Many local councils, as presently constituted, are illegal. There is need to run them within the law
Last week, at the second annual conference of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions of Nigeria (FOSIECON) in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, the critical question that engaged participant was: when will council elections be conducted in most states of the federation? Ordinarily, it should be a needless question but for the kind of politics we play in Nigeria. Even though the constitution provides for the election of chairmen and councillors to run local governments, they are more or less administered by caretaker committees and sole administrators selected at the whims of state governors.
At the last count, only 13 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have elected council chairmen. In some states like Anambra, council polls have not been held for upwards of a decade. But this baffling and outrageous tradition was challenged last week when INEC and FOSIECON called on states that have been foot-dragging on this very important arm of government, designed to improve the performance of public services at the grassroots, to buckle up and conduct the elections. The stakeholders argued, and rightly so, that elections into the council would not only deepen the country’s democracy, but would also be doing what is right as provided by the law. The communiqué listed the nine states of the federation that have not constituted their States Independent Electoral Commissions which is critical to conducting the elections, to immediately do so.
Over the years, the reluctance of states to conduct local council elections had been a source of friction in the polity. Opposition parties in many of the states have shouted themselves hoarse to no avail. Only recently, the House of Representatives drew attention of the governors to the illegality of appointing caretaker committees, which they described as “a clear violation of section 7 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria.”
From all available evidence, it would seem that governors are reluctant to conduct local government elections due to fears that the “opposition” might upturn the political scale. That perhaps explains why where elections have been held at all, they were no more than charade where voters were constantly reminded, even while on the queue, on how to cast their ballot. In some states, officials even brazenly proclaim that “there is no room for the opposition here”. In the last July polls in Ogun State for instance, the Action Congress (ACN) won all the 20 chairmanship seats and 226 out of the total 236 wards.
The 1999 Constitution in its Fourth Schedule outlined the functions, duties and responsibilities of the local councils. Unfortunately the constitution is silent regarding any protective mechanism that guarantees financial and political autonomy to the councils. Even more worrisome, there is no clear-cut timeline for elections of officials of the council nor is there any word on the tenure of council officials. Most of these crucial decisions are left at the whims of the state governors who have effectively hijacked the local councils and converted them to their personal estates whereby they dispense favour to political allies using the funds of the local councils as it pleases them.
The implications are clear: infrastructure has been badly hit. There is no money to maintain roads, provide running water, education and health services. Even when we have no faith in the council polls being conducted by the states, we still believe the law must be followed. So to that extent, we join the call by INEC and FOSIECON that states that have not done so should conduct council elections as specified by the 1999 constitution. As being presently run, the councils in most states are blatant perversions.