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Plateau LGC Chairmen kick against suspension order

by Christiana Gokyo, Jos

The Executive Governor of Plateau State, Barr. Caleb Manasseh Mutfwang, is in receipt of a correspondent from the Plateau State House of Assembly, vide letter Ref No.S/PLHA/ADM/124/VOL.VI/XXX, dated 1st June, 2023, recommending the suspension of the seventeen (17) Local Government Chairmen. 

The recommendation for the suspension was based on “their inability to make available records of their income and expenditure to the House.”

In the light of the foregoing, the governor hereby approved with immediate effect the suspension of the 17 Local Government Area structures to pave way for the investigation being carried out by the House.

“Furthermore, all properties belonging to the Local Government Areas should be immediately handed over to the Directors of Personnel Management, please,” it stated. 

In their reaction the 17 Local Government Areas led by the ALGON Chairman, Alex Nantuant, while briefing journalists on Friday said their “attention was drawn to a press release issued by Gyang Bere, Special Assistant on Media to the Governor, conveying the purported decision of the Governor of Plateau State, approving with immediate effect the suspension of the 17 Local Government Area Structures to pave the way for the investigation being carried out by the Government.”

According to him, “Having painstakingly gone through the said press release, we make the following preliminary observations, that the Governor did not cite any constitutional or statutory support, enabling him to suspend what they described as ‘17 local government area structures.’

He noted that, “A phrase, which does not lend itself to easy comprehension – if we do indeed understand the actions contemplated by the state Assembly, it was a mere resolution, which is advisory to the governor.

“In any case, such advice will not override existing legislations establishing the Local Government Councils, as enshrined in the constitution, which is domesticated by relevant laws on the same subject-matter in Plateau State.”

He added that, they have gone through the Plateau State Local Government Council Law and they have found out that there is no part or whole of the law donating such powers to the House of Assembly. 

“The powers of the House of Assembly may neither be used to encumber the smooth operations of the local councils nor request or recommend the Governor to suspend or remove any local government chairman or councillor.

“The Plateau State House of Assembly is the maker of the Plateau State Local Government Council law,” he said, adding that, “To act in contempt and in utter disregard of the laws made by them is to devalue their functions. 

“They may be reminded of the admonition of D.V. Rangarajan, that, “The lawmaker should not be a lawbreaker. Indeed, the bias of Priene, a Greek philosopher, was right, when he said that, ‘When he who makes the law breaks the law, he becomes not a lawmaker.’ ”

ALGON Chairman stressed that, “The dispatch with which the Governor acted on the said unconstitutional request leaves no discerning mind in any jot of doubt that the request was procured.”

While accusing the governor for clearly hiding behind the finger of the said request to inflict this potential damage on their democratic order, Alex Nantuant adding that, “The resolution of the House upon which the Governor allegedly acted is said to be rooted in a petition by an unknown and unascertainable person alleging undisclosed financial improprieties or malfeasance against the 17 Chairmen and members of the Legislative Councils of the 17 Local Government Councils.

“The petition was not served on any of us,” he noted, lamenting that, “this is nothing but a Machiavellian ambush to achieve a premeditated goal.”

“In the light of the foregoing, in any event, the power to remove the chairmen for any gross misconduct does not reside with the House of Assembly or the Governor. 

“The procedure for removing a local government chairman is explicitly set out in Section 37 of the local government council law, just like the Governor, who cannot be suspended from office because he is the Chief Executive of the State, so it is with the chairmen of local government councils before the purported suspension.”

He said, “The 17 local government chairmen and the legislative councils had approached the court, invoking its interpretative jurisdiction to determine, among others, whether the governor has the power to terminate, suspend, truncate, or disturb their tenure in light of Section 7 of the constitution, which states that, ‘The system of local government by democratically-elected local government councils is, under this Constitution guaranteed.’ ”

According to him, “Pursuant to the said suit, we filed a motion for interlocutory injunction seeking the court’s order of interlocutory injunction restraining the governor, either by himself or his privies, from disturbing, disputing, terminating, suspending, or truncating the tenure of the local government chairmen and the legislative council. 

“The said motion was served on the Governor on June 1, 2023, at 12:43 pm, saying that, the manifest implication of the above is that, having had notice of the said motion, the Governor was under an obligation by law to await the decision of the court on the said motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.

“Instead, the Governor poked his hand into the eye of the law, and resorted to self-help, and treated the court process with disdain and went ahead to act, in spite of it.”

The ALGON Chairman further stated that, “Since 1988, the Supreme Court in Saidu Garba Federal Civil Service Commission and ANOR has said that ‘once parties submit their grievances to court, resorting to self-help is outlawed.’” 

Hon. Alex Nantuant noted that, “The court said, ‘The full implication of this country opting for a rule of law is that once parties have turned over their disputes to the courts, none of them, be they a government or an individual, should do anything in the nature of self-help that could frustrate the courts from performing their functions or render whatever judgment it may give nugatory.’ ”

According to him, “Under our Constitution, we have opted for separation of powers among the three arms of government: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary.

“It is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution that any of the three arms should interfere with the other in the performance of its functions. If that is allowed to happen, it will lead to chaos, lawlessness, and the destruction of the Constitution,” he said.

“We have no force of brute power, but we believe in the force of the law, and we believe that the force of the law will prevail. We will report this brazen affront to the law to the court, to which we had run for protection, and we have abiding faith in the judiciary to invoke its disciplinary powers to overturn this unconstitutional behavior,”

He said, “In the eyes of the law, we remain chairmen and councillors, respectively, until the court determines otherwise that democratically-elected local government council does not exist at the pleasure, whims, or caprice of either the Governor or the House of Assembly. 

“The local government is not a mere parastatal of the state. Section 7(1) of the Constitution guarantees the autonomy of local government councils,” he stressed.

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