The agitation for the conduct of local council polls in Anambra state seems to be generating heated debate in the recent past. OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU reports on the latest twist.
In Nigeria, local government authority is the third tier of government. Given that it helps to entrench democracy at the grassroots, Section 7 (sub section 1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that the local government system should be administered democratically by elected chairmen and councillors.
The constitution also empowered states except the FCT to conduct elections into their respective councils through a well established electoral board otherwise referred to as State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). However, while most states adhere to this, Anambra had not, since the expiration of the tenure of those elected from 1999 to 2003.
Governor Chris Ngige, who governed the state under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), administered council areas through transition committee (TC) members empowered by the provisions of the Local Government Law of 1999, which has now undergone several amendments.
The administration of Mr Peter Obi managed to conduct election towards the end of his second term in 2013 because it became politically expedient for his government to use the local government poll to garner support from the vast majority of citizens at the grassroots in preparation for the 2013 governorship election which the party’s candidate, Willie Obiano won, and were subsequently sworn-in on March 17, 2014. Obiano has refused to conduct any round of the election for the local councils since then.
The Arthur Eze renewed connection
In July 2020, oil magnate, Prince Arthur Eze, threatened to sue Governor Obiano for allegedly shortchanging traditional rulers in the state, by denying the monarchs what Eze claimed were their entitlements from local government funds.
Eze, who was addressing traditional rulers at the palace of the traditional ruler of Ukwulu community, Dunukofia LGA, Igwe Peter Uyanwa, recalled that there was a national policy that came to fore during the Sani Abacha regime mandating that five per cent of local government allocation should be given to traditional institutions.
According to him, “In the north and in the South-west, they still pay the five per cent allocations to traditional institutions. In the South-east only Enugu state pays that. Down here, that is not the case. What is Obiano doing with that money? He is not building industries, nothing. What is he doing with the money meant to keep our traditional institutions strong? In a few days’ time, I would take him to court to explain why he is not paying our traditional rulers that money. That’s wickedness. Igbo people hate themselves.”
Although the governor did not respond in person to the statement, his aides are all over social media abusing Prince Eze. In what appears like a vendetta, Igwe Uyanwa, who hosted the meetings, was subsequently suspended for one year by the government.
Also, the chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Anambra state chapter, Comrade Jerry Nnubia, in a recent interview regretted that the state was yet to conduct LG poll despite the clamour for many years.
Nnubia, whose congress also tried in the past to convince the state assembly to pass the Local Government Autonomy bill, but all to no avail, was however optimistic that having an elected council officials is capable of addressing the spate of unemployment at the grassroots, as well as increasing youths participation in governance.
On his part, the state secretary of PDP, Barr John Okoli Akirika, described it as a disservice to the people of the state and an indication of Obiano’s failure to get his priorities right.
“Quite surprisingly, the legislature has been indulging him in this illegality. The action borders on lack of accountability on the side of the executive and irresponsibility on the part of the legislature to demand that the government do the needful. The executive should have continued with the democratic structures it inherited and the legislature should have insisted on continuing with the democratic system they inherited,” he added.
From a legal perspective
However, recent agitations for the conduct of council polls would have been avoided if the citizens had taken advantage of an earlier court judgement to that effect.
Anambra State High Court sitting in Awka and presided by the then chief judge, Justice Peter Umeadi had on May 18, 2017 sacked the local government caretaker chairmen and councillors appointed by Governor Obiano and ordered the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission to conduct local government election in the state within 90 days of the judgment, in line with Section 64(1) of the Local Government law of Anambra state.
the judgment, Justice Umeadi held that, “I am of the firm view that the 1st and 2nd defendants in the circumstance as the tenure of the 9th and 2nd defendants were coming to a close in 2015 ought not to have surrendered their and mandate to conduct elections as they did. I hold that in the circumstance, the 1st defendant is bound to return to conduct that election since the appointment of the 9th-29th defendants into a Transition Committee is unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, null and void.
“I am of the firm view that the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants not having been able to show evidence of an emergency or any of such situation which makes it impossible to hold local government elections at the end of the tenure of 9th-29th defendants who were sworn in on 13/1/2014, the purport of constituting them into a transition Committee, when there should have been a full blown election conducted by 1st and 2nd defendants, is unacceptable, unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.
“In the circumstances, it becomes necessary that the way ought to be made to allow the 1st defendants to conduct fresh elections whose power was unfortunately abdicated in 2015.”Interestingly, Justice Umeadi has since retired from the bench and is now a card carrying member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) ruling government in the state.
From a lawyer’s point of view
A lawyer, Mr Ifendu Okwubanego, said the judgement still stands. According to him, the state government never challenged it. “They only filed a notice of appeal at the Appeal Court at Enugu and abandoned the matter. I challenge the state government to show us any other court ruling that is preventing them from organising local government elections, or any other judgment that supersedes Umeadi’s judgement on that matter.”
Mr Okwubanego enjoined all citizens to support the current agitation by lending their voices to the demand for enforcement of the High Court judgment. “Governor Willie Obiano should implement the said judgment since there is no appellate judgment that prevents the conduct of local government polls. Failure to do so would increase the level of anger against this government by highly influential personalities like Prince Arthur Eze and traditional rulers.”
On his part, a public affairs analyst, Mr Ejiofor Umegbogu, blamed non-conduct of the election on the existence of weak and uncoordinated opposition parties.He contended that leaders of the main opposition parties in the state namely PDP and APC ought to have taken the fight for local government election further by applying to the court for judgment enforcement or alternatively, urge the court to order the Accountant General for the Federation to stop further remittances to the 21 local government areas pending the enthronement of democratically-elected officials in that tier of government.