Non-conduct of LG polls: Court order rattles Soludo govt

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Last week, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, gave an order stopping the federal government from remitting funds accruing to the 21 local government councils in Anambra State to the Prof Chukwuma Soludo-led administration.

The court ordered that the funds be deposited into an interest-bearing account managed by the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court until the court hears the substantive Motion on Notice.

Furthermore, the court directed the anti-graft commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to invite and interrogate the relevant officers of the Anambra State Government regarding the deployment of funds received between March 22, 2022, and April 30, 2024, being the period that Soludo has been governor of the state.

“The EFCC is expected to file an affidavit of compliance, including the investigation report, within 30 days,” the court said.

The order was pursuant to a suit against the Anambra State governor, filed by a lawyer, Chukwuebuka Mmeni, Esq.

Just a week before the judgement, Soludo had circulated letters sacking all transition committee chairmen of local government councils in the state with immediate effect.

The sacked chairmen, who were operating under the nomenclature of Transition Committee Chairmen, were inaugurated in April 2022, shortly after Soludo was sworn in as governor.

They were meant to stay for just three months, preparatory to the conduct of local government elections as the governor had promised in his manifesto in 2021, before he was elected.

But contrary to this, Soludo, before their sack, renewed their tenure seven times, after it expired every three months.

The eventual sacking of the chairmen was interpreted as a good omen by many who have been craving for council polls, but their hopes were dashed when Soludo again called for nominations from leaders of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in various local government areas, to replace the sacked chairmen.

This was moreso as there is no State Independent Electoral Commission in Anambra, which is the body to hold the election.

Reacting to the non-conduct of elections in the state, the member representing Ogbaru Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Afam Ogene condemned any plan to appoint a new set of administrators.

Ogene, who is the Labour Party’s House of Representatives Caucus Leader in a press statement said: “Records show that Governor Soludo changes LGA Transition Committee members every three months, and has therefore, made these curious changes seven times since assumption of office in 2022. By the time he makes another of such changes this month, that would be the 8th time within two years in office.

“That to me, would be an inglorious record by a democratically elected governor. This puppeteering style of leadership, which toys with the destiny, aspiration and desires of the grassroots, must be resisted and not allowed to continue to shrink the development potential of the LGAs.

“The local government ought to be the most important tier of government, as envisaged by the Nigerian constitution, because it’s not only the tier that is closest to the people, it is also the obvious foundation of both the subnational and the federal government. And should not be at the whims of state governors.”

“Such undemocratic practice of appointing LGA administrators, rather than democratic election, is an enabler of impunity and lack of democratic accountability and also hurts transparency in the local governments and the state as a whole, as those so appointed would only scramble for personal interests during the three months of their stay in office. This does not help the management of scarce resources or the development of the LGAs.

“What manner of meaningful development plan would a TC chairman articulate and execute within a period of three months? Isn’t it troubling that Governor Soludo, a prominent economist, is promoting this charade?

“What really is Governor Soludo afraid of in conducting elections in the LGAs, in line with his campaign promises and the desires of the people in the grassroots and provisions of the constitution?” The lawmaker queried.

On the other hand, a chieftain of Labour Party in Anambra and former governorship candidate, Mr Valentine Ozigbo said that the continuous use of surrogate to run the local government areas by Soludo amounted to corruption.

Ozigbo accused Soludo of using funds accruing to the local government system from federal allocation to maintain his political structure, saying it was fraudulent.

But with the recent court order, Prof Soludo seems to have been boxed into a corner as he has no option than to conduct local government elections in Anambra.

Recall that the last local government election was conducted in 2012, 12 years ago, by the Peter Obi-led administration.

The eight years of former Governor Willie Obiano was without elected executives in the local government councils

As expected, Soludo used the promise of the conduct of local government elections as a tool to woo Anambra people into voting him to power.

He had promised in 2021 during the electioneering that one of his priorities was to put in place a functional local government system in Anambra that will cater for the needs of the local people, being the government that is closest to them.

During his swearing in on March 17, 2022, Soludo reiterated the same promise.

He said: “We will conduct local government elections. No doubt, the uniform local government system as the third federating unit is one of the contesting features of our federalism, but we must make the best of a bad system by unleashing the potential of governance at a lower level.

“Within two years, we shall review, amend the relevant system, restructure and strengthen the Anambra State electoral system. We will cooperate and ensure synergy within the local government system, with elected officials.”

But after two years, while celebrating his second anniversary as governor on March 17 2024, an elaborate event held at the International Convention Centre, Awka, Soludo reeled out a long list of achievements, but failed to speak about the conduct of local government elections, or any plan to do so.

With the court order stopping remission of local government election funds to him, there have been reactions and hope that he may have been boxed into a corner, and may have no choice than to conduct the elections.

Ozigbo while reacting to the order said: “While this news is not entirely cheerful, given that it involves funds due to the local government areas of Anambra, it is a welcome development.

“The corruption-laden use of appointed caretaker committees to manage the affairs of local governments has been consistently deemed illegal.

“It is unfortunate that Anambra’s Governor Chukwuma Soludo has continued this practice since his inauguration on March 17, 2022, despite promises to the contrary.

“The court documents highlight that N7,323,679,402.23 was allocated to the Anambra State Government in March 2024 for the benefit of the 21 LGAs. Over the past two years, approximately N175 billion may have accrued to these LGAs.

“Now, imagine the impact this substantial sum could have had on schools, healthcare institutions, markets, and the lives of the people in LGAs like Ayamelum, Ogbaru, Idemili South, and Ekwusigo, which have felt little to no government presence.

“Consider that this approximated N175 billion is not part of the state government’s allocation or the internally generated revenue in Anambra.

“Given the heightened insecurity that has plagued Anambra since this administration took office, continuing to remit these substantial funds without elected local government councils is counterproductive.

“I applaud Chukwuebuka Mmeni Esq., the applicant who sought this order from the FCT High Court, for taking this step to expose the Anambra State Government’s malfeasance.

“I also urge the Anambra State Government to avoid wasting resources on legal fees to overturn this order. The order clearly serves the interests of Ndi Anambra.

“The illegality of the caretaker committees cannot be overstated, and no sophistry-cloaked legal argument can defend the indefensible.

“Our state would benefit more if the State Government redirected funds towards conducting genuine Local Government Elections. Should the Governor persist in contesting the order without conducting these elections, I advise my party, the Labour Party, to join the suit to ensure that the right thing is done,” Ozigbo stated.

There are, however, indications that local government elections are underway in Anambra.

Last week, the Anambra State House of Assembly speedily passed a bill for a law to establish Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission and for Connected Purposes.

The bill was sent in by the governor.

When assented to by the governor, the bill will set the ground for the executive arm to take steps towards the conduct of local government election in Anambra State.

The commission has for over a decade been non-existent, just as its offices remain deserted with staff having long abandoned the place.

The National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Mr Sly Ezeokenwa, who spoke with DAILY POST, refused to admit that the governor was boxed into a corner in kick-starting the preparations for local government elections.

He said: “The local government structure is an important tier of government and that is not in doubt.

“APGA government in Anambra State is deeply committed to conducting local government elections and there is no doubt about that.

“It is important to know that APGA has been vocal about the place of local government in the country, and being the government that is closest to the people, the local government structure should actually reflect the dictates, wishes and culture of the people.

“In Anambra, we have gone a step further to enhance the workability of the local government system.

“The governor is evolving a new model which is the private, public, community partnership model. We now have communities as the fourth tier of government, and it is a very essential component of the local government system.

“The communities have elected Presidents General, which is democracy on its own.

“The current local government system where the governors have a chokehold on the local government system is cheap. What Soludo is trying to do is to enact local government and finance law that will necessarily devolve the individual functionalities and some components in the local government system, such that in each local government, you now have communities as an active part of the local government structure.

“Believe me, once the state house of assembly does this, Soludo will conduct local government elections.

“You also know that for now we do not have the state electoral commission, and you are aware that the governor has sent a bill to the House of Assembly for that to be constituted.

“So those are some of the obstacles that the governor is surmounting before the local government election will be done.”

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