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Supreme Court Ruling: A New Dawn for Local Government Autonomy

Supreme Court Ruling: A New Dawn for Local Government Autonomy

By Matthew Eloyi

In a landmark decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court of Nigeria declared it unconstitutional for state governors to withhold funds allocated to local government administrations. This ruling, delivered by a seven-man panel led by Justice Emmanuel Agim, has significant implications for the governance and financial autonomy of the 774 local government councils across the country.

Financial Independence and Governance

The Supreme Court’s judgment emphasized that local government councils should independently manage their funds, a decision reinforcing the tripartite structure of government comprising federal, state, and local tiers. This move is set to transform the operational landscape of local governments, ensuring that funds meant for grassroots development are utilized directly by the councils without interference from state governments.

End of Caretaker Committees

A critical aspect of the ruling is the declaration that state governments lack the authority to appoint caretaker committees for local governments. The court asserted that only democratically elected councils are constitutionally recognized, underscoring the importance of democratic governance at the local level. This pronouncement invalidates the practice of states appointing loyalists to manage local councils, a trend seen as undermining democratic processes.

Upholding Democratic Values

Justice Agim’s judgment affirmed that the existence of democratically elected local governments is “sacrosanct and non-negotiable.” This statement highlights the court’s commitment to upholding democratic values and ensuring that local government councils operate as elected bodies accountable to their constituents rather than to state-appointed caretakers.

Reactions and Legal Battles

The ruling comes after the Attorney General of the Federation, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Federal Government, seeking full autonomy and direct funding for local governments. The 36 state governments, through their attorneys general, countered this move, arguing that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. However, Justice Agim dismissed these objections, affirming the AGF’s authority to initiate the lawsuit and uphold the constitution.

Implications for Local Government Chairmen

For local government chairmen, this ruling is a significant victory. It means greater financial independence and the ability to directly manage funds allocated for local development. Chairmen will no longer be at the mercy of state governors for funding, enabling them to plan and execute projects more efficiently and responsively to the needs of their communities.

Furthermore, the eradication of caretaker committees promises a more stable and predictable tenure for elected local government officials. This stability can enhance long-term planning and development, fostering a more robust and democratic local governance structure.


The Supreme Court’s decision marks a pivotal moment in the struggle for local government autonomy in Nigeria. By reinforcing the constitutional mandate for financial independence and democratic governance, the ruling empowers local councils to better serve their communities. For local government chairmen, this represents a newfound freedom and responsibility, paving the way for more effective and accountable local governance in Nigeria.

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