The Supreme Court of Nigeria has mandated the 36 state governors to submit their defenses in response to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Government, seeking full autonomy for the country’s 774 local government areas.

The ruling, delivered by Justice Garba Lawal, who led a seven-member panel, came in response to an application for abridgment of time argued by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Lateef Fagbemi. Justice Lawal emphasized the national urgency of the case and noted the lack of objection from the state attorneys general.

The court has directed the AGF to file his reply within two days of receiving the governors’ defenses. All processes and exchanges of documentation must be completed within the specified timeframe. The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing for the case on June 13, 2024.

Additionally, Justice Lawal ordered that fresh hearing notices be served to the attorneys general of eight states who were absent at Thursday’s proceedings despite being previously notified. These states are Borno, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, and Sokoto.

The Federal Government, represented by AGF Fagbemi, advocates for full autonomy for all local government areas, challenging the current practice where state governors allegedly dissolve democratically elected local government leaders unilaterally and unlawfully. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit such dissolutions and calls for local government funds to be directly channeled to them from the federation account, bypassing the joint accounts often controlled by state governors.

The Federal Government’s suit also demands an end to the appointment of caretaker committees by governors to manage local government affairs, insisting on the constitutionally mandated democratic system. Furthermore, the suit requests an injunction to prevent governors and their representatives from accessing or spending funds allocated to local governments from the federation account unless a democratically elected local government system is in place.

In its argument, the Federal Government listed 27 grounds supporting its case, asserting that the Nigerian Constitution recognizes federal, state, and local governments as three distinct tiers, each entitled to funds from the federation account. The suit contends that the failure of state governors to establish democratically elected local governments constitutes a deliberate subversion of the Constitution, which they are sworn to uphold.

The Federal Government maintains that without a democratically elected local government system, it is not obligated under Section 162 of the Constitution to disburse funds to states for the benefit of non-existent local governments, thereby undermining the sanctity of the 1999 Constitution.