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Afenifere, NULGE, lawmaker back Tinubu on LG autonomy

By Josephine Oguntoyinbo

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The National Leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political organization, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, has backed President Bola Tinubu led administration on the step taken to grant the 774 local governments in the country full autonomy.

Also, Ondo State House of Assembly member representing Akure South Constituency 2, Stephen Abitogun, a lawyer and the Ondo State President of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Frederick Akinrinlola, threw their weights behind the full autonomy for local governments in the country.

The Federal Government, through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), had recently dragged the 36 state governors before the Supreme Court over alleged misconduct in the affairs of local governments, while seeking full autonomy for the third tier of government in the country.

In the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024, the AGF is praying the Apex Court for an order prohibiting state governors from unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders.

 The Chief Law Officer of the Federation, in the originating summons he personally signed, is also praying the Supreme Court 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.

He also wants the Apex Court to make an order stopping governors from constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.

Besides, the Federal Government 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.

The Governors were sued through their respective State Attorneys General in the suit predicated on 27 grounds, among which are that, the Nigeria Federation is a creation of the 1999 Constitution with President as Head of the Federal Executive arm of the Federation and has sworn to uphold and give effects to the provisions of the Constitution.

“That the governors represent the component states of the Federation with Executive Governors who have also sworn to uphold the Constitution and to, at all times, give effects to the Constitution and that the Constitution, being the supreme law, has binding force all over the Federation of Nigeria.

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“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”.

Chief Fasoranti’s opinion was contained in a message marking the first year anniversary of President Tinubu, and signed by Afenifere National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi.

Ajayi quoted Pa Fasoranti as expressing delight on some bold steps that the President has taken in the last one year aimed at repositioning Nigeria adroitly.

“Before, during and after the Presidential election that brought you into the office last year, I gave you some ideas regarding how to tackle some challenges that Nigeria faced – and still faces. We also spoke about some of these issues when I led Afenifere delegation to your office in Abuja last month.

“I’m happy to note that, in line with your promises, you are making efforts at implementing policies that will enhance the situation of our dear country and better the lot of the people,” Pa Fasoranti stated.

The nonagenarian said that the reforms initiated by the government have the prospect of revamping the country’s economy and reducing the mutual distrust among the ethnic nationalities in the country.

According to Ajayi, the Leader particularly commended Tinubu on his government’s effort to rescue local governments from the strangulating grip of state governors.

“It’s undebatable that local government is the closest to the people. For, it is through it that the people at the grassroots can effectively feel the impact of the government.

“As the situation is presently however, the tight grip that state governors have on local governments is seriously denying the people of the benefits they should, by right, be deriving from their local governments.

“It’s in this respect that Pa Fasoranti, described the latest step taken by the Attorney General Lateef Fagbemi on behalf of the federal government as a step in the right direction”, Ajayi quoted Fasoranti who is also the Asiwaju of Yoruba.

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While expressing optimism that steps being taken by the government will soon soothe the pains of Nigerians, Pa Fasoranti called on President Tinubu to further look in the direction of infrastructure such as power and transport among others.

“Security is an important factor in any social equation. For, it’s in a situation where people are secured that they would be able to confidently engage in activities that will boost the economy and enhance inter-personal relationships.

“In order to institutionalize reforms being made, accelerate developments, enhance people’s participation in governance and engender the desired new Nigeria, there is the urgent need to restructure the country.

“Restructuring will deepen people’s participation in governance, boost the creativity of Nigerians and guarantee the future of the country”, he added.

Speaking with The Hope on Tuesday in a telephone interview, the State NULGE President, Comrade Frederick Akinrinlola, described the development a wonderful news for the 774 local governments in Nigeria, saying the move will improve security and foster development at the grassroots being the closest government to the people.

 “It is long overdue. But we want to appreciate President Bola Tinubu, for taking the bold step this time around. We have been on it for so many years now. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate would pass it into law and the President would assent to it and send it to the State Houses of Assembly for concurrent legislation. But when it gets to the State Houses of Assembly they would not do it.

“So, we have been on it for so long; from the era of former President Jonathan to Buhari, now to President Tinubu. So, it is a bold step, and we as a union, we welcome the development and we appreciate the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the step taken this time around.

“This is the best thing to happen to the local government administration in Nigeria. We need financial and administrative autonomy, and even political autonomy”, he added

The NULGE President added the full autonomy will enhance productivity and make people feel the impacts of government at the local levels.

He, however, commended former Governor of Ondo State, late Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and the incumbent Governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, for being local government friendly governors.

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“Since Aiyedatiwa assumed office, he has cleared all our arrears; salary arrears, leave bonus arrears, hazard allowance, COVID allowance, he has cleared everything. In fact, he is a workers-friendly governor.

“Of course, in Ondo State we have partial financial autonomy, not total. During President Buhari’s tenure, there was this body that was created, the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), that money must first get to each local government before spending. The local government account must be credited before spending,  and this has been the practice in Ondo state. Ondo State is the first to practice this in Nigeria, we set the pace”, he added..

Also in an interview with The Hope, Stephen Abitogun, a lawyer drew attention to schedule 5 of the Constitution which states categorically the power of each tiers of government in terms of revenue generation .

Abitogun added that “we are not oblivious of the fact that section 7 of the Constitution is so provided that the administration of the local government is well spelt out, hence there should not be abuse of power from any quarters”.

According to him, ” if the State House of Assembly enacted a law for the purpose of administration of the local government, it means that the law is in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, therefore where all these are set aside for any inexplicable reasons by any tiers of the government ,it has not represented the law.

“By my training as a lawyer ,no matter the sentiment that might have arisen from one quarters to the other, those Administrative explanations that are being offered here and there, the fact remains that what is not law is not law.

“Therefore for me, l will go for total implementation of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that has albinitio recognised local government as a separate tier of government. If that has been embraced, we should not be talking about the autonomy of local government by now, it should have been given its full recognition .

Abitogun further outlined various advantages of autonomy of the local government to include free and fair election at each local government without imposition, rapid development among others.

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