Suspended Benue Local Government Chairmen File New Charge at Industrial Court

The 23 local government chairmen suspended by the Benue State Government have approached the National Industrial Court (NIC) in Benue State to challenge the non-adherence of the state government to an order restraining the state from suspending them.

The Secretary of the Local Government Chairmen, under the auspices of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Benue State Chapter ALGON Secretary and Chairman of Katsina-Ala Local Government Area, Altera Alfred, confirmed Thursday, the latest decision of the suspended chairmen to charge the state officials, except the state governor for contempt of court.

The aggrieved local government leaders have continued to argue that their suspension is illegitimate, which prompted their initial approach to the national industrial court in June 2023 before the announcement of their suspension by the state government.

In a recent argument, the local government chairmen approached the court to enforce the restraining court order, which stopped their suspension. They further noted that their tenure will expire on June 29, 2024.

Background

Before the suspension of the local government chairmen on June 15, 2023, the industrial court in Makurdi had ordered judgment delivered by the presiding judge, Justice I J Essien, in a suit marked NICN/MKD/31/2023, where he issued a direct order to the state governor, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, the State House of Assembly, the Attorney-General of the State, and the Special Adviser to Governor Alia on Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs (all of whom were the defendants) to restrain them from suspending the chairmen.

In what could be seen as a non-adherence to a court order, the Benue State Government on June 23 ordered the suspension of all 23 local government chairmen and the councils through a statement released by the Permanent Secretary of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Ode Ochelle.

“In order to conduct the review without any interference, the committee recommends the immediate suspension of Executive Council Chairmen in all the 23 local government councils and also the legislative councils for conniving with the Executive Councils to mismanage public funds put in their trust.”

“Sequel to the approval of the Executive Governor of Benue State, Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia, on the resolution of the Benue House of Assembly suspending you and all council members from office as contained in a letter from the office to the Secretary to the State Government, ref no CAB/BS/SSG/ADM/35/T/XX dated 23, June 2023.

“You are hereby directed to proceed on an indefinite suspension with immediate effect.” the statement read.

The New Decision

On Thursday, the ALGON Secretary and the suspended chairman of Katsina-Ala Local Government Area, Altera Alfred, explained that the state government’s decision was in contempt of court.

“in a brazen manner and utter contempt of court, they (the state government) went ahead on 23rd June (barely eight days after the judgment) to suspend not only the elected chairmen but also the elected councilors, and appointed secretaries, and supervisors.”

He further explained that “all the contemnors (the defendants in the suit who disobeyed the court order and are now in contempt of court) were represented today.

“Form 48 which contains the notice of consequences of disobedience of court order, and Form 49 (notice to the contemnor i.e., the parties in contempt of court—to show cause why an order of committal (to prison) should not be made against them) have duly been served on all of them, save for the Governor of Benue State.

“The court ordered same to be served to Office of Governor through Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and to appear in court personally on the next adjourned date where all contemnors are to show cause why an order of committal to prison for the disobedience of court order and holding the court in contempt should not be made against them,” he said.

The National Industrial Court also adjourned the case to January 15, 2024.

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