I have never liked the idea of states having their own so-called State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) for the purpose of conducting local government elections. I always have a frightening feeling about it, the kind one gets about the advocacy for state police forces. There are things like these that we shouldn’t be embarking upon as a nation because they stunt our growth. This is because we’re not yet matured enough politically, culturally and otherwise, and our democracy is still in its infancy.
Hence, as delegates to the National Conference have begun debating reports of the 20 standing committees at plenary, the outcome of which would be recommendations for the amendment of some sections of the 1999 constitution, one would not hesitate to strongly recommend the scrapping of SIECs and transferring their function to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
My fear, even before the idea was put into practice, was that the electoral commissions would be like pawns in the hands of state governors. My expectation that the chief executives would not abide by the rules of the game but use the commissions to favor themselves and the parties that brought them to power has since come to pass. This has occurred in almost all the states that conducted elections into local councils in the past 15 years, as anyone who has lived in this country would readily testify.
In all the cases that we have had so far, respective parties of the governors – whether it was the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), or now the All Progressives Congress (APC) – have always won majority of the council seats.
The reason for this, as surmised by majority of Nigerians, is the fact that the electoral commissions have been put directly under the control of state governors. They appoint the commissions’ staff, chairmen and members and pay their emoluments. Thus, the dictum “he who pays the piper dictates the tune” easily comes to play.
However, in my opinion, the crudest case of flagrant abuse of power and wanton disregard for the electoral law was witnessed by Nigerians recently after the outcome of the local government elections that took place in Kano state on May 17, 2014. Unlike in other states where majority of the seats were ‘won’ by the governors’ parties, here not a single seat was spared for the several parties that contested for the 528 council seats.
According to the chairman of KANSIEC, Dr. Sani Lawal Malumfashi, candidates of APC which is the adopted party of the governor ‘won’ all the 44 chairmanship and 484 councillorship seats! None of the over ten parties that contested, including the PDP which prides itself as the largest party in Africa, could win even a councillorship seat. This shameful act of impunity, this travesty of monumental dimension, has never occurred in any state before.
Was it real? Could it be possible? Are things so bad with the PDP that it cannot win a single seat in Kano state? No, anyone who thinks that the teeming supporters of PDP in the state, particularly those of the immediate past governor, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau who joined the party recently, cannot win even a councillorship seat anywhere in Kano state needs his head examined, even if he or she is blinded by cult-like partisanship.
Generally regarded by the people as a mere tool in the hands of the governor, no one had expected KANSIEC and its chairman to conduct free and fair polls; yet it was a big surprise that, even though it is led allegedly by an “academic,” it could condescend to play the script of those in power. To help it carry out the job, the state government made sure that all the electoral and returning officers were not just ordinary members of APC but dyed-in-the-wool Kwankwasiyya zealots.
What is more, a few days to the election a deliberate campaign of intimidation was embarked upon for the purpose of instilling fear in the minds of voters. During campaign rallies in Kano at least two people were killed in fights between rivals. With the specter of violence by Boko Haram already in the minds of the people, most voters were scared stiff to venture out to vote because of party thugs that had for days been wielding dangerous weapons along the streets.
And so on the day of the elections, Kano became a ghost town as almost the entire population preferred to remain indoors. It was as if a dawn-to-dusk curfew had been imposed. This has never happened on elections day before. Supporters of opposition parties who had the guts to venture out to polling stations were threatened, harassed and assaulted.
The Guardian newspaper of 19/05/2014 quoted an AIT reporter as saying that the elections were characterized by “electoral inconsistencies and violence.” The reporter said she witnessed two people killed at Kafin-Maiyaki and Shuwaki wards in Kiru and Tudun Wada council areas. Similarly, some civil society groups were reported to have observed that “no elections took place in seven local government areas.” According to them, there were also “rampant cases of violence and electoral malpractices, such as stuffing of ballot boxes, late arrival of election materials and delayed accreditation of voters.”
Therefore, as the state electoral commissions have failed to provide level playing fields for contestants from all parties they have undoubtedly become serious stumbling blocks against the development of standard democratic practice in Nigeria. Our delegates to the National Conference would therefore do well to save our democracy by recommending a clause that would transfer SIECs’ function to INEC.
Rather than be thinking of scrapping the 774 local government councils in the country, which have proved to be very useful at the grassroots level, the delegates should even consider making them autonomous. This would free them from the vice-like grip of the state governors, some of whom have been so despotic to the extent of depriving the councils of statutory allocated funds. Making them autonomous would also provide the convenience for INEC to conduct elections for the councils.
I am not saying that INEC is perfect. Some of the lapses of the commissions, save for their brazen behavior, could also be attributed to it. But it would certainly be in a better position to provide a level playing field for all parties in council elections as it is not under the control of the governors. In fact, I believe if Nigeria were to borrow a leaf from South Africa and bring appointments and funding of INEC directly under the National Assembly, as I once suggested in a previous piece, the strong resolve of its chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega to conduct free and fair elections in Nigeria would ultimately be achieved. Over to you, esteemed delegates.
Muhammad wrote in from Hotoro Quarters, Tarauni LGA, Kano <firstname.lastname@example.org>