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Invisible hands that produced winners in Imo council poll

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Chairman, ISIEC, Ethelbert Ibebuchi (second left); Chairman, Caretaker Committee, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Imo State Council, Francis Eburugwo, Commissioner, Public Affairs, ISIEC, Charles Ejiogu (right), during the declaration of Imo LG poll results at ISIEC headquarters, Owerri.  PHOTO: CHARLES OGUGBUAJA


Against all odds, the Imo State local council election have held and winners declared. There were no losers, but those that declined. Prior to the election, there were serious hues and cries, countless intrigues and verbal attacks from opposition parties on the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). There were objections to the conduct of the election into the 27 councils and 645 autonomous communities by the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC).

However, in the end, the electoral agency went ahead and the poll held last Saturday amid high voter apathy in various parts of the state.Although Governor Rochas Okorocha had on assumption of duties in May 29, announced in his maiden broadcast on radio and television, the dissolution of all the executive committees and removal of all elected chairmen and councilors put in place by his predecessor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, no attempt was made to replace them until recently.

The main opposition parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) among a lot others that had strong presence in the state had indicated their decision to boycott the exercise. They cited lack of confidence on the credibility, fairness and pending suit at Supreme Court.

As such, when in August 23, the ISIEC chairman, Ethelbert Ibebuchi, had led a team of the commission’s officials to the NUJ, Press Centre, Owerri, to reaffirm its determination to go ahead with the exercise, many observers adopted the wait and see stance. Ibebuchi stressed that his commission decided to expand the poll from the usual 305 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wards to 645 ISIEC wards, encompassing the autonomous communities for councillorship seats, while retaining the chairmanship to the 27 local councils.

He disclosed that the election was already designated to hold in 3,523 polling units and 44 voting points, while about 8,000 ad-hoc staff required for the conduct were put through a test in three subjects, namely, English language, Mathematics and Current Affairs, before their engagement. Ibebuchi also disclosed that 14 political parties had expressed their preparedness for the process. He noted that after monitoring the primary elections organized by 22 political parties to select their candidates, eight did not show sufficient clout to participate due to their inability to fulfill their financial obligations.

However, it should be noted that from the onset, the major opposition party in the state, PDP, stated its opposition to the exercise, describing it as a practised charade, adding that the party prefers to wait for the final resolution of the legal tussle, that is the pronouncement of the apex court.Announcing the decision of the party, PDP state publicity secretary, Damian Oparah, in a statement on the eve of the election, said: “Imo State PDP shall not be part of the purported council poll on Saturday, 25th August, 2018.

“The attention of PDP, Imo State chapter has been drawn to the purported announcement in some media houses by the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC) stating that there will be local government council election on Saturday, 25th August, 2018.”The party said it had “authoritatively reviewed the antecedents of the APC government under Governor Rochas Okorocha with regard to local government council elections since he assumed office in 2011 till date, and the “ADVICE” given by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the matter between Imo State government and ALGON Imo State, that both parties should maintain the status quo pending the determination of the suit at the Supreme Court.”

It therefore explained that based on that premise, it resolved not to participate in the purported local government council election, stressing that “it is not only fraudulent, but also an affront to Imo electorate.”PDP added: “Furthermore, having also viewed the recent activities of ISIEC with regard to the said election, PDP Imo State sees ISIEC as not independent and as such, being an appendage of the APC government under Governor Okorocha, cannot really conduct any election talk less of a credible, free and fair election in Imo State.”

But, the ISIEC boss, Ibebuchi, told journalists that there was no court injunction baring his commission from conducting the poll, insisting that ISIEC is in compliance of the Electoral Act provision, which stipulated 90 days notice to the parties for processes leading to the poll.Also, peeved by decision of PDP and other parties to boycott the exercise, the Imo State Government gave full backing to facilitate the poll. That position was conveyed in a statement by the Chief Press Secretary, to the governor, Sam Onwuemeodo ordering restriction of movement between 8 am and 5 pm.

The state government informed the public that apart from taking place in the 27 local councils in the state for the purpose of electing the council chairmen, the exercise would also take place in the 645 autonomous communities to elect the councilors. The statement added: “In line with the vision of Governor Rochas Okorocha and policy of the Rescue Mission Government in the State to take government to the grassroots and ensure swift development, the government decided to allow the autonomous communities to elect one councilor each and the councilors would be the bridge between the government at all levels in the state and the communities involved. And indeed, this lofty development had followed a law to that effect, enacted by the State House of Assembly.

“The general public and moreover Imo people are urged to take cognizance of the period of restriction and act accordingly, bearing in mind the importance the government attaches to the local government election. The governor regrets any inconvenience the restriction might cause.”Lifted by that government position, the INEC authorities also dispelled suggestions in some quarters that it did not supply ISIEC with the voter register in the state.

An official of Imo State branch of INEC in charge of Public Affairs, Mrs. Emmanuela Ben. Okpara, confirmed to The Guardian that the voter register was duly released to ISIEC to conduct the council poll, stressing that the issue of enlargement of the wards from 305 to 645, was the prerogative of the ISIEC, since according her, INEC had no hand or prohibiting right.She said: “We gave them the register according to the law. The conduct of elections in the 645 wards is that of the ISIEC. We have our duties and the ISIEC has its own.”

How the election went on
On the day of the election, indications emerged from the polling units showing the disinterest of voters in the state, as many voting points in some parts of Owerri federal constituency, had either no visible presence of voters or very low presence.Many traders, artisans and business people in the Owerri municipality defied the directive not to open their shops, while motorists carried on with their commuting. Security agents did not molest or harass anybody. Some youths used the opportunity of official holiday to play street football, while others believed the day, being the last Saturday was meant for the cleanup exercise.

But, apart from low turnout, distribution of sensitive materials was behind schedule with most polling areas receiving materials at about 1 pm. For instance, even the governor cast his vote at Ogboko ward 2 (his ancestral home) in Ideato South local council at about 2 pm.At Emekuku ward 1, out of about 1,000 registered voters, only about 30 were at the unit to cast their votes as at 1 pm, while at New Owerri ward 1 materials were yet to arrive as at 11 am, similarly with Opkoro, Orlu ward 001, where at about 1.08 pm, no material had arrived.

Announcing the results
About 2.oopm the following day, Sunday August 26, when ISIEC invited journalists to its headquarters, located at Orlu Road, Owerri, the commission was not ready to declare the results.There was apprehension. However, at about 5.00pm, the ISIEC took his position and began to release the results. Ibebuchi disclosed that the APC candidates won in all the 27 councils, while the same party won in the 636 wards, leaving four political parties, namely, Accord Patty, Rebuild Party, PRP and KOWA with one council ward each in for the councillorship positions.

He said election in five councillorship seats in five local councils: Oguta, Isu, Ezinihitte, Aboh Mbaise and Owerri North councillorship positions were declared inconclusive due to discrepancies.Perhaps, excited by the outcome, Okorocha, who dissolved the Transition Committee chairmen, directed them to hand over to the new chairmen, who were to inaugurate the legislative arm.

The governor directed the chairmen not to reside outside their local council headquarters in order not to face impeachment, even as he urged them to be prudent in managing council resources, shun fraudulent practices and impact on the lives of the poor in their domains.His words: “Today among millions of Imolites, you have been chosen to steer the ships of the various Local Governments of Imo State. This victory is unique as it comes with a lot of responsibilities. To whom much is given, much is expected. You must ensure that the people do not regret voting you as their chairmen.”

The governor used the opportunity to enunciate acheivements of his administration through the transition caretaker committees within the over seven years. He urged continuity: “Within these seven years though under the Transition Committee arrangement, we can see local government building 200-bed hospitals, building schools in every ward of the councils, building ICT Centres and Chapels in every local council.”

He said during the period under review, no local government has built or constructed less than 50 kilometers of roads, all asphalted in addition to the free education that our children now enjoy, all courtesy of local governments of Imo State.

“This is to tell you the standard that local governments have performed under the Rescue Mission Government. You must never perform less. You must perform more than these Projects we have done already,” he stressed.However, although the council poll has come and gone, the crisis of confidence has continued on the minds of the people of the state, just as the people continue to ask, who cast the votes that produced the winners, in view of the voter apathy and boycotts observed.


In this article:
Ethelbert IbebuchiISIEC
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