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Confab: Scrapping SIECs and LGCs – By Ado Umar Muhammad

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Even though there is an ongoing tug of war at the National Conference over some controversial issues, including the one in reference in this piece, it is with humility and profound gratitude to God that I acknowledge the acceptance of my prayer to the delegates for the scrapping of the so-called State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs). While considering the report of the Committee on Political Parties and Electoral Matters at plenary on July 1, 2014 the distinguished delegates were reported to have graciously acquiesced to the idea that the SIECs have outlived their usefulness.

I had earlier made a passionate appeal to the delegates in an article dated May 27, 2014 and titled, “Confab: Scrap State Electoral Commissions,” published by some newspapers and online media in which I strongly recommended “the scrapping of SIECs and transferring their function to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”

To support my view, I succinctly illustrated how state governors of all parties manipulated their respective SIECs in the past 15 years to conduct local government elections in a way that portrayed how the results of the elections were skewed to favour themselves and their parties. My contention therefore was that since the SIECs had failed to level the playing field for contestants from all political parties they should not continue to exist because they have become stumbling blocks to the development of standard democratic practice in Nigeria.

For this reason, I urged the esteemed delegates to recommend a clause that would transfer the function of the state electoral commissions to INEC. I also urged that the councils be made autonomous so that autocratic governors cannot deep their hands into their funds. In their resolution, the conference delegates scrapped the SIECs, transferred their function to INEC, and recommended their autonomy and independence from state governments.  I salute them for listening to the voice of reason.

Nevertheless, it is rather ironic that not long afterwards some delegates were reported to be bent on contradicting themselves by incredulously seeking to scrap the local councils that they had saved from the governors. After debating the committee report on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government in a rowdy session on July 2, 2014, the conference was reportedly said to have “resolved” to, inter alia, delist the 774 Local Government Councils (LGCs) from the 1999 constitution.

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The committee’s report, said to have been infested with some highly contentious issues surreptitiously smuggled into it by some people, contains clearly selfish and sectional demands of some people who reckon that they would be so rich if they ultimately get the 50 per cent derivation funds they are seeking for, such that they would not need federally-funded local councils any more. Thus they want all states that can afford it to create their own councils.

In the event that delisting the local councils finally got through as part of the recommendations to be submitted to the central government the councils, as we know them today, may soon cease to exist.  May be the only thing that could save the situation is the fact that recommendations of the conference have to be subjected to debate and endorsement or otherwise by members of the National Assembly.

However, I think that it is difficult for the recommendation on local councils to sail through because of the opposition it may have to face as it will only serve sectional interests. More especially as it will block development at the grassroots level and throw hundreds of thousands of local government employees out of their jobs to the already saturated labour market.

In a country where unemployment is a very serious social problem to the extent that it is suspected of being one of the factors fueling the security challenges we are facing today, it is incredible that some elites are still pushing the idea that will make it even worse. These people seem unmindful of the dire consequences that may result because they are apparently blinded by ethnocentrism and greed.

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Consider how they rose up stoutly against the proposal for five-year allocation of 5% fund for the rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency in the North last Wednesday, even though 5% was also added to them. They want more funds purportedly for the rehabilitation of areas ravaged by oil spillage, but nothing for the war-ravaged parts of the country. As at the time of concluding this piece the matter was expected to be decided by voting, and I would not be surprised if they had their way through monetary inducement of some delegates.

But these greedy elites, as ample evidence from the way they utilized even the 13 per cent derivation funds and statutory allocations to their state governments suggest, would almost certainly use whatever amount is given to them – even if it is 100 per cent – on private jets, mansions, luxurious/bullet-proof cars and other grandeur projects that would only satisfy their selfish desires for ostentatious living rather than improve the condition of the ordinary Niger Deltan citizen, who is suffering in penury.

In any case, if it is true as alleged that those who have smuggled in the self-serving document are in cahoots with the powers-that-be then the power of incumbency and the nature of our politics today may make it possible for the councils to be delisted. Not only that, may be all of the controversial issues including 50% derivation may sail through even if the outcome may mean thousands losing their jobs and economic deprivation for some sections of the country.

Muhammad wrote in from Hotoro Quarters, Tarauni LGA, Kano <aumo21@yahoo.com>

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