Two years after, council election excites Enugu politics

Nnamani

Tomorrow’s local council election in Enugu State is set to test the strength of politicians on their claims to popularity among the grassroots and show the possible path the state would tread in 2019.

It is two years since democracy was aborted at the level of the third tier of government in Enugu State but by this weekend, residents of the state will file out to elect those who will run affairs of the local councils in the next two years.

Precisely, tomorrow is the day set aside for the conduct of election into Enugu’s 17 local government councils and 260 political wards. The election is the first since Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi assumed office on May 29, 2015.

The local government election was to be conducted in November 2015 when the tenure of elected council executives elapsed but Ugwuanyi refused to embark on the exercise over what he attributed to paucity of funds.

He also stated that his government was conducting an audit of the local government system to ascertain actual number of workforce as well as expenditure profiles of the various councils.

In place of elected council executives, he handpicked 17 council chairmen and 260 councilors as Transition Committee members to superintend the affairs of councils in the state and approached the State House of Assembly to extend the three months window allowed for operation of caretaker committees to three years.

The state is already in the mood for election with all the trappings associated with the process being employed by combatants to outwit one another. Major players in the election, the Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) and the political parties participating in the exercise are also squaring up in allegations and counter allegations over rules guiding the conduct.

Although the election is for local governments, the level of importance which the political actors have placed on it is raising the ante in the state and shows the extent to which existing parties want power and political relevance

Apart from the leading political parties that include the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC), several others are participating in the election.

Investigations conducted by The Guardian showed that, while the leading political parties are fielding candidates in all the 17 councils and wards, the smaller parties are testing their strength in a few electoral wards.

Notwithstanding, the battle appears to be one that will be fought with every arsenal available to the political parties and politicians in the state. The ENSIEC is not left out as those insisting that the commission must stick to due process and ensure that a level playing field is maintained to determine winners of the election are holding it in the jugular. Last week, a crisis was created when over 35 political parties stormed the headquarters of the commission to protest the massive disqualification of their candidates.

The ENSIEC had hinged their disqualification on non-payment of tax, non-possession of the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) among other alleged irregularities in their certificates. This did not go down well with the parties who accused the commission of acting beyond its constitutional powers.

State Chairman of the APC, Ben Nwoye, had led protesting candidates of his party to the office of the commission, where he argued that ENSIEC lacked powers to screen and disqualify any candidate cleared by political parties to run election. He accused the commission of acting under undue pressure to favour a particular political party in the state against the others.

Wondering why only candidates of opposition political parties were disqualified, Nwoye added that 71 councillorship and two chairmanship candidates were disqualified in areas considered to be the stronghold of the APC in the state.

While the complaints of Nwoye were being discussed, Chief Adonys Igwe, of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP), led a coalition of 35 other political parties to the premises of the commission in protest. Like Nwoye, Igwe also accused the commission playing against its own rules and called for the sack of the commission’s chairman, Chief Mike Ajogwu and his commissioners.

Igwe, who had threatened to resort to the law courts to stop the election, accused the commission of not only violating the rights of the candidates, but also sustaining efforts to derail the process of democracy in the councils by discouraging those ready to serve their people and encouraging “anointed candidates being put forward by godfathers.”

Two days, after the threat by Igwe and the coalition, the commission reversed itself on the disqualification of the candidates. Ajogwu, who addressed the meeting of representatives of the political parties and stakeholders, admitted that his commission was in error for disqualifying the candidates, adding that the power to disqualify was reposed in the tribunal.

He said, “I have looked into sections of the law establishing local governments and conduct of elections into councils in the state as contained in sections 106 and 107 as well as that of House of Assembly elections, I did not see anywhere tax should be used to disqualify candidates. So with this, I call on political parties whose candidates were disqualified on the basis of tax, to freely represent them for the election. They are now cleared for the election.”

Apparently not satisfied even when the ENSIEC has recanted its earlier decision, the APC last Friday approached a Federal High Court asking for an order mandating the commission to publish the list of the 260 candidates for councillorship positions of the various wards and parties as well as 17 candidates for local government chairmanship positions.

The party is equally asking for an order to restrain the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which it joined as 2nd respondent, from releasing the state’s voters’ register to the ENSIEC for the purpose of conducting and organizing council poll until the names of the candidates presented by it are included and published as candidates for the various area councils/wards they represent, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit, among others.

As the legal tango endures with other issues bothering on the ENSIEC and participating political parties, winning the council election has become a big challenge especially for Ugwuanyi and the political “big wigs” that left the PDP for the APC in the state.

While Ugwuanyi will be testing his much taunted popularity, leadership and acceptance in the state, the likes of former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governors Jim Nwobodo, Sullivan Chime, former Speaker, Eugene Odoh, Business Moguls, Samuel Onyishi, Baywood Ibe, Onyemuche Nnamani and former Military administrator, Group Capt Joe Orji (rtd) among others who dumped PDP for APC, will also like to show how politically relevant they have become by not only winning in their wards but also their local governments.

These defectors would want to use the election to demonstrate their grassroots acceptability in their quest for federal appointments. They would also like to convince the electorate that they meant business with the loud claim they mouthed long ago that APC would win Enugu governorship election in 2019, as well as the fact that they were the backbones that made the PDP and that their departure marked the doom for the party. It would also be an opportunity to break the dominance the PDP has had in the state since the return of democracy in1999.

But is it at Ugwuanyi’s tenure that the PDP would lose any ward or council to another political party? Knowing Ugwuanyi as one that puts everything he’s got into a fight, it is unlikely that he would want to cave in, despite his relationship with these leaders and political parties.

And apparently realizing that it was not a tea party, Ugwuanyi personally led the campaigns of the PDP to solicit for votes and use every available opportunity to try to convince the electorate on why his administration has not expanded the infrastructure base two years after as well as fix those he inherited that have gone bad overtime.

He would equally be using the election to prove the position of his party that the “big wigs” who jettisoned it have become political liabilities that would not be missed by the PDP. In 2015, these politicians joined Chime to deliver Ugwuanyi as governor on the platform of the PDP but the governor’s opponents said his claim of performance is a hoax and that he has not gone beyond payment of salary to about 50,000-workforce with wage bill of a little over one billion naira monthly.

Chief Mrs Beatrice Ochi, a chieftain of the PDP in Ogugu-Amoli-Owelli ward, Awgu local government told The Guardian that “Enugu is the home of the PDP and if we have continued to provide democracy dividend to the delight of the people these past years, it means nobody will like to vote against the party in this election.

“It is going to be a sweet victory to show gratitude to our performing governor for what he has been able to do in the last two years. So those angling to take over should try next time because as far we are concerned, it is going to be PDP all the way. Ugwuanyi has demonstrated that we don’t need much campaign to win this election.”

But John Udeh of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) stated, “We are seeing what looks like an election in the local governments of Enugu State for the first time. Imposition of candidates of a particular party had been the rule before now. Every party wants to win election and since there is an opportunity for that, I don’t think it will continue as an affair of a particular party. My party is desirous for a win anyhow.”



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