TIMELINE: How FG Fought, Won Battle On LG Autonomy Against 36 State Governors

Mixed reactions have trailed the latest ruling by the Supreme Court declaring that it is unconstitutional for state governors to hold funds allocated for local government administrations.

The latest ruling has affirmed the financial autonomy of Nigeria’s 774 local governments. The local government is Nigeria’s third tier of government, the level of government closest to the grassroots.

Autonomy implies that the local governments will have the liberty to independently exercise authority with the backing of the law and the constitution.

It also means the power and liberty to effectively and efficiently discharge constitutionally assigned responsibilities without undue interference, restraint, or control by either the federal or state authorities.

The long-running funding arrangement, upended by Thursday’s Supreme Court judgment, had helped governors exert absolute control over the local governments.

The seven-man panel, in the judgment delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, declared that the 774 local government councils in the country should manage their funds themselves.

The apex court held that the power of the government is portioned into three arms of government, the federal, the state, and the local government.

In the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, had filed a suit on behalf of the Federal Government at the apex court in this regard, seeking a slew of reliefs from the court to reverse the trend.

The 36 state governments, through their attorneys general, filed a counterclaim, arguing that the Supreme Court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case.

They claimed that the AGF lacked the locus standi to institute the suit for the local governments.

On Thursday, June 13, 2024, Justice Garba Lawal, who led the seven-member panel of Justices of the Supreme Court reserved judgment on the suit filed by the federal government against the 36 state governors.

There are 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country, listed in the Constitution, which constitute the third tier of government in Nigeria, and are part of the country’s federating units.

Statutorily, they benefit from financial allocations from the centre for the discharge of their functions.

Besides the seizure of funds, democratically elected chairpersons and councilors of local governments are routinely sacked from office and replaced with Caretaker Committees.

To cure these ills, therefore, the Federal Government asked the Supreme Court to give an order to expressly state that the funds of LGAs from the Federation Account should be paid directly to them, rather than through the state governments.

The suit is hinged on 27 grounds; “That the constitution of Nigeria recognizes federal, states and local governments as three tiers of government and that the three recognized tiers of government draw funds for their operation and functioning from the federation account created by the constitution,” the originating summons reads.

“That by the provisions of the constitution, there must be a democratically elected local government system and that the constitution has not made provisions for any other systems of governance at the local government level other than the democratically elected local government system.

“That in the face of the clear provisions of the constitution, the governors have failed and refused to put in place a democratically elected local government system even where no state of emergency has been declared to warrant the suspension of democratic institutions in the state.

“That the failure of the governors to put democratically elected local government system in place is a deliberate subversion of the 1999 Constitution which they and the President have sworn to uphold.

“That all efforts to make the governors comply with the dictates of the 1999 Constitution in terms of putting in place a democratically elected local government system, has not yielded any result and that to continue to disburse funds from the federation account to governors for non-existing democratically elected local governments is to undermine the sanctity of the 1999 constitution.”

The federal government asked the apex court to invoke sections 1, 4, 5, 7, and 14 of the constitution to declare that the governors and state houses of assembly are under obligation to ensure democratically elected systems at the third tier.

The judgment held that the use of a caretaker committee amounts to the state government taking control of the local government and is in violation of the 1999 Constitution.

The court ruled that state governments are perpetuating a dangerous trend by refusing to allow democratically elected local government councils to function, instead appointing their loyalists who can only be removed by them.

The FG has always contended that Nigeria as a federation, is a creation of the 1999 Constitution with the President as the Head of the Federal Executive arm of the Federation and has sworn to uphold and give effects to the provisions of the Constitution.

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