By Tonnie Iredia
Following the local government reforms of 1976, Nigeria established a third tier of government and thereby stood out among nations. Many other nations have only two – federal and state. Although many analysts commended the move as a bold step towards emancipating the masses by giving them a government at their level, there were arguments against the development for allegedly dispossessing state governments of taking full control of local matters which ought to belong to them. Somehow, the controversy appeared resolved by the provision of section 7 of the 1999 constitution which guaranteed “the system of democratically elected local government councils.” In addition, the division of the nation into 774 local government areas was incorporated into the constitution. Based on this, the third tier, like the other two became entitled to allocations from the federation account. Unfortunately, our political class has continuously undermined the third tier by pocketing the local councils. Once in office, one of the first activities of a governor is to use the legislature to emasculate the local councils in his state by dissolving them and appointing untenured caretaker committees.
Each time a state chooses to hold a local government election, the goal is usually to legitimize the establishment of councils with her preferred nominees through fake elections. Quite often, the state electoral body which has ‘independent’ as part of its name is composed of party sympathizers making free and fair elections impossible. Indeed, the rules of the content are usually tilted in favour of certain candidates while state institutions are employed to virtually disallow the participation of opposition parties. The latter are then encouraged to seek judicial intervention which hardly stops glaring injustice. That was what happened to the opposition party in Kwara State last November. In the case of Edo State which has fixed local elections for March 3rd 2018, the main opposition party has formally opted out of the contest because of what it called arbitrary changes to the rules and the passing of amendment by the legislature without even subjecting the bill to any reading.
On other occasions, the ruling party disenfranchises its own members by imposing candidates to the chagrin of other members. During the last local government election in Benue State, five of the six chairmanship aspirants in Makurdi Local Government Area, stormed the office of the Deputy Governor, Benson Abnoun, to protest the imposition of one Mrs. Justina Audu as the APC chairmanship candidate. The aspirants told the media that although they all purchased forms for the contests and appeared for the screening exercise, they neither saw any primaries nor knew the criteria used to pick a candidate. This and many other anomalies appear to explain why local elections in Nigeria follow the same pattern irrespective of which party is in power and in which part of the country.
The results of the elections also always follow the same pattern. A favoured party official can almost accurately predict well ahead, not only who and who would win or lose but also the voting pattern and actual scores in the election. During the tenure of the uncommon PDP governor in Akwa Ibom State; one state official posted local government election results on the internet before the electoral body was done with the collation of results which in the end turned out to be the same as the official results. In the days of the “comrade” governor in Edo, a bogus electoral body helped the ruling party to capture the chairmanship of Esan North East Local Government Council. That was an election whose outcome was determined 100 kilometres away at the Government House in Benin while the contestants, the media and election observers were still awaiting the collation of votes at the Eguare Primary School Uromi – the designated location.
In truth, there is no governor that does not openly manipulate local elections in favour of its party and preferred candidates; so, the results are usually the same in which the ruling party in each state “sweeps or clears” all the votes in an election and sometimes appropriates more votes than are available. In the last local elections in Yobe State, Mohammed Jauro Abdu chairman of the State ‘Independent’ Electoral Commission (YBSIEC) confirmed that the APC won all the 17 chairmanship seats as well as all the 178 councillorship seats. In Benue, the APC also secured 100% victory. According to John Tsuwa, Chairman of the Benue State “Independent” Electoral Commission (BSEIC) the party won ALL the 23 chairmanship seats as well as ALL the councillorship positions in the election. The party also performed the same feat in Lagos where it reportedly swept and cleared the polls. In Kwara, the APC was slightly more generous as it allocated 8 wards to the opposition while the ruling party picked all the 16 chairmanship positions and 183 wards as confirmed by the chairman of the state electoral body, Dr. Uthman Ajidagba.
Whereas, a look at the results so far analyzed may give the impression that the APC is ruthless, the main opposition party, the PDP, is as smart in the states it controls. As Dr. Mike Ajogwu chairman of the Enugu State ‘Independent’ Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) revealed, the ruling party ‘won’ all the 14 chairmanship contests and all the ward councillorship positions. Media reports on the January 7, 2018 contest in Delta State quoted Mike Ogbodu chairman of the state electoral body as having confirmed the victory of the ruling party in 23 chairmanship seats and 426 councillorship seats across the state. The party performed similar wonders in Akwa Ibom State notwithstanding the several allegations of electoral malpractices raised by the main opposition party. The true position is that everywhere, opponents are out-rigged by the ruling party.
Against this backdrop, the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC to probe under age voting at the last Kano State Local election is curious. This is because such a probe is unfair and unnecessary. First, if the purpose of the probe is to establish that it happened, it is a waste of time as we all watched the pattern and format of the election which was not different from other elections in the state. It is therefore unfair to derogate from the victory of the ruling party which used its own area of strength to sweep the election. Probe or no probe, it is obvious that Nigerian elections particularly those at the local level are a mockery of democracy. Except the nation wakes up to deal decisively with the monster, the products of our elections would continue to be largely misfits that can only maintain the stunted growth of the nation for.