Daily Independent Online.
Tuesday, April 8, 2003.
Local governments and the forgotten elections
By Habib Aruna
At last, the much
awaited month of April has arrived and with it, the general elections, that
most optimists hope would demystify the long held belief about the
country’s failure to transit from one civilian government to another.
Hence, politicians across the political divide are busy with their campaigns
trying to sell their programmes to the hapless Nigerian electorate.
There is no
bystander in this season of elections. Even the worst of cynics are been
subjected to various campaign jingles and all kinds of promises by the
contestants which might be impossible to implement. Even then, voters have been
told by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that they have to
wait four days to the election date to collect their voters card.
As the above
scenario plays itself out, and given the attitude of INEC, not everyone is
convinced that there would be elections next week. Needless to say that the
level of violence that has pervaded the political terrain in the past few
months so much overheats the system that only few people would willing to bet
on the April dates.
Yet, as the
nation watched with concern and helplessness, not many are willing to discuss
the fate of the council polls. One year since the postponement of the local
government elections, politicians are so preoccupied with their re-election bid
that they have forgotten the unconstitutionality of the overstayed
interim/caretaker committee set up to oversee the affairs of the councils
before council elections are held.
bottleneck that has followed the tail of the council elections can only be
likened to the current election timetable that was supposed to have started
last year with the council elections before the tenure of the councils lapsed.
The controversial Electoral Act 2001, was the clearest evidence that the nation
was, “ perhaps, being programmed for a less-than-honest, possibly doomed
All the sides to
the debates draw support for their argument from the 1999 constitution and the
existing laws. It pitched the state governments against the federal
The provisions in
the Act extended the tenure of the council chairmen by one year and the states
insisted that the councils must be dissolved after the expiration of their
three years tenure on May 29, 2002. The states further argued that the National
Assembly extension of the council’s tenure was illegal and declared that
it was the constitutional responsibilities of the State Independent Electoral
commissions (SIECs) to conduct elections into the local government councils.
It was in the
midst of this that a meeting of the national forum of SIECs was called and the
result was that the council elections was fixed for May 18, 2002, so that,
according to the communique, newly elected council officials could assume
office on May 29, 2002. This plan was however cut short as INEC suddenly
remembered how vital a revised voters’ register was to such an election.
insisted that the SIECs should not hold the election, that the elections could
only be held until a fresh register was ready. Till date, analysts have often
wondered why INEC has failed to explain why it went ahead to conduct fresh
elections with the old register.
Meanwhile as all
these went on, the federal government sat on the request for funds by INEC to
enable it revise the voters’ list. When the funds were eventually
released, it was too late, because the May 18 deadline was no longer be
round of bitter brawl by contending forces on the issue, a new consensus was
reached and the local government polls were rescheduled for August10, 2002,
with the new handover date fixed for August 29. INEC on its own part promised
that a revised register would be ready in July 2002.
The zigzag manner
the council polls were shifted raised a lot of concern among stakeholders and
informed commentators. It also raises the question of what special or ulterior
interest the federal government and INEC may have in delaying the council polls
As it is, two
things stood in the way of the elections all along: The new parties say they
will not have enough time to prepare for the exercise; another reason that was
canvassed was the need to review the voters’ register.
Even as the
matter rages on, the council chairmen organised themselves under the aegis of
Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), and kicked against the decision
of state government to set up transition committees for the councils.
In their endless
court cases, ALGON said the governors’ move contravened Section 7(1) of
the constitution, which states that: “ the system of local government by
democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution
described the failure of the National Council of States to recommend the
extension of local government tenure as a “ clear manifestation of
contempt for the provisions of the constitution and a display of flagrant
insensitivity to the need for peace and stability in the country.”
The body then
warned that it would “ take steps to resist any attempt to impose any
decision that is unconstitutional on us,”
however, have not made good their threat, because after another series of
negotiation between the governors and the presidency, the governors were given
the concession to replace the chairmen with transition committees.
The chairmen felt
shortchanged and were displaced with concerned Nigerians looking forward to
when the council polls would eventually holds.
So when will it
hold? Jamil Mohammed, a political commentator believes it is a political
problem that, politicians have tossed around to suit their interests.
“ Given the
importance of the council elections”, Mohammed said, “ most
politicians wanted to use it to expand their power base for subsequent
elections.” The disagreement among the stakeholders, according to him led
to the needless postponement of the polls to the detriment of the election
however, blamed INEC for the delay the council polls has suffered. “ INEC
cannot organise any credible elections”, says, Deacon Sesan Ekundayo,
Lagos State chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), adding“ Our
stand is that unless the present INEC leadership is changed, we cannot have a
the capacity of INEC to supervise the council, since he noted, the electoral
body has taken wrong steps in the march to the April elections. The party leader
questioned the continued stay in office of the various interim committees set
up by the governors, saying that they have overstayed their time in the office.
Even so, some of
the politicians have indicated their readiness to come out into the field when
the whistle is finally blown. “ Whenever the local government elections
comes up we shall come out again and contest,” says Alhaji Rafiu Jafojo,
national publicity secretary of the Alliance for democracy (AD).
“ We are
politicians, we don’t have any other business. Politics is our
business.” Jafojo said it was only INEC that could decide when the
elections would hold. “ So, we are waiting for INEC”, he said.
Beyond this, the fog that has characterised the council
polls since last year clearly shows that the country’s politicians are
ready to bury constitutionalism on the altar of primordial selfish interests.
As Mohammed quipped. “The mere fact that none is concerned about
installing a democratically elected government at the lowest, but important
ladder of government is sad reminder of the past. There is an urgent need for