With the level of discontent trailing the proposed council election in Ebonyi State, it does not look like the outcome will be acceptable to many, writes Benjamin Nworie
For the Ebonyi State Independent Electoral commission (EBSIEC), all seem set for elections into the 13 local government areas of the state. The elections, which have been scheduled to hold on September 28, will be the third conducted since the Elechi administration came into power in 2007. And since EBSIEC released the election guidelines and timetable, a lot of politics have begun to set in. For instance, opposition political parties in the state have threatened to take legal actions if the commission fails to rescind its decision to adopt the Option A4.
The state chapters of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), amongst other opposition parties in the state, have rejected the Option A4 electoral system.
The controversy began immediately the commission disclosed that the voting system would be used to avoid the usual acrimony emanating from alleged rigging and other political gerrymandering that could have occurred if the open secret ballot system had been adopted. But the argument is that the Option A4 was adopted to favour PDP and intimidate supporters of opposition parties.
The opposition parties maintained that the credibility of the elections would not be guaranteed as the masses will boycott the election for fear of intimidation and assassination.
ACN chairman in the state, Chief Sylvester Nwambe, said Option A4 could lead to assassination and questioned the credibility of the exercise as the masses will boycott the election to save their faces, adding that if the electoral body fails to reverse to the generally accepted electoral system of open secret ballot system, the opposition parties in the state would either head to court to stop the election or would boycott the exercise completely.
“It lacks credibility. It will also produce insecurity. How can somebody be voting like that in 21st century? It is not done anywhere. It is also contrary to the Electoral Act. And they can as well appoint people into these offices instead of election. Other parties will also boycott the election because the election will lack credibility. Nobody will accept where people will have to fall behind. It can also lead to many things, including assassination.
“If I know you did not vote for me, it is possible that I will come and kill you in the night because it was so open that you are not mincing words that you don’t want to vote for me. If they don’t reverse it, we will assemble our lawyers and go to court or boycott the election. Other parties are going to meet, nobody will accept it.
Also, the state Chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Mr. Alphonsus Nwali, said his party would not expose its supporters to assassination, intimidation and other unhealthy treatment that would be meted out on them by the ruling party should the electoral body insist on the Option A4.
He noted that the EBSIEC in 2010 adopted a similar process and intimidated the people against voting the candidate of their choice, pointing out that the party would formally meet with other opposition parties in order to find a solution to the problem.
But Secretary of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Uchenna Ega, noted that the option was the best for the interest of democracy. He pointed out that the opposition parties were crying foul because they knew that they cannot defeat the PDP, adding that the 1993 election acclaimed to be most credible, free and fair was conducted under Option A4.
Corroborating this, the member representing Ishielu South constituency (PDP) and house committee chairman on EBSIEC matters, Julius Nwokpor said: “They are not properly guided in the Nigerian constitution. Why are they afraid to face the masses?
“It is even better when the masses decide to queue themselves and not collecting ballot papers which you know somebody can collect so many thousands and dodge. They should applaud the lawmakers for making that law,” he said.
Meanwhile, the State Chairman of the State Independent Electoral Commission, Mr. John Nkwuda, while releasing the guidelines for the election said the commission would go ahead with the electoral system and urged the opposition party to seek court redress if they feel aggrieved.
He warned that the commission would not hesitate to disqualify any candidate that embarks on campaign of calumny, character assassination, and other practices contrary to the Electoral Act, adding that security would be beefed up in the state to ensure
that miscreants and political thugs who may want to foment trouble before, during and after the election are apprehended and prosecuted.
According to the timetable, the release of the list of successful candidates and election campaign by political parties will commence from August 20 and end on September 27, 2013, adding that campaign must not be based on religion, ethnic group or tribal sentiments.
“We are not empowered to make laws, if we are empowered to make laws, we are not empowered to execute such laws; otherwise separation of power will be murdered. Sources of lawmaking are that the lawmakers are elected by the people and the procedure is that you go to your own representative, sponsor a motion for the amendment of the particular section of the law.
“When these things are amended, ours is to oblige and submit to the provision of that law. The Electoral Act whether reviewed or reinforced, has no provision for election into the local government council but for area council, Abuja only.
“All provision for the management of local governments is left to the House of Assembly. You should not come here to query us. Our job is to manage the electoral behaviour to a large extent otherwise you should have also come to conduct your primaries, he said.
But if there is anything that threatens to destroy the PDP in the state, the journey may have started. This is because Governor Martin Elechi is alleged to have told members of his party and aspirants in the forthcoming elections that zoning formula will not be considered.
This apart, the chairman of the state PDP, Prince Ugorji Ama Oti, has also said that there would be level playing grounds for all the contestants. He said that the automatic ticket for some council chairman is not an imposition but any other person is equally free to exercise his or her rights.
Elechi said though there might be an understanding and agreement on power zoning in the council areas, when critical situations arise, they will change the zoning formula. He spoke at the expanded PDP State Executive Council meeting at the party’s secretariat, in Abakaliki.
He argued that where the need arises to plead with the people because of certain qualities of a candidate, it was not a dictation but the law of the state is higher than law of any community.
From all indications, the governor does not want to be accused of running his administration with appointed caretaker committees for the council areas. But there is an entrenched culture of imposition of candidates against the popular demands of the people, which has characterised the September polls and has a lot in common with the governor’s position that development centre coordinators are “his personal staff”.
He reaffirmed the position of the party to allow the four council chairmen who have just served one term to go for second term to enable them complete the work they have started in their first term. The beneficiary councils are Ishielu, Ezza south, Ohaozara and Afikpo North. The remaining nine council areas are to slug it with other aspirants in the primaries.
However, rather than allow for internal democracy, the leader of the party in the state has hijacked the nomination of candidates into the various council areas. The controversy already generated by Elechi’s automatic tickets and outrageous endorsement of aspirants in some council areas have been linked to grassroots politics ahead of the 2015 general election. This reaffirmation has triggered discontent and disaffection among stakeholders in the party.
Elechi has also said more women would be given chances in the election in line with the federal government and PDP consideration of women participation in elective positions. But in these considerations, he stressed that they would spread their searchlight to the women, to know whether they are able to balance the culture of their people with expectations of their religion.
He said they would watch those who have expressed their desire to contest and know who their supporters are and if it was discovered that their supporters are from the opposition parties, who want to make an in-road into the party, they would disqualify such an aspirant.
The female affirmative action has wife of the governor, Mrs Josephine Elechi, as the project coordinator. And those on her shopping list are former commissioner for women affairs and social development, Mrs Chinyere Nwanoke; former Special Adviser on culture and tourism, Mrs Chinyere Elom. A third person, who was dropped along the line, was the coordinator of Imoha development center, Mrs Maria Okoha.
She was however dropped for insisting she will contest for the chairmanship position of Ezza North Local Government Area. Besides, the governor has also fired his personal assistant on primary health, Mrs Nora Aloh, for alleged inconsistency with his mandate. She was gunning for the chairmanship of Ezza North Local Government Area for which Mrs Maria Okoha has been tipped for the position.
Even as her dismissal has continued to generate rumpus among aggrieved stakeholders on how the governor has single-handedly rationalised the election, the disengaged female aide is said to have won the support of influential stakeholders to pursue her ambition.
The governor argued that if they allowed everybody into the party without checking their track records, it could lead to the insinuations that politics is a dirty game.
“When critical situations arise, we change our zoning because we are faced with new imperatives that we cannot brush aside. In so doing, we are not contradicting ourselves that there is no imposition of candidate. But where the need arises to plead with the people because of certain qualities of a candidate, it is not a dictation.
“With the military, there was imposition of candidates. With the military there were a lot of manipulations of results in other to suit the dictates of the master. In the military dispensation, people had little or no chance about the quality of the candidate they were voting for.
“But we are simply appreciating that there is a new factor, an environment that tends to fault earlier decisions. And that is why we reaffirmed the decision to allowed four council chairmen who have put in one term and were by understanding or agreement, vacate at the end of that one term to complete their second term since they are doing well, he said,” he said.
As it is, the die is cast and everyone seems set to prove a point, especially that the reasons for the Option A4 are understood better than the excuses of the state. What is however certain is that unless something gives way by virtue of reasoning, it does not look good yet for the proposed council election in Ebonyi state, despite having fixed September 28 for the exercise.