APC Chieftain in Benue State and the party’s 2023 Senatorial Candidate for Benue South, Comrade Daniel Onjeh, has advised the Nigerian Legislature, particularly the Senate, to always scrutinize all Motions and Bills brought before it in the course of deliberations, to avoid being hoodwinked into endorsing proposals sponsored by selfish legislators who are advancing their ulterior motives under the guise of advocating national interest.
Onjeh made this assertion in response to the Motion titled, “Urgent Need to Halt the Erosion of Democracy: The Dissolution of Elected Councils in Benue State,” moved on the floor of the Senate yesterday by the senator representing Benue South Senatorial District and the Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Abba Moro.
Sen. Moro had alleged in his Motion that the APC-led government in Benue State illegally dissolved the democratically elected local government system in the state, and replaced them with caretaker committees. He therefore sought amongst others, an urgent intervention of the Senate in reversing what he termed “the unconstitutional sack of the elected executive and legislative arms of the local government areas.”
Moro further urged the federal government to withhold statutory allocations to the local government councils in Benue State which were not democratically elected. The Senate, in a unanimous voice vote, approved all the prayers sought by Sen. Moro.
But in a swift reaction, Onjeh stated that Sen. Moro had deliberately lied to mislead the Senate and by extension all Nigerians into supporting his selfish and partisan Motion, adding that the local government administrations in Benue State were not arbitrarily dissolved by the State Government as alleged, but only suspended on the recommendation of the Benue State House of Assembly, following the establishment of a prima facia case of financial impropriety against the local government executives.
In a press statement issued today, Com. Onjeh stated that the Benue State House of Assembly, in the course of its oversight functions, established a prima facie case of financial misappropriation against all the local government authorities in the state. He added that the complexity of the case revealed a grand conspiracy and collusion by the local government administrations towards shortchanging the generality of Benue people; hence the state assembly acted within the purview of its mandate and constitutional powers by recommending the suspension of the local government administrations to the state government, to allow tor further and unfettered investigation into the matter by the nation’s anti-graft agencies.
“It was in order to avoid a lingering lacuna in the administration of the local governments in Benue State that the State House of Assembly, in its wisdom and acting within the ambits of its constitutional powers, recommended the constitution of caretaker committees for the 23 local governments in the state pending the conclusion of investigations into allegations of financial impropriety leveled against the suspended local government executives. “ stated Onjeh.
Com. Onjeh further stated that the government of Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia is responsible, focused and keen on upholding the rule of law which guarantees separation of powers that exists between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, hence it cannot dabble into the affairs of the State House of Assembly. “Consequently, the Benue State Government acted on the resolution of the state assembly and suspended the local government authorities, as acting otherwise will be a brazen disrespect of the legislature and violation of the principle of separation of powers.”
The statement added that Sen. Moro’s Motion will amount to a wild goose chase, as by the provisions of the constitution, and a subsisting judgment of the National Industrial Court, Makurdi, aside from the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT), the National Assembly has absolutely no jurisdiction to legislate on a matter that borders the prescribing of the event upon the happenings which a Local Government Council stands dissolved; or the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of a Local Government Council vacates his office, or a Councilor or member thereof vacates his seat in the local Government Council.
Rather, it is the State Houses of Assembly that are vested with the powers to carry out oversight functions on the local governments within their respective states. Therefore, the National Assembly actually overstepped its bounds by entertaining Sen. Moro’s Motion.
“The Federal Constitution that we operate only recognizes two separate and independent components – the 36 Federating States and the Federal Government.The Local Governments; for administration, financial control and establishment, are under the states.That’s why the Supreme Court previously established that the states can create additional Local Governments.”
“Therefore the interference of the National Assembly in the current happenings in Benue State is unconstitutional and against the spirit of true federalism, to the extent that it is encroaching on the exclusive legislative competence of the Benue State House of Assembly, which has the power to question or carry out oversight on the state governor on how he is running the state.”
Comrade Onjeh further stated that the only scenario in which the constitution grants the National Assembly the power to interfere in the running of a state is when for whatever reason, the State House of Assembly is incapable of discharging its legislative or oversight functions. He added that there is no such information before the Senate that the Benue State House of Assembly isn’t functioning or cannot function.
“Therefore the call to suspend statutory allocations to a state or any of its Local Governments is totally illegal and unconstitutional, because the Supreme Court had clearly established that a state cannot be denied its constitutionally guaranteed remittances or allocations. Fortunately, we have a President who took the Federal Government to court when as the sitting Governor of Lagos State, his state’s allocations were withheld because it created additional Local Governments. Therefore, the Benue people can rest assured that President Tinubu will not heed the illegal and unconstitutional advice coming from the Senate.”
“I must clearly state that from the onset, I’ve been a strident advocate of local government autonomy. However, what I’m advocating for is genuine autonomy for the Local governments, not a leeway for any politician to use the guise of strengthening the local government system to advance his narrow political interests,” stated Onjeh.
According to Onjeh, Sen. Moro is on a mission to reverse the huge gains that the current administration of Rev. Fr. Alia is recording in Benue State. “Sen. Moro wants the suspended local government authorities to be returned to office, to continue the plundering of the collective wealth of the Benue people. The Benue State House of Assembly has now come alive, it’s no longer business as usual. They are carrying out their oversight functions effectively and efficiently to ensure that the rights and privileges of the Benue people are protected,” stated Onjeh.
Com. Onjeh therefore called on the National Assembly to resist the temptation to deliberate further on Sen. Moro’s Motion, while urging them to jettison the Motion into the ignominious dustbin of history. He further warned that Sen. Moro shouldn’t rope the National Assembly and all Nigerians into the local political matters between the APC and the PDP at the Benue State level.
“Sen. Moro is merely paying lip service and seeking cheap popularity. While I commend the 9th National Assembly for its efforts at passing the Local Government Autonomy Bill before it was frustrated by the State Houses of Assembly, I want the current senate to note that all its legislations towards strengthening the local government system will amount to window dressing, unless they are able to reintroduce the LG Autonomy Bill and equally sensitize and mobilize members of the respective state houses of assembly to endorse and pass it this time around,” stated Onjeh.
Com. Onjeh opined that Sen. Minority Leader and those who supported his Motion were merely toying with the emotions of Nigerians; noting that Sen. Moro and a lot of his ilk have previously fed fat on the local government system in the country.
The former Chairman, Governing Board of the Projects Development Institute (PRODA), Enugu, also called on the PDP in Benue State, which he described as having failed the citizens woefully, to desist from further distracting Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, because the governor has repositioned Benue State on the path of progress and prosperity. He added that the Benue people are now happy, as salaries and pensions are being paid regularly and new innovations and initiatives on governance and development are being rapidly introduced into the state