LG Autonomy: ‘FG attempting to rewrite constitution’ – Ondo asks Supreme Court to dismiss suit

ABUJA– The Ondo State Government has approached the Supreme Court, asking it to dismiss the suit the Federal Government filed to secure full autonomy for the 774 Local Government Areas, LGAs, in the country.

The state, in a legal process it filed before the apex court, maintained that FG lacked the locus standi (legal right) to institute the action on behalf of the LGAs.

In the preliminary objection that was entered by the Attorney General of Ondo State, Dr Olukayode Ajulo, SAN, the state, which is the 28th defendant in the suit, described FG as “a busy body and a meddlesome interloper” that is interfering in local government affairs.

It argued that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, filed the suit in flagrant violation of section 232 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Section 1 of the Supreme Court Act 3, 2002 and Order 3, Rule 6 of the Apex Court.

The state, while accusing the AGF of attempting to rewrite the constitution, insisted that the apex court could not effectively assume jurisdiction to determine the matter since it was legally defective.

According to Ondo State, section 232 of the Constitution only permitted the invocation of the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, where there is a dispute between the federation as plaintiff and states as defendants, which involves any question of law or fact on which the existence or extent of the legal right of either the federation or states depends.

It contended that FG lacked the legal right to maintain the action, adding that the funds complained of in the suit belong to local governments created by the Constitution as a distinct and different tier of government independent of the federal government.

Citing Section 162(3) of the Constitution, Ondo State Government averred that any amount standing to the credit of the federation account shall be distributed among the federal and state governments and the local government Councils in each state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.

It added that the sharing, among the three distinct tiers, is not subject to the discretion or any terms and conditions of the federal government.

More so, the state argued that by the provisions of Section 162(8) of the 1999 Constitution, “the amount standing to the credit of local government Councils of a state shall be distributed among the local governments on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State.”

It said the distribution or usage of the said funds of local governments, especially in Ondo State, is not subject to the discretion or any terms and conditions to be prescribed by the federal government.

Likewise, the Ondo State government argued that by the provision of Section 7(1) of the Constitution, the government of every state and not the federal government shall ensure the existence of democratically elected local government councils under a law made by the State House of Assembly.

It added that the same section stipulated that the said law shall provide for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such councils.

The Ondo State Government claimed that under Section 7 (1) and 162(8) of the Constitution, its State House of Assembly enacted a law to provide for the local government system, establishment and administration and for ancillary matters known as the Local Government Administration, Conduct of Local Government Election and Allied Matters, Cap 87, Volume 2, Laws of Ondo State of Nigeria, 2006.

It, therefore, insisted that by the combined provisions of the Constitution, the federal government, has no right or obligation on the allocation and distribution of the funds standing to the credit of local governments in Ondo State, saying no law has placed any obligation on the federal government in respect of the terms and manners local government funds should be allocated or distributed.

Besides, Ondo State argued that FG failed to establish that its has a right or interest affected or likely to be affected by the action it complained against, adding that the proper and necessary parties for the purpose of invoking the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court were not in the matter.

It maintained that the action of FG in seeking autonomy for local governments was an affront on the principle of rule of law, democracy, separation of powers and true federalism.

It further argued that the suit constituted a gross abuse of the process of the Supreme Court.

Consequently, Ondo State government urged the apex court to dismiss the suit for being incompetent.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has fixed June 13 to hear the matter.

The apex court had on May 30, ordered the Governors of the 36 States of the federation, to within seven days, enter their defence to the suit by FG.
The order followed an application that FG, through the AGF filed for an accelerated hearing of the matter and for the abridgement of the time allowed for all state governors to file their response to the suit.

FG had in the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, prayed to the Supreme Court to okay full autonomy for all the LGAs in the country as the third tier of government.

It prayed the court to issue an order, prohibiting state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders.

As well as for an order permitting the funds standing in the credits of local governments to be directly channelled to them from the Federation Account in line with the provisions of the Constitution as against the alleged unlawful joint accounts created by governors.

Besides, FG, prayed the Supreme Court for an order, stopping governors from further constituting Caretaker Committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

It equally applied for an order of injunction, restraining the governors, their agents and privies, from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states.

Governors of the 36 States were sued through their respective Attorneys General. (Vanguard)

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