As Soludo Sustains Undemocratic LG System In Anambra…

In Anambra state, it is almost becoming a norm for successive governors not to conduct local government elections and the incumbent, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, appears not to be an exception, reports David-Chyddy Eleke

Successive governors in Anambra have neglected the local government system, preferring to appoint their cronies as local government chairmen. Though former Governor Peter Obi managed to conduct local government election in the twilight of his administration, many regarded it as a sham. But as shambolic as it was thought, his successors have elevated it to a higher realm by totally ignoring any attempt to democratize the local government system’s leadership.

For eight years, former Governor Willie Obiano never as little as thought of conducting election in the local government. Instead, he used appointees, whose tenure he renewed intermittently, dropping some at will until the expiration of his tenure. 

Soludo his successor seems to have imbibed the same culture, despite his profuse promise to hold the elections during his campaigns in 2021.

There had been a wave of protests recently after Soludo made the move to replace sacked appointees manning the 21 local government areas with another set of appointees. Last month, Soludo sacked all the council chairmen, ordering them to hand over to the most senior staff of their council areas. The sacked chairmen had stayed for a cumulative two years in office, as their tenure was being renewed every three months by the governor, who simply writes the leadership of the house of assembly in the state asking for a renewal of their tenure.

The sack had sparked debate among stockholders in the state. While some had expressed optimism that with the sack, the governor may commence a process for the conduct of local government election, others insisted that without the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC) in place yet, there may be no election in sight.

Few weeks after, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered the federal government to stop further remittance of council funds to the state government, pending when elections are conducted.

The suit was instituted by an Anambra Lawyer, Chukwuebuka Mmeni Esq. 

The move was hailed by many, including a chieftain of the Labour Party, Mr Valentine Ozigbo. Ozigbo in a press release begged Soludo not to expend monies belonging to Anambra State trying to upturn the judgement as it was in the best interest of Anambra people for elections to be conducted.

A glimmer of hope surfaced for those seeking local government election when early in June, 2024, the Anambra State House of Assembly passed a bill for the constitution of a state electoral commission. This gladdened the mind of many who felt that this can speed up the process for the conduct of election. 

That hope was again dashed recently, when a list of  new set of appointees was read on the floor of the house of assembly as those to work for three months as transition committee chairmen of local council areas.

The State House of Assembly has, however, confirmed the list of 21 persons forwarded to them by the governor as new transition committee chairmen.

Even though it was stated that the transition committees are to manage the administration of local government areas for three months, it was clear that they may stay well over a year or more through constant reappointment, just as their predecessors.

Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon Somtochukwu Udeze said that “this exercise is in fulfilment of Section 208 of the Local Government Law of 1999 as amended.”

Already, stakeholders in Anambra State have started condemning the defiance of the state governor for going ahead to make the appointment. All the local government  chairmen appointed are deemed to be subservient to him, and this has been said can injure development in the grassroots.

Anambra Civil Society Network (ACSONET) led by Comrade Chris Azor, in his reaction expressed concern at the constitution of the transition committees. He said civil society groups desire to see democracy at the grassroots.

According to him: “We feel worried about the development. However, we feel the governor may have nominated the transition committee members in order to avoid a vacuum.

“We implore the governor to make this the last transition to a guaranteed democracy at that level, as enshrined in Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution”.

Also, the Anambra State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has described the recent appointment of as a blatant disregard for democratic principles.

Its Chairman, Chigozie Igwe, who disclosed this in a signed statement, described the move as a “theft of democracy,” while condemning the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) government for not adhering to democratic processes. 

He said: “The local government is the foundation of democratic governance, and hijacking it is a recipe for disaster. Governor Soludo’s actions have deprived the people of Anambra State of essential amenities like schools, healthcare, markets, and infrastructure, despite approximately N195 billion accruing to local government areas over the past two years. 

“Instead, the Soludo administration has allocated a paltry sum to its handpicked Transition Council Chairmen, leaving the people in dire need of basic services. 

“This is gross mismanagement of public funds and a betrayal of the trust reposed in the government.”

The PDP warned that continuing to allocate substantial funds without elected Local Government Councils is counterproductive, particularly in the face of heightened insecurity in the state. The party added that APGA’s actions have undermined democracy in Anambra State, demanding a return to democratic governance and the conduct of proper local government elections.

Also, a group, South East APC Young Progressive Forum has condemned the move. In a statement made available  to journalists in Awka, the National Coordinator of the Forum, Comrade Paschal Candle said conducting local government elections is a statutory thing, and it is enshrined in the constitution, and not something that any aspirant to a position should be promising anyone.

“The transition committee used by the governor to run the 21 local government areas is unconstitutional and it is supposed to be a makeshift thing, pending election, but you now find out that they are almost permanent, and their tenures are renewed every three months. That is not right.

“We are not appealing to the governor, we are only reminding him of what he should have done, which he hasn’t done. He is obligated to conduct local government elections because it is statutory.

“Section 7 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The constitution stated that there must be democratically elected local government officers. So what is happening in Anambra is very disappointing. 

“At stake is trillions of Naira of local government funds. Between January and May 2024, all three tiers of government shared N5.759 trillion from the federation account. The 774 LGAs received N1.416 trillion on this figure. Yet at the Local Level, we are not seeing the development,” Candle stated.

Meanwhile, the state commissioner for Local Government, Community and Chieftaincy Matters, Hon Tony-Collins Nwabunwanne while responding to issues raised by stakeholders said: “What they don’t know is that this government is ahead of them.

“Forget what they are saying that the Soludo administration only sent the bill for the constitution of Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission to the house because of the court order on local government funds which people are talking about.

“The kind of law the house of assembly in Anambra is putting together is such that we will protect democracy at the grassroots. How many State governors have truly held local government elections, is it not those selections they do? The beauty of it is that we have a governor who wants to do the right thing, and give the state a credible election. And I bet you, it will happen sooner than people think.”

Despite the assurances of the commissioner, many indigenes of the state still believe that Soludo has failed for going back on his promise to hold local government election immediately after assuming office in 2022.

An Awka indigene, Mrs Lois Ezechi said:

“Soludo is not just a governor like other governors, he is a man who is respected,bbut his coming into office as governor has exposed him as not being different from other politicians. How can he explain the fact the he failed on his own promise, or the fact that for more than two years, all he has achieved is to keep appointing caretaker chairmen for local government areas. Was he himself appointed? Does he not think that rural folks deserve the right to vote for those they want to lead them? He has disappointed us.”

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