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Whereas Section 7. (1) of the constitution provides that “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils” is guaranteed many states have habitually violated this sacrosanct provision of the constitution. Governors who would themselves not brook their dismissal by the President supposedly under emergency rule have not found it wrong to dismiss elected local government councils at the least provocation.

Anambra State is unarguably the worst culprit. Since the local government elections of 1998, the State has not conducted another council election leaving the 21 councils of the state as appendages of the various Governors that have ruled the State since 1999. For most of the time the governors have appointed civil servants to superintend the councils. Governor Peter Obi may have tried to remedy the situation with his inauguration penultimate Monday of politicians as caretaker committee members, but then the constitutional flaw persists.

Vincent Ujumadu reports on the intrigues that have aborted democracy at the local government level in Anambra State.

with the recent inauguration of caretaker committees for the 21 local government areas of Anambra State and the promise by Governor Peter Obi that  local government election would be conducted soon, there appears to be hope that democracy would return to the third_ tier of government in the state before long.

In what appeared to be a parting gift to Governor Obi, the out gone House of Assembly, at its valedictory sitting penultimate week, approved Obi’s nominees for the caretaker committees.  The Former speaker, Chief Anayo Nnebe said with the new arrangement, Anambra has moved from the government of civil servants to the government of transition committees till November this year when the state will reach the promised land of having elected local government officials.

Attorney general and commissioner for justice of the state, Chief Emmanuel Chukwuma had, at the swearing in of the 21 chairmen of the caretaker committees, explained that members of the committee, whose tenure would last for three months at the first instance, were elected through an electoral college supervised by the House of Assembly. It was gathered that the explanation became necessary following arguments in some quarters that caretaker committees for local governments were illegal.

The last council poll was held in the state in 1998 before the emergence of the present democratic dispensation and since the tenure of that set ended in 2002, subsequent administrations in the state have been using caretaker committees which many people describe as an aberration.

Indeed, Dr. Chinowke Mbadinuju who governed the state between 1999 and 2003 had concluded arrangement for the local government polls as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which was ruling the state then had conducted primaries, waiting for the election proper. Up till now, all the people that emerged from that primaries still parade themselves as candidates and some of them have been describing themselves as ‘Mayors’ of their local governments.

Due to the face off between Mbadinuju and some political godfathers in the state then, the election could not hold even with structures on ground. When Mbadinuju failed to secure the PDP ticket for the 2003 general elections, the PDP settled for Dr. Chris Ngige who was eventually declared governor after the election. For the three years that Ngige was in power, the election could still not hold, although he put in place the State Independent Electoral Commission, ANSIEC, headed by Chief Cornell Umeh. Umeh was unable to conduct the election because of the problems Ngige’s administration faced with another set of godfathers, coupled with the protracted litigation over who was the actual winner of the 2003 governorship election between him and Mr. Peter Obi who contested on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.

The Ngige administration also used caretaker committees for the councils until the administration was removed by the court in 2006 when Mr. Peter Obi took over. The tenure of ANSIEC headed by Umeh ended in June, 2009 and was not reappointed by Governor Obi due to the feeling in some quarters that the board appointed by Ngige could not be trusted to conduct free and fair local government election under the APGA –controlled government.

The local government election was indeed a major campaign issue during the electioneering campaign for the 2010 governorship election as almost all the candidates of the various political parties promised to conduct the exercise without undue delay if they won the election. Since Governor Obi mounted the saddle, his administration has been using civil servants as heads of local government administrations until last week’s inauguration of the caretaker committees who are politicians.

Before the recent inauguration of the caretaker committees, chairman of ANSIEC, Professor Titus Eze had released the time table and guidelines for the local government elections which he initially fixed for December 4 last year. The guidelines stated, among other things, that aspirants to the post of chairman would pay a non – refundable deposit of N200,000, while those aspiring for councillorship position would pay a non_refundable deposit of N50,000. Eze had also authorized the parties to begin their campaigns and met severally with stakeholders during which modalities for the election were discussed.

But as the preparations were on, some of the stakeholders expressed worries over the inadequacies in the then voters’ register and advised ANSIEC to wait for the new voters’ register to be compiled by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. That was why the election was suspended last year.

However, the clamour for the exercise intensified early this year with many groups and political parties calling on the state government to conduct the exercise without further delay. For instance, some stakeholders at a meeting recently organized by the Justice, Development and Peace Commission, JDPC, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha called on the state government to strive for the democratization of the local government system in the state by conducting local government election.

The JDPC public dialogue observed that for more than 10 years, the process of grass root governance in the state was not defined, arguing that it was because there had not been elected officials in the system that made the local governments in the state to be performing below expectation. While acknowledging that the state government has painstakingly been working hard to ensure adequate service delivery, it should also encourage the existence of a democratic local government system to assist in grass root governance.

JDPC noted that the recent increase in civic and political consciousness of Anambrarians had triggered a lot of questions on the performance of local government system in the state, adding that it was for that reason that JDPC decided to organize the dialogue in the first place.

Also, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in Anambra State in its demand for the immediate conduct of local government election in the state said it is the only way to guarantee democracy at that level of government with a view to giving the grass root people a sense of belonging.

Reacting to the appointment of caretaker committees for the local government areas, the state chairman of ACN, Chief Amechi Obidike said there is no justification for the APGA led state administration to delay holding local government election in the state any further.

For the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), its worry is the fee stipulated by ANSIEC to be paid by the candidates. Chairman of CNPP in the state, Prince Isaac Onuka argued that the N200,000 and N50,000 fees fixed for chairmanship and councillorship candidates respectively was unacceptable to it, urging the commission to review it downwards without delay.

“The fees are outrageous and inhuman considering that it is a council election and a grass root one for that matter where majority of the electorate and would –be candidates are largely peasants who engage in subsistence means of livelihood. We therefore propose that the fees to be paid be pegged at N20,000 for chairmanship candidates and N10,000 for councillorship candidates,” the statement said.

CNPP also urged ANSIEC to release grants to political parties to enable them participate actively in the election, adding that this is what is obtainable in other states of the federation.

According to CNPP, ANSIEC is expected to replicate the functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which gives subventions and grants to political parties to enable them prepare for elections.

However, ANSIEC defended the fees, saying that it is only candidates sponsored by the political parties that should pay and not the aspirants, adding that the fees are in line with what was charged in other states. According to Prof Eze, payment of the fees would attach value to the election and advised the political parties to select people who are genuinely interested in contesting the election.

Though some people were opposed to the setting up of the caretaker committees for the councils, with few people threatening court action, most people in Anambra State seem to be happy that at last, the impact of politicians were beginning to be felt at the local government level. On the day they were sworn in at the Governors’ Lodge, many people from the various local government areas hired buses that conveyed them to Awka to witness the epoch –making event.

A grass root politician from Ihiala local government area who was present when his local government chairman, Chief Fred Okeke was sworn in said the good thing was that politicians were now in charge at the local government level. According to him, with the chairman and eight other members of the committee who are all from the local government holding forth at the council, the impact of local government administration would be felt more.

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