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Council polls: Why ten states shun exercise

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Willie Obiano. Photo; WILLIEMOBIANO


• Factor In Anambra Governorship Election

The absence of elected council executives and legislative councillors in local councils across the state has assumed a worrisome state. Piqued by the development, President Muhammadu Buhari was recently said to have ordered the sacking of all such unelected officials.

Investigation by The Guardian revealed that the use of non-elected officials to run the affairs of local councils in states had gradually become a part of Nigeria’s political system, especially given the reluctance of state governors to support the election of council executives.
  
This practice, which has not only become an aberration of law, could be linked to the abysmal state of the third tier of government, where governors have appropriated the councils as sources of quick political intervention funds.

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Analysts have aptly described the ugly state of affairs at the grassroots as unconstitutional, null and void, stressing that it has greatly devalued Nigeria’s democracy. Practically, the development violates Supreme Court’s judgement of 2016, which voided laws enacted by states’ Houses of Assembly that empowered governors to sack elected chairmen and councillors, only to replace them with caretaker committees.
  
At the last count, about 10 states, namely, Anambra, Ogun, Oyo, Sokoto, Kwara, Imo, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Edo, have so far failed to conduct elections into the councils.
  
For many years, indigenes and residents of the affected states have been denied opportunity of local council administration by elected representatives, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
  
The governors, a handful of whom are in their second term in office, have not deemed it fit to conduct the poll after several promises to the electorate, leading to general loss of confidence in the system.

The few, who had opportunity of conducting election in their first term, refused to conduct another, after the last elected councillors and chairmen served out their tenures.
  
Political watchers aver that this undemocratic system runs contrary to the spirit of Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which guarantees the conduct of elections in 774 councils of the federation.

Feeble Censure
IN 2012, the House of Representatives came heavily on erring state governors, with an order to immediately conduct the elections. A motion, which was also raised by the legislators to suspend the release of allocation to such local councils, was however later annulled, as it was described as unconstitutional.

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The sponsor of the motion, Friday Itulah, claimed that the system of appointing caretaker committees to head the councils is alien to Nigeria and a violation of Section 7(1) of 1999 Constitution. He warned that if the practice by the erring governors was not checked, it might bring the country to a lawless state.
  
Based on the foregoing, observers said they had expected the affected governors to swing into action and set up machinery for the conduct of a free, fair and credible poll to fill vacant spaces in the third tier of government in their various states.
  
But, while some states recently conducted the poll, others, which include a handful of those serving their first term, like Ogun, Oyo are undeterred in their determination not to conduct the council polls.

It would be recalled that for seven years the immediate past administration of late Governor Abiola Ajimobi, tinkered with the promises of conducting council polls without any positive result.
  
Some opposition parties and social critics have severally alleged mismanagement of funds as chief reason why some governors prefer to run council administration with appointees. But, there are reports of some states, where council elections held, yet the state chief executive pressured the elected council executives to divert funds.

Last year, the National President, Association of Local Government Vice Chairmen of Nigeria (ALGOVC), Lawrence Onuchukwu, told newsmen that the erring governor used unelected council officials as conduit pipes to siphon monies allocated to the councils.    
  
But, the governors have always defended their decision with diverse excuses for their failure or inability to conduct the polls.

Anambra
JANUARY 2014 was the last time election held in Anambra State. Since the current administration of Governor Willie Obiano came on board, no election has taken place. Rather, transition committees are holding sway in the 21 council areas.

Despite protests and moves to compel the state government to conduct the poll, nothing was put in place to drive the process in the council areas with just few months to the expiration of the governor’s second term in office.

Last year, a rights’ group, Recover Nigeria Project led by Osita Obi, staged a peaceful demonstration, where it issued five months ultimatum to the governor to commence the process of election in the council areas or face other legal actions.

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Obi said the group viewed non-conduct of the poll as ‘criminal denial of citizens’ political right for close to eight years of the present administration under Obiano.

The state government points to a purported pending suit at the Supreme Court instituted by a certain group, pointing out that conducting the exercise was tantamount to contempt of court.

It could be perhaps on account of the conflicting claims, that the matter of council polls has become an election issue in the forthcoming governorship poll in the state.

Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, who is a frontline aspirant on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), told party delegates and ward executives that his administration, if elected, will conduct elections into local councils of the state within the first 12 months in office.

Okonkwo, who spoke at Ebenebe, Awka North Local Government Area, said the development of Anambra had been stalled due to the refusal of past administrations to conduct local government elections. He said the trend would be reversed, stressed that local government councils have major roles to play in the progress of the state. 

His words: “The last time we had local government elections in Anambra was in January 2014. Since then, people have been appointed to manage the councils. This is against the spirit and letters of the constitution, which provides that elected leaders, would administer local councils.

“What we have however seen is an usurpation of the functions of local governments. By denying the people their right to elect their leaders at the council area, you disenfranchise them and also refuse them the use of their statutory allocations for development.”

Noting that his administration would reverse the ugly trend without delay, Dr. Okonkwo, who was publicly acclaimed by the delegates and stakeholders as the man to beat in the June 26 primary, added that council areas in the state would be allowed to administer their allocations.

“We are not interested in local government funds. We know how to raise money for the projects that we have listed for execution. The local government chairmen and his councillors will be free to use their funds to build roads and develop their areas,” he stated.

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Kwara
Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq has been running the affairs of the 16 councils through civil servants. That was after the governor dissolved the elected council executives inherited from the previous administration.

The Coalition of Civil Society Local Government Autonomy in Nigeria, which threatened to sue the state government over the delay, argued that failure to conduct the poll is a breach of the provisions of the state Local Government Electoral Laws, stressing that government can be compelled by court action to do the needful.

Makinde. Photo: TWITTER/SEYIAMANKINDE


Oyo
Although he fixing Saturday, May 15, 2021 as date of council poll into the 33 councils of Oyo State, Governor Seyi Makinde has technically found it hard to allow Oyo people to reap the dividends of democracy, through duly elected officials since he assumed office.

Few hours after his inauguration, Makinde sacked all the local council and local council development chairmen, directing the affected personnel to hand over to their Heads of Local Government Administration (HLA) or the most senior directors in their council areas and councils.

Chairman of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC), Isiaka Olagunju, said the choice of May 15 for the election was to take care of pending judgment of the Supreme Court in a case instituted by dissolved democratically elected local council executives in the state.

It was gathered that vested interest and other petty political considerations have been dogging Makinde’s determination to mount elected officials at the local councils.

Imo
IT was way back in June 2019, that the ousted Governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, suspended the elected officials following a resolution to that effect by the state House of Assembly. Ihedioha was quick in replacing the suspended officials with Interim Management Committees.

The Assembly, in passing the resolution, had accused the elected council officials of financial malfeasance, even as the officials went to court to challenge their removal. The suspended executives, all members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), were elected in an election conducted in 2018, during the Rochas Okorocha administration.

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Yet, upon his assumption of office in January 15 after the Supreme Court declared him winner of the governorship poll, Senator Hope Uzodinma, sacked all the members of the Interim Management Committees in the 27 councils of the state.

Last November, the sacked chairmen and councillors threatened to resume work on Monday, November 30, at their respective council headquarters.

According to them, the move was in tandem with the judgment of the Federal High Court in Owerri, which declared that no governor or anyone has the power to dissolve any elected local council official and directed them to resume work immediately.

Though the governor promised that pending the conduct of council elections, the councils would be run by the Directors of Administration and General Services (DAGS), with a promise to conduct the poll soon, feelers from the state doesn’t indicate there is any plan in the offing to conduct the election anytime soon.

Katsina
GOVERNOR Aminu Bello Masari mounted the saddle as Katsina State governor on May 29, 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 for a second term of another four years.

However, for the over five years of his reign, no council election has ever been held in the state and reports from the state indicate there had been no attempt so far to change the status quo.

It was learnt that the last time the state held local council elections was in 2014. Investigation by The Guardian showed that Masari’s dissolution of elected local councils in 2015 led to several court cases, which the governor has continued to cite as reasons for not conducting LG polls.

Sokoto
Sources said that despite the schedule of council election for March 27, 2021, caretaker committees have held sway in the councils since the expiration of the three-year tenure of council officers, who were elected in 2016.

The delay, the sources disclosed, is not unconnected to political interests within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Though the date has been picked, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other parties in the state are threatening to withdraw from participation.

According to the state chairman of APC, Isa Acida, the electoral body was accused of failing to arrange consultative meetings with political parties for the successful conduct of the poll; instead, it fixed a time and period that suits the ruling party.

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Osun
When their tenure expired, the duly elected chairmen and councilors left office last month in Osun State. They were elected in January 2017.

Unconfirmed reports say the state government linked the delay to the effect of coronavirus and #EndSARS protest, which they claimed disrupted their plan. It was learnt that the state had put machinery in motion to conduct elections into the council areas within shortest possible time.

Dapo Abiodun. Photo: twitter/dabiodunMFR


Ogun
Ogun State Independent Electoral Commission, (OGSIEC), has just been constituted. That is 21 months after Governor Dapo Abiodun assumed office.

The last election that ushered in the council officials, whose three years’ tenure expired on October 10, 2019, was held on October 8, 2016. It was expected that on assumption of office, the current administration should have immediately commenced the process to facilitate the coming of duly elected officials to oversee the councils. However, Governor Abiodun installed caretaker members.
  
The transition committee members, who were sworn-in on January 17, 2020 on three-month tenure, have had their tenures extended for the third consecutive time. Their tenure was first extended in April and July, with the latest approval granted by the House of Assembly last November.

Stakeholders and residents of the state claim that the failure did not only hamper smooth running of government due to paucity of funds, as funds were released mainly for salaries, but also affected development at the grassroots level.

The current administration has attributed the delay to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that locked-down the country for months. Sometime in July, the governor was also quoted, as saying the effect of the pandemic has not allowed the conduct of the local council poll.

The Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Afolabi Afuape, sometime in September, during a radio programme in Abeokuta, confirmed that the council poll couldn’t hold this year. He blamed the delay on COVID-19 pandemic, saying it did not allow government to source the huge amount of money needed for the election.

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Edo
Similar scenario is playing out in Edo State, as the governor directed the elected council officials, whose tenures ended two weeks ago, to handover to their respective heads of personnel administration until a fresh poll is conducted.

Zamfara
The current administration of Dr. Bello Matawalle has not deemed it fit to conduct a fresh poll since the last one held in 2017 during the tenure of former Governor AbdulAziz Yari.

Yari did not expect that his party, the APC, would fail to retain the governorship in the state. Also, although he was optimistic that he could turn the table against APC, which denied him the governorship ticket, Matawalle never really expected that things would turn out in his favour 24 hours to the inauguration on may 29, 2019.

The mix of political intrigues and crises of insecurity have not given the PDP administration in the state the legroom to consider council elections.

No Excuse
However, commenting on the growing indifference by governors to the crucial issue of enthroning democratic governance at the grassroots, a legal practitioner, who is the immediate past President, Committee For the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, said it is beyond debate and prevarication that the existence of local councils otherwise by and through democratically elected governments is totally unconstitutional.

“The direct answer to your question is adequately provided for under Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as Amended. 7(1) The system of local government by democratically elected local government council 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 function of councils. 

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“This provision is explicit enough and creates a clear constitutional duty on the part of the constitutive subnations (i.e the States) to ensure that the only system of government to be guaranteed in their respective States SHALL be a democratically elected local government Council.”

He noted however, that quite a number of states have breached this provision in a pattern that reinforces the known position that local council caretaker arrangements are preferred with a view to retaining the states’ firm political control over the councils.

According to him, “The implications however, are that; the Local Council loses, thereby the socio-political philosophy behind its creation, which is to bring governance to the grassroots in the true sense of it and not as an appendage to the far-flung states.

“It deprives the people of those Councils the benefit and dividends of democracy; it undermines the projected socio-economic and political growth and development of the Council Areas and creates uncertainty and aborted continuity in the councils.”

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