By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Many Nigerians and governors would shriek at suggestions that the president sacks any one or all of the governors from office and run with appointed yes men. That, however, has not stopped the governors from continuously violating the system of democracy at the local governments leaving the third tier prostrate!
IT is perhaps the greatest conspiracy by the country’s governors against Nigerians and democracy in the country. It is a conspiracy that draws participation of the majority of the governors even including those who strode on the platform of activism to power.
Remarkably, the nation’s governors have found one reason or the other to stifle democracy at the local government level with many of them using appointed officials to run the third tier against the specific provision of the constitution that the system of democracy at the local governments should be guaranteed.
Section 7(1) of the constitution detailing the unconstitutionality of local government caretakers states: The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.
By the constitutional provision, elected local government officials are expected to hand over to successors who should ordinarily be elected by the electorate in the same way governors hand over to elected successors after elections. However, since 1999, that provision has been observed more in the breach by most of the states. Two states, Ekiti and Anambra States are particularly guilty as the two states have not conducted local government elections since the first elections that heralded the fourth republic in 1998.
The ambiguity of caretaker administrators can be equated to a situation where the president immobilizes the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC from conducting gubernatorial election in a state and the president goes ahead to appoint a caretaker governor. Whereas the governors would not allow this, they have, however, repeatedly impinged on the continued flow of the democratic spirit at the grassroots.
Even the Nigerian Governors Forum, the umbrella association of the country’s governors has become embarrassed by the matter. Last week the NGF secretariat released a report of a peer review which faulted the failure by 18 states to conduct local government elections. Ekiti and Anambra were particularly indicted in the report.
“Local government elections have not been conducted as and when due in the state since 1999,” the report presented by the National Coordinator, State Peer Review Mechanism, NGF, Dr. Afeikhena Jerome stated concerning Ekiti State.
“The conduct of local elections has been thwarted by successive governments not playing by the letter and spirit of the relevant laws that regulate the establishment of the State Independent Electoral Commission, SIEC, which has responsibility of conducting local elections.
“The Anambra State government needs to urgently set machinery in motion and conduct credible local government elections,” the report commissioned by the NGF stated.
The embattled national chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Victor Umeh cites his insistence on the conduct of local government elections in Anambra State for the opposition that has recently been mustered against him by Governor Peter Obi and his associates.
“I fell out with him (Obi) in March 2010 shortly after he was sworn in and he sent people to tell me that he wanted to put caretaker committees in the local governments. I said no, that it was a breach of an agreement between me and him and Ojukwu.”
“As soon as he won that election, he wanted to change it, I disagreed with him. We had that problem for two months until Ojukwu resolved it and he agreed there will be local government election.”
“That was why in July 2010, notice of local government election was published by ANSIEC for 4th of December 2010. We were pursuing that, unfortunately, as we got closer, he said the voters’ register was not good and we got a short postponement to await the new voters register that INEC was putting together then. Immediately after that election, the voters register came out.”
“After 2011 election, he went into caretaker, I told him no, this thing is no longer good because we have sold forms to people who would want to contest the elections. There is no reason to give them again. That was when I was brought out to be dismantled.”
Besides Governor Obi, Governors Kayode Fayemi, Rauf Aregbesola and Adams Oshiomhole are three examples who have not at any time conducted local government elections in their states. One is now scheduled in Edo State after five years of Comrade Oshiomhole’s stewardship of the state.
Stewardship of the state
Last week Governor Aregbesola for the third time inaugurated another set of appointed local government administrators having inaugurated two others before whose tenures expired after six months.
The reason often given by the governors for the appointment of caretakers is that the State Independent Electoral Commissions are constrained by one factor or the other.
That, however, is believed to be a façade for the attraction the governors have towards caretaker committees, to wit, that it is an opportunity to draw funds from minions normally appointed as local government administrators.
Whereas some of the governors have deliberately delayed the conduct of local government elections, some others have imperiously sacked elected councils.
An example of that absurdity is Imo State where local government councils were dissolved by Governor Rochas Okorocha shortly after he came to office in 2011. The action was challenged by the chairmen, all of whom were elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP which ruled the state before Okorocha came to power on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.
The chairman of Isiala Mbano Local Council and Chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Imo State chapter, Mrs. Ruby Emele in an interview told Vanguard how the authorities in Imo State have harassed her and her colleagues since the courts reversed Okorocha’s dissolution of the councils.
“Our lives are being threatened every day just for fighting for a just cause, fighting for our rights, defending the mandate given to us by our people. If you go to Imo now, most of the local councils are in comatose,” she told Vanguard on the sidelines of the recent national conference of the association.
Presently, democracy even though in its crude form in most cases obtains in the following states: Enugu, Ebonyi, Lagos, Sokoto, Niger, Kwara, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Jigawa, Adamawa, Kaduna, Cross River, Rivers, Kebbi, Ogun, Taraba, Zamfara, Bayelsa, Gombe and FCT.
The impression that the above states presently run democratically elected local governments could, however, be a self-serving excuse for some to rejoice. But as almost everyone now knows, local government elections where they are held are almost wholly fraudulent. The party in power in the states almost always win everything leaving no room for the opposition parties.
Power of incumbency
There, however, have been some near successful challenges to the power of incumbency. In October 2011, few months after the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN rode back to power in Lagos, the PDP marshaled a near successful challenge to the ACN in the state when it contested the local government elections. At the end of the day, the PDP claimed victory in the chairmanship contest in at least three local councils, notably Ikoyi/Obalende, Agege and Badagry.
Remarkably, it took the authorities of the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission, LASIEC more than 24 hours after the counting was concluded to announce the results and declare the ACN winner of all the seats in the state. The ACN hierarchy which was particularly touched by the PDPfs claim to Ikoyi/Obalende, the base of its national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in a rebuff to the PDP asked the party to go to court. After an initial victory for the PDP at the State tribunal in October 2012, the victory was restored to the ACN by the Court of Appeal.
The PDP has also taken its pound of flesh on the ACN in Kwara State where a similar story has also been playing out. The widely proclaimed victory of the ACN in the 2011 council elections in 2011 in Offa received a strong challenge from the PDP which runs the state government. The PDP lost at the tribunal but won at the Court of Appeal which ordered for a rerun of the election!
It is the same story everywhere which underline the bastardisation of the local will and wishes of the electorate at the grassroots.
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