Chuks Okocha writes that a new life may be underway in council administration in some states as the Nigerian Governors’ Forum moves to bring its erring members to order
Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees elections into the 774 local government areas in the country. The section 7 provides inter alia: “The system of local government by democratically elected council is under this constitution guaranteed and accordingly, the government of every state shall, subject to this section of the constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such councils."
By implication, it states that as there are presidential, states and legislative elections in the national and state assemblies, elections must take place in the councils. Unfortunately, of the 37 states of the federation, only 17 states had conducted elections in their local governments.
Though, the conduct of local government elections in Nigeria has been marred by controversy, the last democratically conducted local government elections that could be said to be generally acceptable by Nigerians were in 1998. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the council polls at that time because the 1999 Constitution, which did not empower the commission to conduct local government elections, had not come into effect.
Under the constitution, it is the sole responsibility of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) to conduct council elections in their respective states. But observers noted that the conduct of council polls across the country by INEC in 1999 was understandable, as the SIECs were not yet in place at the time.
Thus, the affairs of local government administration are left in the hands of the state governors, some of whom had chosen to have the local governments administered through the appointment of selected officials in the name of caretaker committee. This, in essence, denies the local government administration credible elections that could have brought governance at the grassroots under elected the officials.
The non-conduct of local government elections by the respective states has therefore remained in many quarters, a constitutional breach in ensuring that there is local government autonomy. This constitutional breach is being perpetuated by governors who stand against the evolvement of local government autonomy.
The inability of the state governors to conduct local government elections as stipulated in the constitution has however remained a sour point in the relationship between the governors under the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). As such, the secretariat of the forum, in its release of the State Review Peer Mechanism, lampooned 18 states for their inability to conduct local government elections.
In the report, the governors’ forum singled out two states of Anambra and Ekiti for breaching the provisions of the constitution by not conducting the local government elections as at when due.
According to the report, Anambra State is the worst offender because the state has not conducted any local government election since 1998. The last local government elections conducted in the state was in 1998 when INEC conducted council elections across the country as a condition for the registration of political parties.
But the Anambra Governor, Peter Obi, who was elected on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) had the unenviable response of telling his colleague governors that he was unable to conduct the council elections because there was a subsisting court order that restrained him from doing so.
So also is Ekiti which was indicted for not conducting council election. In Ekiti, the last council elections were in 2009 and attempts to conduct new ones had been stopped by the court. The court stopped the conduct of council elections because of a suit challenging the composition of the SIEC in which it held that the membership of the state electoral board was partisan.
The report of the SPRM, therefore, mandated the two states to set up machinery in motion that will hasten the conduct of the council elections. But they are not the only states with such records of not conducting council elections. There are 16 other states that were indicted.
In the South-west, council elections are yet to be conducted in states like Oyo and Osun. In Oyo, the councils are run by caretaker committees, as the last elections in the state were held on December 15, 2008. But with the appointment of new caretaker committees, elections into the third tier in the state are not expected till 2013.
Osun last held local government elections in 2007. So, the councils have been under one form of interim administration or the other since the tenure of the last council administration expired. The permutation is that it may hold again in 2014.
In Ondo, election was held on December 14, 2007 under Olusegun Agagu but the elected officials were later sacked by the incumbent, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
The same is the case in Imo state. On assumption of office, the governor, Rochas Okorocha, dissolved the councils and set up a caretaker committee. No new date has been announced for the conduct of fresh elections in the state.
In Kogi State, the tenure of elected officials elapsed in July 2011 and preparations to conduct fresh polls were in top gear when a court ordered it stopped. Since then, the local governments have been run by caretaker committees and with the subsisting court order, no new date has been fixed for it. Governor Idris Wada, on assumption of office, had set up caretaker committees to administer the councils till such a time an election will be conducted.
Local government polls in Plateau State held last on November 28, 2008 and witnessed a lot of bloodshed. The tenure of the elected officials ran out in January 2012 and management committees were set up in their place. No date has been fixed for the next elections.
Council elections were last conducted in Borno State in 2007. Till date, ad hoc arrangements are what operate in the councils while in Yobe, council elections last held in 2009. Since then, the councils are without elected heads and no date has been fixed for the next elections. Matters were made worse in the state by the present security challenges. Not many would have expected an election, where pupils are out of schools.
In Nasarawa, council elections were last held in 2009 while the next is slated for 2013. As a result, the local government is being run by interim administration. In Kano, the last council polls were in 2009 which expired in 2011 and no date is yet fixed for the new polls.
Abia State last held council elections in January 2008 and when the tenure of the administrators expired in 2010, the governor appointed caretaker committees and had on several occasions, created a timeline for council polls which never held. It is not clear when the next election is expected to hold because the governor, three weeks ago, appointed caretaker committees for the councils.
Bayelsa State has just conducted a council election. The last council election was done in 2010 and when the new governor assumed office, he dissolved the council chairmen and conducted his own local government election that was just sworn in.
It has been discovered that the fear of losing control of the local government areas by states that are not in control of the electorate in most cases inform their reluctance to conducting council elections. This is the case with Anambra and Nasarawa States, because of the circumstances the governors emerge. They are not in perfect control of the state as in most cases, the opposition political parties dominate the state assemblies and control the structures.
The Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) has been in the forefront of the campaign for the conduct of council elections because it would aid development and the Millennium Development Goals. President of ALGON, Nwabueze Okafor, once said that if there were local government elections as should be and council autonomy, it would assist the council achieve the goal of vision 20-20-20, the MDG 2015 target and the Sure-P.
“The democratically-elected council members for all the 774 local government councils will bring about rapid development at the grassroots,” he said, asking that the idea of caretaker committees in some states should be suspended forthwith.
Perhaps, with the intervention of the NGF, some of the governors might change their attitude to council administration in the country and conform to the provision of the constitution regarding council administration.