Almost all the administrative offices, aside from those of the chairmen, their deputies and legislative chambers, at local government secretariats in Plateau State are locked. This development signifies compliance with a strike embarked upon by members of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) in the state.
On Sunday, NULGE president in the state, Comrade Arandong Yohana Makwin, announced the commencement of an indefinite strike in Jos, over what the union described as fear of a possible clash between supporters of the reinstated LG chairmen and the transition chairmen in the state.
Supporters of the main opposition party (APC), in the state accused the state government of conniving with NULGE to shut down activities at the LG secretariats, an allegation that the state commissioner for Information, Musa Ashoms, has denied, explaining that the government didn’t ask the union to go on strike.
Since the 2023 general elections, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), in the state, have continued to struggle for the survival of their parties with both looking for whatever ways to hold onto the leadership of the 17 local government areas in the state.
- Headies 2023: Burna Boy, Rema, Asake, win big in US [Full winners list]
- Ogun tribunal: Adebutu, Abiodun’s lawyers set for final addresses today
The leadership crisis began when the state governor, Barrister Caleb Mutfwang, announced the suspension of the 17 LG chairmen who were elected on the platform of APC on June 1, following a recommendation by the state assembly to suspend the embattled chairmen over alleged misappropriation of funds, an accusation the chairmen said was not true.
The governor had, soon after the suspension of the chairmen, appointed another 17 interim transition caretakers to take charge of the councils, a situation that the elected chairmen were not satisfied with and dragged him to court for interpretation of his action.
The chairmen had before their suspension obtained a court order restraining the governor from suspending them.
Relying on the court order, the chairmen remained adamant and refused to leave their offices, a development that led to political clashes between supporters of the elected chairmen and the interim transition caretakers at some LG secretariats of the state.
Worried by the development, the immediate past Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba, through the then commissioner of police, Bartholomew Onyeka, ordered the sealing of all the LG secretariats, saying the action became necessary in order to avoid a breakdown of law and order in the state.
On Saturday, however, the state commissioner of police, Okoro Julius, issued a statement directing the suspended chairmen to resume their offices, pending the outcome of the litigation by the chairmen. The state government rejected the commissioner’s directive, adding that such a directive was a threat to the security of the state.
Speaking on the development, the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of the state, Mr Philimon Daffi, faulted the move, saying the new directive issued by the command on Aug. 26, asking the suspended council chairmen to resume duties was faulty, saying it had the tendency of throwing the state into serious tension if not properly handled.
“The directive has generated a deep-seated animosity; it is heating the polity and also creating serious tension across the state,” he said.
The suspended chairmen have sued the state government seeking restorative order after the interim transition chairmen were inaugurated. “The application for restorative injunction has not yet been heard, it is a matter that is still pending in court,’’ he said.
He explained that the state government had also gone to court regarding a directive by the immediate past commissioner of police in the state, Bartholomew Onyeka, who directed the sealing of the LG secretariats.
“We went to the Bukuru Upper Area Court and prayed the court for an order to open up the local government secretariats. The court heard our prayers and granted the order. The order was served to all security agencies and other relevant organisations, but we received with deep shock another directive asking the suspended chairmen to resume office,” he stated.
But the state chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), and chairman of Shendam LGC, Alex Miskoom, said the directive by the commissioner of police was the right decision in view of the fact that there was a subsisting order of the court.
He said: “The issue is simple, the High Court in Jos following the political tussle, granted an injunction, restraining the governor and state assembly from attempting to dissolve the elected councils. The order has been there. After a while, the state government, after sealing up the secretariats, obtained an order from an area court to unseal them. We thank the commissioner of police for graciously respecting the order.
“In the same vein, we appealed to the commissioner of police and the IG that since this government’s posture is that which has high regard for court order, since we have a subsisting order, ours should also be respected. It is in the light of this that our order was respected, “ Miskoom added.
According to the ALGON chairman, their suspension by the governor was political, adding, “Without mincing words, the suspension is political because we are of the APC and the government in power today in Plateau State is PDP.
“The government alleged that there was financial misappropriation. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is clear about this issue. Section 37 says he who alleges must prove, and we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But you went on to say we are guilty. Even if they said we are guilty, does it affect local government structures? If a chairman of the LG is guilty of any act, he should be made to face the music. It should not affect the entire LG structure.
“We will continue to appeal to the people of Plateau State to remain calm and peaceful because peace is what we are yearning for. Let us live in peace. We are council chairmen and he is the principal. We will continue to cooperate with him for the betterment of the state,” the chairman said.
Residents worry over LG crisis
Some residents in the state are expressing worry over the tussle saying it would have negative consequences on them, particularly at the grassroots.
Shabu Mazadu, a resident said, “The truth of the matter is that there is a very serious mistake because the LG is the closest government to the people. I strongly believe that if all the LGs in Nigeria are developed, the entire country will be developed. But it is rather unfortunate that democracy, which is guided by the constitution, is not followed.
“I think everything that is done under democracy is guided by law. Here, the law is not observed in handling the issue of LG in Plateau which led to the suspension of activities in all the 17 LGCs in the state since June. Since the swearing-in of the new administration, because of the LG issue, you cannot point to a development that is impacting the lives of the people at the LGs and the tussle is still ongoing.
“The people at the grassroots are suffering. Look at the situation of inflation we find ourselves. People are looking for means of livelihood to ameliorate the hardship and nothing is done at the LG because of this impasse.
“If the warring parties are truly politicians they should have the interest of the masses more than their personal interests. There is a law guiding that. Whatever the law says let it be abided by. That would simply get us out of the woods, “ Mazadu said.
Peter Azi, another resident lamented that “When two elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers. This squabble that is happening at the LG is unfortunate. The LG being closest to people is supposed to be operating all the time. But it is very unfortunate that NULGE would declare strike because of what is happening.
“Our people at the grassroots are suffering because health workers and school teachers are on strike. Economic activities would also suffer because workers at the LG level are not coming to work. The revenue generated at the various community markets would be affected.
“Administrative work at the LG has been grounded because of the tussle. This problem is putting Plateau on the bad side of history in the country. We are appealing to the NUGE to suspend the strike and allow workers to go to the offices, “ Azi said.
Ibrahim Musa, another resident said, “The crisis has affected a lot of things at the councils. People who go for national identity card cannot go there. The social service department where people take their complaints for settlement is not functioning because the workers are not coming. Added to that, business people who take their goods to council secretariats cannot go there. The strike is affecting a lot of things.”
While reacting on the matter, the Commissioner for Information said NULGE didn’t consult government before going on strike but it would do everything possible to convince it to resume work.
“Government does not stop unions or agencies from going on strike. NULGE didn’t consult government before going on strike. So, government has nothing to say about it except that government would pacify them to go back to work for the system at the LG level to be active. It is not workers at the LG that have gone on strike. NULGE is just one of the unions,” the commissioner explained.