A court in Akwa Ibom State has declared as illegal, the local government caretaker committees in the state.
According to reports, the 31 local governments in the state have operated for about two years now by chairpersons handpicked by the state governor, Udom Emmanuel.
A State High Court at the Abak Judicial Division presided by Justice Ezekiel Enang said on Tuesday that the setting up of the caretaker committees was not provided for in the constitution, and therefore declared illegal.
Consequently, Governor Emmanuel was given an order by the court to immediately dissolve the caretaker committees.
A lawyer, Nsikak Akai of the Nsikak Akai and Associates, Abak, who filed the suit against the Akwa Ibom State government and Mr Emmanuel, told newsmen that he checked through the Nigerian constitution but could not find any provisions that backed up the governor’s actions regarding local government appointments.
Mr. Akai said he was happy for the judgment, describing it as a victory for democracy and the people of the state.
“For once, Akwa Ibom people can hold their governor to account subsequently whenever he intends to or even contemplate appointing caretaker committees in the state,” he said.
“The grievance we had was that the persons that were being appointed as caretakers were only answerable to their benefactors who see them as stooges, while the people bear the brunt.
“Once we have elected representatives at the grassroots level, then we can hold them to account,” Mr Akai said.
However, the Commissioner of Justice in the state, Uwemedimo Nwoko, looks towards an appeal from the state government.
Even after Mr Nwoko was reminded that the grounds for the judgment was that caretaker committee running the affairs of the local government areas defied the Nigerian Constitution, he responded: “That may be so, but the truth is that there are certain circumstances that make the setting up of transition committees applicable in this matter.”
Defending the deliberate appointments, Mr Nwoko had told the court that the inability of the state government to conduct the local council election was due to the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, since 2012 to make available to the Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission, AKISIEC, the voters’ registers in the state.
“It would have been improper and it would have disenfranchised thousands of people in Akwa Ibom State if we had gone back to use the 2012 voters’ registers which INEC itself has discarded,” said Mr Nwoko.
He added that the caretaker committees were established after a law to that effect was duly passed by the state House of Assembly.
The commissioner’s remarks, however, contradicted what Governor Emmanuel said in May – that the state lacked funds to conduct local elections.
“The prevailing economic situation is not conducive for us to conduct local government elections,” the governor had told journalists during a press briefing at the Government House, Uyo.
“We cannot borrow money on high interest rates from bank for elections.
“What of if you set up local government council and you don’t have money to run the council?
“In recession, you carefully direct where money should go,” the governor further said.
The government later made a U-turn and fixed November 11 for the election.
The lawyer who filed the suit against the state government, Mr. Akai, said they were ready to defend the judgment at any level of appeal.