For nearly seven years since he became the Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, has continued to latch on to different excuses for not conducting elections into local government areas of the state. Emeka Osondu recaps the debates the development has generated in the light of efforts by other states to democratise governance at the grassroots.
Stakeholders in the politics of Anambra State now appear to be at the crossroads over the non-conduct of local government election in the state since the past 10 years. The people have actually expressed apprehension that the issue of council polls in the state has
been politicised by successive administrations in the state to the detriment of grassroots governance and the growth of democracy.
In fact, what appears to be a ray of hope in recent time for the conduct of council elections has been enmeshed in political intrigues as the matter has been made to linger indefinitely by the gladiators.
So far, this is the second time that the date of the conduct of council polls in the state was announced in the past one year without conducting the elections. The election was first fixed for December 4, 2011, but was suddenly shifted indefinitely in response to wide protest against the use of a flawed voter register.
Again, the Anambra Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, announced November 9, 2011 as another likely date for the election. Just like before, the proposed elections did not hold.
Following this development, different politicians, especially, chairmanship and councillorship aspirants, who had procured forms, have called for the immediate conduct of the council elections in the state for democracy to develop at equal level with other states of the federation.
Quiet recently, many of the chairmanship and councillorship aspirants in the state gathered at the Rojenny village Oba in Idemilli South Council Area of the state to protest against the delay in the conduct of the local government elections.
The aspirants, who formed themselves into an organisation called the Association of Chairmanship and Councillorship Aspirants were joined by the Association of Igbo Youth Movement and the new Anambra Founding Fathers' Forum led by a former speaker of the old Anambra State House of Assembly, Chief Ifeanyichukwu Enechukwu, at the occasion.
They claimed that the issues of the local government elections in the state has been over-politicised and pointed out that the last time local government elections were held in the state was December 5, 1998 by the last military administration under Wing Commander Emmanuel Ukaegbu.
Since then, nothing has happened as the council elections scheduled for April 2002 could not hold because the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had directed all the state governments under its control to hold council elections at the same time in order to ensure uniformity
However, the exercise could not hold in Anambra because of the political crisis between the former governor, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju and the presidency, leading to its delay until November 2004 when a new date was assigned.
But when the elections were to hold, another crisis came up, involving the then new governor, Dr. Chris Nigige and his political godfather, Chief Chris Uba. Unfortunately, the crisis degenerated to a situation in which public institutions were razed, and led to the indefinite suspension of the elections based on "security reasons"
The Advent of Obi
When Obi took over from Ngige, expectations were high that the council elections would hold, especially that he made it an issue during his electioneering and that he would do it soon as he was sworn into office.
But strangely, seven years down the line, Obi is yet to conduct council elections, ostensibly for "security reasons". However, many political watchers are of the view that the real reason Obi did not conduct the elections during his first term was because he had no confidence in the then Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC), whose members were appointed by his Ngige. The crisis of confidence between the governor and the commission, many had argued, was enough reason for him to avoid holding council polls until the end of the five-year tenure of the commission.
It is also believed that Obi's supposed lack of trust in the electoral commission became glaring when at the end of its tenure he submitted a list which was predominantly made up of church leaders and non-partisan members for confirmation as ANSIEC to the then PDP-dominated state House of Assembly
But the lawmakers allegedly rejected the list because it was wrongly submitted. It was later resolved and the list, approved. The commission was re-constituted with Prof Titus Eze as chairman
Yet, Another Setback
However, what could be described as a new web of intrigue soon came up and stalled the proposed council polls for November 9, 2011. The new chairman of ANSIEC, Eze, was unceremoniously relieved of his position by the House on the prompting of the state government over alleged financial mismanagement.
Eze's seven-man committee was said to have been indicted after his commission was audited from 2009 to November 2010 by the office of the state Auditor-General. He was appointed in 2009 and was supposed to have vacated office after a five-year tenure.
The audit report, which was directed to the secretary to the state government, who in turn forwarded it to the legislature with a covering letter titled: Report of Periodic Audit and Inspection of Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission- Request for the Removal of the Chairman" stated that Eze embezzled N6 million meant for the review of the voters' register and that the Indepnedent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not take part in the review. It said of the N100 million meant for the award of contract by the sacked chairman in collaboration with the committee's secretary, only N5 million contract was awarded and without due process.
Part of the letter to the legislature, which urged the lawmakers to vote for Eze's removal read: "The report indicted chairman of the commission for financial impropriety, non-compliance with due process and public expenditure and prudent use of the funds released to the commission in its various projects during the period".
But Eze dismissed the report as a product of power play, treachery and malice against him by the powers-that-be. He said he was never indicted by the audit report since the report was never shown to him and he was never given fair hearing in the first place.
He, therefore, maintained that the move to remove him from office was a ploy by the government to conduct a "kangaroo" election into the various local government councils in the state. Eze had since taken the matter to court, where he prayed for his reinstatement him on the fact that he committed no offence that should warrant his removal from office
Against this backdrop, government suspended the conduct of council polls indefinitely pending the time the case is settled in court. Some of the stakeholders interviewed expressed mixed feelings over the development. While some said the removal of the ANSIEC chairman may have little to do with the financial recklessness as charged by the audit committee; others insisted that his removal was necessary to allow the election to be conducted fairly without foul play.
Those opposed to the abrupt removal of Eze from office saw it as one of the diversionary measures adopted by the Obi administration to delay the conduct of the local government elections in the state.
A former governorship candidate in the state and stalwart of the PDP, Dr. Alex Obiogbolu, said the sack of the ANSIEC chairman few months to the proposed council election in the state was worrisome and queried the actual motive behind the sack.
Obiogbolu explained that "this chairman was appointed by Governor Peter Obi, and if he (Eze) is now found to have been corrupt, it means that ab initio, the governor had not done his homework of ensuring that those he appoints into offices of high standing are of high integrity."
While wondering if the removal by the House on the prompting of the executive was just about misappropriation or whether it was centred around the pending council elections, Obiogbolu advised the governor to note that history will surely judge his administration and that "our God that sees what is hidden shall expose the machinations of the evil minds."
In an interview with THISDAY, an APGA stalwart from Awka, Mr. Samuel Onyibo Ilodigwe, said the non-conduct of the council polls in the state has stalled development at the grassroots.
Ilodigwe explained that over the years, governors of the state affected by this development had always blamed insecurity for the delay in holding the council polls.
Not minding that Obi made the issue of council polls part of his promise in 2003, he said the governor might have observed the insecurity tendencies that made him to delay the delivery of this promises.
"Governor Obi may have seen that there could be a re-occurrence of the phenomenal effect of godfatherism in the grassroots as well. Given the situation, he may have chosen to carefully delay the conduct of the elections to ensure that Anambra local government funds go to grassroots development in the state."
On the issue of time lag for the elections, he noted that the constitution does not specify the exact dates for governors to conduct council polls in their states and that being the chief security officers of their states, governors have to be careful to avoid situation that could lead to instability and waste of public fund.
"Nonetheless, I wish that after this long, Governor Obi must know what he has observed both in security and grassroots development circles, to enable him to effectively conduct the council polls so that democratic governance would the entrenched in the grassroots as well as bring democracy dividends to the people.
"It is common knowledge that the three tiers of government are actually proposed to ensure that government effects development from the top to the remotest areas of its constituency. And definitely, the governor may not find it easy to discover the various problems of the remotest areas of the state; hence the need for the local government councils.
But National chairman of Obi's All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, has condemned the non-conduct of council elections and said the situation had affected democracy in the grassroots. He also carpeted Obi for not empowering his party members and said this had been responsible for the poor running of the party in recent elections as party members out of their poor state now collect money from opponents to work against the party.
He said Obi is killing APGA by his style but assured the people that his leadership was doing something to save the party. "I can assure you that APGA will retain Anambra State in 2014. Nobody can stop us. We will make sure nobody anoints anyone to succeed him but the people. We will bring out a popular person to give us what we want," Umeh assured.
He said it was because of his opposition to the non-conduct of council polls that some people are fighting him since they gain from council funds.
The LGs as Inherited
On assumption of office in March, 2006, Obi inherited a local government system run by caretaker committees. But as a streamline measure, he had elected to use the heads of local government administrations in the various councils to run the system.
As such, with the recent recourse to the caretaker committee to replace the heads of local government administration, some people believe that the governor is close to bringing back democracy to the third tier of government in the state.
To justify this point, they argued that since Obi announced November 9, 2011 as new date for the council polls in the state, the development generated a lot of mixed feelings among stakeholders and watchers of political events in the state.
But while some expressed optimism and support for the conduct of the election, others were pessimistic that the governor's announcement was just a "window dressing" to whip up sentiments and attract support for his administration. They insisted that the proposed exercise would end up not taking place. Some even said that they were not interested in whether the local government elections were conducted or not, because according to them, politics apart, even without elected local government officials in place in Anambra, development has come to the grassroots in the state.
By the time the Mbadinuju administration left in 2003, expectations were high that the trend would be halted and that the Ngige government would conduct local government elections to pave the way for democracy to thrive at that level of government. Many people were however disappointed with what happened thereafter.
But as Ngige settled down to work, he followed the path of his predecessor and appointed transition committees for the local governments. The situation was worsened by the insecurity in Anambra occasioned by the failed abduction of Ngige.
After the dramas of that era, and the severance of his membership of PDP, Ngige, became more daring in his use of transition committees to run the local governments, continuously arguing that there was no enabling security in the state on the basis of which an election into the local governments would be conducted.
Is there Still Hope?
At the end of their recent meeting, the Conference of Political Parties, Anambra State branch led by Ameachi Obidike, state Chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), condemned the idea of using caretaker committees to run the local government areas. In a statement after their meeting held in May, the ACN and others warned that "caretaker administration or whatever name it is called remains an aberration under democratic governance. It is not in any part of the nation's constitution or the Electoral Act," adding that they would use every local and constitutional means available to fight the introduction of transition committees in the local government system.
Nevertheless, many people in Anambra still have confidence in the local government system, as a creation of the constitution. They, however, argued that the basic problem with the system is the lack of quality leadership. They expressed the belief that once good people are elected to administer the local governments, the third tier of government would be able to engender development at the grassroots.
Meanwhile, Obiogbolu has advised the state government to begin to prepare the future leaders for "our tomorrow", many of whom are rather being attracted to various criminal activities.
He gave the advice in Onitsha when he was presented with a service award by the Movement for Advancement of Democracy in Nigeria. He pointed out that the dire consequence of the neglect of the youth in Nigeria are multiplying the problems of development facing the country today, chief among which are acute unemployment, social dislocation, poverty, armed robbery and the rising incidence of kidnapping.
Obiogbolu, regretted that successive state governments have paid lip service to council administration as dictated by the Nigerian constitution, and urged them to take a cue from the outcome of the public hearing on the review of the constitution that held recently nationwide, during which millions of citizens supported the continued retention of local government councils as a tier of government.
"The best generation should not be the past or present leaders but the future generation. The youth can only be neglected at the expense of the future," he said, pointing out that the youths are the future of Anambra State and therefore, must be properly engaged to take over and improve on the legacies of the present generation of leaders.
Is Obi Truly Ready?
Perhaps, the governor has begun to see reason with persistent clamour for council election, but not without an iota of politics. Obi has reiterated his readiness to conduct council elections but added that such is possible as soon as all legal impediments are cleared.
Fielding questions recently from Journalists during the outing service for the late Mr. Azubike Nwebili, husband of the Speaker of the state assembly, Hon. Chinwe Nwebili, at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Iyiowa Odekpe, the Governor appealed to all parties still in courts to withdraw their cases.
Also speaking on the abolition of Joint Account and direct allocation of money to the councils, Obi said he lent his support to the move as long as the interest of teachers, as critical component of the education sector is contained in addition to the welfare of local government staff.
Obi commended the people of Anambra for their support in on-going government projects in the state and asked those who park vehicles along the Nkpor axis of Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage way to remove them else they are considered government property and would be forcefully removed to make way for the road construction.
He claimed to have saved enough money for the various projects his government is undertaking and that more would soon come on stream.