Arthur Eze, Obiano trade blames over council elections in Anambra

Businessman Arthur Eze raised Anambra State’s political ante last week, when he declared that incumbent governor, Willie Obiano, would be made to repay every kobo he has received as allocations belonging to the 21 local government councils of the state since he became governor in 2014.

He lamented that development and deepening of democracy had been stalled at the grassroots level of the state by the refusal of the governor to conduct elections into the councils. He accused Obiano of handpicking cronies as Transition Committee Chairmen to run the councils’ affairs.

Eze, who received some technocrats and politicians under the aegis of All Progressives Congress (APC) Elders Forum, told them: “I want him (Obiano) to know that since he has refused to hold local government elections since he took over power, he must be ready to vomit all the allocations and revenues of the councils at the end of his tenure.

“He will not go free,” Eze said. “I have taken up the matter formally in writing with President Muhammadu Buhari concerning all Southeast governors, especially those of the geopolitical zone, who have refused to organise council elections, but chose to unilaterally usurp the functions and finances of that level of government. They will all be called to account. None will get away with it.”

Since Eze made his view public, certain interpretations had been given to it. Obiano’s government has insisted that whatever hampered the conduct of elections at the third tier of government was not its fault and that funds accruing to councils were being disbursed according to law.

It is not new what local governments have become since 1999 in the country. Various state chief executives have continued to treat that tier of government as an extension of their private concerns, handpicking and determining who runs them and their mode of operations. The system has become a platform for the settlement of self-acclaimed political godfathers, who gather to handpick those that should serve as either elected or appointed council chairmen to the detriment of the people.

All this is aimed at siphoning the revenues and allocations that accrues to the local councils thereby under-developing the councils. The Southeast zone is not immune from the ugly trend, where these resources are frittered away.

Statistics obtained from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) indicates that from May 1999 to June 2017, local governments in the Southeast zone have received over N1.8 trillion in monthly allocations. The amount is different from the internally generated revenues from the various councils. Yet, regularly conducting elections to enable the people choose their representatives have eluded the councils.

A state by state account shows that, except Enugu State that has maintained regular conduct of elections at the council level, the other four states in the zone – Ebonyi, Abia, Imo, and Anambra States – are guilty of non-conduct of council elections. They have continued to pick cronies to serve as heads of local governments.

The last time Ebonyi State had council election was three years ago. Governor Dave Umahi, who became the state’s chief executive in 2015, had since assumption of office, held elections at that level once. Others had been by appointment.

In Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, who won election in 2011 to replace Ikedi Ohakim, as governor had, on assumption of office, sacked all elected council chairmen and imposed transition chairmen in the local governments. The matter, which became a subject of litigation in various courts, appeared to be the tonic he needed to deny the state of elected council chairmen throughout his tenure. Although he has left office and a recent declaration of the court has reinstated the affected council executives, the matter is yet to abate.

Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, has not held election again in the 17 local government councils in the state since the expiration of the tenure of the last elected council executives in December 2018. He has continued to appoint transition committees that he sacks at will to administer the council areas since then. On a number of occasions, he promised to conduct elections at that level but failed. Recently, the APC chapter of the party in the state decried the level of under-development in the councils as a result of non-conduct of elections into them and appealed to the media, civil society groups and the public to join hand in demanding for council polls in the state.

There are, however, feeble promises from the states, especially Ebonyi and Abia that elections might hold within the year. In Anambra State, however, Governor Willie Obiano is said to be trailing a familiar terrain in matters of local government elections.  Sources said he might have taken his cue from his predecessor, Mr. Peter Obi, who managed to conduct a controversial election into the councils two months to his exit from the office he occupied for eight years.

Last week, the state government got the House of Assembly to renew the tenure of transition committee chairmen for the 21 local government councils for another three months. Right now, there are no visible signs that the elections may come anytime soon.

It was this level of tenure renewal approach that previous administrations continually adopted that marred attempts to hold elections in the councils in December 1998, December 2004, February 2005, November 2011, October 5, 2013, December 14, 2013 and December 21, 2013, before it was finally conducted on January 11, 2014 by former governor, Peter Obi. This was two months to the swearing in of the incumbent governor, Mr. Obiano.

Obiano is riding, however, on that order to dodge conduct of elections in the councils of the state. A controversy arose in 2016 from a failed attempt by his administration to conduct election; it is now the subject of a suit at the Supreme Court.

It was gathered that when the tenure of those elected in 2014 expired in 2016 and notices issued by Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC) for conduct of fresh elections in the councils, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had nominated and submitted a list of its cleared candidates to run in the election in the 21 local government councils of the state. However, a few weeks after the deadline for submission of list of candidates had passed without any other political party allegedly meeting with it, including the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the commission then suspended the exercise without tangible reason. The development did not go down well with APC, which challenged the action of the commission in court.

The party had contended, among other things, the declaration that its candidates be validly returned as winners in the election based on the issuance of the notice by the commission, arguing further that no other political party met the deadline set by the umpire. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was said to have joined APC in the suit. The suit, which originated from an Awka High Court, is said to be lying unattended to at the Supreme Court after the candidates of APC in the said election rejected the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Enugu division.

Obiano’s Chief Political Adviser, Ifeatu Obi-Okoye, who confirmed the existence of such matter at the Supreme Court, said: “These political parties are challenging the judgment of the Court of Appeal at the Supreme Court concerning the conduct of local government elections. In so far as this case is pending at the Supreme Court, Governor Obiano cannot conduct local government elections or unless and until the parties discontinue their appeal”.

Apparently in response to Arthur Eze’s allegation of siphoning council funds, Obi-Okoye asserted that Obiano was not in any breach of any constitution over local government elections, stressing that allegation of siphoning council funds being peddled was merely to give the governor a bad name and undermine the good intentions of APGA in the state.

He said: “In Anambra State, we have a State/Local Government Joint Account law passed by the state Assembly in 2003, which regulates the procedure and mode of expenditure of money due to local governments.  So, the governor has not violated any state law in that regard”.

He also faulted claims that APGA, as a party, was avoiding conduct of council election because it does not have capacity to win in any free and fair electoral contests in the state.

He asked: “So, it was not a true contest when we won all the 21 local government areas at the governorship election in 2017? I suppose also it was not a true contest when we won 24 out of the 30 seats at the State Assembly elections, and all of these conducted by an independent body, INEC? How then do you think we will lose elections conducted by our own ANSIEC? The problem with most of these younger political jobbers is that they have lost focus and ultimately self-confidence”.

But the state Publicity Secretary of APC, Mr. Okelo Madukaife, insisted that the suit his party filed at the court did not hamper the conduct of council election in Anambra State in anyway. He stated also that, apart from the suit, there were others in court compelling the state government to conduct regular council elections.

According to him, “Anybody who tells you that the suit is an encumbrance to council election is finding a smokescreen to dodge responsibility. It is not one case; there are cases from different angles calling for conduct of election, asking questions about who appropriates the funds of the councils where there is no election. They are asking for accountability of the local governments’ funds, among others.

“The case of APC in 2016 is that the party is saying there was time for election, when the tenure of those elected in 2014 expired. They said as at the time the tenure of those elected in 2014 expired, they were the only ones who filed the list of candidates for the election and that they should be declared winner. There are other cases saying it was illegal to appoint transition executives to run the councils.

“There is no injunction that says don’t conduct election. As I speak to you, the core issue is that they have not even appointed members of ANSIEC for the purposes of election. So, there is no encumbrance anywhere. They are simply holding the state down because of the funds from local governments, which they control.

“Anambra State Government under APGA should be kind enough to tell the world why they find it difficult to conduct local government elections. Peter Obi struggled to conduct one because there was public outcry over it and he never did it until he was set to leave office. I think that is the pattern being followed by Obiano.”

Beyond the controversy, investigations, however, revealed that the bickering in APGA since the conduct of the 2014 council election has not abated. It was learnt that the party, on the strength of the assurances from the state government, led then by Obi, allegedly made its aspirants pay certain amount of money for purposes of conducting primary for them. It eventually turned out that only a handful were allegedly picked by the trio of Obi, Obiano and then National Chairman, Victor Umeh, leaving several others, who now constituted opposition inside the party.

It is not clear, however, how Arthur Eze intends to carry out his vow going by the deluge of elections not conducted in the councils and the revenues received within those periods. A source, however, insisted that there was need to enforce constitutional clauses that endorse periodic elections at the council level if that tier is to breathe fresh air.

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