War of attrition over council leadership in Oyo
Like everything politics, the issue of local government leadership has become contentious in the ‘Pacesetter State’ of Oyo. The crisis did not begin today, but it has remained intractable for years. Senator Abiola Ajimobi, who was elected on the platform of defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) on May 29, 2011, could not resolve the politico-legal logjam. Rather, Ajimobi cashed in on the legal debacle and refused to conduct local government election for almost seven years.
However, to the chagrin of many political observers, the Ibadan-born urbane politician conducted the council poll in 2018 with the then ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) winning all the 33 councils and 35 local government development areas.Characteristically of Nigerian political leaders, the moment Governor Seyi Makinde was sworn-in on May 29, 2019, the state government announced the dissolution of the third tiers of government, citing illegalities. Makinde, in a statement by his Chief of Staff, Chief Bisi Ilaka, asked the councils to handover to the head of local government administration or senior directors in their council areas. The statement also directed banks and financial institutions to suspend all financial transactions with the council areas with immediate effect.
Since this purported sack, the political milieu of the state, especially between the two political behemoths – APC and PDP – has not known peace. Fronting APC agenda, the state chapter of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) has not fallen short of firing salvos at PDP and, by extension, the Makinde-led administration. Immediately the council chiefs were sacked, ALGON vehemently rejected the dissolution, describing it as illegal and hasty. It vowed to use all legal means to reverse the directive.
A statement by its chairman, Prince Atodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, reads: “It has come to the notice of ALGON, Oyo State branch, that the new governor of Oyo State has purportedly dissolved all democratically elected local governments in the state. This, to say the least, is unconstitutional, unwise, unexpected and too hasty for a new government that is yet to find its feet”.
When they got wind of the planned nomination of caretaker committee chairmen on December 5, 2019, the sacked council leaders went into frenzy, warning the incumbent governor not to push the state into violence. They were unequivocal about their readiness to defend members’ mandate, counter Makinde’s forces of invasion, occupation at the various council secretariats.
At the press conference held at ALGON’s office at Iyaganku area of the state capital, which was addressed by its Chairman, Prince Abass-Alesinloye, the group said it was ready to defend the mandates given to its members. They warned Makinde against constituting Caretaker Committee Chairmen across the 33 local government areas and 35 local government development areas, saying there was no vacancy in the councils.
Despite the outcry of the Oyo State chapter of ALGON over the planned reconstitution of local governments in the state, Makinde, on December 13, sent names of nominees for caretaker chairmen and sole administrators to the state House of Assembly. The state chapter of ALGON) said Oyo State Government and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) could not continue in impunity.
The Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Shina Olukolu, the asked ALGON officials against taking laws into their hand.In a statement made available to journalists by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Olugbenga Fadeyi, the command said: “The attention of the Commissioner of Police Oyo State Police Command, CP. Shina T. Olukolu has been drawn to a purported special announcement allegedly signed by the Chairman Oyo State ALGON, Hon. Abass-Aleshinloye directing all the executive chairmen, vice chairmen, councilors, and political appointees dissolved by the current Oyo State Government to resume duties in their respective offices in the local government councils today 18th December, 2019.
“The Commissioner of Police wishes to state that it is a legal maxim that results to self-help in any circumstances is a receipt for chaos, lawlessness and unwittingly encouraging disturbance of public peace. Consequently, the police wish to reiterate that the command will not fold its arms or stand by while any group of persons engage in acts that will lead to breach of peace or threat to peace and tranquility in the state. For the avoidance of doubt, it is the responsibility of the police to protect lives and property, enforce law and order, arrest, investigate and prosecute offenders.
“Therefore, any persons or group of persons that takes any action that will lead to infraction must be ready to face the consequences of their actions. To the criminally minded individuals or social miscreants who may want to seize the opportunity to cause mayhem, they are warned to stay clear or face the wrath of the law.
“The Commissioner of Police therefore wishes to seize this opportunity to advice the parties concerned to allow peace to reign in Oyo State and pursue their grievances to logical conclusions in the law courts.
“Consequently, all the peace and law-abiding citizens of Oyo State are enjoined to go about their lawful businesses without any fear of molestation or threat from any individuals or groups. As adequate security measures have been employed to protect lives and property and also to respond promptly to any security threats from any individuals or groups who may be bent on disturbing the relative peace and tranquility being enjoyed by the peace-loving people of Oyo State”.
However, while responding to the warning from Oyo State Police Command, state Chairman of ALGON, Abass-Aleshinloye, said: “We, the elected local government chairmen under the aegis of Association of Local Government of Nigeria, Oyo State chapter, wish to thank you and your good offices for cautioning us to be law-abiding in our approach in the ways and manners we want to launch ourselves back to our respective offices and that we should thread softly and not take laws into our hands, as the resultant effect of our actions may degenerate to conflict and chaotic situations with the opposing camp.
“In as much as we appreciate your timely advice and intervention, we would like to intimate your good offices that there is no step we take in this matter that does not follow due process of law. None of the steps taken with due regard to the dictate of law did not go without your knowledge, as letters in respect of the current imbroglio between the ALGON and the state government are at different times served your office.
“Taking you back on memory lane, our letter dated back 31 May, 2019 which was received on 3 June, 2019 notifying you about the dissolution of local government councils and local council development areas and even the threat to life that follows. Alongside this, copies of both the Supreme Court judgment which rendered both the governor and the House of Assembly incapable to dissolve democratically elected local government chairmen and councillors and judgment of Court of Appeal which they later appealled were all sent to your office for perusal and actions.
“Equally, a letter dated 2 December, 2019 and received in your office on 3 December, 2019 hinting you ahead of time about the plan of the governor to impose an illegal caretaker committee to occupy the seats that are yet to be rendered vacant and the likely consequence if they dared carry out this unlawful arrangements.
“With this and other related developments, we, at ALGON from inception, are not doing anything outside the provisions of the law. And we assure you, as law-abiding citizens, we would not do such. “We appreciate your advice and warning but we will appreciate it better if you could extend the same token of advice to the Governor Seyi-led administration to take cognisance of the following: that on May 6, 2019, a High Court judgment on the elected Local Government Officials which his administration has appealed against (pending), that the recent Supreme Court judgment which barred all state governors and House of Assembly from dissolving democratically elected council officials and replacing them with illegal caretaker arrangements, and that the newly released NFIU guidelines forbidding caretakers to access local government funds.
“All these documents are being resent to you again. If unchecked, this government will make history as the only state government that will put illegal caretaker arrangements under your watch. It is a public knowledge that the caretaker arrangement for local government administration is no longer fashionable anywhere in the world. ALGON is always and ever ready to continue in the path of legality and will do nothing but to always respect the rule of law’’.
But while reacting, a legal practitioner, Mr. Oladipo Olasope, said, “In view of the fact that there is a case in court touching on the local government and their tenure, it was definitely not right for the governor to have constituted caretaker committees. This is a flagrant disrespect and disregard for the rule of law”.