Democracy has been distant from the third tier in Ondo State as local government administration has been in the hands of caretaker administrators since Governor Segun Mimiko came on board a little over four years ago.
The journey to the constitution of caretaker administrator in Ondo state started on March 4 2009 when the governor assumed office after the Court of Appeal in Benin, Edo State declared him winner of the 2007 governorship election.
Governor Mimiko’s first official declarations after his inauguration on March 4, 2009 were to freeze the accounts and dissolve the 18 local councils.
Peoples Democratic Party, PDP chieftains, who were at that time yet to recover from the shock of their sack from the state government fought back and headed for the law court. The matter is still in court and is presently at the Supreme Court. The House of Assembly then led by the PDP initially rejected the move but following a lot of intrigues which saw the diminution of the strength of the PDP in the legislature, the House subsequently caved in.
Justifying his action then, Dr Mimiko said the dissolution was “in view of pending litigations restraining the former Government of Ondo State from conducting the local government elections held on December 15 2007 and the flagrant disregard for court orders which the Olusegun Agagu government demonstrated by going-ahead with the said elections.
However, a breather came the way of the sacked council chairmen when an Akure High Court aside restraining them from parading themselves as chairmen, equally restrained the state government and the House of Assembly from nominating or passing the list of caretaker committee members to run the affairs of the lcouncils.
While, the court tango was on Governor Mimiko dissolved the caretaker administrators, re-constituted the committees and populated them with LP members. He has since extended their stay in office twice through the House of Assembly.
However, to show his seriousness about conducting council polls, the governor towards the end of last year reconstituted the State Independent Electoral Commission. The opposition, however, kicked against the members of the commission alleging that many of them are card carrying members of the ruling LP.
A lawyer and former governorship aspirant of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Dr Tunji Abayomi described the composition of the third tier of government in Ondo State “by a team of hand-picked loyalists of the state governor and his Labour Party at the detriment of elected officials”, as detrimental to democracy.
Although he condemned the December 15, 2007 emergence of the dissolved councils through a controversial election organized by the then PDP government, Abayomi said the process of holding fresh election to pick new council administrators “has been deferred and deterred by the state government for far too long.”
Abayomi in a letter to Governor Mimiko said handpicking occupants of positions recognized by the constitution as elective “is an aberration that is capable of destroying the fundamental binding principle in our democracy.”
Citing Section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which defines the emergence of council authorities as only tenable through election process, Abayomi urged the governor to organize council elections in the state within a short period to correct “the anomaly that currently exists in the system.”
Abayomi argued that “it is only a local government constituted by election, secured by the fair and free votes of the people and ordained in the manner prescribed by the law, that can legitimately, lawfully and duly participate in public development at local government areas, expend money on behalf of the people, give command or enforce law or duty over our people.
“Government by appointment as it is fashionable under your administration amounts to disabling the people, a mere usurpation, an insult to collective right of our people and a disrespectful mockery of democracy. It is iniquitous and tends to increase the courage of despotism in a democracy. It has to be resisted and totally condemned.”
The PDP Director of Publicity in the state, Ayo Fadaka, in his reaction said that Mimiko had rendered Local government councils impotent since he assumed office almost four years ago.
Fadaka said that there is no meaningful development across the council because of starvation of funds by the government which has taken over the functions of the council especially in the construction of markets.
The Publicity Secretary of the A C N Rotimi Agbede said that “”it is not surprising that the government is not interested in the conduct of council poll because it has been taking advantage of that situation to mis-manage the council funds.
Agbede added that “”with this type of situation the governor is not favourably disposed to having elected chairmen at the helm of affairs so that he can continue to maximise profit at the expense of the people at the grassroots who are supposed to be direct beneficiaries of that arm of government.
Meanwhile, the state government however said it cannot conduct any council election until the various litigations arising from the controversy are settled.