By Vincent Ujumadu
THE recent confirmation by the Anambra State House of Assembly and subsequent swearing- in of the chairman and members of the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC) by Governor Peter Obi on Monday, May 10, must gladden the hearts of many grass root politicians in the state who have waited since 2002 to be elected into the thirdâ€“tier of government.
Since the expiration of the threeâ€“year tenure of the local government officials that were elected in 1999 before the commencement of the present democratic dispensation, all the subsequent administrations in the state have been using those referred to as caretaker committees to run the affairs of the various local governments.
Early in 2002, many politicians jostled for nominations in their various political parties as candidates, and those who scaled through the party primaries looked forward to taking over power in their local governments in May that year after election.
In fact, those nominated on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) then were being referred to as chairmen and councilors in-waiting in view of the popularity of the party in the State at that time. However, the election could not hold because of the crisis that rocked the party and the activities of godfathers who wanted to install their cronies in all the 21 local government areas.
The situation was such that the then governor, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju could not direct the conduct of the exercise because he was even schemed out during the nomination of candidates by his godfathers.
When Mbadinuju was eventually shoved aside during the 2003 election by the ruling PDP and Dr. Chris Ngige took over from him, the situation remained the same as the interference of the godfathers in governance which also continued after the exit of Mbadinuju, did not allow him to conduct the exercise. He was however able to put in a place a new set of ANSIEC members headed by Chief Cornel Umeh, but the problem he (Ngige ) faced then could not allow for a conducive atmosphere for the election to hold.
When Governor Peter Obi regained his mandate in 2006 after three years in court with Ngige, he made a promise to conduct the exercise without undue delay. But shortly after his swearing- in, he was impeached by the PDP â€“dominated House of Assembly.
Though he returned to government house, the problem of insecurity in the state, culminating in frequent kidnapping and bank robbery incidents made the conduct of the local government election virtually impossible. As a result, the five â€“year tenure of the ANSIEC members expired in 2009 without performing any serious function.
Again, Obi had to return to court to argue for the completion of his four â€“year tenure after the 2007 elections that produced Dr. Andy Uba and when he eventually succeeded, he again promised that he would not hesitate to conduct the exercise if he won the 2010 governorship election. And when he won, he did not hesitate to forward seven names to the House of Assembly for confirmation as chairman and members of the commission.
The seven members of the commission are Prof Titus Eze who is the chairman, Rev. Monsignor Jerome Madueke, Rev. Canon Paul Enwonwu, Dr Mbanefo Onyeka, Mr. Joseph Ifeanyi Ukoh, Mr. Sylvester Okonkwo and Mrs Nnaemezie Patience. When Governor Obi sent the names to the House on October 21, last year, the Speaker, Chief Anayo Nebe referred the matter to the committee on election matters headed by Mrs.
Chinwe Nwaebili. The members of the screening committee drilled the nominees on their past activities, ways and means of achieving a successful election, what they hope to do in the face of troubles and threats arising from the conduct of elections, how they would relate with the political parties, lapses that might militate against effective operation of the Commission, among other questions.
Eventually when the report of the screening was presented to the committee of the whole House, Mrs. Nwaebili, the chairman, said the seven persons were found worthy and suitable for the positions they were being appointed.
While commending the committee for doing a thorough job, the Speaker, Chief Nebe reminded the appointees that the entire state was looking up to them to conduct a credible local government anytime it is slated to take place. He was optimistic that members of the commission would perform creditably considering their individual experiences in various spheres of life.
While swearing them in on Monday, Obi acknowledged the fact that running of Local Governments by democratically elected officials is guaranteed under our constitution, adding that it is therefore necessary that such elected people be put in place to pursue grass root development.
Reminding them that the responsibility to organize, undertake and supervise all elections into local government councils in the state lies with ANSIEC, Obi said: â€œAfter painstaking search and scrutiny, I short listed and appointed you as Chairman and members of the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission and, as required by the Constitution, forwarded your names to the State House of Assembly for confirmation of your appointments.
With your confirmation by the State House of Assembly, you have today been sworn in and can now perform your functions, which are to organize, undertake and supervise all elections to local government councils in the State.
â€œThe responsibility thrust upon you is enormous. You must not only conduct Local Government Council elections within your tenure, but must ensure that the elections you conduct are free and fair. Anambra State has distinguished itself as the only State where a governorship election widely hailed as free and fair was conducted on 6th February. We are the light of the nation in this regard.
You must therefore keep that light burning. As your name implies, you are independent and so must not allow yourselves to be compromised by anybody. I have no doubt in my mind that given the necessary support, you will perform. I assure you that Government will give you all necessary support to enable you effectively perform your very important constitutional functions.â€™â€™
With such definite assurance from the man who will provide the required funds for the conduct of the election, the ball is now in court of the chairman and members of ANSIEC. The good thing is that the man at the helm of affairs in the commission, Prof Eze, is a very tested hand in the conduct of elections in the country.
At various times, he was the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for Kwara and Abia states where he conducted elections that were not faulted by the election tribunals. Before his appointment as ANSIEC boss, Eze was a professor of Technical Education at Nnamdi Azikiwe University , Awka. He had earlier headed the Federal College of Education (Technical), Umunze in Anambra State as the Provost of the institution.
Prof. Ezeâ€™s remarks after they were sworn in was also reassuring as he promised the people of AnambraÂ of their readiness to do what is right for the state.