Kano’ January 16th Local Government election is by the corner and preparations are in top gear. In this conversation, the Chairman of the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC), Prof. Garba Ibrahim Sheka, explains the extent of preparedness, the problems of sundry unaccredited electoral observers, drug test for all contestants in the polls among others.
Ahead of the Local Government Election, may we know the extent of the preparedness of the Commission towards the exercise?
So far, so good. We have gone very far, we have gone to the extent of recruiting our electoral officers and Assistant Electoral Officers. We have given them training and we have sold out our nomination forms. The contestants bought the forms, they filled the forms and they returned the forms. And we have embarked on the screening exercise. And I want to tell you that in the past one week, we have screened all the candidates for the election and the Electoral Officers and the Assistant Electoral Officers that we recruited have gone to the local government areas and have screened the councilors. And as at now, we are just about to start recruiting the remaining ad- hoc staff, the Presiding Officers and other ad hoc staff that would handle the ballot boxes at the polling units. This is where we are so far.
When you talk of contestants, may we know how many of them are eventually contesting the polls from all the political parties that are involved in the exercise?
Well, we have so many of them. From the All Progressives Congress (APC), we have contestants for all the positions, for all the 484 Councillor seats and the 44 Chairmen as well as the Vice Chairmen. So also for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. They filed candidates for all the 484 Councillor seats and the 44 Chairmen seats as well as the Vice Chairmen. And then, we have the other parties. About 12 of them are contesting and the other parties have various ranges of appearances- some 40 Local Governments, some 30 Local Governments and some fewer-There is only two mega parties that have filed candidates for all the seats. But in all, we have 12 parties that are contesting.
A group within the PDP in the state told the media that they had pulled out of the election. Yet some other people within the same party, as we know, have filed in the names of their candidates, all under the umbrella of the PDP. What is happening?
God so kind, you mentioned some group, you mentioned group. We consider party as party, we don’t consider groups within the party. We are not concerned with their intra- party problems. Our concern is that we have already fixed a deadline for the submission of names of candidates. Of course like you said, some groups emerged and said that they were not contesting the elections but another group within the party said that they are contesting and they brought in their candidates under the banner of the PDP. As far as we are concerned, PDP is contesting as a party. We are not going deep into their own crisis or conflict or whatever…but that group that pulled out actually has a name which cannot be associated with the PDP. The other group that filed their candidate, their name is PDP. So when this other group that has no other name but PDP came, we said well, we are dealing with the PDP. The Caretaker leadership that they have, the other group has their own and they also have their own. The confusion that we have here is that both of them brought their papers- we have them in our file and they were signed by one person from Abuja empowering the two different leaderships. So, if you have two leadership of a party, certainly … assuming the two leaderships had wanted to contest, that would have been a problem to us because we can only accept one candidate per local government from a party. But now, we have two groups and one pulled out and the other one is there. So, as far as we are concerned, we don’t have any problem.
One of the challenges of local government elections in Nigeria is the issue of observers. Hundreds of them troop in from God knows -where, claiming to be electoral observers and becoming a nuisance. With your election just a few days away, what are you doing about this group of people?
Based on my experiences, the last time we had elections here, these observers flooded our premises. In fact, we had to use the police to clear them away from our premises. The last time, they brought in their requests and we screened them and then we wrote letters to those whom we feel are alright. We wrote letters inviting them and then, even those that we didn’t invite, came and they were here crying and so on. But this time around, we said that it is not going to be business as usual. We decided to use the civil organization, themselves- their own association. They have a leadership in Kano. And so we have co-opted them, we said that they should come and help us. So far, we have over 200 requests from observers from all over the country. So, we are going to hand over the requests to the co-opted Civil Society Organization in Kano, to help us screen these people, let us find the real observers. We are going to ask them to help screen these people because some of them- as I was reading their profile, I was even laughing- some are child care associations, some are for women associations and some are associations for drug abuse, yet they want to observe elections. We want to deal with NGOs that are relevant to elections, the one that is dealing with good governance, democracy and electoral process, those are the ones that we are looking for. We are not looking for NGOs on children or on drugs. This time around, we are going to screen them very well and we are going to write a formal letter to those that we have accepted to come. And I assure you that it is not going to be as random as it was the other time, when you see- out of the 200- you see 50 NGOs in one local government. We are not going to take it like that. This time around, we will appoint you and we assign you to a local government to observe. We have 44 local government areas and we are going to make sure that each local government has a fair distribution of the observers- because we want them to observe problems. If there is any problem, they should bring it to our attention and we will use it to upgrade and improve our own quality. So first of all, like INEC is doing when they are conducting election, they used to invite our association of state chairmen as observers. The terms they used to give is that since you are sponsored by your organization, they would not give you accommodation, they would not give you transport and they would not give you food. You come on your own and you must write a report at the end of the exercise. We also are going to follow that track. We are not going to give anybody a kobo since you are sponsored by your organization. And we will insist that only those we invite would be allowed to observe our elections and we would not allow them to flood our premises to sanitize the issue of observation.
We have it on record that the state government and KANSIEC were insisting on drug test for all the candidates and aspirants. Please shed more light about it, people want to know more about this precedence.
What is happening is that we encounter elected leaders who handle people like animals; you see leaders who do not have senses. And going by the fact that Kano is one of the leading states in drug abuse in the country, we decided that okay, let us check the menace by introducing this policy. If somebody has an ambition to contest for any political position, maybe he should check himself early enough- because as soon as we detect that you have some substance in your blood, certainly you are not going to contest.