Governor Godwin Obaseki

…ahead of Council Polls

By Ozioruva Aliu

ALTHOUGH there have been agitations in some quarters for Edo State to conduct local government elections, not many saw it coming this way when Governor Godwin Obaseki, some days ago, sent an amendment bill to the state House of Assembly for a review of the Edo State Local Government electoral law.

This process of democratizing the third tier of government is coming a little over a year after the tenure of the elected local government chairmen and councilors ended on March 4, 2021.

The state House of Assembly, on Monday, passed the request for the amendment of the law, which focus for review was the number of days the state electoral commission has to carry out the exercise once inaugurated that was reduced from 45 days to 15.

This position and the constitution of the Edo State Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) has drawn the ire of critics who allege that the process was a plan by Obaseki to continue to hold and control the third tier of government and, from the back door, hold majority of the delegates for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of its coming primary elections, having not been able to properly integrate members of the party who came with him from the All Progressives Congress (APC) into the PDP.

For instance, the Chairman, Coalition of Registered Political Parties (CRPP), Samson Isibor, raised eyebrows on the membership of the commission, headed by Justice James Oyomire (rtd), as he alleged that himself and other members of the Commission are going to do the bidding of the governor and would deliberately scheme out all those who may be interested in the exercise except those Obaseki wants.

He also complained that the 15 days was too short and it would shut them out.

The APC, which initially said it was not going to participate in the elections, reversed itself through its State Publicity Secretary, Peter Uwadia-Igbinigie barely 24 hours after it threatened to boycott the exercise.

Addressing a press conference at the end of a meeting at the State Secretariat of the party in Benin-City, Uwadia-Igbinigie said that APC is fully prepared and will participate in the elections as directed by the national leadership of the party.

Justification

This development has thrown up some issues which include, is the action of the government so far legal?

Have the people been asking for local government elections and are they ready to be part of the process to bring a democratic process there?

However, some of Obaseki’s supporters believe that the elections into local governments were long overdue and the action has not in any way contradicted the laws of the land.

“The Supreme Court has since decided that what governs local government elections is the state local government laws, so what has the governor done wrong?” a very senior government official said.

According to him, the same law has been amended several times by previous administrations and it can still be amended at any time by the House of Assembly which has the powers to do so.

He went on: “People have been clamoring that we should conduct local government elections, what is now the problem?

“The law is the law and we are only bound by what the law says should be done.

“Moreover, has EDSIEC said that they cannot do the elections within the time frame?

“Why will they say the time is short when they know that the tenure of the councils expired last year and the law even says the process of fresh elections ought to have started three months before their expiration of the tenure, so government is even late if you ask me.”

Supporters of the governor also believe that whatever criticism the opponents, who include members of the PDP, may have is not enough to discredit the process, arguing that the local government elections are to open the democratic space for more people to be involved in governance which, they say, is the basis for democracy.

One of them added, “There are 192 wards and 18 local government areas in the state and this means you have chairmen, vice chairmen, secretaries, elected councilors, supervisory councilors and other political appointees that would be attached to some of these people, that is a big plus for the process of deepening democracy in the state.”

Jostle for tickets

Meanwhile, the EDSIEC had fixed April 19, 2022 for the elections which have now been suspended and interested people, particularly in the PDP, had been jostling and negotiating to have the ears of the leaders so that they can ultimately be picked for the available positions.

Some of the immediate past chairmen are already lobbying to be returned for a second term but investigation shows that only a few of them would be able to return.

In Edo South, which is made up of seven local government areas, only one of the former chairmen is sure of return ticket as leaders of his area and wards have unanimously adopted him as a consensus candidate.

Another, who tried to lobby for return in the house of a leader, few days ago, was rebuffed because he was said to have lost his polling unit and ward during the 2020 governorship election in the state.

There are fears that the crisis of the inability of the PDP to harmonise may rear its head as Sunday Vanguard gathered in a local government in Edo North that a faction of the PDP, who were members of the APC, have been meeting to pick their choice candidates while another faction comprising old members of the party has also been meeting to pick their candidates and, if that is not stopped, the party could present two categories of candidates in the area.

But this fear was allayed as it is the responsibility of the state Chairman of the party to present candidates for elections to EDSIEC and, so far, the state Chairman of the party, Hon Tony Aziegbemi, has been on the side of Obaseki.

Supremacy war

Supporters of the governor and those of the old members of the PDP, led by the Chairman, South-South of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, are also seeing the local government elections as a supremacy war, especially after the Abuja court verdict against any move to dissolve the party executives from the ward to the state level to give room for harmonization.

“They refused to harmonise, they kept the governor waiting for one year, they were playing politics with the governor and they wanted the governor to fold his arms?” a supporter of the governor told Sunday Vanguard.

It is highly suspected that Obaseki wants to cash in on the elections to get statutory delegates to the presidential primary election of the PDP which is slated for May and even for other parties who may win election in some of the local government areas.

A chieftain of the PDP told Sunday Vanguard, “The court ruled against harmonization which means the governor has to work with what is on ground.

“Political parties will soon begin their presidential primaries, so the governor has access to the statutory delegates because the council chairmen, vice chairmen and secretaries are statutory delegates and that is the same scenario for other political parties because if, for instance, APC wins any local government, the chairman and other will also participate in the primary election of the party.”

However, the purported peace brokered by the Governor Samuel Ortom may calm frayed nerves.

EDSIEC preparedness

While inaugurating EDSIEC, Obaseki charged the members to be neutral in the conduct of the council polls, saying they should ensure that the electoral process was free, fair and transparent.

Later in the day, the Commission released the timetable for elections into the 18 local government areas of the state.

The Notice of Election signed by the Commission’s Secretary, Peter.O. Ojo, said the electoral body would meet with political parties.

EDSIEC said the conduct of party primaries will be between March 30 and April 6, 2022, while the publication of notice of polls at the ward collation centres will be on April 11, 2022.

7th April to 12th April, 2022 is for collection and submission of forms by political parties/submission of list of party agents, and electioneering campaign will commence on 12th April, 2022.

Aspirants will be screened between 13th and 14th April 2022 while names of candidates will be displayed on 15th April, 2022.

According to EDSIEC, submission of names of changed/substituted candidates and screening of substituted candidates is scheduled for 16th April, 2022, and 17th April, 2022 will be for final publication of listed validated candidates, while electioneering campaign will end on 18th April, 2022. 

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.