By Julius Oweh
The local council administration is the closet to the people and that is why it is often referred to as grassroots administration or governance.
There is the elevated thought that if the elected council chairmen and councillors could perform at least half of their constitutional responsibilities, the state and federal governments would have fewer problems to contend with. In a true federal structure, the duties of the councils are well spelt out. In Nigeria, however, the constitutional provision is that the state house of assembly has the power to fix the tenure of the council chairmen and councillors.
There is also another constitutional provision that only elected council chairmen and councillors should be in charge in running the affairs of the council administration. Section 7 of the 1999 constitution as amended maintains that ‘the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed‘.
With this provision, it means that there is no room for caretaker committee. The constitution also gave powers to the state government to set up electoral commission saddled with the responsibility of conducting council polls.
Therefore it is in line with that constitutional provision that the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission under the leadership of Chief Mike Ogbodu conducted council elections on the 6th of January, 2018.
Two major political parties contested the elections, the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress. Before the conduct of the polls, the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) held various meetings with the stakeholders and the press intimating them with its plans and the need to establish a level playing field for all the contestants. In a broadcast, a day to the election, the DSIEC chairman, Ogbodu implored all to shun acts of violence and conduct themselves in a peaceful manner. It could be recalled this plea fell on deaf ears as the DSIEC office in Ughelli was burnt down and there were many cases of thugs invading the polling stations and disrupting the orderly conduct of the polls.
When the council polls results were announced, the ruling PDP swept all the council chairmen positions with a very few councillors going to the opposition APC. According to Ogbodu, the council polls were postponed in two local government areas viz Ughelli North and Ethiope East local government councils areas which were later held on the 9th, January 2018. Announcing the result at DSIEC headquarters, Asaba, Ogbodu said that PDP won the chairmanship positions in 23 local government councils.
This is how Ogbodu explained the result of the polls: ‘ In the areas where elections were held, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won chairmanship seats in all the 23 local government council areas that have been declared so far. In the same vein, the Peoples Democratic Party, have equally won 424 councillorship seats while the All Progressives Congress (APC) won one seat in Aniocha North Ward 2… It is quite significant to inform our stakeholders that in accordance with the provisions of Section 48 (I) of the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) law 2017, 59 councillors have been returned unopposed across the state in various electoral wards and constituencies in the state except Ughelli North and Ethiope East local government council areas where elections were postponed‘.
Predictably, the result of the council polls did not go down well with the opposition APC and the chairman of the party alleged malpractices. Addressing the press, the state APC chairman Mr Jones Erue rejected the result and alleged that ‘the election was conducted in substantial non-compliance with the provision set out in the DSIEC law 2017 because sensitive election materials were not delivered as expected to most of the polling units where the actual elections were due to take place‘.
The DSIEC authority in a reaction said that the accusation of APC was like blowing the wind and that the party was trying to invent reasons and excuses for its dismal failure at the polls.
While swearing in the elected council chairmen on January 8, 2018, the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa attributed the victory of the PDP to unity and elaborate campaign. He said that while the PDP was storming all the nooks and crannies of the state preaching its political gospel, the APC was in slumber, contemplating its political navel and hoping against hope to get victory that it did not labour for.
The governor charged the elected chairmen to be prudent and that equity and fairness should be their watchword, adding that they should be council chairmen to all the people in their areas despite their political persuasions.
The governor tasked the council chairmen: ‘As council chairmen, I expect you to continue in the spirit of diligence, transparency, prudent management and accountability that this administration has become known for. You must ensure judicious allocation of available resources because, the true test of a manager is not in the huge volume of resources at his or her disposal, but the astute management of the available resources, especially when they are not enough. In discharging your functions, fairness, equity and justice must be your watchword; you must carry everybody along in your activities‘.
The Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr Patrick Ukah also harped on the theme of sacrifice and carrying everybody along while congratulating the council chairmen on their being sworn in to office. Ukah said that the council chairmen should not betray the confidence reposed on them by the electorate. He also appealed to those who lost to have at the back of their mind that only one person can be a council chairman or councillor at time. He therefore charged such people to co-operate with their council chairmen, put politics aside in the task of developing their council areas.
On the overwhelming victory of PDP at the polls, the state chief image maker stated that the victory was the confirmation that hard work pays and that there was no short cut to success. Ukah observed that the council polls result is a testimony of the grassroots spread of the PDP and that as far as Delta State was concerned, PDP remains the dominant party and that the other political parties are on the fringes.
The swearing in of the council chairmen is in line with the constitutional provisions and the task is that of these elected people to not only deepen democracy but to bring development to their council areas. True that the nation is passing through economic crunch but it will be foolhardy for any council chairman to depend solely on federal allocation to meet the developmental aspirations of his people. It is on this score that the advice of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on prudent management of resources should be their road map.