Benue State government pays over N722 million judgement settlement to 261 councillors, whose tenure was wrongly terminated in 2006
By Sunday Ogli
To Musa Umar, the chairman of the ex-councillors forum and his colleagues, a Daniel has indeed come to judgement. After nearly two years of legal battle, up to the highest court of the land, the former councillors finally obtained judgement against the Benue State government, which in 2006 abruptly terminated their tenure. However, the joy of the former councillors was not that the apex court, the Supreme Court ruled in their favour but because the Benue State government has not only accepted the decision but has gone a step further to pay the ex-councillors their entitlements.
The former councillors, who served in Benue state between 2004 and 2006 had their terms cut short by the former administration in the state. Their tenure, which ran from 2004 but terminated in 2006 was constitutionally supposed to run for a period of three years. Not comfortable with the decision of the state government, the 261 ex-councillors approached Makurdi High Court for the interpretation of the 1999 constitution as it relates to the tenure of local governments. The court, presided over by Justice Kegh ruled in their favour, and ordered that the former lawmakers be allowed to complete their three-year tenure. Not satisfied with the decision of the court, the state government filed an appeal at the Appeal Court in Jos but like the low court, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa-led court of appeal ruled in favour of the former councillors and subsequently dismissed the appeal. The state government finally took the case to the Supreme Court and again lost.
The implication of the judgement is that the Benue State government will pay the entitlement of ex-lawmakers for the one year outstanding in their tenure.
Each of the affected councilors is expected to get the sum of N2, 736,237million, amounting to N722, 178,205.89 for the 261 councillors involved.
Sam Odeh, special adviser to Governor Suswam on local government and chieftaincy affairs, who presented a cheque of N722,178,205.89 to Jibrin Okutepa, counsel to the ex-councilors, praised the ex-councilors for treading the path of peace when they had the opportunity to resort to jungle justice. “You did not take the law into your hands. You sought justice at the highest court in the land. I am happy to announce to you that in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court, the state government is making one hundred per cent payment today,” declared Odeh. Chiver Kaaver, the state attorney general and commissioner for justice thanked the Yar'Adua government for ensuring that the rule of law is observed in the country and said the state government has so far paid N800 million in respect of court judgments between 2007 to date.
Okutepa on his part thanked the government for its gesture, maintaining that he had never witnessed such since the start of his 18 years of legal practice.
The auditorium of Tarka Foundation, venue of presentation of the cheque ceremony was a campaign rally of some sort. The excited former councillors could not help but shout “Suswam for 2011” in appreciation of the prompt response of Governor Gabriel Suswam to the judgement.