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Ondo Government asks Supreme Court to dismiss FG’s suit on LG autonomy.

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● Says AGF lacks locus standi to file suit;  and an attempt to rewrite Constitution.

By Yemi Oyeyemi,  Abuja

The Ondo State Government has formally joined issues with the Attorney General of the Federation in a suit at the Supreme Court, seeking autonomy for the 774 local governments in the country, praying the Apex Court to dismiss the suit in its entirety.

The Ondo State Government, like other state governments in its opposition to the federal government’s suit instituted by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, claimed that the federal government lacks locus standi to institute the suit for the local governments.

In the Notice of Preliminary Objection filed by the Ondo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Dr Olukayode Ajulo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the federal government was declared as a busy body and a meddlesome interloper by its intervention in local government affairs.

The objection by the Ondo State Government which is the 28 defendant in the FG suit was predicated on 27 grounds of objections.

Among the grounds, Ajulo on behalf of Ondo State claimed that the Attorney General of the Federation cannot single handedly rewrite the Nigeria Constitution by asking the Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit which he filed in flagrant violation of section 232 of the 1999 Constitution, Section 1 of the Supreme Court Act 3, 2002 and Order 3, Rule 6 of the Apex Court.

The notice of objection claimed that Section 232 of the Constitution only permitted the invocation of the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court where there is a dispute between the federation as plaintiff and states as defendants which involves any question of law or fact on which the existence or extent of the legal right of either the federation or states depends.

Maintaining that the federal government has no locus standi to maintain the suit, the Ondo State Government asserted that the funds complained of in the suit belong to local governments created by the Constitution as a distinct and different tier of government independent of the federal government.

Citing Section 162(3) of the 1999 Constitution, the Ondo State Government averred that any amount standing to the credit of the federation account shall be distributed among the federal and state governments and the local government Councils in each state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, adding that the sharing among the three distinct tiers is not a subject to the discretion or any terms and conditions of the federal government.

He further said that by the provisions of Section 162(8) of the 1999 Constitution, “the amount standing to the credit of local government Councils of a state shall be distributed among the local governments on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State”, adding that, the distribution or usage of the said funds of local governments especially in Ondo State, is not subject to the discretion or any terms and conditions to be prescribed by the federal government.

Insisting that by the provisions of Section 7(1) of the constitution, the government of every state and not the federal government shall ensure the existence of democratically elected local government councils under a law made by the State House of Assembly and that the said law shall provide for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such council.

The Ondo State Government claimed that pursuant to Section 7 (1) and 162(8) of the Constitution, its State House of Assembly, enacted a law to provide for local government system, establishment and administration and for ancillary matters known as the Local Government Adminstration, Conduct of Local Government Election and Allied Matters, Cap 87, Volume 2, Laws of Ondo State of Nigeria, 2006, it therefore insisted that by the combined provisions of the Constitution, the federal government has no right or obligation on the allocation and distribution of the funds standing to the credit of local governments in Ondo State and that no law has placed any obligation on the federal government I’m respect of the terms and manners local government funds should be allocated or distributed.

It described federal government as meddlesome interloper in the local governments affairs because it has no right or interest affected or likely to be affected by the action it complained against, adding that the proper and necessary parties for the purpose of invoking the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court are not before the court.

It therefore described the FG’s seeking autonomy for local governments as an affront to the principle of rule of law, democracy, separation of powers and true federalism, as clearly outlined in the Constitution, adding that the suit also constituted a gross abuse of the process of the Supreme Court because the court is not the appropriate forum where issues raised by the federal government against the state governments can be determined.

Ondo State Government therefore prayed for an order of the Supreme Court to strike out the federal government’s suit for being grossly incompetent.

It would be recalled that the Attorney General of the Federation, acting on behalf of the federal government had dragged the 36 States government before the Supreme Court, accusing them of misconduct in the management of local governments in the country and demanded for an order of the Apex Court to grant local governments full autonomy and their monies from the Federation Account to be channelled directly to the council.

Meanwhile the Apex Court will hear the matter on June 13.

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