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Oyo LG crisis: Ajumobi’s mess, Makinde’s albatross

Monima Daminabo

The media launched, picture perfect profile of Seyi Makinde of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor of Oyo State may have hit the rocks – just seven months into his four year tenure, as he grapples with a crisis that pitches him against the state’s local government system and factors surrounding the grander national establishment of the third tier of governance. Soon after his inauguration on May 29th 2019, Seyi Makinde dissolved all the local government councils in the state which were elected on May 10 2019, barely 19 days back, and during the dying days of the tenure of his predecessor Abiola Ajimobi of the rival All Progressives Congress (APC). In that election all the local government offices were won by the rival APC, a situation that constituted a booby trap for the incoming administration of Makinde. In contemporary Nigerian politics, any local government area not under the control of a serving governor and his or her political party, is considered as a lost and enemy territory. That was Makinde’s lot on assumption of office.

Typically, governors in Nigeria who are faced with such a situation where the outgoing governor of an opposing political party ‘plants’ local government officials with questionable and possibly adversarial loyalty to the incoming one, simply dissolve the inherited structure first. In the course of time they would either conduct fresh elections or appoint Caretaker Committees (CTC) to run the system until polls are conducted to usher in their loyalists. Usually the second option rules the day in most cases as the conduct of fresh elections usually poses significant legal and logistic obstacles, which may deny the governor total control of the electoral outcome. For Makinde he chose the CTC option hence in December 2019 he submitted the list of would be operatives of the 33 local governments in Oyo State and 35 Local Council Development Areas to the Oyo State House of Assembly for legislative action, at the completion of which he appointed the new ones.

However his action ran into a welter of opposition factors which have succeeded in stalling the momentum of the change of guards at the grassroots tier of governance in Oyo State. The first salvo came from the sacked local government chairmen – many of whom refused to vacate their offices, to make way for the new appointees. They had hinged their position on a 2016 ruling of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which delegitimized the arbitrary sacking by state governors and houses of assembly, of elected local government officials. The next line of opposition came from the intervention by the Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami who wrote to his Oyo State counterpart to prevail on governor Makinde to backtrack on the Caretaker Committee initiative as it violated the ruling of the Supreme Court. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Muhamad Adamu also directed the Oyo State Police Command to facilitate the safety of and continuation in office by the sacked local government officials. On its part the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) Oyo State chapter advised its members to stay at home and out of trouble as long as the impasse lasts. Just as well, arose a groundswell of public concern over a new threat to the country’s local government system by yet another state governor, this time Seyi Makinde.

Seen in context the Oyo State Local government crisis offers more implications than may be casually appreciated. It repercussions clearly go far beyond the boundaries of the strategically positioned and bountifully endowed state of Oyo. Put in the most basic terms the crisis accentuates the core challenge facing the economic and political development of Nigeria’s grass roots communities where sustainable development of the country is expected to be hatched and driven. And this is the issue of autonomy for the local governments and the promotion of good governance in them.

With respect to the Oyo affair, while the person now in the eye of the storm may be Seyi Makinde, the real culprit remains his predecessor Abiola Ajimobi who through a mischievous disposition to frustrate his successor conducted an election towards the tail end of his tenure.  Beyond nursing an insidious intent for the exercise nothing justifies the timing and the contrived outcome being a landslide victory for his party the APC.

On his part, governor Makinde may in a sense be justifiably expected to reverse this situation where he would be contending with a whole generation of elected local government official who would most likely operate as sworn enemies of his administration and work towards sabotaging it. Hence his resort to the sack and substitute with CTC option.

However, expedient as such initiative may be, it may not prove to be the best option in the context. That is if a wider perspective of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and other extant laws pertaining to local government administration and operations are considered. For instance, beyond the fact that   the May 10th 2019 local government polls under Ajimobi were believed by many as largely marked by massive fraud, and may have brought in hostile elements into the playing field of governance in the state, Makinde does not need to repeat the sins of his predecessor as he is now doing by embarking on a collision course with the law, through the CTC agenda.

Through whatever angle it is viewed, the operations of any local government in any state still revolve largely around the office of the state governor and the respective state house of assembly. Hence in the likelihood of an eventual backtracking by the Oyo State governor, given a likely concession to the ruling of the Supreme Court on elected local governments, his camp should be exploring ways of caging the recalcitrant sacked local government through compelling them to execute the political agenda of the PDP in Oyo State.

Besides, given the bread and butter political culture in Nigeria which measures political dividends from the perspective of stomach infrastructure, who says that what occurred in Imo State with the ascendancy of Hope Uzodinma as new governor, cannot happen in Oyo State?  If the Speaker and a majority of members of the Imo State House of Assembly can decamp overnight to join the governor’s party, what stops local government chairmen from falling in line with the governor, for their political survival.

This is Nigeria oh!

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