By Tonnie Iredia
Section 7 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, provides for the system of democratically elected local government councils making it mandatory for every state to ensure their existence under a law which provides for their establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions.Thus, the conduct of local government elections in Nigeria is the responsibility of the state government hence each state handles hers.
However, the pattern of the conduct everywhere is the same. Each governor begins by employing delay tactics to institute the frame work for the exercise. To start with, he appoints a caretaker committee to hold the forte until some funny characters are assembled to make-up an electoral commission that is to serve as umpire in the elections. Although the electoral commissioners are expected to be neutral referees who have never been involved in partisan politics, many of them are well known to have functioned at one time or the other as officials of the ruling political party or their relations or fronts. Having so arranged the situation, it becomes easy to conduct an election in which the ruling party “sweeps” the polls; winning every chairmanship position and smartly allocating a few councillorship seats to the opposition parties.
For quite a while, it was not clear if Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State was planning to lose the opportunity of doing what most governors do. All he appeared interested in was the caretakers and not the actual representatives of the people. Could it be that he did not comprehend what others did and were doing? On January 12 2014, he clarified the situation when he organized local government elections in his state. According to the State Electoral Commission, otherwise described as independent, the ruling party in the state, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), swept all the chairmanship seats in the council polls. The opposition parties were shocked that despite protests and complaints by many voters in the state that election did not hold in their areas, fake results were announced. They cited the case of Aguata Local Government Area where fraudulent results were declared although the electoral officers affirmed in writingthat no election held in their area.
Some analysts imagine that the opposition parties in Anambra were merely acting the bad loser role – a view that is hard to canvass considering that some election monitors and the media confirmed the late arrival of materials in many of the polling units especially in the central senatorial zone. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) for instance, reported that the materials were still being loaded into vehicles at about noon in some council headquarters for onward distribution to polling units. This was not refuted by the electoral body; instead the Njikoka Local Government electoral office only ascribed the gimmick to the late arrival of the police. In Awka South Local Government Area, the problem was not just late arrival of materials, some supervising presiding officers and the results sheets allegedly got missing. In any case, which voters’ register was used for the local election – could it be the same as the one which deleted the name of a candidate duly cleared to contest the last governorship election in the state?
The trend of election chicanery is however not an Anambra phenomenon. It is a nation-wide political culture. In May 2013, opposition parties in Kogi instead of waiting to be rubbished in any fake elections decided to boycott the elections 24 hours to the scheduled poll. They probably took note of the situation in Akwa Ibom in June the previous year where even before the electoral body concluded the collation of votes; one state official had posted the results on the internet.Interestingly, what was displayed turned out to be the same as the official results later released by the umpire in which the ruling party won the Chairmanship in the 31 Local Government Councils and 325 Councillorship positions out of 329. In other states, the situation has not been different. It is not unlikely that Akwa Ibom took its cue from Lagos State, where in 2011; the ruling party swept all the chairmanship and councillorship positions in the elections into the 37 Local Council Development Areas. In Edo, because the opposition was stubborn about the Uromi council its chairmanship election was repeatedly done until the required result was configured.
Election riggers are not only in the states, there are many of them at the federal level too. For Yobe State, it is suicidal to allow anyone to lay a foundation for outwitting the ruling party in the state. Consequently, when the federal electoral body sought to use security as an excuse for why federal elections may not hold in the state in 2015, Yobe rose to the occasion. It quickly organized a local election in the state in which the ruling party as usual swept the seats. With such a feat, does it appear rational for any federal entity to refuse to hold the 2015 elections in Yobe State or to use the new term-inconclusive election? So, elections should hold everywhere in Nigeria. What Nigerians should stop sermonizing about is the so called desire for free, fair and credible elections.
Our elections have never been free and are not likely to be soon. The main reason is that although we all seem to desire free and fair elections, no one plays his role to ensuring that. The average citizen uses poverty to justify selling his voter’s card. Election personnel buy new cars after each election. Election tribunals give contrived verdicts for sale now and again. Those in opposition want to win the next set of elections at all cost just to be in power just as the ruling parties desperately designs new strategies for remaining there. State Governors are in the lead on the need to ensure that federal elections are fair, yet they are also in the lead in making sure that people are selected or imposed rather than elected in local elections. Whereas many people in power got there through election rigging, those who lost elections have no problems if they are settled. How then can rigging end in Nigeria when it is a national hobby?