Kaduna LG poll: Better late than never

During his gubernatorial campaign in 2015, Malam Nasir el-Rufai promised to organize local government election in Kaduna state within three months of assuming office. However, the governor of Kaduna state has run the local governments for almost three years without elected council chairmen, in spite of several court order compelling him to hold elections. Last week, Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (KADIESCOM) has fixed May 12 for the local government polls. ABDULRAHEEM AODU chronicles the false starts, hiccups and the challenges that have frustrated the election in the last three years .

Kaduna LG poll to hold at last
Last week, Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (KADSIECOM) announced that the local government elections will hold across the 23 local government areas on May 12, 2018. In addition, the commission revealed that Electronic Voting Machines and Smart Card Readers will be deployed for the polls. Before now, the election has been eagerly expected because since 2015, when Governor Nasir El Rufai assumed office, local governments have been under unelected officials. Significantly, the administration had been sued for not holding elections at the third tier of government and judgement had been entered against Kaduna state government to no avail.

Some time last year, the state electoral commission had slated the election for December 30, 2017. However, the proposed poll had to be cancelled due to the non passage of the bill, authorizing the use of Electronic Voting Machine by the Kaduna State House of Assembly. In record time, the bill was passed and last week, the chairman of KADSIECOM, Dr Saratu Binta Dikko-Audu told political parties and stakeholders of the commission’s readiness to conduct the election in about three month’s time.

Unveiling the guidelines
In a press conference, Dr Dikko-Audu had announced that KADSIECOM ‘’has completed plans to hold elections to positions of chairman, vice chairman and councilors in all the 23 local government areas of Kaduna state on Saturday, 12th May, 2018. “We shall be using Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and the smart card readers in the conduct of these elections,” she said.

Similarly, the chairman said that the commission has enough voting machines for the 5,101 polling units across the state. By that announcement, she said that campaigns can commence and ‘’party primaries may be organized as from 20th February until 27th March, 2018 with the campaigns ending at midnight of 11th May, 2018. Dr Dikko-Audu strongly advised political parties and politicians to strictly follow the election timetable and guidelines in order not to fall afoul of the State Electoral Law.

In particular, she warned against hate speech and violence and that KADSIECOM ‘’ is committed to conducting elections that are free, fair and credible.” The commission’s chairman further said that each chairmanship candidates will be expected to pay N200,000 while candidates for councilor will be expected to pay N50,000 to be financially eligible to contest for the election.

Significantly, Kaduna state is poised to become the first state to hold electronic voting in Nigeria and the second country in Africa to use electronic voting after Namibia. Other countries where EVM have been used include Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Curacao, Haiti, Mexico, Philippines, USA and Venezuela.

However, the achievement came with a heavy political price as the people at the grassroots were governed by unelected leaders and Governor El Rufai was severally harassed and accused of frustrating democracy at the third tier of government.

Deferring a campaign promise
El Rufai, as a gubernatorial candidate in 2015, had promised to organise local government elections within three months of assuming office during his campaign. Specifically, on October 4, 2016, the Kaduna state chapter of main opposition Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) had faulted Governor El-Rufai, over failure to conduct local government election, following the expiration of the tenure of the interim councils in the state a few days earlier. In a statement, the party accused the state governor of contravening the law that warrants the conduct of the election as provided for in Section 12 Sub-Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution. The statement challenged the governor and the legislature as custodians of the law to rise in defence of same by conducting the election.

According to PDP, anything contrary to holding election will amount to an attempt to ridicule the local government system, thereby denying the people at the grassroots the right to good governance. Significantly, that year, the state government had budgeted N3.5 billion for the local government polls, but the election never held. In particular, the combined plan to use Electronic Voting Machines and Smart Card Readers , a court order restraining the state government and KADSIECOM from conducting the election until an enabling law is passed and lack of preparedness by the Kaduna state electoral umpire all contributed to the delay.

Court orders el-Rufai to conduct council elections
Miffed by what they believed was government’s reluctance to conduct the local government elections, stakeholders went to court and obtained court judgment ordering Governor El-Rufai to conduct the election in 2016. Specifically, Mr Alex Hyamu had sued Governor El-Rufai, Kaduna State Attorney General, Kaduna State House of Assembly Speaker and Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission, challenging the propriety and constitutionality of constituting the committees. He asked for determination and sought relief on “whether the provision of Section 13(3) (a)(b)(c) and (d) of Kaduna State Local Government Administration (amendment law) 2016, which empowers the governor and Kaduna State House of Assembly to appoint IMC without conducting democratic election is not inconsistent with provision of Section 1(2) and Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999; and by virture whereof they are unconstitutional, null and void to that extent.” Delivering judgement, Justice Mairo Mohammed of Kaduna State High Court, sacked the Interim Management Committees (IMC) appointed by Governor El-Rufai to run the 23 local government councils of the state. The judge said their existence was “unconstitutional and, as such, null and void”. Significantly, Justice Mohammed had ordered for fresh elections for the councils within 90 days of the judgment, based on the provision of No. 10 Kaduna SIECOM law of 2012. However, the governor neither complied with the court order nor appealed the judgement.

Opposition parties kick
For this reason, the opposition parties accused Governor El-Rufai of not only defying a court order but undermining democracy by deliberating refusing to conduct local government elections within 90days as Justice Mohammed had directed. Speaking under the aegis of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Kaduna State Coalition of Political Parties (KCPP) and Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), the opposition parties said that the state government has total disrespect for the court of law. A statement jointly signed by Hon. Umar Farouk Ibrahim, Mohammed Sani Ahmed, and Comrade Ahmed Abdulmalik stated that rather than conduct local government election, the APC led government went to procure Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) even before the law backing the process by the State House of Assembly was passed. The statement pointed out that no opposition political party or stakeholders were involved in the process. For this reason, it is obviously crystal clear that the Kaduna state government has usurped the functions of the so called Kaduna State Independence Electoral Commission and rendered its independence doubtful, they had argued.

“After a very critical study of Malam Nasir el-Rufai’s activities and programmes as regard the local government elections as well as SIECOM’s activities that are directed by him, it is very clear that he is never interested and willing to conduct local government polls within the period of his administration. The so called process is a charade aimed at short-changing the electorates.”

Speaking in the same vein, a coalition of opposition political parties known as G23 Political Alliance, had called on El-Rufai to take a cue from the states that have conducted their local government election and follow suit. The Alliance, rising from its quarterly meeting, also underscored the need for the governor to conduct the council election so that people at the grassroots can also enjoy the dividends of democracy. Chairman of the Alliance, Olu Lucky Turaki gave El Rufai kudos in some respects. According to him, the alliance has ‘’ seen some good things he’s doing and we can say he has good intention for the state. But without substantive chairmen at the grassroots where most people that make up the larger percentage of the population live, that means these people are missing a lot because the developmental projects are not reaching them.’’

Election scheduled for May
Last year, amidst all the hues and cries, KADSIECOM took delivery of equipment for the elections and announced that the local government election was going to hold on the 30th December, 2017. Dr Dikko-Audu announced this to stakeholders at an interactive session, which included reporters, security agencies and political parties at the Commission’s headquarters. However, the euphoria that greeted the announcement suffered sudden death as the state House of Assembly halted the election.

According to the legislators, they were not formally informed of the use of Electronic Voting Machines and Smart Card Readers for the election. The KADSIECOM Chairman, after an emergency meeting with the House Committee on Judiciary, announced that the election has been postponed indefinitely. According to her, ‘’the postponement was necessary as the Assembly has not passed the new law to guide the election, so when the law is passed and assented to by the Governor we will make a new announcement on the election.” The SIECOM boss further explained that before announcing the date for the election, the commission had anticipated the amendment of the law to have been made and assented to by Governor El Rufai. According to her, “ the existing law doesn’t allow us to use electronic-voting, unless there is an amendment of the existing law and assented to.’’

On February 6, the state House of Assembly amended the law, the governor assented to it and penultimate Friday, KADSIECOM announced that local government election will hold throughout Kaduna state on May 12.

Blazing the trail
Kaduna state, by adopting electronic voting in the coming council election, is set to become the first state to use Electronic Voting Machines for election. KADSIECOM Chairman, Dr Dikko Audu said they adopted the system of voting following a study trip to Brazil, where members of the commission examined the processes and technology that supports it. According to her, the commission’s staff have been sufficiently trained on how to use them. The KADSIECOM boss said the machine will be taken to all the polling units in the state where the commisssion will have the opportunity of demonstrating its usage for at least three days before the election. Dr Dikko-Audu reiterated that the Electronic Voting Machine will ensure free, fair and credible election and minimize instances of rigging. “The advantages of electronic voting include use of safety components, it guarantees security and integrity of vote, it cuts out blank and void votes, fast counting, the whole process is automated, it is customised to your needs, the terminal is between 5kg and 10kg in weight and easy to transport with 10 to 16hrs battery life,’’ she said.

The KADSIECOM chairperson allayed fears about how to operate the machine, assuring that it is user-friendly. She said that “if the rural people are able to recognize the logo of parties on ballot papers, they would be able to recognize same on the machine and use. The machine is a lot easier to use than mobile phones that they use.”

How sensitised are voters?
The major question however is that how well has the electorates been sensitized about the Electronic Voting Machine and Smart Card Reader which are being introduced to them? According to analysts, while the machine may guarantee free, fair and credible elections and results, the electorates must know how to use it before they could partake in the elections. Without people’s participation, the election cannot be said to be successful. In this regard, KADSIECOM has engaged in series of sensitization amongst focal groups. The Commissioner in charge of Public Affairs and Information of KADSIECOM, Prof. Andrew Nkom, during the flag off of one of such sensitizations, had said that the commission is not just interested in educating people on how to use the Electronic Voting Machine but to properly educate all citizens of Kaduna state to make informed choices as stakeholders in a democracy. By so doing, they are better able to participate in all the activities of the electoral process, including actual elections. According to him, the public education drive carried out in all local government areas of Kaduna state, was successful, given the interest it generated as shown by informed comments and even questions that were asked. “This has shown the potential in State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECOMS) as those working at the grassroots level, to raise the quality of elected persons as representatives, in all elections and as the means for deepening democracy in Nigeria.” In addition to this sensitization, the KADSIECOM Chairman revealed that the machines will be deployed to all the wards in the state as from this week for test running. Dr Dikko-Audu asked, the electorate to use the opportunity of using the machine before the actual election date.

For the people of Kaduna state, May 12 will be a day that they will, for the first time in this dispensation, elect their leaders at the local governments. For Governor El Rufai, it is a date with history as he will be treading where others even fear to set foot.

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