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S’court gives governors 7 days to file defence in LG autonomy suit

Supreme court swears in justices Supreme court swears in justices

The supreme court has ordered governors of the 36 states of the federation to file their respective defences to a suit instituted against them by the federal government.

In the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, the federal government is seeking full autonomy for the country’s 774 local governments.

The federal government is also asking for an order preventing the governors from arbitrarily dissolving democratically elected councils.

At the court session on Thursday, a seven-member panel of the apex court also ordered the governors, who were represented by the state attorneys-general, to file their responses to the originating summons within seven days.

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The court also ordered Lateef Fagbemi, attorney-general of the federation (AGF), to file his response within two days after receiving the responses of the states.

Garba Lawal, who led the supreme court panel, agreed with the AGF that abridgment of time was necessary in the case due to its national imperative.

The supreme court held that filing of all processes and exchanging of same must be completed before June 10.

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The court then fixed June 13 for hearing of the suit.

Lawal ordered that the eight states that were not in attendance during Thursday’s proceedings must be served with fresh hearing notices.

The eight states are Borno, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Sokoto, whose attorneys-general were absent in court despite being served with hearing notices.

BACKGROUND 

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It is commonplace for governors to sack elected councils and impose caretaker committees in their stead.

In the suit filed by Fagbemi, the federal government also requested the supreme court to authorise the direct transfer of funds from the federation account to local governments — in accordance with the constitution.

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.

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“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 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.

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“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.”

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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.

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