EMMANUEL OBE writes that Governor Peter Obi has consistently denied the people of Anambra State a democratically-elected local government administration for six years
The issue has refused to go away, no matter how much Governor Peter Obi and his aides have wished it dead with the profuse and endless explanations they have been offering since 2006 when his administration took off.
The failure to conduct local government election in Anambra State since the governor came into office is hanging precariously on Obi’s shoulders like the proverbial albatross. And his answers do not seem to satisfy his opponents, who have continued to mount pressure on him to conduct the election.
For a governor who has resolved virtually every other political issue that stood Anambra out in the comity of states, including godfatherism, and to a great extent, thuggery, the conduct of the LG election is sticking out like a sore thumb.
Even his party men have joined in the demand for the conduct of the election. Chief Victor Umeh, who has worked with Obi since 2002 when the party started the journey to the Government House, had to break his silence two months ago when he alleged that his disfavour with the governor was caused by his persistence that the council poll should be conducted.
Umeh had alleged that the governor and some of his aides had unwittingly found themselves in a situation where they could not let go the enormous funds allocated to the LGs from the Federation Account.
And every day, more pressure is being put on the governor to set the machinery in motion for the conduct of the election. And as if to respond to the yearnings of the people, the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission recently announced at a news conference addressed by one of its commissioners, Mr. Sylvester Okonkwo, that it would soon begin the process of conducting the council poll. But that is all that has come out of the commission.
Several people, including political parties, have gone to court to get the court to compel the governor to conduct the poll. None of the cases is yet to be decided.
Hundreds of councillorship and chairmanship candidates and aspirants, who had in the past paid various kinds of nomination fees to contest the election, have been carrying out repeated demonstrations to draw attention to the need to conduct the election. None has moved the state government enough to conduct the poll.
The persistent demands for the conduct of the election are threatening to diminish the tall democratic credentials that Obi had dutifully acquired during the processes he went through to reclaim his mandate between 2003 and 2007.
A legal practitioner, Mr. Anthony Nwafor, who referred to constitutional provisions to back his case for the enthronement of democratic governance at the LG level, wondered why the government led by Obi, who he said was a beneficiary of the rule of law, could not extend the same gesture to the people at the LG level.
Quoting Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution, which he said guaranteed democratic governance at the LG level, Nwafor said, “The section provides that ‘the government of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.’ Section 7 (5) also states that ‘the functions to be conferred by laws upon local government councils shall include those set out in the Fourth Schedule to this Constitution.’ Going by the provision of the constitution, all councils in Nigeria are expected to be run by democratically elected chairmen.”
When he took office in heated and hectic circumstances in 2006, conducting an LG election in the state did not appear to be a priority, even though Anambra was far behind schedule to other states of the federation. The last council poll in the state was conducted in 2004.
At that time, the state was still smouldering from the smoke of the Nov. 10, 11 and 12, 2004 mayhem ignited by political leaders, who were opposed to the December 2004 council poll proposed by the then Chris Ngige Administration.
It was then convenient for the Obi administration to explain why he could not in all sanity take the state back to that situation, especially when the perpetrators of the mayhem and their backers were still very much around.
The state of insecurity was one reason the then Commissioner for Information and Culture, Prof. Chinyere Okunna, and her colleagues kept giving the reason why the state should be excused from conducting the election.
But many observers did not really believe the government and their story. Chief Nnamdi Okafor, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party from Idemili North LG said, “The governor knew that his party would not do well in the poll, so he was using the excuse of insecurity to buy time.”
Nnamdi Peters, an Awka-based businessman, said the governor was only trying to buy time so that the Umeh-led Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission appointed by his predecessor, Ngige, would run out its five-year tenure.
“The governor was not certain that the commission would conduct an election favourable to him. And he did not want to gamble with it. He could not replace the commission because he needed the House of Assembly to approve it.
“But you know that the house was then dominated by the PDP without a single member of the governor’s All Progressives Grand Alliance,” Peters said.
The government eventually resolved the insecurity problems that had plagued the state since 1999. This involved not only bringing an end to political thuggery, but the government also sent away all touts operating under the guise of transport unions at the motor parks.
Though the government was not able to completely do away with the operatives of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, it was able to keep them operating at a low profile.
So, by 2009, when the state was preparing for another governorship election, it had become obvious to everyone that Anambra was one of the safest states in the federation, a fact that the governor touted as one of his campaign signposts.
With the preparations for re-election getting to a feverish state, and coupled with the subsistence of the Umeh ANSIEC, the issue of the LG election was further suppressed. But it did not fail to be a campaign issue as the major contenders in the governorship election promised to conduct the poll within reasonable time if elected.
On Feb. 6, 2010, Obi was re-elected and no news came in from the government about the council poll again until a few months later when the tenure of the Umeh-led ANSIEC was due to run out.
Everyone now looked to when the tenure the Umeh would run out to see what would happen. But soon, a new twist developed. Chief Olisa Metuh, then the South-East Zonal Chairman of the PDP, while addressing the PDP members of the house of assembly, urged them to use their majority to ensure that PDP had at least half of the nominated members of the soon-to-be-reconstituted ANSIEC.
That talk sparked a row, which saw the APGA-controlled state government accusing Metuh of inciting PDP members to impeach the governor. It took a while for the issue to cool off.
Eventually, as if to respond to the yearnings of the people, Obi sent a controversial list of nominees to the HoA for its approval. The list, unlike what was known of previous list of nominees for similar commissions, contained names of religious leaders and people considered to be apolitical.
The house sent back the list to the governor for clarifications. Obi found a ready excuse in the action of the house as he told everyone that cared that the ball was no longer in his court, that once the house approved the list, he would conduct the council poll.
As if to return the ball back to the governor’s court, the House quickly approved the list without further hesitation. But then, the governor returned with a further excuse, “It is the duty of ANSIEC to conduct the election. I have no hand in it,” he said.
This was at a time the new ANSIEC led by Prof. Titus Eze, was complaining that it was yet to be funded.
Eventually, funds were made available and a timetable was set for Dec. 4, 2011 for the conduct of the council poll when the state government sent an audit report to the HoA alleging gross financial misconduct against the ANSIEC chairman, Eze.
Thus, the HoA, without even hearing from the ANSIEC boss, suspended him two months to the elections. That put paid to the election as they was postponed indefinitely.
Eze promptly went to court to fight for his reinstatement. At the point when Justice Hope Ozo was to deliver judgement, a former attorney-general in the state, Mr. Emmanuel Chukwuma, wrote to the chief judge of the state to transfer the case to another judge as he alleged bias against Justice Ozo. Since December 2011 when the case file was taken back to the chief judge, nothing more has been heard about it.
In the meantime, the state government has washed it hands clean of the election, citing the fact that it would be sub-judicial to go on with the election while the suspended chairman was challenging his removal in court. This is in spite of the fact that the then AG had said the absence of the chairman did not affect the conduct of the election since the law setting up the commission provided that any of the commissioners could preside over meetings of the commission in the absence of the chairman.
The situation has not gone down well with a cross-section of the people of the state, who believe that the absence of democratic governance at the LG level since 2002 had taken a huge toll on not only the development at the grass roots, but also on the veritable training of democratic leaders at that level.
Chief George Okoye, a former member of the HoA, said the failure to let the LGs function democratically was a crime against the people.
He said, “There are 42 people who would be chairmen and deputies. You have 210 persons who would be supervisors. You have 322 councillors. These are young men who are set up. They are provided for in the consolidated revenue of the state.”
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