Stakeholders want National Assembly to scrap state electoral commissions

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

The conduct of local government elections across the country has been a source of great concern to most Nigerians, particularly non-politicians. Allegations of poor performance have consistently dogged electoral bodies in the federating states.

In virtually all the instances where councils’ elections have been conducted by the states, it has been overwhelming and landslide victory for the ruling party even when results of elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) do not show such widespread popularity and acceptance of the party in power.

A case in point is the recently concluded local councils’ elections conducted by the Ogun State Independent Electoral Commission (OGSIEC).The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) swept all the 57 chairmanship seats at stake; and also won 246 out of the 249 councillorship positions contested for in the elections.

In the 2015 elections conducted by INEC, APC secured two seats out of the three Senatorial seats available; the party won seven of the House of Representatives seats out of the nine up for grabs; and 17 State Assembly seats out of the 26 seats.

Political observers argued that this trend has eroded the much-needed credibility to deepen the practice of democracy in the country. And this unfortunate development has compelled some to advocate that the INEC should take over the conduct of local government elections.

Smarting from their loss in the Local Council/Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) election and the perceived injustice occasioned by this warped system, opposition parties in Ogun State are considering a Bill that will scrap states electoral bodies.

According to Otunba Olatunde Rotimi Paseda, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governorship candidate in the 2015 election, it has become necessary to act because of the obvious inability of states electoral bodies to be fair and impartial in the conduct of elections.“What is the faith of democracy in Ogun State and indeed Nigeria, if an ordinary local government elections could not be well conducted by OGSIEC, but were rather marred with a lot of irregularities?” he queried.

He contended that so far, electoral bodies, constituted by governors and charged with the responsibility for organising council elections, have failed the people and that that they were incapable of conducting a free, fair and transparent election.

Speaking on behalf of the aggrieved political parties in the state, Paseda said since the electoral organisations have displayed gross incompetence in the conduct of a credible council elections, there was need to take a review of their composition and their relevance in the country’s democratic setting.

In particular, they called on the National Assembly to review the Electoral Act that allows Governors to constitute State Electoral Commissions to conduct council election, insisting that there are abundant evidences to show that ruling parties always manipulated the electoral bodies in their own favour in council elections.

“It is safe to say that the process of appointing members of the commission should be reviewed, where all political parties should be represented to ensure checks and balances, with a view to checkmating the electoral fraud by any government in power,” he stated.

This, they argued would instill some level of confidence in the electorate as well as check political apathy arising from the negative practice.Besides, Paseda hinted that the aggrieved parties were collaborating with other stakeholders in the state and were in the process of sponsoring a bill at the National Assembly towards scrapping the State electoral bodies.

However, not all the opposition parties in the state are in one accord on the issue. Some of them including All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), People for Democratic Change (PDC), African Democratic Congress (ADC), and Citizens Popular Party (CPP) accepted the outcome of the recent councils’ elections, describing the process as “transparent, free and fair.”

Eleven of the political parties under the aegis of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) maintained, in Abeokuta that the election was free and fair. According to the state of IPAC, Mr. Moshood Adesina the election was devoid of irregularities.

Similarly, the OGSIEC Chairman, Mrs. Risikat Ogunfemi welcomed criticism of the election but noted that the call for outright cancellation was not tenable.

“No matter how the arrangement is, people will keep picking one hole or the other. This election is a legal issue. Nobody can just call for its cancellation,” she stated and advised anybody that has issues with the election to take his or her case to the election tribunal.

The Ogun State’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) factional Chairman, Hon. Sikirulai Ogundele said he “totally” support the scraping of the State Electoral bodies.In his view, the section of the 1999 Constitution, which empowers the governors to constitute electoral bodies were “designed purposely to give room to the governors to rig the council elections.”

His words, “That aspect of the constitution that allows the governors to constitute the electoral bodies is a way of giving legal backing to them (Governors) to appoint their cronies to serve their interest and I have condemned this severally at different fora.”

Ogundele said between 1993 and 1998 the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the Local Council elections “and things were not as terrible as they are now.

“As at now, the situation has become he who pays the piper dictates the tune.”Ogundele however disagreed that if all participating political parties are represented on the State Electoral bodies, there would be fairness and transparency “because our democracy had not developed to that extent so there will still be clash of interest and confusion.”

The State Chairman of Labour Party (LP), Abayomi Arabambi also supported the idea to scrap State Electoral bodies.His reason, “The body is not only incompetent but have, also displayed absolute bias in favour of their pay masters, the governors. Members of the Electoral bodies are corrupt politicians who have disguised as technocrats, some of them are card carrying members of the parties in power, like we have in Ogun State.”

He insisted that the Electoral law should be amended to allow INEC to conduct all council elections, stressing that despite all criticisms, INEC has remained far more credible.

Arabambi confirmed that his party and other parties of “like minds” were exploring the possibility of sponsoring a bill at the National Assembly to scrap all the State Electoral bodies.

Commenting on the planned Bill, Arabambi, stated “Such Bill is necessary because it is obvious that the Governors use the State Electoral bodies and other State apparatus to rig the elections.”

“As at now, we have gotten the support of four serving Senators, two from the North and two from the South-East,” He added.He disclosed that they were still canvassing for support and mobilising stakeholders of like-minds to back their cause.

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