BY VINCENT UJUMADU
Anambra State is the only state in the federation that is yet to conduct a local government election since the onset of the Fourth Republic. The intrigues and power play that have prevented the exercise of democratic franchise at the grassroots remain formidable as ever.
It is remarkable that after serving as resident electoral commissioner in many states in the employment of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and conducting many elections, that Prof. Titus Eze could ‘fail’ to organise even an ordinary local government election in his native Anambra State.
It is, however, not surprising, given the oddities that trail Anambra State. Eze’s predicament is reflective of several other political irregularities that have bedevilled the state.
Indeed, the last local government election in the state was held on December 5, 1998 and that was before the commencement of the present democratic dispensation in the country.
When the tenure of those elected in 1998 expired in 2002, the Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju administration that was in place could not conduct it because of political challenges his government was facing at the time. It was a period when political godfathers held sway and almost made the state ungovernable. The result was that Mbadinuju had to use caretaker committees to complete his tenure in 2003.
Dr. Chris Ngige who succeeded him faced even more political challenges, and for the three years he was on the saddle, Ngige could not conduct a local government election. However, his administration put structures on ground through the appointment of a substantive chairman for the State Independent Electoral Commission, ANSIEC, in the person of Chief Cornell Umeh.
After Mr. Peter Obi came into office in 2006 his aides alleged that the composition of the ANSIEC board headed by Umeh was too lopsided to allow a fair council election under the circumstances. Remarkably, Obi neither dissolved the commission nor empowered it. Umeh as such remained idle at ANSIEC until his five year tenure expired.
After Umeh’s exit, there a was lull in ANSIEC until Governor Obi appointed Professor Eze who had conducted many elections in other states before exiting INEC.
The mandate given to Eze was to conduct the local government election without further delay and he began the planning with vigour. In fact, he concluded arrangements and met regularly with leaders of the various political parties on the best way to achieve a free and fair exercise before he had problems with the State House of Assembly over alleged financial impropriety.
The result was that the House removed him and urged the governor to appoint another chairman for the commission. Expectedly, Eze headed to the court and stopped the state government from naming another chairman in his place. The matter is still pending in an Awka High Court.
So, like his predecessors, Mbadinuju and Ngige, Obi has been using caretaker committees to run the local government system in the state. However, the difference is that the House of Assembly has consistently constituted an electoral college for those appointed into the system.
Though many people acknowledge that the caretaker is undemocratic, some have argued that achievements recorded at the third –tier of government in Anambra State since the Obi administration, have been unprecedented. Indeed there are insinuations that the Obi administration prefers the use of caretakers, a point, the embattled National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, made in an interview with Vanguard.
Umeh insisted that he urged that local government elections should be conducted to broaden the participation of APGA members in government at the grassroots but that Obi for one reason or the other objected leading to a dispute between him and the governor.
Umeh’s assertions nonetheless, the Anambra State House of Assembly has apparently not found any fault with the governor on the matter. A delegation of the House committee on election matters during a recent visit to ANSIEC commended officials of the commission for the preparations already made towards having free and fair polls. That is even though no one knows the date for the election.
House committee on election matters
The lawmakers, led by the majority leader of the House, Mr. Ikechukwu Oseke, who is also the chairman, house committee on election matters said during their meeting with the officer in charge of the commission, Chief Sylvester Okonkwo: “What you have told us corroborated what the governor, Mr. Peter Obi always says which is that it is not the state government that is responsible for non-conduct of the election, but that it is the responsibility of ANSIEC. We have come and we have seen the readiness of ANSIEC to conduct the exercise and we are satisfied with the preparations. Our assurance is that we will cooperate with you to give our people free and fair election.”
The officer in charge of ANSIEC, Okonkwo, explained that the commission would want to reach an appreciable level of preparation before announcing the date for the exercise.
According to him, the commission would appreciate it if the people of Anambra State would stop pressuring the governor to name a date for the election, adding that ANSIEC is totally in charge.
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