Council Elections Reopen Old Wounds in Kwara

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After coming ‎under pressure from the opposition to disband the caretaker committee he put in place to run the local councils in Kwara, Governor Ahmed Abbdufatah has agreed to hold LG elections in the state, Hammed Shittu reports

The appointment of caretaker committees to run local government councils in the country has continued to pose a serious threat to the development of democracy at the grassroots.
Many said it amounted to a violation of the 1999 constitution. In support of that argument, they cited section 7 of the constitution.

Appointing caretakers to man local governments has no doubt hampered the development of the grassroots. This is because those appointed as members of the caretaker committees don’t often work for the councils rather they work to satisfy the interest of the people who appointed them, usually state governors.

This is why the decision of the Kwara State government to conduct elections into local government areas in the state is a welcome relief for the people.
In this wise, the government has put in place an electoral body that would see to the conduct of local government elections to enable the people elect representatives that would manage the affairs of the government closer to the people.

Following the expiration of the tenure of the democratically elected officials of the local government in the state, the state governor Ahmed Abdulfatah appointed caretakers to take charge. Almost a year after, the councils are still being run by caretakers.

Stakeholders in the state have been mounting pressures on the government to conduct local government councils poll so as to give room for the people of the grassroots to elect those that would see to the day–to-day administration of councils.

The stakeholders argued that the current state of development at the local government level called for urgent attention saying there is no meaningful socio economic development at the grassroots across the 16 local government councils in the state, a failure they attributed to absence of democratic governance at the local government.

However, as part of moves to conduct a free and fair local government councils polls, the state electoral body, the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission, headed by a university don, Dr. Usman Ajidagba has commenced preparations in earnest and set out with full commitment to hold a free and fair council poll in the state.

Addressing journalists on the level of preparation for the elections, Ajidagba said that the commission had fixed the election for November 18 this year.
No fewer than 21 political parties have indicated their interests to participate in the election..

He said that, the commission had held meetings with the representatives of the political parties on the conduct of the election.
Ajidagba said that the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Kowa Party, All Progressives Congress (APC), Young Democratic Party (YDP), Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Citizen Party of Nigeria (CPN) among others attended the consultative meetings.

Also at the meeting were representatives of United Progressive of Nigeria , Action Council Party of Nigeria, All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) United Democratic Party (UDP) , Action Alliance (AA), Democrats Alternative (DA), Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP), Citizens Popular Party (CPP) , Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN), Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), New Democrats (ND), Labour Party (LP) and Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA).
The election was initially scheduled to hold on 4th of November but was shifted to the 18th of the same month.

Ajidagba said the shift in the date of the election was considered because the commission had promised to conduct ‘‘a free and all inclusive election.”
He said: “After the announcement of the election date, people came to us from various political parties, some sent delegation pleading for a shift in the election date.

“They said some people went on hajj and they would need to participate in the electoral process like party primaries and since election involves many processes and we have promised to conduct a free and all inclusive election, we have taken note of the various apprehensions from various political parties. We have given a moratorium of two weeks. Election would therefore hold on 18th of November 20 17.”
But as preparations for the poll are in top gear, the opposition, PDP in the state has warned the state electoral body to avoid any act that may hinder the peaceful conduct of the poll.

The caretaker chairman of the party in the state, Mr. Tunde Akindehin cautioned the state electoral body against deviating from the provisions of the nation’s electoral law in conducting the council poll.
He warned that any act of arbitrariness in the process and conduct of the election would be rejected and challenged in court.
Akindehin said the party’s councillorship aspirants would obtain their forms with N35,000 while the chairmanship aspirants would pay N100,000 to obtain their own forms.

As the dust over the fees being charged by the KWSIEC was yet to settle, the PDP raised the alarm over the purported exclusion of its chairmanship candidates for Offa, Oyun and Ifelodun local government council of the state for the council poll.

The party however vowed to drag the state electoral body to court for alleged exclusion..

The party said it has come to a conclusion that the decision of the electoral commission not to recognize its candidates in the three local government areas was a deliberate attempt to deny them the right to be voted for.

The chairman, caretaker committee of the PDP in the state, Mr. Akindehin, said what the KWSIEC did typified early manipulation of the electoral process.
He alleged that the commission was not being fair to the opposition parties with its decision to ostracize some of the candidates from the election.

Akindehin, who gave an assurance that PDP would not resort to violence or self help with the position of KWSIEC, vowed that it would employ all lawful means to challenge the commission’s decision.

The PDP caretaker chairman also expressed confidence that the court of law would do justice and added that democracy must be safeguarded against abuse.
“There is no two ways to go about the exclusion (of our candidates), it was deliberately done to ensure that not even PDP, we are talking about the party in general, the people of Kwara State, who are being denied opportunity to freely express themselves, this is the beginning of manipulation and rigging of election.
“When you deny people from doing what they should do, I think you are not being fair, not only to the PDP but to all other political parties who are desirous to test their popularity during this coming election.

“But I know that a lie can only last for a very short period. There is no way they can survive it. We are not going to resort to violence but we will go through diligent way of doing things and ensure that reason prevails at the end of the day. The will of the people will prevail, and the rule of law will actually prevail.

“Of course, in democratic set up, I think the rule of law is the order of the day. In as much as we cannot resort to self help, then we will go through the lawful processes and that we would do”, Akindehin said.
But, in a swift reaction to the development, the state’s electoral body has warned parties and members of the political class against using thugs in the forthcoming council polls.
The chairman of the commission, who gave the warning in a chat with our correspondent said the commission had enlisted the support of security agencies in the state to maintain peace, law and order before, during and after the election.
He urged political parties to educate their supporters on appropriate thumb printing of the ballot papers to guide against void votes.
The KWSIEC chairman however assured all political parties, participating in the election of level playing ground.
Also speaking, a former state chairman of PDP,, Mr. Iyiola Oyedepo, called for measures against ballot snatching and violence during the election.
He advised KWSIEC to liaise with all security agencies in the state to help ensure violence-free election in all parts of the state.

Meanwhile, the ruling APC in the state has conducted its primaries through consensus.

The publicity secretary of the party in the state, Alhaji Sulyman Buhari, said that the party was ready for the council poll.
He said that the party’s candidates for 14 out of the 16 councils emerged through consensus while primaries were conducted in the remaining two local government areas.

He added that, “Prior to the primary election, the party leadership had advised aspirants to consider the option of consensus arrangements and the party is pleased to note that many councils embraced the consensus option.
“For Baruteen and Offa LGAs, the aspirants could not agree on consensus building. Therefore, the party decided to conduct primary elections for the aspirants.. While primary election has been successfully conducted in Baruteen LG, the party is aware of some issues from Offa LG.

“With the successful completion of the primary process, the APC wishes to announce its readiness to contest and win all available seats in the forthcoming council election.”
PDP and other political parties have also held their congresses during which the party’s candidates emerged. The candidates are now moving from wards to wars canvassing for votes ahead of the councils poll.
However, the contest is between the APC and the PDP.

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Appointing caretakers to man local governments has no doubt hampered the development of the grassroots.

Andulfatah
Tobi Soniyi. Deputy Editor/Group Politics Editor. THISDAY. 35 Creeks Road, Apapa, Lagos