SUSPENSION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT CHAIRMEN: FACTS AND THE LAW.

SUSPENSION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT CHAIRMEN: FACTS AND THE LAW.

On the 29th day of May 2020, the House in its sittings received two (2) reports. One from the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Justice, Human Rights and Public Petitions on alleged misconduct against the Chairperson of Nsit Atai Local Government. In its observations/findings, the committee stated among other things that there was inherent inefficiency in the disbursement or administration of Local Government funds and refusal by the Chairperson to comply with the directives of the aforementioned committee to wit: payment of benefits and entitlements to Councillors and Vice Chairman as directed by the House and the Executive, she was accordingly suspended from office to enable the Adhoc Committee set up by the House carry out unfettered investigation.

A second report presented by the Chairman of House Committee on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs on allegations of Gross Misconduct against the Chairman of Uyo Local Government Council. The Committee Chairman reported to the House that the Chairman of Uyo failed, neglected and refused to appear before the Committee to answer to the allegations levelled against him. Furthermore, that the Chairman refused to comply with the clear directive of the House Committee on Local Government, the Commissioner of Local Government & Chieftaincy Affairs and the Governor, that there were serious allegations bothering on the mismanagement of finances of Uyo Local Government Area.

The Committee asked for extension of time to complete its investigation and prayed that the Chairman be suspended to enable the Committee carry out unfettered investigation accordingly. The recommendations of the said Committees were adopted unanimously by the House.

Expectedly, predictable mixed reactions from the public as to the legality of the action carried out by the House, we saw exhibition of trademark grandstanding, undiluted ignorance, and abuses. Ordinarily, we would not have dissipated energy in joining issues on matters that do not deserve rejoinder.

However, this matter is legalistic and a bit technical and it will be potentially dangerous to allow the reading public to be misled, we feel duty bound to make some clarity.

1. Questions are raised as to the constitutional powers of the House to remove (we did not remove) the Chairman and that it is the duty of the Councillors to do so, that the House does not have the Constitutional duty to oversee the Local Government Council.

S.128 Subsection 1(a) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) provides that a House of Assembly shall have powers to direct or cause to be directed an inquiry or investigation into – (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws.

For answer, may I refer us to the enactment provision of the Local Government Administration Law 2017, it states “BE IT ENACTED by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly as follows:

Who makes the above law?
Is it the Local Government? Is it the National Assembly? NO.
It is the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.

For the purpose of such investigation, S. 129 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) provides for how it will be carried out – by committee to be appointed in accordance with S. 103 of the 1999 constitution (as amended).

Further question therefore will be does, the House have powers to make laws for the Local Government?

Let us go into few relevant sections of the law that clothes the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly with constitutional rights and duties, to disabuse the public perception of the House and action taken by it.

In the Akwa Ibom Local Government Administration Law, S. 28 Subsection 1(d) creates powers to impeach a Local Government Chairman or Vice and accordingly, in S. 44 (1- 14) outlined the steps to be taken, these duties they share with the House of Assembly.

S. 44 (1 – 4) provides for a notice of allegation of gross misconduct against the Chairman or Vice Chairman to be presented by the Legislative House and the House of Assembly in writing signed by not less than 2/3 (two-third) of the members, and a reply to the allegations served on legislative council and members of the House.

Note that the constitutional right of removing the Chairman or Vice Chairman now falls directly on the House of Assembly, undoubtedly, subsection 13 provides for the House to adopt the report of the panel by 2/3 majority and “the holder of the office stands removed from the date of the adoption of the report by the House of Assembly.

Another nexus between the House and the Local Government is
S. 7 Subsection 6(b) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), gives the House of Assembly of a State the power to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils within the State.

S. 65(2) of the Local Government Administration Law that states that; “The State Joint Local Government Account Allocation Committee shall furnish the State House of Assembly with details of allocation accruing to each Local Government on a monthly basis”.

S. 70(2) “That the amount standing to the credit of Local Government Areas shall be distributed among Local Government Areas of the State in such a manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State”.

S. 72(2) provides that; “The Auditor General of the Local Government shall, within six(6) months from the end of each financial year, submit his report to the House of Assembly”.

Am taking the pains in citing all these sections of extant laws to show that the House of Assembly is not meddlesome or overly interfering in the affairs of the local government without the clear provisions of the extant laws.

Most importantly, the House has the statutory powers under S. 81(1) of the Local Government Administration Law 2017 to resolve intractable crisis (as in these local government) in Local government Areas: “Where the peaceful functioning of a Local Government or its Council is hindered by protracted crisis, the State House of Assembly may, by a resolution passed by a simple majority of all its members, impose such restrictive measures in the Local Government Area or its Council as the House may deem fit”.

From the foregoing provision, one is not in doubt that the restrictive measures of suspension not removal as contemplated by Section 44 of the Local Government Administration Law 2017 is in order and legal.

What is the difference between suspension and removal?

Suspension – simply defined as a temporary barring from office for a while. Other words like “adjournment”, “Pause”, “halt”, “Interlude”, “lacuna”, “deferral” you name it can be used.
Whereas
Removal – is an act of dismissal from an office or position. Other words like “Sacking”, “Ousting”, “Firing”, “Eviction” you name it can be used.

Implication of Supreme Court decision on Ekiti Local Government councils.

A momentous decision was given in a landmark case between ALGON Ekiti State and the government of Ekiti State when the duly elected Local Government Council were dissolve by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State. The supreme court in that case which had to do with the dissolution of council held that no State in the country has the power to dissolve Local Government Area Councils in their state and replace them with caretaker committees appointed by them and described such action as “Executive lawlessness”.

Is this the scenario here?
The answer is NO, the two LGAs are still intact and not dissolved.

Culled from: Interview conducted on June 1st 2020 on Planet 101.1FM’s People’s Parliament with the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. Hon. (Barr) Aniefiok Dennis.

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