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Opinion

Clarifications on My Recent Lawsuit – Sesugh Akume

I feel constrained to make a few clarifications on the recent lawsuit at the High Court of Benue and issues around it. My hope is those who don’t clearly understand would be better informed and understand better, see more clearly. That is for those who truly want:

1. The title of the suit in question is: Sesugh Akume v Governor of Benue & 4 Others. In essence, it is the individual, and those 5, it is NOT the chairmen in court, please.

2. I am NOT a surrogate for the chairmen (and deputy chairmen, secretaries, supervisors, and councillors) who were sacked (or ‘suspended’) nor was I retained or commissioned by them. I did it on my own. This isn’t my first lawsuit to address issues pertaining to a properly-functioning local government system in Nigeria (and Benue in particular as a starting point).

3. The House of Assembly (HoA) has the authority under the constitution to investigate corrupt practices, true. However, nowhere in the constitution does it say it can sack or suspend elected LG officials.
ICPC, for instance, has the authority to investigate corrupt practices. But can ICPC pass judgement and remove elected officials? No, it has to go to court. The same way the HoA (and governor) have NO such power under the constitution. The best they can do is go to court or retain ICPC and/or EFCC to address the individuals involved and have them found guilty and jailed.
There is NO provision for dissolving the entire system.

4. The power the governor and HoA have to sack the elected LG chairmen and executive councils is in the Local Government Law 2007, NOT the constitution.
However, all such provisions in local government laws in Nigeria have been nullified by the Supreme Court. So they no longer exist.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Anything it says is final.
(The question is, do we believe in the law of the land and think it should be upheld at all times, or we believe I should be jettisoned when the circumstances don’t fit certain scenarios, when it doesn’t suit us?)

5. In the (now nullified) sections of the Local Government Law, the specific mention is ‘chairmen and [executive] councils.’ Meaning, when that law was operational ONLY the executive could be suspended NOT the legislature.
There is therefore NO provision ANYWHERE at any time that allowed for councillors to be suspended.
The governor and HoA have at no time had any such power.
The abuse in the past was based on nothing.
Shall we continue with such abuses even when we now know better?

6. May I add that, in the (now nullified) sections of the Local Government Law, a suspension can last for ONLY 3 months.
There is no provision for ‘indefinite suspension’, and none for dissolution of councils. None whatsoever.
Meaning at no time did the governor and HoA have any such power.

7. The sacked officials were NOT sacked because there was ‘no election’ which brought them in.
Neither the governor nor the HoA mentioned this at any time. Bringing in this is trying to deliberately confuse matters.
We’ll do better staying on the issues, please.
Assuming (without conceding) that the means by which they came in was flawed, there is a time limit within which to determine and close anything pertaining to how someone got into office. Certainly not 1 year into their term.
(All election petitions in Nigeria end this November, and all matters pertaining to the 2023 presidential, governorship & NASS elections will be foreclosed.)

8. Assuming (without conceding) that the officials deserve to sacked due to the faulty way they came in, ONLY a competent court of law can do so. It can’t be done by the fiat and connivance of the governor and HoA.

9. If my memory serves me right, in the past 24 years any time one party is in office, the other boycotts LG elections.
The elections are usually fraught with irregularities, but if other parties participate in the elections they can challenge the irregularities in court.
It is barbaric, in my view, to stay away from an election, therefore, not challenge its irregularities, and turn around to say there was no election, without going to court.
It is even more barbaric, in my view, to say the occupants of the offices should be unilaterally removed because ‘there was no election.’
Let us learn to be more civil and respect the processes and procedures for addressing issues, please.

10. Many people hate the sacked officials and think they deserve what they got.
With respect, this is faulty reasoning, and vendetta. It is being personal (and perhaps petty).
The issue here is about the rule of law: what the law says, and the fact that EVERYBODY whoever they are MUST abide by the law and not be above it.
It means even our enemies MUST be treated according to the law, as it provides.
Anything outside this is being barbaric, in my view.

11. Our journey to democracy is 24 years now, but unfortunately, in the last 24 years we’ve learnt very little about how the system works or ought to work.
We are used to governors barking orders.
We are used to governors sacking elected officials and replacing them with unelected stooges.
We are used to governors refusing to obey court orders.
We are used to all manner of abuses.
We really should be used to none of these are things.

12. Respect for the rule of law is a cardinal principle of development of any society. It has been observed that even the military seemed to have respected the law and the courts more than these present-day civilian rulers.
This may explain in part why in many regards things have gotten even worse in this era in many areas, despite more money.

13. There can be no local government autonomy if governors can sack elected local government officials. Let this be settled and let it sink.

14. I’m having to break this down again because many didn’t read and digest the press release or news reports of it.
It is better, in my view, to engage constructively on issues, having understood them clearly. This way we can have better dialogues IF a dialogue and constructive engagements towards a better society is what we want.

15. As an aside, and finally, the absence of a chairman (and council along with a legislative council) has opened the door for increased crime and terror in my ancestral home, Ugba.
In my deposition, I told the court of some instances of kidnaps, killings, robberies, all in broad daylight, since the sack of the chairman of the local government.
This was not the experience before 23 June when our chairman was sacked.
No chairman means no police committee, no security council, nothing.
Since then individuals and groups (my extended family inclusive) have been contributing money to cater for security because there is NO governance. This is a rather strange practice.
Two of my cousins have been killed by the criminals in broad daylight within this time.
People’s wives have been kidnapped and raped whilst in captivity and were released after ransoms were paid. Many of the horrific things that have happened within this time are better not stated.
I repeat: These things took a different dimension from when our local government didn’t have a chairman and council.
This may be about politics for others, but to me it’s personal, and about life and death.
We can’t have a vacuum in governance.
The lawlessness of appointing unelected officials who owe the people nothing can’t be tolerate either. It only leads to more chaos.

Thank you.

Sesugh Akume
Abuja
25 October 2023

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