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Unease grips Anambra traditional rulers after lawsuit exposed presentment of Igwe-elects to Transition Committees as illegal

As plaintiff asks court to sack all Local Government Transition/Caretaker Committees, as well as all Traditional Rulers

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Reports reaching News Band from Anambra State says that traditional rulers are in panic mode following the lawsuit challenging the legality of Chairmen of Transition/Caretaker Committees in the state.

The lawsuit was instituted by Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, the Plaintiff, at the Federal High Court of Anambra State of Nigeria, Awka Judicial Division.

Trouble started when Dr. Okonkwo approached the court on April 17, 2024, and filed the suit with case no. FHC/AWK/CS/90/2024.

Okonkwo asked the court to interpret a landmark judgment on suit no. FHC/EN/CS/90/2005, he filed at a Federal High Court in Enugu.

The presiding judge, Justice A. L. Allagoa had ruled that the Anambra State Government has no power to appoint officials to govern local government areas.

Justice Allagoa, in the judgment made on September 26, 2006, by virtue of Section 7 (1) and 318 (i) (c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, warned the Governor of Anambra State against appointing and approving of caretaker management committee to administer the 21 Local Government Councils in the state.

Ruling, the judge held that the Anambra State law providing for caretaker committee is inconsistent with the Constitution.

He stated: “Looking at the provision literally, it is clear that the constitution of the local government by democratic system is guaranteed by the constitution itself.

“The constitution then imposed a duty on the state government to ensure the existence of such democratically elected local government,” he added.

Okonkwo won the case and was paid five million Naira for exemplary damages against the Defendants, meanwhile, the suit was not appealed against nor has the judgment been upturned.

The latest suit reportedly saw the state governor, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, in dilemma following the report by Diaspora Digital Media (DDM) on the Transition Committees that were constituted “illegally” in the 21 Local Governments in the state.

The first sign of crisis following the lawsuit saw the Professor Soludo-led government immediately cancel cheques meant to be distributed to the 21 Local Government Transition Committees.

The suit affected four former state governors — Dr. Christopher Ngige, Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, Chief Williams Maduabuchukwu Obiano and the current governor, Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo.

Revolving around the issue is the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) funds to the 21 Local Government Councils in the state since 2003, beginning with the administration of Dr. Ngige.

Dr. Okonkwo informed the court that the Transition Chairmen and Councillors were unconstitutionally appointed and, thus, served under illegal regimes for the period covering 2006 to 2024.

The Plaintiff asked the court to ‘nullify all the purported directives, financial expenditures the presentment of Igwe-elects by the Town Unions‘ to Chairmen Transition/Caretaker Committee, and “issuance of Certificate of Recognition of His Royal Highness to Traditional Rulers” for government recognition, particularly those rulers that were elected by their subjects.

The presentments were made by the Caretaker/ Transition Committees for the 21 Local Governments in Anambra State with effect from the 26th day of September 2006 which the Plaintiff adjudged to be constituted illegally and unconstitutionally.

Okonkwo cited Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which stated as follows:

“The system of Local Government by elected Local Government Councils is under this Constitution guaranteed… Accordingly, the Government, of every State shall subject to Section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.” (Emphasis ours.)

According to Okonkwo, based on this segment of the Constitution, there is a duty cast upon the Government of Anambra State to ensure that every person, himself included, have the right to vote or be voted for at an election to a Local Government Council.

He pointed out that the last council poll was held in Anambra State in 1998 before the emergence of the Nigeria’s democratic dispensation in 1999 and that the tenure of the set of Local Government Chairmen and councilors ended in the year 2002.

Having been denied the right to vote or be voted for at an election to a Local Government Council, the Plaintiff demanded one hundred billion Naira for exemplary damages against the Defendants in his favour.

He also asked that all the purported directives and financial expenditures by 21 Chairmen of Transition/Caretaker Committee be nullified and be made illegal and unconstitutional, having not been democratically elected.

If and when the court sits over the case and rules in his favour, the following will be expected:

  1. All Transition/Caretaker Committees, as well as all their actions and decisions, since the administration of Ngige will be null and void, and their Chairmen sacked.
  2. All Traditional Rulers that were elected during previous administrations of former governors, including Ngige, Peter Obi, Obiano and the incumbent Soludo, by their subjects and presented by various Town Unions in the state to Chairmen of Transition/Caretaker Committees will be sacked.
  3. The Certificate of Recognition of His Royal Highness to the Traditional Rulers for government recognition issued by the various governors during their tenures will be rendered invalid.

The suit as explained by Dr. Okonkwo, however, absolved a few towns such as Nnewi that practises hereditary system of monarchy from such legal action as they do not need any such introduction from any individual or union.

Feedback received following the report by DDM showed that several antagonists of the various traditional rulers are already warming up for major showdowns.

Also, a source, an official that retired from Local Government Service, said that the suit is causing ripples in Anambra Government quarters.

A note from the retired official from the state government on local government administration reads:

“The above development has started causing confusion in Awka. The Secretary (State Local Government Joint Allocation) cancelled cheque meant to be distributed to 21 Local Government Transition Committees, for Routine Expenditure of the Council for the month of May.”

In the meantime, neither the current state government, nor any of the past administrations, nor even their surrogates, have issued a statement or made a comment to challenge the narrative contained in the suit.

None of them have also refuted the contents of the publication made by DDM dated May 3, 2024.

Speaking during an interview with DDM, Okonkwo recollected that the defendants complied with the judgment and did not appeal same, hence, it subsists till date.

He further wondered how eighteen years after, Anambra State governors continue to run local government affairs using undemocratically elected officials in the name of transition committees.

Miffed by the audacity of the state governors to constitute transition committees amidst a subsisting court judgment, Okonkwo dragged Soludo and three of his predecessors to the Federal High Court, Awka.

The outcome of the suit will, undoubtedly, intrigue Anambra residents and even beyond.

Watch out for details!

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