Gyang Bere, Jos
Since the inception of democracy in 1999, the opposition in Plateau State has not fared well in local government elections and has literally been considered as the weeping child of council polls.
Constitutionally, the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) which its chairman is appointed by the state governor conducts all local government elections in the state.
The contention is that this responsibility bestowed on thePlateau State electoral bodies has been abused over the years by successive administrations contrary to the vision and beliefs of the first Civilian Governor and pioneer National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Late Chief Solomon Lar who saw the local government as not only the breeding ground for future leaders, but as an administrative setting that identifies with the locals.
Former Governors, including Sen. Joshua Dariye and Sen. Jonah David Jang conducted Local Government Elections during their administrations between 1999-2007 and 2007-2015, but the credibility of the polls left many people particularly the opposition political parties in doubt.
Most parts of Dariye and Jang’s administrations at the local government areas were run by Caretaker Committees or Management Committee Chairmen, thereby denying the people the right to participate in breeding and enthroning leaders at the grassroots.
Those who head the local government administrations were determined by the State Governors whose sense of reasoning is beclouded by party sentiment. In most cases, the Chairmen are often dissolved or fired from office unceremoniously even when their tenure has not elapsed.
In the estimation of many, local government elections in the state were often characterized by impunity, thuggery, brigandage, violence and rigging in favour of the ruling parties.
The development was witness during Dariye’s administration and the 2008 and 2014 local government Elections conducted by the Jang PDP government. The October 2018 council elections conducted by Governor Simon Lalong APC administration in the state is not different.
Political pundits then believed that the results were doctored, manipulated and announced even before the collations of the results were concluded at various collation centres in the state.
These compelled the opposition parties to contest the outcome of the polls at the election petition tribunal to challenge the victory. In most cases, the tribunal usually affirms the election of the ruling party.
But the case was different during the 2014 Local Government Elections conducted by former Governor Jang where Daniel Dul contested for the Chairmanship seat of Langtang North under the platform of Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and lost to the PDP.
He contested the result at the Election Petition Tribunal and his mandate was restored but he was not sworn in by the ruling PDP under the Jang administration despite pressure from the grassroots.
The PDP administration continued until it lost power in 2015 where Mr Simon Lalong was elected Governor under the ruling APC while the tenure of the Local Government Chairmen was still running.
Lalong, without delay dissolved the elected Chairmen in the 17 Local Government and appointed Management Committee Chairmen while Daniel Dul of the DPP in Langtang North was sworn in.
After two years in office, Lalong again dissolved and replaced the Management Committee Chairmen with different names while a date for the conduct of Local Government Elections was announced by Plateau Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) in early 2018 which was later postponed due to insecurity.
The election was finally conducted on October 10, 2018 in 13 out of the 17 Local Government Areas of the state with the exclusion of Jos North, Jos South, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas in Plateau North due to insecurity.
Candidates of the ruling APC were declared winner in the 13 Local Government Areas where elections were held. The announcement of the results witnessed wide protest in most parts of the state including Langtang North Local Government.
Most PDP candidates indicated interest to challenge the outcome of the election tribunal but the opposition PDP under the leadership of Damishi Sango discouraged its candidates and said that any candidate who was going to court will take the financial responsibility.
All the candidates who were convinced that they won the election couldn’t go to the tribunal except Dr. Joshua Ubandoma Laven of Langtang North, a political son of late Chief Solomon Lar who attached much importance to councils’ election for the purpose of galvanizing the locals at the grassroots to give them a sense of belonging.
Laven was convinced that he won the election. He filed a petition at the Local Government Election Petition Tribunal and his petition was struck out. He didn’t give up but proceeded to the Apeal tribunal where he obtained judgement in his favour.
The tribunal declared him winner of Langtang North Local Government Area and directed PLASIEC to issue him certificate of return for the Governor to administer oath of office on him.
PLASIEC refused to honour the judgement and the governor didn’t swear him into office until opponents in the APC filed an injunction at the State High Court to restrain the governor from the swearing-in.
The High Court judge who received the matter was widely criticised on the ground that Local Government Elections matters end at the Election Apeal tribunal. The matter was compounded when the APC in the state applied to be joined in the suit.
This created anxiety in the political camp of late Chief Solomon Lar whose Joshua Ubandoma Laven grew up under his political tutelage to learn the intrigues of politics. Laven was very determined and was willing to see the end of the matter.
Governor Lalong who is a lawyer, saw reason to swear-in Laven after pressure from critical stakeholders. He was believed to have instructed the APC candidate and the party to withdraw the case to have a way for him to administer oath of office to Laven.
Coincidentally, Laven who was described by many as a child of destiny was sworn in as Executive Chairman of Langtang North Local Government Council by Governor Simon Lalong on the day they were marking six years death anniversary of his political godfather, late Chief Solomon Lar.
Lalong said the swear-in was delayed due to multiple Court litigations after the tribunal declared Laven winner of the poll. He noted that the court injunction obtained by the APC candidate restrained him from the swearing-in.
Laven was sworn in along with four APC Chairmanship candidates for Jos North, Jos South, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas as Management Committee Chairmen for the respective council areas.
The development stirred up controversy that culminated into crisis in the Plateau State House of Assembly when the Speaker, Abok Ayuba read a communication from the governor that requested the House to approve the appointment of the APC candidates as Management Committee Chairmen.
The Executive Communication generated hot debate that led the Assembly into physical combat. Nine members of the PDP who felt aggrieved, staged a walkout from the House to express their disapproval with the action of the House and the governor.
The development raised serious concern in the state which many described as a rape of democracy and the PDP Chairmanship Forum for Jos North, Jos South, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas addressed the press and urged Governor Lalong and PLASIEC to conduct elections without further delay.
But Governor Lalong during the swearing-in ceremony promised to conduct elections in four affected local government areas as soon as security situation in the affected areas improves.
“This situation therefore necessitated the setting up of Management Committees to run the affairs of the Local Government areas, pending the improvement of security for elections to hold in these places.
“With the security situation improving, and as a good measure in the interest of the people, Government is working hard to ensure that elections are conducted in the affected Local Governments areas.
“While this is being done, we have reconstituted the Management Committees in line with the provisions of the law and in a bid to ensure smooth governance in those areas.
“As for Lantang North Local Government, the elected Chairman could not be sworn in because of a subsisting court order. As a law abiding government, we could not have gone against a lawful order of the court to swear him in.
“However, with the discontinuation of the suit by the petitioner, we no longer have any constraint inhibiting us from swearing in the declared winner of the election.”