The Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) stirred the hornets’ nest recently when it described the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) as the “greatest democratic fraud” foisted on Nigeria’s democracy and should, therefore, be abolished. This stance reinforces the larger advocacy by stakeholders that SIECs were a dent on the integrity of Nigeria’s electoral system.
Rising on Wednesday in Abuja from the inaugural meeting of the 9th national executive meeting, IPAC President High Chief Peter Ameh, said the conduct of local government elections should become the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He said, so far, from the conduct of state elections by SIECs, it is impossible to get a free, fair and credible election under the existing arrangement.
“The current system encourages massive rigging because SIECs are under the wills and caprices of the state governments and the political party in power in each state across Nigeria. As we have seen over the years, parties that control each state will stop at nothing to tailor the results in their favour. The opposition party in the state is always left with nothing. If local authorities have autonomy and tenure guaranteed, it will be easy for the people to hold them accountable and this will in turn bring development closer to the people and thus make for a robust democracy,” he said.
Ameh stated that IPAC “will totally collaboratively support all efforts and work with the National Assembly (9th Assembly) in carrying out any necessary constitutional amendments that will lead to granting full financial and electoral autonomy to local government system and administration in Nigeria.”
“This is because we believe, without mincing words, that the presumed failure or the inability of the local councils to bring about glaring grassroots development in Nigeria, that would have positive impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians, is easily attributable to the total lack of local government election, properly so called, in Nigeria.
“It is common knowledge that most of the local government administrators are imposed on the people and this makes it naturally difficult for the citizens to hold them accountable.
“It is worthy of note that no matter the laudable programme(s) of any administration at the federal level, without corresponding efforts at the local government level, it will all amount to little or no impact in the lives of the Nigerian people.
“One of the major functions of duly elected councillors is to make bye laws for the good governance and development of all local government areas across Nigeria, but apparently that constitutionally assigned function has been greatly eroded by the excessive interference and impunity of our governors.
“These governors act with reckless impunity against “elected” local government chairmen. We have 774 local government areas and over 3, 000 councillors in Nigeria and having these large administrative network not applied optimally for the benefit of the Nigerian people is a major setback in our democracy.
“The current law as regards the administration of our local government system no longer serves the interest of the Nigerian people and must be urgently reviewed to save and promote effective local council system as expected in a proper democratic presidential system.”
Consequently, IPAC recommended the following: “States Independent Electoral Commission Section 7 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) relating to the place of local governments as the third tier of government should be amended to specifically guarantee the existence, establishment, structure, composition, finance, functions and tenure of local governments under the constitution.
“Section 153, 197 and the Third Schedule to the constitution should be amended to provide for the following re-designation and re-ordering of States Independent Electoral Commission: Joint state/local government account Section 162(5)-(7) of the Constitution should be amended to abolish the joint state/local government account.
“Section 162(5)-(7) of the constitution should be further amended to provide that any amount standing to the credit of the local government councils in the federation account should be paid directly to the various local governments.”
It is instructive that the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) had in 2017 called for the repeal of the constitutional provision establishing SIECs, which is saddled with the conduct of local government elections in the 36 states of the federation, and the power vested on INEC in order to save democracy at the local level.
Evidently, the conduct of local government elections across the country has raised series of controversies as to whether they are free, fair credible. In fact, allegations of large scale malpractices have consistently dogged electoral bodies at the grassroots level. The ruling parties at the states have in most cast swept 100 per cent of votes cast at council polls and securing landslide victories to the chagrin of the opposition who have usually resorted to violence.
We are, therefore, in sync with the advocacy for the scrapping of SIECs. Alternatively, the National Assembly should review Electoral Act on the appointment of members of the commission, which is vested in the governor, with a view to ensure that all political parties are represented. This will, to a large extent, curb electoral fraud and restore integrity of the electoral process at the local level.