State governors are spending billions of naira to conduct local government elections that are always cleared by the ruling parties, leaving almost no seat for the opposition, with political activists describing the development as a mockery of democracy.
While some experts called for the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), others called for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to give powers to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections at the local government level.
They said amending the constitution was the only way to give a relatively level playing field for various political parties to produce chairmen and councillors and, by extension, competitive governance at the grassroots.
Besides clearing the polls, many states hardly reveal what they spend during local government elections; heightening suspicions that they only use the elections as a cover for sleaze.
Daily Trust reports that some states could not get anything from the N123.348 billion performance-based grants released to states by the federal government last week using fiscal transparency, accountability, expenditure efficiency, revenue mobilisation and debt sustainability as the template for the distribution.
How states conducted LG polls
Reports from states showed that despite guzzling billions of naira, the local government elections were shrouded in controversies with ruling parties clearing all the chairmanship and councillor positions in most cases.
Also, except for Kano, Rivers, Borno, Kaduna and Plateau, other states that conducted LG polls refused to disclose their expenditure when approached by our reporters.
The latest local government election in the country was conducted in Kano State on Saturday, January 16.
The elections gulped a whopping N2.3 billion, recorded low turnout amid voter apathy, while the leading opposition party in the state, PDP, boycotted the exercise.
In an interview with Daily Trust, the chairman of Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC), Professor Garba Ibrahim Sheka, said elections with the kind of democracy adopted in Nigeria were expensive.
He said N2.3 billion was earmarked for the election because of the size and population of prospective voters.
While announcing the results on Sunday, KANSIEC said the APC won all the 44 seats for the LG chairmen and 484 councilorship seats.
In neighbouring Jigawa
In Jigawa, the State Independent Electoral Commission (JISIEC) conducted elections on June 29, 2019, and the ruling APC won all the 27 local government chairmanship and 287 councillorship positions.
On the cost of the election, the Chairman of JISIEC, Alhaji Sani Ahmed Babandi, was not around when Daily Trust visited the commission’s head office along Kiyawa road in the state capital and a text message sent to his phone was not responded to.
The Director of Administration and Finance of the commission, Muhammad T. Yunusa, declined to provide the financial implications of the elections, saying it was only the chairman that could provide such information.
“I can only confirm to you that we successfully conducted the local government elections in Jigawa State on June 29, 2019.
“We have another election coming up on June 29, 2021, all things being equal. This is all I can tell you,” he said.
The last time local government elections were held in Katsina State was in 2014 under Governor Shehu Shema of the PDP, and when Governor Bello Masari took over, the elected councils were dissolved and replaced with sole administrators.
When contacted, the chairman of the State Independent Electoral Commission, Alhaji Ibrahim Bako, said no date has been fixed for another election.
In Kaduna, local government elections were conducted on May 12, 2018. APC won in 15 LGAs while PDP secured victory in four LGAs, Jema’a, Kachia, Kauru and Zangon-Kataf.
Elections were not conducted in Jaba, Kaura and Kajuru LGAs due to insecurity while that of Chikun was not concluded. Elections have not been conducted in Jaba, Kajuru and Kaura where interim management committee chairmen have been installed.
Based on the 2018 approved budget for the state, the sum of N1.013b was budgeted for the conduct of the 2018 LG election.
One of our correspondents reports that Lagos State is expected to conduct local government election this year when the four-year tenure of the incumbent elected council chairmen would elapse. During the last election, the APC cleared all the council seats.
In Ekiti, local government elections were conducted on December 7, 2019.
Their term of office will end in December 2021 even as the cost expended on the election could not be ascertained.
The ruling party, APC, won all the 16 chairmanship seats and 177 wards councillorship positions.
In Ondo, local government elections were held on August 22, 2020, and APC won all the 18 local governments and 194 councillorship seats out of 198.
LG elections and insecurity
In Plateau State, local government elections were conducted on November 11, 2018, in 13 out of the 17 LGAs of the state and the ruling APC won 12 chairmanship positions while the opposition PDP won only one seat.
The state government claimed that elections were not conducted in the remaining four LGAs due to insecurity in the areas. The governor subsequently nominated all the APC candidates in the affected LGAs as caretaker committee chairmen.
Based on Plateau’s 2018 budget, the sum of N1.040b was allocated to the state electoral body to conduct the local government election.
In Rivers State, the Commissioner for Information and Communication, Paulinius Nsirim, said the executive council had approved N2bn for the conduct LG polls.
The local government election in Akwa Ibom State was conducted on October 31 last year and PDP, which is the ruling party in the state, cleared the election unopposed as APC pulled out of the election.
The tenure of the current local government chairmen in Edo State will expire next month. However, the APC, which was the ruling party when the election was conducted, swept all the seats. Except for two council chairmen and few councillors, all others have followed Governor Godwin Obaseki who defected to the PDP last year and analysts believed that the pattern of the LG will also change.
The ruling PDP in Cross River State won all the positions in May last year when the election was conducted in the 18 local government areas of the state. However, the actual amount invested in the conduct of the election has not been disclosed.
When contacted, the commissioner for Information in Cross River State, Comrade Asu Okang, said, “The council election in the state was conducted months back and you are asking for such detail today?”
In Borno, the ruling APC cleared all positions in the local government election held in November last year. Contacted, the Chairman of BOSIEC, Alhaji Abdu Usman, said they expended over N600 million to conduct the election.
Daily Trust reports that expectations are high that the Yobe local government election will be conducted next month but it is not clear how much will be spent. In previous elections and like what obtains in other places, the APC cleared everything leaving nothing for the opposition parties.
The local government election in Gombe State was held on December 19, 2020, and the ruling APC was declared the winner after clearing all the 11 chairmanship and 114 councillorship positions.
When contacted to know how much was spent, the Commissioner for Public Affairs at GOSIEC, Mr Bulus Kudi, referred our correspondent to the chairman of the commission and the chairman did not pick his calls even as he did not reply a text message sent to him.
In Enugu State, the PDP swept all the seats when the election was conducted in February last year. Chairman of ENSIEC, Dr Mike Ajogwu, said that the outcome of the poll was like a repeat of the last council election as the PDP won all the elective seats at the chairmanship level.
However, the ENSIEC could not comment on the amount spent on the poll.
In Abia State, the local government election was conducted with the ruling party in the state, the PDP winning all the 17 chairmanship seats while the Labour Party won 10 councillorship seats in Ikwuano LGA.
‘SIECs cannot be neutral’
A former minister of National Planning and Director-General of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Professor Abubakar Sulaiman, said the state electoral commissions should be scrapped to strengthen the local government system.
Sulaiman told Daily Trust in a recent interview that: “Our focus most times is at the centre. We rarely go to what obtains at the local level. A situation where states have their electoral commissions, they should be abolished.
“If we have NUC that controls the university systems and regulation in terms of the policy, if we have WAEC regulating exams in colleges in Nigeria, if we have JAMB that conducts exams for all secondary school graduates, I think INEC should be able to conduct elections for all 36 states and the FCT. That is why in Nigeria, no state electoral commission (SIEC) has been very neutral,” he said.
LG elections nothing but fraud – CSOs
The Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, there has been a decline in the delivery of social services at the local government level due to overwhelming corruption, weak institutions and oversights.
“In Nigeria, successive governors have failed to conduct elections at the local level, thereby eroding democratic governance. Instead of elected officials, so-called caretaker committees, mainly comprised of cronies are appointed to local government offices. State governors select trusted party stalwarts to do their bidding and protect their interests.
“The worst is the elections conducted if at all; SIEC officials are appointed by the governors who do the bidding of their employers. They are blighted by partisanship and they lack capacity and adequate resources. It means almost all elections are won by the party in power. It is worrying that opposition parties are now refusing to contest in local government elections.
“To make local government work for the people, the issue of periodic elections and who conducts the elections must be settled. Importantly is also settling once and for all the challenges associated with their financial autonomy,” she said.
Also, the Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, accused the state governments of starving the local governments, rendering them dysfunctional.
“Even when elected, local governments executives have to exhibit loyalty to the state governors, instead of the people who brought them into power. As it is, for local governments to function, we need a new set of leaders at the federal and state level who are committed to ensuring local development is institutionalised,” he said.
We need constitutional amendment – Lawyers
Lawyers who spoke to Daily Trust proposed constitutional amendment to correct the anomalies afflicting LG elections and safeguard local governments’ independence.
Solomon Umoh (SAN) said it is a constitutional issue, which like other problems in Nigeria, would require a constitutional review.
“You cannot say there will not be an election, because the constitution says there must be an election,” he said.
For his part, Abdulhamid Mohammed Esq called for the conduct of local government elections by INEC to ensure independence and neutrality.
On funding, he called for independent funding from the state through first line charge to the consolidated revenue fund.
By Ismail Mudashir, Abbas Jimoh, John C. Azu (Abuja), Clement A. Oloyede (Kano), Mohammed Abubakar (Dutse), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina), Raphael Ogbonnaiye (Ado-Ekiti), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna), Ado Abubakar Musa (Jos), Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt), Eyo Charles (Calabar), Olatunji Omirin (Maiduguri), Haruna G. Yaya (Gombe) & Zahraddeen Yakubu (Kano)