Toye Arulogun is the Oyo State Commissioner for Information. He speaks with DAPO FALADE on the circumstances surrounding the suspended local government election in the state, declaring that the new LCDAs, which led to court litigation, is not the creation of Governor Abiola Ajimobi
How will you react to the insinuation that the Governor Abiola Ajimobi-led administration indirectly masterminded the suspension of the local council poll with the creation of the LCDAs which led to a court case?
I believe that people who made such insinuations are either ignorant, unserious or outrightly malicious. There is no way the Oyo State government will go to court to stop the election. And even if the state government will go to court to stop the local government election, will the government seek for order that will strangulate or cripple local government operations or bring it into a limbo? It is absolutely unthinkable.
To demonstrate that the Oyo State government was ready for the election, it established the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC), as it were; it set the team for the commission, as in the chairman and its other members. Through OYSIEC, the government choose a date for the election; it distributed materials for the election. It also made available buses for the commission to go round the state to engage the communities and the stakeholders.
But the people that went to court are challenging the setting up of the LCDAs…
What was wrong with the LCDAs? This is not even entirely the creation of the government of Senator Abiola Ajimobi. They were created in 2001 and how did we now come about it? The state House of Assembly wrote to the executive arm of government that they have deliberated on a motion, titled, “Need to Establish LCDAs in Oyo State”. When the letter got to the governor, he set up a committee to look at the merits of that request. Remember that members of the state legislature are representing the people, to satisfy the yearnings of the people to establish LCDAs that will fast track development in the state.
So, the committee, in the course of its work, discovered that the law did not even established the LCDAs, but local government areas. But we looked at it and said, ‘why don’t we start from here instead of beginning the process of going round the state to begin to establish local governments?’ So, the state government just went back to the House of Assembly to change the nomenclature from local government areas to local council development areas.
That was what was done and, knowing fully well that the law of 2001 that establishes local government areas might not recognise some of the dynamics of today, a committee was set up to review complaints and petitions and the people that petitioned this committee appeared before the committee. That is why the government is taken aback by the resort to a court action. Certainly, I believe that it is more than the LCDA problem.
To add to that, most local government areas and most people and indigenes of Oyo State have embraced the LCDAs. I am a member of that Implementation Committee. We have gone round and we have seen where people donated buildings, their homes and rooms for offices for the new LCDAs workers to stay. So, it was just a small section of the state, especially from the Oyo axis, that had issues with the LCDAs created. One would have thought that it would have been appropriate for them to go to court to seek for injunctions on what will affect them and not the entire state. For example, why will you now go to court to say allocations due Oyo State should not be granted by the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)? These are the issues on ground.
But don’t you think this people have a genuine grouse as they feel that their ancestral home and lineage are been ceded to another place?
I will respond in three ways: First of all, it is their constitutional rights to go to court and nobody can grudge them on that. If you feel you have an issue, you have the right to go to court. The second thing is that the governor, when we had a town hall meeting in Oyo, knowing fully well that they had submitted their petition and that they had appeared before the committee, spoke extensively on the issues relating to ancestral heritage and all of that. Of course, why will anybody not go to court if he feels he is aggrieved? It is not for me to justify if it is right or wrong because I am not a judge or a lawyer.
But what I am saying is that in going to court, you should have also taken cognizance of the implications to the larger interest of Oyo State. When you go to court, it has far-reaching implications. For example, local government workers have not been paid. Primary school teachers would be affected; even the traditional rulers and the baales would be affected because they are getting their money from the local government allocation. As I said earlier, local government administration in the state is now in limbo because there is no fund to operate.
Though they are in court now but is there any plan by the government to address some of the issues and grievances of this people?
I think that question was even answered before it was raised because the government has set up the Petition Review Committee, knowing fully well that whatever comes out of the LCDAs will take cognizance of the people. There is no way you will do anything and have 100 per cent support of the people. Certainly, you will have people who will be aggrieved. Even my father was aggrieved about Arulogun Community; he feels that the headquarters of the LCDA should be at Arulogun and not Igbo-Oloyin. He raised the issue of another petition but I old him, ‘don’t bother’. Of course, the petition received was not just one. Certainly, the government knew that whenever it establishes the LCDAs, some people will be aggrieved and he gave them the room to complain about their grievances and they have appeared before the committee and also submitted their complaints.
Some of the political parties alleged that Oyo APC was not really prepared for the council poll and that this largely accounted for OYSIEC to keep on postponing the date in order to accommodate the ruling party in the state…
It is an allegation which is unfounded because during the first term of the Senator Ajimobi administration, people were clamouring for local government election. But as the governor, he could not do anything because there is a law suit and nothing could happen. But to demonstrate the commitment of the governor to a local government election, it is better to speak with OYSIEC as it may have more fact than I have in terms of logistics and election materials put at its disposal by this administration. But I think the OYSIEC chairman addressed the press last week where he said the commission was ready for the election. So, the onus is on OYSIEC to prove that it is ready for the election.
With the court injunction, how is the administration feeling now the election has again been suspended, 10 years after it was last conducted in the state?
The government considered the development as unfortunate and regrettable, but this is a government that respects the rule of law. We have two options; either to disobey or respect the law and the government, in its wisdom, decided to obey the law and respect the constitutional rights of the citizens. But the government has also made a commitment that it would challenge the matter in court and, from the papers that I saw, the government had submitted its response and in the next few days, everybody will be back in court to respond to the matter. The government is challenging the injunction and rigorously.
Culled from Tribune