TH DAY OF MAY, 2021
BEFORE THEIR LORDSHIPS
KUDIRAT M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, JSC
JOHN INYANG OKORO, JSC
EJEMBI EKO, JSC
IBRAHIM MOHAMMED MUSA SAULAWA, JSC
ADAMU JAURO, JSC
BASHORUN MASUN AJUWON & 10 Ors
GOVERNOR OF OYO STATE & 6 Ors
(Lead Judgement delivered by Honourable Justice Ejembi Eko, JSC)
Facts of the case:
The Appellants were duly elected into the offices of Chairman and Councilors of Oyo State Local Government Council for a term of 3 years in March 2018, which tenure was to expire in 2021. In 2019, the Respondents’, purporting to act under Sections 11 and 21 of the Oyo State Local Government Law of 2001, dissolved their offices merely 10 months into the assumption of office. The Appellants, who perceived this move from the Respondents, had earlier by way of Originating Summons before the Federal High Court, sought for the determination of whether the Respondents can dissolve democratically elected Local Government Chairman and Councilors and handpick non-elected Transition/Caretaker Committees, in violation of Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). The trial Court granted the Appellants reliefs and granted anorder of injunction, restraining the Respondents from dissolving the offices of the Appellants and removing them from office. In May 2019, the Respondents, in violation of the order of the High Court, dissolved the democratically elected Local Government Councils in Oyo State; and then sought to appeal the orders of the Oyo State High Court. The Court of Appeal on 15 July 2020, allowed the appeal of the Respondents, and set aside the judgment of the trial Court. Dissatisfied, the Appellants lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Issues for determination:
Whether in the light of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the Executive Governor of Oyo State can rely on Sections 11 and 21 of the Local Government Law of Oyo State, 2001 (as amended) to dissolve a democratically elected Local Government Council and replace them with unelected Caretaker or Transitional Committee.
Judgment of the Court and the reason
Their Lordships held that the general qualification for judicial review of administrative actions is that the Claimant or the applicant must have the standing or locus standi to challenge the administrative action. He must have an interest cognisable in that he has been sufficiently affected by the administrative action; and for the case to be “ripe” for adjudication or judicial consideration the issues involved must be real, present and imminent; and not merely abstract or hypothetical: Their Lordships relied on Cases and Materials on Administrative Law in Nigeria – Iluyomade & Eka, 2nd Edition (1992) Page 98. Their Lordships held that in the instant case, the enactment of Sections 11 and 21 of the Local Government Law by the House of Assembly (6th Defendant) empowering either the Governor (1st Defendant) or the House of Assembly to truncate the tenure of democratically elected Local Government Councils, and in their place, to appoint unelected Caretaker Committees, poses real threat to those elected Local Government Chairmen and Councilors. The issue viewed particularly viz-a-viz Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) that guarantees the system of democratically elected Local Government Councils, is real and live. It is neither hypothetical nor academic.
Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides:
“The system of Local Government by democratically elected Local Government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every state shall, subject to Section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such councils.” (Underlining mine)
Section 1 (1) and (3) of the Constitution provides:
“1. (1) This Constitution is Supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency be void.”
Section 11 of the Local Government Law of Oyo State empowers the 1st Respondent to set up a 7-Member Transitional Committee, one of whom shall be the Chairman to run the affairs of the Local Government Council where its tenure has expired and no election has been held to reconstitute it, or where it has become “impractical to immediately conduct elections” to fill the vacancies thereby created. Section 21 further empowers the 1st Respondent to suspend or remove from office, any democratically elected Chairman or Vice-Chairman.
Their Lordships held that when a party has locus standi to request adjudication he is said to have the right, in law, to seek the adjudication upon a legal grievance or cause of action. Their Lordships placed reliance on Adesanya v. The President of Nigeria (1981) 2 NCLR 358 at 393. Their Lordships held further that, the Claimants, in the instant case, derived their mandate from the electorates (and not the Defendants) to manage the affairs of their respective Local Government Councils for 3 years on behalf of the people who elected them. Sections 11 and 21 of the Local Government Law, which they alleged are inconsistent with Section 7(1) of the Constitution, posed and continue to pose real, imminent and ominous threat to the security of their tenure. Sections 11 and 21 of the Law, unless lawfully quashed, remain a perpetual threat hanging over their heads like the Sword of Damacles, thus, subjecting them to the whims and caprices of the Governor and the House of Assembly. The danger, if not hazard, posed by Section 11 and 21 of the Local Government Law of Oyo State, to the system of democratically elected Local Government Councils was/is real and imminent. It was/is not speculative, as the lower Court erroneously held to deny the Claimants access to Court.
Their lordships held further that the question the lower Court should have asked itself, but failed to ask is: whether the Claimants were genuine Claimants seeking the Court to decide whether Sections 11 and 21 of the Local Government Law were ultra vires Section 7(1) of the Constitution? Their lordships relied on the decision of his Lordship, Pats Acholonu, JSC in Ladejobi v. Oguntayo (2004) 15 NWLR (pt. 904) 149 (SC) at page 171 which stated that
“It is important to always bear in mind that ready and easy access to the Court for the determination of his civil rights and obligations by a genuine Claimant is one of the attributes of civilised legal system. For a genuine Claimant, not a busy body, easy accessibility to the Court for the determination of the civil rights and obligations is a basic constitutional right, by virtue of Sections 6(6)(b) and 17(2)(c) of the Constitution’’.
It is for this reason that his Lordship, Pats Acholonu, JSC (supra), warned thatlimiting the opportunity for citizens to seek redress in Courts of law by rigid adherence to the principle of locus standi (which is whether a person has the standing to sue and seek redress in Court) could be dangerous.
Their Lordships held that, the misconception by the State authorities that the Constitution does not intend to grant and guarantee autonomy to the Local Government is only a brain wave nurtured by sheer aggrandisement and meglomaniac instinct to conquer and make the Local Government mere parastatals of the State. That is the very mischief Section 7(1) of the Constitution has set out to address, and it must be so read and construed purposefully.
Their Lordships relied on the decision of Nweze, JSC, has put it in Governor of Ekiti State v. Olubunmi (supra), which stated that ‘‘the intendment of the Constitution is to vouchsafe the inviolability of the sacred mandate which the electorate, at that level, democratically donated to the Local Government Chairman and Councilors’’.
His lordship Ejembi Eko, JSC stated that
“It is almost becoming universal phenomena that the democratically elected Governors have constituted themselves a specie most dangerous to democracy in this country. They disdainfully disregard and disrupt democratically elected Local Government Councils and appoint their lackeys as caretaker committees to run affairs of the Local Governments. It should be reiterated as Abdullahi, PCA and Ndukwe-Anyanwu, JCA did say, respectively in Abubakar v. A. G., Federation (2007) 3 NWLR (pt. 1022) 601 (CA) at 619 and A. G. Benue State v. Umar (CA) (supra) at 363, that an elected person is not an employee of anybody except the electorate that voted him in. It is only the electorate that can fire him. Democratic elections should always be sacrosanct in this country, like in any other country, for democracy to thrive. Local Government Chairman and Councilors, being persons duly elected by the people cannot just be removed and their councils dissolved whimsically and arbitrarily by any other elected persons in clear abuse of their office and powers. It is not right in law and under the Constitution to do that’’.
Their Lordships held that since they can no longer re-instate the Appellants to complete their respective terms, the Appellants on the basis of ubi jus ibi remedium, cannot go without any remedy. On the authority of A.G. Benue State v. Umar (SC.199/2007 of 15 April 2008); Governor of Ekiti State v. Olubunmi & Ors (supra), together with Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act, their Lordships hereby ordered that the Claimants/Appellants be each paid the salaries and allowances they were each entitled to be paid for the balance of the period from 29 May 2019 ending on 11 May 2021, when the respective tenures they were elected for would end. Their Lordships held that the 1st Defendant/Respondent, shall forthwith pay the said salaries and allowances of the Appellants as ordered. Their Lordships held further that the Attorney-General of Oyo State, the 2nd Respondent herein (being also an authority or person charged mandatorily or obligated by Section 287 of the Constitution to enforce decisions and orders of Courts), shall cause to be filed, on or before 7 August, 2021 an affidavit (under the hand of the incumbent of that office), attesting to the payment of salaries and allowances hereby ordered to be paid to the Claimants/Appellants in compliance with this order(s).
Their Lordships ordered the 1st Respondent to pay costs of N20,000,000.00 (Twenty Million Naira) to the Appellants.
The appeal was allowed.
Yusuf Ali, SAN (with him, Adekunle Sobaloju, Esq; Alex Akola, Esq; N. N. Adegboye, Esq. and Oladele Oyelami, Esq.) – for the Appellants.
Otunba Kunle Kalejaiye, San (with him, Akintola Kalejaiye Esq and D. D. Owoeye, Esq.) – for the 1st – 6th Respondents.
Yusuf Olatunji Ogunrinde, Esq. (with him, Joseph Adeoye, Esq.) – for the 7th Respondent
Reported in (2021) Modern Weekly Law Report (MWLR) pt. 33 P. 491-564
(Modern Weekly Law Report (MWLR) is a publication of Doyen Law Publishers Limited)