LG Autonomy: Supreme Court slams state governments for exploiting 774 LGAs for decades

Story highlights

  • The Supreme Court of Nigeria has faulted the states for exploiting the LGAs
  • The apex court ruled that 20.6% of the federation account allocation must be directly paid to local government accounts henceforth, bypassing state control.
  • The decision aims to enforce constitutional provisions that mandate local governments to manage their funds independently for development purposes.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria has faulted state governments for exploiting the Local Government Areas for “decades”.

The apex Court made this known on Thursday while ordering the federal government to “henceforth”  pay a 20.6% allocation from the federation account directly to 774 local government areas accounts for the development of the LGAs.

The verdict was given following the federal government’s suit which sought to stop the governors of  36 states from spending or tampering with 20.6% allocation from the federation account to local government areas, among other reliefs.

A seven-man panel of the court presided by Justice Garba Lawal gave its verdict on the local government autonomy legal dispute.

FG’s stand on LGAs

The suit is coming amid the distribution of N1.143 trillion to the three tiers of government for May 2024, as announced by the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC).

In the suit marked SC/CV/343/2024 and seen by Nairametrics, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), argued that in the face of the clear provisions of the 1999 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.

Fagbemi had submitted that all efforts to make the governors comply with the dictates of the 1999 Constitution in putting in place democratically elected local government systems have not yielded any result.

He maintained that FAAC allocations for the LGAs must go directly to their accounts and that the LGAs must be allowed to run independently of their respective states.

He added 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.

He told the apex court that the failure of the governors to put a democratically elected local government system in place is a deliberate subversion of the 1999 Constitution.

He stated, “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.”

The AGF prayed the apex court to hold that FAAC allocations to local governments should go to their accounts and not to joint accounts between states and LGAs, which empower the governors to do as they please with the funds.

The Attorneys-General of the 36 states had adopted their respective preliminary objections against FG’s suit.

They unanimously maintained that the AGF lacked the legal right to commence the legal action, insisting that the suit be struck out.

Some of the states contended that the AGF suit amounts to an abuse of the court process as they have functional democratically elected LG officials in place.

Supreme Court’s final verdict on LG autonomy

In the apex Court judgment on Thursday, Justice Emmanuel Agim said the Supreme Court has the unlimited powers to preside over issues between the federation and the state.

He said the suit by the federation aimed at protecting the constitutional structure of the country is within the legal right of the AGF, being the chief law officer of the federal government.

The apex Court dismissed the defendant’s preliminary objection against the AGF’s right to file the suit.

Determining the merit of the case, Agim held that the 1999 Constitution stated that the amount standing to the credit of the three tiers of government shall be “distributed” to each of the arms of government.

Agim explained that the 1999 constitution did not intend any joint accounts for the three tiers of government but that in the past, the FAAC allocations were sent to a joint state, LGA accounts for onward transfer of such money to the LGAs, the “original owners of the LGA allocations.”

He said that procedure was adopted to stop LG councils from coming to the federal capital for their share.

He said it is the local government council that should control and manage funds due it from the federation account.

“I hold that the state’s retention and use of the local government accounts is unconstitutional, ” Agim said.

He stressed that the allocations to joint accounts was merely a procedure that was adopted in the past.

He added that the states have been “exploiting” the role given to them to transfer LGA allocations to the respective councils, “for decades.”

As it is, the states, after collecting the local government allocations from the federation account, have continued to refuse to pay it to their owners.

“The state’s refusal to pay this money to the local governments has gone on for over two decades now. This has deprived the local governments of their rights and defeated the intention of the 1999 Constitution.

“The states are exploiting the roles given them by the Constitution.

“The approach of a direct payment to the LGA will achieve the intention of the 1999 Constitution, ” Agim held.

“The federation can pay local government allocations directly to them(LGAs) or pay to them through states.

“But the justice of this case demands that the LG allocations should henceforth be paid directly to Local government accounts, “he held.

On the LG autonomy and running of its affairs, proper, Agim said governors have no power to determine how affairs are run in the LGAs.

“I hold that the plaintiff’s case succeeds,” he said, adding that the 36 states acting through its governors are barred from interrupting the election or affairs of democratically elected LGA councils.

After the lead judgment was read, the presiding judge, Garba said the apex Court had observed that successful state governments had used their executive powers to impoverish the LGAs.

“What is worrisome in this case is the attitude of the state governments and the state House of Assembly, “ The apex Court held.

The apex court advised the states to note that there is a sacred duty for laws to be made for the benefit of the people.

“The defendants have wasted their precious time in the suit,” the apex Court held.

More insights

The Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine issues between the FG and states.

The states and LGAs have been operating a joint account over the years but the AGF said that payments to the LGAs should be made directly to its separate accounts.

There has been an outcry from the LGAs regarding financial autonomy.

The suit was a constitutional matter and sought interpretation from the apex court.

In the current FAAC allocation system, the Federal Government gets 52.68%; states receive 26.72%, and local governments are given 20.6%.



Leave a Comment