The Fear Of State Governors
As Nigerians celebrate 13 years of unbroken democracy, many local government areas in the country are without elected representatives. Rather, what is in place in these councils are caretaker committees appointed by state governors. So far, about 27 states have not conducted local government elections in the last five years.
In Anambra State, no local government election was held since 1998. Successive governors in the state have avoided local government polls like a plague. The state has had three governors since the return of the democratic rule in the country in 1999. Last month, Senator Annie Okonkwo called on Governor Peter Obi to urgently conduct local government elections in the state to avert crisis. Okonkwo, who represented Anambra Central in the sixth Senate, lamented that the non-conduct of local government elections had denied the people opportunity for grassroots administration. According to him, the grave constitutional abnormality in Anambra State is “the unhealthy reign of political apathy and stunted democratic growth at the grassroots…. For the people to drive this process successfully therefore, we must honestly resolve to unselfishly grant them full participatory ownership of the governance processes at their doorstep, the local government. That is where our governor holds the key, and which I insist we must collectively persuade him to unlock and open. I say persuade because the expedient phobia to act, or the convenient inertia to transparently deliver this foremost democratic dividend to Anambra grassroots people, has clearly outgrown every stock of rational excuses the government has, making the only compelling path of courage and restitution left being to conduct this simple local government elections very quickly,” he told party supporters in Awka.
Women in the state under the aegis of Women Arise for Change Initiative, WACI, have also asked Governor Peter Obi to conduct the local government chairmanship and councillorship elections. Leader of the group, Mrs. Njideka Emeh, said the refusal of the governor to conduct the local government elections was hindering grassroots development. “We are not only destined to be represented in the appointive positions but should also be allowed to contest elections with our male counterparts. Governor (Peter) Obi is the longest-serving governor, who has not conducted local council elections in Nigerian history. This is his sixth year in office as the governor of Anambra State. We know that about N1.5 billon is being collected on behalf of the 21 local councils in the state monthly from the federal government with no evidence on the ground to show for it.” Emeh said the group would mobilise women within and outside Anambra State to wear black attires as a sign of mourning to show that the state government had been denying them their right to fair representation in government.
In Edo State, Governor Adams Oshiomhole blamed the non-conduct of elections in the local councils on the discovery that majority of the members of the Edo State Independent Electoral Commission, EDSIEC, were card-carrying members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Oshimhole, the third elected governor of the state, was sworn into office in 2008. Members of EDSIEC were inaugurated by his predecessor, Professor Osunbor, who was elected on the platform of PDP but was removed from office by election appeal tribunal. Since then, transition committee chairmen appointed by the governor have been running the affairs of the 18 local government areas.
The opposition parties led by PDP have called for the dissolution of the transition committees. Chief Dan Orbih, state chairman of PDP described the continued use of transition committee chairmen in the councils as illegal and unacceptable. But Oshiomhole said the law which made provision for caretaker committees in the state was passed by the PDP dominated House of Assembly before he became governor.
Incidentally, Chief Solomon Ogoh, chairman of the eight-member EDSIEC, said the conduct of council elections in the state would not be feasible in the foreseeable future because there were still relevant provisions of the Local Government Law, 2002 which still required amendment.
Last week, the state high court presided over by Justice Tinu Akomolafe-Wilson sitting at Ekpoma ruled that the governor lacked the powers under the 1999 constitution to “handpick, recommend person not democratically elected to be screened or ratified for purposes of being appointed as LG Caretaker Committees.” The order of the court was in answer to the prayer request of one Mr. Tony Abumere Okonigene in Suit No. HEK/MISC/16/2011 against the state governor, the state house assembly and the attorney-general and commissioner for justice. The court noted that by Section 7(1) of the 1999 constitution, the appointment of local government caretaker committees is illegal. The plaintiff had also asked the court for an order to the effect that the assembly lacked the constitutional powers to extend the tenure of local government caretaker committees because they were illegally constituted. He referred to the May 30, 2007 judgment of the state high court with respect to the 2000 Local Government Law as amended, which provides for a three-month tenure for such committees whereas the governor and the state assembly extended the tenures indefinitely.
Two weeks after the court judgement, the state government was yet implement the decision or appeal against it. Okonigene has threatened to mobilise popular support to enforce the court order in all the 18 local government councils in the state. “We are giving the governor 48 hours according to the rule of law that if he doesn’t obey, we are going to file contempt charges against the attorney general of the state and the speaker of the state house of assembly.”
The conduct of election into the local government areas of Edo State appears not feasible at the moment. The state will be going to the polls on July 14 to elect its governor. This has pushed the council election, at least forward for now.
The local government election in Akwa Ibom State earlier fixed by the state independent electoral commission, AKISIEC, for December 29, 2011 was postponed. Governor Godswill Akpabio said AKISIEC had informed the state government that the December 29, 2011 election date was no longer possible following a strong case made by various political parties for an extension of time because of the short period to prepare for the election. Chief Akpabio also based the postponement on inadequate budgetary provision and expressed the belief that the state house of assembly will appropriate adequately in the 2012 budget to cover the cost of the election next year. He thus extended the tenure of appointed local government transition committees by six months in the first instance, which he said is approved by law. But on May 24, the chairperson of AKISIEC, Mrs. Gloria Ukpong, said the agency would conduct a local government election in the state on June 9. Ukpong, who made this known in Uyo while briefing newsmen, said the chairmanship election would hold in 22 out of the 31 local government areas in the state.
In Plateau State, the three-year tenure of local government councils ended in January. But instead of conducting fresh elections, Governor Jonah Jang has since appointed caretaker committees for all the 17 councils. This led to the opposition parties taking the state government to court. In the election held in November 2008, the ruling PDP won in 13 local government areas to beat the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, which won in three, and the DPP, one council area. That was the last mandate given to elected council officials in the state. Since then no concrete effort has been made to hold fresh election.
The situation is not different in Ogun State where the opposition parties last April threatened to sue the state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun for non-conduct of council elections. The parties under the aegis of the Conference of Political Parties, CNPP, gave the state government two months to hold elections in the local government councils. The secretary of CNPP, Sarafadeen Ogunwoolu, accused the governor of not making any concrete effort to conduct elections into the local councils in the state. “For the fact that he had inaugurated the OGSIEC does not say the governor really meant that elections should take place in those council areas as internal crises in his party had not allowed him to support the commission in carrying out its duties,” Ogunwoolu, who is the chairman of United Nigeria Peoples Party, UNPP, had said. But another group under the platform of the Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria of Nigeria, IPAC, Ogun State chapter, called for caution and restraint in taking the action against government. However, the state independent electoral commission, OGSIEC, says it has concluded plans to conduct credible, free and fair local government election on July 21. The chairman of the commission, Alhaja Risikat Ogunfemi said the commission had contacted all stakeholders to achieve success in the exercise.
This story of non-conduct of elections at the third tier of government has become a common feature within the political spheres of most states. The tier of government which is closest to the grassroots is thus hijacked, prevented from meeting up with its primary and major obligation. Even in states where elections have been conducted, it has been fraught with controversy as most times, opposition has cried foul, claiming that the ruling party had tampered with the process so as to make the results come out in their favour. In Lagos State for instance, the conduct of the local council elections last year elicited widespread criticism except from the ruling ACN. The results were not released more than 24 hours after the elections. The delay generated so much anger and concern among the other political parties that participated in the process, especially as the state electoral body had promised a free and fair process. A good number of journalists from both the electronic and print media were denied access to LASIEC premises. Eventually, it was an all out win for ACN.
In Rivers State, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, won in the 21 local governments where elections took place last year. The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN in the state, through its acting publicity secretary, Jerry Needam, however, declared that the elections would never stand, in view of the suit filed by the party which was ignored. The party said having filed the suit for non-compliance with electoral laws, it decided to boycott the elections. In Enugu state, it is the same story as the PDP won as if it was the only existing party in the state.
While the controversy rages on, the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, has promised to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan and state governors to discuss the fate of local government administration. The newly elected national president of ALGON, Nwabueze Okafor, stated that the inability of some states to conduct local government elections had continued to hinder local governments from performing their constitutional roles. He said that the 774 local governments in Nigeria were supposed to be governed by duly elected officials but many were under the control of political appointees of state governors, and as such, ALGON had also concluded plans to send memoranda for the autonomy of local governments to the National Assembly Constitution Committee to ensure their independence. Okafor promised that the association would consult the state legislatures to seek their support for the total freedom of the local governments; a process which has already been initiated.
The House of Representatives last month, received and adopted a motion which kicked against the illegal constitution of caretaker committees by state governors in local government areas in the country. The motion noted that this system of government as practiced by many state governments was not provided for in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic as amended. Friday Itulah, who sponsored the motion, pointed out the implication of the practice by 25 state governments if not checked.
“The practice by those states if not checked could bring the country into a lawless state,” hon. Ituah stated. Though the motion was adopted, members expressed contrary views on the theme of illegality in the constitution of caretaker committees for local government councils. A member from Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Okete spoke against the motion. He said: “I want to speak in total condemnation of the motion. Believing that this motion will not lead this honourable House anywhere except a collision with the very provision of the constitution we want to protect.”
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) had during his screening as a ministerial nominee by the Senate denounced the system of appointing caretaker committees for local government councils as being against the tenets and letters of the 1999 Constitution. The minister had chided some governors for violating Section 7 of the Nigerian Constitution by dissolving elected officials and appointing caretaker committees to run the affairs of local government council areas. He had said: “There is no gainsaying that Section 7 of our constitution wants a situation where our local government area councils are manned by democratically-elected personnel. Let me also state clearly that the appointment of caretaker committees is illegal and unknown to law, but regrettably, nobody has challenged this constitutional lapse. We will wait and if I am reappointed as Attorney-General, we will look at it and try to redress the situation. Section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended states that: ‘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.”
According to Mr. Eman Shehu, a public affairs analyst and the director of the International Institute of Journalism, IIJ in Abuja, “the local governments were created so that governance can come down to the people, but in reality what is happening is that the governors have hijacked these local governments. What they do is that the collect the monies meant for the local governments, and dispense in such a way as to secure the loyalty of these local government chairman or punish them if they are not loyal to them, by starving them of funds. So they dictate what happens.” Mr. Shehu said the problem is that the state governors know that if their cronies are not at the helm of affairs at the local government level, they might have problems at the polls as the entire Nigerian electoral process is riddled with fraud and malpractice.