BY EMMAN OVUAKPORIE & JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU
THIRTEEN years into civil rule, most parts of Nigeria are still operating partial democracy and are still in search of full blown democracy, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has said.
How? Only 32.69 per cent or 253 of the 774 local councils are being administered by elected officials and the bulk of 511 councils in the country are yet to embrace democratic principles as they are being ruled by caretaker committees appointed by governors.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in charge of Cross River State, Barrister Mike Igini who stated this in an interview with Vanguard in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, said that out of the 774 councils and 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, only 253 local councils in 13 states have duly elected local government chairmen.
According to Igini, it was gathered that about nine states do not even have duly constituted electoral bodies, adding that the wider implication of this development was that “Nigeria is under partial democracy.”
The disclosure came as House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, warned the Governor of Imo State, Mr Rochas Okorocha and other governors to stop usurping the autonomy of the Local Government system in Nigeria.
Tambuwal said that the sacking of Local Councils in Imo State by the governor and his decision to replace them with ‘Care-taker’ Committee Chairmen was an illegal act.
Igini said: “In a country where we have 36 states as well as the Federal Capital Territory with a total of 774 Local Government Areas, and at the moment, elections have not been conducted in more than half of the entire 774 Local Government Areas shows clearly, where majority of Nigeria is domiciled. That is the reason for my saying that Nigeria is under partial democracy.
“It may interest you to know that following the conference that was held on the August 1, in Ilorin in Kwara State between INEC and the state electoral body where we conducted an audit of the state of affairs of the state electoral bodies, we were shocked to know that nine out of 36 have no duly constituted electoral bodies.
“Further more and of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, only 13 as at August 1 when we had that meeting in Ilorin, have duly elected local government council.
The wider implication of the statement I have made that Nigeria is under partial democracy is the fact that those 13 states have a total of 253 local governments and in Nigeria we have a total of 774 local governments.
This means in effect that in 511 of the 774 local government areas, the people in these local governments are not experiencing democracy at the moment, rather what we have is an aberration called Caretaker Committees that are being used to man those local government.
“It constitutes a violent breach of Section 7 of the constitution of the fatherland that says a system of local government of democratically elected council should be guaranteed.”
The REC said that local government areas should be the foundation of democracy but it was not so in many states, stressing that some of the chairmen of state electoral bodies were always frustrated by the governors, who had made themselves demi-gods and decide who occupy any elected position instead of allowing the masses to choose their leaders.
Apart from the frustrations state electoral bodies pass through from the governors and non-autonomy, he said that the level of interference by the governors was enormous
He continued: “Because of what is happening in local government areas, today the governors are now wielding powers. In fact, the governors have become more powerful than any set of people in Nigeria because in the local government system we don’t have democracy at this level at all.
“A governor determines, who should be a councilor, who can contest for an office of a councilor, a governor determines who will be a local government chair person and more often than not, people who don’t reside in the state, who don’t reside in these local governments, relatives or friends outside Nigeria are invited and they are short-listed, there is no process of proper nomination. They are short-listed by the governors and in some cases they constitute caretaker committees.
“A governor determines who is a councilor or local government chairmen and because they themselves will be foot soldiers during elections, the governor now determines who can contest for the House of Assembly elections, the governor also determines who can contest for House of Representatives, a governor determines who can contest the senatorial elections.”
He wondered where the nation was heading to and where the governors get their powers from, adding that it was the passive and docile nature of Nigerians that had contributed to some governors deciding the fate of others and even in some cases who becomes a minister of the federal cabinet.
Igini called on the National Assembly to stop releasing allocations to local government areas that do not have democratically elected chairmen and councilors. He also said that lack of credible and democratically elected chairpersons in the council areas had contributed to the security challenges in the country.
Governors must obey rule of law – Tambuwal
Speaking on the issue, when the President of the National Union of Local Government. ALGON, and Chairman of Enugu South Local Government, Mr. Uzor Nwabueze Okafor led a team on a working visit to him and sought amendments to the 1999 Constitution on Local Government administration, on Wednesday,Speaker Tambuwal warned governors to stop usurping the autonomy of the councils.
On Imo State, he said Governor Okorocha’s sack of the council chairmen and appointment of care-taker committees in the 27 local councils was unlawful.
“Whether the Care-taker Chairmen were approved by State Assemblies, or by the Governor they are illegal. State Assemblies must pass the necessary laws to strengthen local governments in Nigeria and guarantee their autonomy instead of working against them,” he said.
He called “on the Governor of Imo State to please desist from lawlessness”, in the case of his sacking of council chairmen and his refusal to return them to office in line with a Court judgment.
The Speaker went philosophical when he reminded Okorocha that “he was put in place by the law and God. Therefore, he must respect the law, adding that“what is happening in Imo State is clearly unacceptable.”
He advised the State Houses of Assembly across the country to “engage state governors to play their roles in amending the 1999 Constitution to grant political and fiscal autonomy to Local Governments and State Assemblies.”
He however warned the State Houses of Assembly “to desist from passing such laws” that would further denigrate the institutions of Local Governments.
According to the Speaker, “All of us must be ready to work to discharge our responsibilities effectively. We must collectively agree that no matter how highly placed, our offices are transient. No matter how much immunity we enjoy, we should note that one day we would leave office and our immunities will expire.”
The Speaker also warned the State Houses of Assembly “to desist from passing such laws” that would further denigrate the institutions of Local Governments.
He stated that there was little or nothing the House could do on the problems afflicting the Local Government tier, without the tier itself making appreciable efforts.
Earlier in his remarks, Okafor said for the Local Governments to be viable and free from the grip of governors, amendments must be made to the Constitution.