In the last few months, a lot of states in Nigeria, the most recent being Lagos and Ogun, have purportedly conducted elections into the political leadership of the various local government councils, including the inchoate local council development areas. The alleged elections took place under the auspices of the various state electoral bodies, tagged State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). In virtually all the states, exempting Kaduna State and, possibly, Borno State, the ruling party always won practically all the supposedly contested seats, including local government areas and state constituencies being represented in the House of Assembly by members of the opposition.
By the appellation, the SIECs are supposed to be independent, like their counterpart at the federal level. The composition and mode of appointment, however, betray this desire of independence. All the members of the commissions are usually handpicked and appointed by the governor of the state.
You might want to raise the issue of their being cleared by the House of Assembly, presumably expected to attest to the integrity of those chosen. Alas! This is far from reality, as, in most of the states, the Assembly is populated by the majority members from the same ruling party, thereby always making it a ‘family affair.’
Invariably in most of the instances, it is garbage in and garbage out. This is not peculiar to the states, as Nigerians are living witnesses to what transpired at the federal level during the screening and clearance of the cabinet members and, subsequently, several other nominees of the President at the National Assembly. Just a week ago, the video of the clearance of one of the nominees to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that was trending attests to this. A close watch revealed that the President of the Senate cleared the otherwise earlier rejected nominee on his own steam as members largely ignored his enquiry or was it a question posed to them?
Hence, the ultimate outcome of the composition exercise in virtually all the states is the population of the electoral commission with political party members or sympathizers of the ruling party. With this situation, you are confronted with a tainted and partial body surprisingly expected to conduct a free and fair election.
To compound the challenge of lack of independence, funds are doled out to them by the governors via an appropriation process that has to be compromised on the bidding of the politicians. The net effect of this arrangement is the impairment of the free will of those saddled with this sacred responsibility. Consequently, manipulation of the process has now become the order of the day in the country and a fait accompli.
Today, therefore, exempting Kaduna State, there is no other state in which you can boast of any credible election at the local government level. Election is supposed to be the reflection of the free electoral will of the people as guaranteed by not only the international instruments that Nigeria is signatory to but also the country’s Constitution itself.
By Section 221 of the Nigerian Constitution, only political parties are allowed to sponsor candidates for the purpose of election in Nigeria. Thus, an aspirant is expected to be a member of a political party in order to realise his political ambition. While it is a constitutional dictate to have the existence of a political party in Nigeria, realistically, it cannot be said that political parties exist in the country. What obtains by and large are political platforms through which aspirants to public offices ascend such offices and, in most cases, the platforms, as currently constituted, are mere conspiracies to grab power.
There is hardly any political party in the country with any clear-cut ideology or manifesto. All of them are what is often described as ‘cut and paste’ political parties, as all that is to them mirrors each other. Is it the constitutions, manifestoes or what?
However, due to this constitutional requirement of using a political platform to contest an election, the political parties have suddenly become so powerful and oppressive that the interest of their members, much less that of the electorate, matters not to them. How do I mean? By the constitution of the country and the political ‘parties’, including the Electoral Act and the other laws in Nigeria, candidates of the political parties are expected to emerge through the conduct of primaries, otherwise known as the nomination process. Regrettably, this process remains largely alien to most of the political parties.
Due to the nefarious activities of most ‘godfathers,’ those who have hijacked the political platforms in one form or the other, such nomination processes are never complied with. They impose their will on the members of the political platforms and indirectly on the electorate through the influence of money and power. The notorious godfathers are usually in the rank of Governors and ex-governors. Due to this aberration, the ultimate products of most party nominations are usually disasters. Apart from perfecting the brief of their masters, they mostly demonstrate no skill in the ar t of governance. The consequence is the catastrophic impact on the people at the grassroot. The local government councils are meant to be fastest developmental tool in the country but, unfortunately, they have been denigrated so badly as a result of poor leadership and misappropriation of funds, both by the local actors and the external aggressors.
Thank God that the President of the country realized this much and pronounced on same recently when he announced the death of the councils in the hands of the governors who are the hangmen.
In order not to lose focus of the central theme of this engagement, let me state that, because of this iniquity of the godfathers in the various political parties, most candidates produced for the purpose of elections are infirm. It is from this incompetent lot that the electorate will have to choose, assuming that the electorate’s votes will count after all. Now, as per the SIECs alluded to earlier, they are anything but independent. Due to this fact, most other political platforms (parties) hardly participate. In fact, what happens in some states is the ruling party actually sponsoring candidates on their behalf, in some instances after succeeding in fractionalizing the party and, in other instances, compromising the other political platforms. The net effect of all these is that the voters generally have lost confidence in the ‘elections’ conducted by the SIECs.
This explains the continuous apathy towards the purported elections. I had cause to move around most polling units in my area during the last Lagos local government election, hardly did I notice any potential voter around any polling booth. The electorate seems to have left the franchise to the ruling party to exercise on their behalf by proxy. Nobody should, therefore, be deceived by the ultimate figures that emanated from such elections in the states. They are mostly products of abracadabra. Because of this, the aspirants themselves appreciate the reality that, once nominated by the ruling party, they are as good as ‘elected.’
That explains the, fierce, acrimonious and deadly struggle for the nomination of the ruling parties in the states. In Lagos, no fewer than 10 people lost their lives in the failed primaries of the All Progressives Congress. The states’ electoral bodies are meant to return the candidates of the ruling party, ultimately.
This validates the belief of the electorate that what takes place under the SIECs is not usually an election but, at best, a charade, better called, CORONATION. For my prognosis, read my column in the Daily Sun of May 6, 2021, “Time to liberate local government councils https://www.sunnewsonline.com/time-to-liberate-local-government-councils ” and July 8, 2021, “Issues in death of local government in Nigeria https://www.sunnewsonline.com/issues-in-death-of-local-government-in-nigeria”.
The annoying aspect of the plot is the colossal waste of public resources on the circus and the paralysis of the economic activities of struggling Nigerians when the state governments could as well just appoint their stooges, since local governments are already reduced to parastatals under the state governments.
The worst is the announcement of restriction, which is done a few days to election day. There is nothing more brazen and inconsiderate like this. I think we need to put a human face to some of these decisions taken by public officials.
I cannot conclude this piece without recalling the illegalities around some of the issues in the just concluded purported local government elections in Lagos State. I am of the strong legal opinion that the conduct of election into the 20 LGs and the 37 LCDAs is illegal. In the first instance, to the extent that the constitutionally listed LGs are balkanized for the purpose of the election, no valid election can result therefrom.
Equally, to the extent that the local council development areas are inchoate, elections cannot be validly conducted into them. It is in this regard that I commend the Ogun State Government for doing the right thing and conducting ‘election’ into the listed local governments. If called upon, my expectation of the judiciary is to uphold the law and enthrone sanity in the system. Nigerian democracy must be grown like the Indian democracy through the courts. Enough of judicial passiveness. The election tribunals equally set up for the purpose of determining electoral disputes at the States level seem to remain a shadow of itself and nothing extraordinary is, therefore, expected from the tribunal. Gone were the days of the Owobiyi, J (Rtd) and Animahun J at the Local Government Election Tribunals in Lagos. History will remember that Tribunal for good as I am doing now.
The second area of concern is the amendments rushed through by the House of Assembly recently. The first was to enable substitution up to three days before the general election. This undoubtedly validates the jokes around the ‘election’ as no serious electoral body will, three days to the election, be substituting candidates. It is a case of ambush of the opponents. How does the opponent know who he is competing with? This negates the basic principle of free and fair election. Again, let me say that I am a bit curious about the amendment to extend the tenure of the electoral body by six months rather than reappointing them. Is it to blackmail them into submission and render them pliable? God help the members. Well, by way of conclusion, those coronated and those responsible for the coronation should constantly bear in mind again that there is God and that no empire or dynasty lasts forever. The day of reckoning is imminent and we pray that we all live to witness same. I wish the coronated gangs across the nation best of luck. Finally, I have no doubt that the precedent they are setting today will eventually come to hunt them and the good Lord shall ultimately pay each person in his own coin.