Our attention has been drawn to the Local Government Amendment Bill 2013 which is being debated by the members of the Lagos State House of assembly. In the main, the Bill seeks to elongate the tenure of the current chairmen and councillors from three to six years. With respect, the proposal is illegal in every material particular. It has to be withdrawn or struck down in the overall interests of the people of Lagos State who are due to participate in fresh local government election in October 2013.
As the chairmen and councillors were elected in October 2010 for a fixed period of three years their term of office will expire in October 2013 by effluxion of time. Therefore, an amendment of the Lagos State Local Government Law, 2001 under which they were elected CANNOT extend their tenure from three to six years under any disguise. Since the proposed amendment takes effect if and when it is passed into law it cannot retrospectively extinguish vested rights and obligations of the out-going chairmen and councillors. In other words, the proposed amendment to the Lagos State Local Government Law cannot take a retrospective effect and thereby elongate the tenure of the chairmen and councillors from three to six years.
No doubt, the House of assembly of each State is vested with the powers to make laws for the local governments in the State by virtue of Section 7 of the Constitution. But in exercise of such legislative powers the House of Assembly cannot enact laws with retrospective effect in a way that accrued rights of the people are abrogated. In this regard, the constitutional rights of the people of Lagos state to take part in periodic elections of not more than three years to elect chairmen and councillors cannot be extinguished by the House of Assembly. However, if the Local Government Law is amended to provide for a 4-year tenure for chairmen and councillors the amendment cannot enure to the benefit of the current chairmen and councillors whose term of office is three years certain.
In the circumtances, we are compelled to draw the attention of the members of the Lagos State House of assembly to the case of Attorney-General of Abia State & 35 Ors V Attorney-General of the Federation (2001) 17 WRN 1 wherein the Supreme Court held that even though the chairmen and councillors of local government councils throughout the country were elected under Decree no 38 of 1998 which had been repealed, their 3-year tenure could not be extended or prolonged by any law enacted by the National Assembly. In the same vein, the 3-year tenure of chairmen and councillors fixed by the Lagos state LG Law, 2001 cannot be elongated by any amendment whatsoever and howsoever.
It is pertinent to remind the members of the Lagos State House of Assembly that their predecessors unanimously kicked against the tenure elongation of President Olusegun Obasanjo through a fraudulent constitutional amendment. They are therefore morally estopped from manipulating the Law to elongate the tenure of elected chairmen and councillors in Lagos State. Having regard to the penchant of the political class in Nigeria to copy bad examples the Lagos House of Assembly should not be allowed to set a dangerous precedent by engaging in the illegal extension of elected chairmen and councillors in Lagos State. If the tenure of the local government chairmen and councillors in Lagos State is extended through an anomalous amendment of the Local Government Law, all other public oficers in Nigia who were elected via the 2011 General Elections may also want to take advantage of the proposed amendment of the Constitution to elongate their tenure to 2019 without contesting any election in 2015.
In the light of the foregoing, we urge the members of the Lagos State House of Assembly to jettison the proposed elongation of the tenure of chairmen and councillors of local government councils in Lagos State forthwith. However, if the dangerous Bill is passed by the House and signed to law by Governor Raji Fashola SAN we shall not hesitate to challenge its legal validity in court without any further notice.
Femi Falana SAN.
JD:We thank Mr Falana for this and whilst we are at it can he please plead with the speaker of the lagos assembly to please in the name of decency step aside whilst his trial is going on