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State of Democracy in LGAs: Pulsating heartbeat in Edo

BY SIMON EBEGBULEM

Issues surrounding alleged illegal dissolution of successive electoral panels have until now hindered the conduct of local government elections in the Heartbeat State. It all seems resolved as the first council election in six years holds this weekend.

Heads of service in the 18 local government areas of Edo State are the major beneficiaries of the war of intrigues among stakeholders that has prevented the conduct of council election since the advent of the Adams Oshiomhole regime in 2008.

Their era, however, is coming to an end as the first council elections in the state since 2007 hold this weekend.

Governor Oshiomhole came to office to meet legal entanglements arising from the dissolution of the Edo State Independent National Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) by his predecessor, Prof. Oshereinmen Osunbor.

Indeed, local government administration ran smoothly in the state under the administration of Governor Lucky Igbinedion when the EDSIEC was led by the late Justice Gabriel Okungbowa. Osunbor, who succeeded him, however, dissolved the Okungbowa led EDSIEC and appointed a new board led by Justice Anthony Okunega. Justice Okungbowa and his members, however, went to court after they described their sack as illegal.

Gov Oshiomhole
Gov Oshiomhole

The court case nonetheless, the EDSIEC under Justice Okunega  went on to conduct elections in the 18 Local Government Councils on December 15, 2007 with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP sweeping all 18 council chairmanship positions.

The elected chairmen and councillors were barely one year in office, when the Appeal Court sacked Osunbor and the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN’s Oshiomhole was sworn in.

Remarkably, as Oshiomhole settled down and commenced his political revolution, the majority of Local Government chairmen and Councillors belonging to the PDP dumped their party for Oshiomhole’s ACN.

It was not surprising then that the governor allowed them to complete their mandatory three year term that ended in December 2010. Following that, Governor Oshiomhole set up caretaker committees to run the councils pending the outcome of the suits in court.

To further compound the problem bedevilling the conduct of LGA elections in the state, Oshiomhole sacked the Justice Okunega led EDSIEC after the governor alleged that they were all card carrying members of the PDP.

While justifying the sack the governor said “in one event where the EDSIEC chairman was, they shouted PDP and he could not even pretend about it, he immediately responded by saying Power to the People.”

Consequently a new EDSIEC leadership led by Dr Solomon Ogoih was inaugurated on February 2012 and tasked to commence preparations for the conduct of Local Government election in the state.

But as expected, the dissolved EDSIEC members headed to court to protest their removal which according to them was illegal. But the state government in its defense, argued that the Okunega led EDSIEC was even illegal since there was a pending suit before the court filed by the then Justice Okungbowa led EDSIEC describing the constitution of the Okunega led EDSIEC as illegal.

While these legal bottlenecks continued, caretaker committee members ran the councils until Monday October 29, 2012, when members of the state House of Assembly described Caretaker Committees as illegal and tasked the state government to find solution to the legal issues and conduct elections in the 18 Local Government Councils.

The House resolution was adopted by the state government and tenure of the caretaker committees came to an end in the state.

Vanguard learnt that the state government resorted to an out-of-court settlement with the aggrieved members of the former EDSIEC in order to be able to conduct the forthcoming Local Government elections scheduled for this Saturday.

Shortly after the announcement of the date for the election, Oshiomhole who is conducting his first Local Government election as governor of the state stressed the need to run local governments that would be truly accountable and transparent to the people. He further hinted that elected chairmen of councils will have to reside in their domains “so that if you don’t work the people will know where to come and get you”.

As campaigns for the election reach a climax, both the PDP in the state and the ruling ACN have been enmeshed in a war of words, as the two parties accuse each other of alleged plans to rig the election.


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