Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mimiko and the sack of local councils in Ondo

ALMOST soon after his assumption of office as Governor of Ondo State upon his judicial victory at the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the ruling of the lower election tribunal in his favour, the new Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, dissolved all the 18 local government councils in the state, "sacking" all their chairmen and councillors. Soon thereafter, the "sacked" chairmen and councillors reinstated themselves allegedly at the instance of the Presidency as evidenced by heavy police protection afforded them.

In an earlier editorial, we had congratulated Governor Mimiko on his judicial victory but had counselled him to focus his attention on good governance, not on a punitive expedition and on forgiveness, not on revenge. His peremptory dissolution of the state's local government councils and the sacking of their chairmen and councillors, without reference to the State House of Assembly, verges on a certain imprudent and unjustifiable unilateralism, which flies in the face of the rule of law and the due process of the law.

Section 7 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 unambiguously provides that "the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall... ensure their existence under a Law (to be enacted by the State House of Assembly) which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils". Section 8 (3) (a) - (d) delineates how Local Government Councils may be created, that is, by the State Houses of Assembly.

Quite clearly, therefore, a state governor is not seised of any constitutional power or right to create, and accordingly cannot, a fortiori, dissolve, any local government council, a creation of the State House of Assembly. Dr. Mimiko should have done what he belatedly decided to do - approach the courts to decide whether the elections which produced the "sacked" councillors were validly conducted in view of the alleged fact that the former governor of the state, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, had ignored a pending court order and proceeded to organise the said elections.

But if the action of Governor Mimiko in "sacking" the local government chairmen and councillors, legally regarded as having been duly elected until their election is set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction, was ill-advised, their "reinstatement" by the police, presumably at the behest of the Presidency, was diametrically antithetical to the tenets of federalism and the dictates of the Constitution. It should be realised, to start with, that the governor of a state is the chief executive officer of his state, and is also the chief security officer of the state to whom the police owe a high degree of responsibility, even though the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) is ultimately responsible to the President of the nation.

Secondly, the "establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions" of local government councils are according to the Constitution, the preserve of a state government. That being so, the nature of the intervention of the Federal Government, represented by the police, in forcefully reinstating the sacked local government chairmen and councillors, amounts to questionable interference in the internal affairs of a federating unit, which is not afflicted with a state of emergency. The explanation of the IGP at a press conference of the action of the police to the effect that the latter reinstated the sacked council chairmen and councillors "based on the rule of law" is nebulous and smacks of a brazen invasion of, and incursion into, the judicial province.

According to the IGP, "what the police have done was to make sure that nobody was unduly cheated and we did our best to prevent a break-down of law and order..." That was in answer to a question as to why the police compulsorily undid what the state governor had done. It is not the duty of the police to correct or deal with an erring governor for his mistakes. Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution takes care of that.

The police should shun overzealousness and allow the rule of law and due process, which, incidentally, is the mantra of the Umaru Yar'Adua administration, to hold sway. The action of the governor in "sacking" the elected council chairmen and councillors, without reference to the State House of Assembly, and the ultra-vires reaction of the police in theatrically "reinstating" the "sacked" council bosses, reek of political violence, an unhealthy development that could be detrimental to a fledgling democracy.

According to recent media reports, about 30 local council chairmen were sacked in Osun State by the Court of Appeal, not by the governor or even by the House of Assembly of that state. That, in our opinion, is the only democratic path to tread. It is instructive that both the state government and the embattled local government administrators, also invariably representing the partisan interests of the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State are now in court over the dispute.

We appeal to both the Federal and State Governments to appreciate the fact that Nigeria is a federation, comprising federating units and three arms of government - the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary at both Federal and State levels - with a separation of powers that is entrenched in the Constitution. A cavalier breach of this doctrine of separation of powers cannot serve the interest of democracy; it could be deleterious to it.