Katsina Governor Masari fails to conduct first LG council elections in six years, despite Supreme Court judgment

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Governor Aminu Masari has failed to conduct local government council elections in Katsina State since he became governor in 2015, despite the Supreme Court three months ago upholding the voiding of his dissolution of the last elected councils in the state.

The Supreme Court judgment in May ended almost six years of legal battle by the elected council officials that Mr Masari illegally removed following his assumption of office on May 29, 2015.

The officials headed to the courts in July that year and won at the high court and at the Court of Appeal, where the state government had sought to overturn the judgment of the lower court.

Before the apex court’s verdict settled the matter in May, Mr Masari had described the prolonged litigation as the obstacle to the conduct of local government elections in the state. He promised to conduct the elections within three months of the decision of the apex court.

All the while, the governor had handed the administration of the councils to appointed caretaker committees and directors of personnel management, a practice the Supreme Court has described as unconstitutional and illegal.

In June, a month after the verdict of the apex court was given again in favour of the sacked council officials, the governor again reiterated his commitment to conducting the elections.

According to Mr Masari, the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration in the state would respect the decision of the Supreme Court, stressing, “We are seventy per cent ready to conduct the elections in all the 34 local government areas in the state.”

He said the state government had rehabilitated the State Independent Electoral Commission, while new vehicles had been procured.

But 58 days after the second declaration, elections for the chairpersons and councillors are yet to be conducted in the 34 local government areas of the state.

Background

Barely a month after he was first sworn in six years ago, Mr. Masari sacked the 34 local government council chairpersons and their councillors for “financial misappropriation of Council funds.”

The sacked local government council officials, all from the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), ran to court to challenge their sack.

The legal journey that started in Katsina and went through Kaduna terminated in Abuja when the Supreme Court in May this year, in a unanimous judgment, declared the sack of the council officials as “illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.”

The court said the sacking breached section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.

The court therefore ordered the Katsina State government to pay the acked officials their entitlements for the remainder of their tenure, in suit SC 244/218 brought by Abubakar Ibrahim Yantaba and others against the Governor of Katsina State, Mr Masari.

After the court verdict, the PDP chairperson in the state, Salisu Majigiri, said they would ensure that the state government complies with the verdict

“We thank God almighty for giving us the judgment and also the Supreme Court for giving consequential order so that enforcement can be done from now to August 2021.

“We thank the teeming members of Katsina State PDP and of course the elected local government officials who have spent six years waiting for Supreme Court to deliver this judgment.”

A few days later, the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Ahmad Marzuq, told journalists that the state government had started paying the sacked officials their entitlements.

He said the state government being a law-abiding entity had no reason to disobey a decision of the highest court in the land.

According to him, up to 80 per cent of those owed had been settled.

Abuse of democracy

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, Kabir Yandaki, the head of Department of Political Science at the Ummaru Musa Yar’adu’a University, Katsina, described the failure of the state government to conduct the elections as a threat to democracy.

“The failure of Katsina State government to conduct local government elections after three months of Supreme Court verdict has glaringly revealed the nature and character of how democracy is being weakened, punctuated and abused by the political class, not only in Katsina State, but also Nigeria in general.

“You see, it is really unbecoming of a democracy which is over two decades old to be behaving as such. It is a gross abuse of the rule of law for Katsina State to keep deaf ears to a verdict of the highest court in the land. There is no excuse for that.”

Mr Yandaki accused state governors across Nigeria of deliberately refusing to conduct LG elections because they think they are above the law of the land.

The Chairman of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in the state, Abdurahman Dutsin Ma, said by not conducting the elections, Mr Masari has failed to fulfill a part of his campaign promises.

“The delay is raising concerns. Firstly, conducting local government elections and granting autonomy to local government councils were part of Governor Masari’s promises to the people of Katsina State and that promise is still hanging on his neck.

“Secondly, the reason adduced for the delay in conducting the election has been over now. So, there is no more reason for foot-dragging.”

Mr Dutsin Ma also highlighted the importance of a strong local government institution in the development of society.

“Elected councils have so many advantages and of most important now, is they can minimise insecurity in the society. Government will be taken closer to the people. There will be presence of government up to wards level and peoples’ needs can easily be assessed and quickly addressed. Parts of the burden on the state can also be shelved to the local government councils. Katsina State needs autonomous and democratically elected local government councils,” he added.

Yahuza Ahmed, a public affairs analyst, also faulted the state government for not conducting the elections.

“We need to understand the value of local government councils in governance. They are the primary source of governance because that is where the common man benefits from the dividend of democracy. So it is very important when they function and we know they cannot function well when they are not elected chairmen and councillors.

He said Governor Masari’s failure to conduct the elections has many implications.

“It has implication on governance, it has implication on the future of democracy, it has implication related to security, stability, and economic and social well being of the people. It’s important for Masari to fulfill this promise and respect the court.”

Government responds

The governor’s Special Assistant on Broadcast Media, Murtala Kafur, said the state government was preparing for the elections.

“I have heard the complaints too. But you cannot just wake up to conduct elections for 34 local government areas; you need preparations. That include meeting with stakeholders and covering the financial aspect. But as I am speaking to you, His Excellency is ready to conduct the election.”

Asked why the delay, Mr Kafur said the court issue and financial situation of the local government areas made it impossible for the state government to go ahead with the elections.

He stressed that preparations were in top gear to fulfill the promise made by the governor.

The known telephone numbers of the Chairman of the State Independent Electoral Commission, Ibrahim Bako, were not going through as of the time of this report and other efforts made to speak with him for this story did not succeed.

But at a press briefing three weeks ago, Mr Bako said the Commission was ready to conduct the elections.

“We are now very ready, only remaining a meeting with the stakeholders and relevant authorities as well as confirmations from the state House of Assembly,” he said at the event.

“I cannot give you exact date when the elections will hold, but all I can tell you is that we are prepared; we are ready to conduct the elections.

“As far as we are concerned, an election must have a timetable and election date, and until that is ready, we have to wait,” Mr Bako said.

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