By Misbau Alamu Lateef
This is an interim intervention and not a full legal analysis. However, the conclusion here is the summary of my full legal analysis of the issue under reference. Using the State of Osun as our reference point, I seek to address here the issue of whether or not a parliamentary system of government is a democracy and constitutional at the local governments (LGs) levels in Nigeria.
Now, the most relevant provisions of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2011) on the system of local government administration in Nigeria are sections 7 & 8. However, section 7 is particularly the most relevant provision to the issue under reference. Section 8 generally makes provisions for creation of additional States and LGs and is therefore not so relevant to the issue under reference here. Essentially, section 7(1) provides that “the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
From the provision of section 7(1) quoted above, certain things are crystal clear. One, that only DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT is allowed or constitutional at the LGs in Nigeria. In other words, no other non-elective system of government – such as caretakers or whatever, is allowed or constitutional. Two, that subject to the provision of section 8, only the Law of a State may provide for the “establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
From the above explanations, three questions are at least imperative to understand the constitutional nature of the forthcoming parliamentary local government elections at the State of Osun’s LGs. One, is a parliamentary system of government a DEMOCRACY or a “democratically elected” system of government as guaranteed under section 7(1) above? Two, is there a Law of the State of Osun on the “establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils” as parliamentary system in the State of Osun’s LGs? Three, is there any privision of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution which mandates States to adopt presidential system of government in the local government elections in their States? I shall now proceed to answer the questions seriatim.
On the first question, it is elementary that parliamentary system of government is a democracy. As a matter of fact, it is the system of government being practiced in the United Kingdom, Nigeria’s former colonial master, and several other democracies till date. Indeed, Nigeria actually practised parliamentary system of government before independence; under the 1960 Independence Constitution; as well as under the 1963 Republican Constitution. It was the 1979 Military-supervised Constitution that eventually introduced the present American Presidential system of government into Nigeria, with a super-President with powers of life and death as we see today. To the extent of the foregoing, we can therefore conclude that parliamentary system of government is a democracy as guaranteed under section 7 referenced above.
On the second question, it is a matter of fact that the State of Osun’s House of Assemby in 2016 amended relevant provisions of the State’s Local Government (Creation and Administration) Law 2015 to prescribe parliamentary democracy at the LGs in the State. The Governor subsequently assented to the law and it has since be gazzetted. As i type this, i am not aware of any invalidation of that law by any court of competent jurusdiction in Nigeria. Thus, the law remains a valid law of the State pursuant to the above section 7 & 8 of the Nigerian Constitution. To that extent too, we can safely conclude that there is a Law of the State of Osun backing a parliamentary system of government at the LGs.
On the third and last question, it is true that only the presidential system of government is allowed or constitutional for Federal and State governments elections in Nigeria. This is clearly provided for under section 5 which vests executive powers in the President and the State Governors respectively; and also section 4 which vests legislative powers in the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly respectively. However, there is no any such express or implied provision in respect of the local governments in Nigeria. Indeed, section 8 which qualifies or regulates the extent of State Laws for LGs under section 7 did not also make any express or implied provisions regarding “establishment” and “structure” of government at the LGs levels in Nigeria.
In conclusion, the recent or ongoing outcry about the impending parliamentary elections at the State of Osun’s LGs is distracting, unnecessary, baseless and unwarranted. In other words, it is within the constitutional powers of the State of Osun to enact a State Law on the “establishment” and “structure” of government at the LGs in the State. Parliamentary system is a democracy and there is no breach of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria in the adoption of parliamentary system by any State of Nigeria in their LGs elections.
Note: I do not consider it necessary to dwell on the merits or demerits of a parliamentary system of government here. That’s a discussion for another day.