The failure of some opposition parties in the state especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to meet deadline for registration of chairmanship and councillorship candidates for the forthcoming local government election in some councils has added another dimension to the accusation of alleged favouritism of candidates of the ruling party, All Progressive Party (APC) in Kwara State by the Independent Electoral Commission (KWSIEC) in the state. HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the issue and possible implication for the polity.
Do the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and others that failed to meet deadline for registration of their candidates for the forthcoming local government election is some councils still have any realistic chance of turning the table against the much more illustrious ruling party? Should the All Progressives Congress (APC) now go to sleep, home and dry, and begin to pop the Champagne with as many as 27 days ahead of the election? Or is there a shocker lurking around the corner for the ruling party come November. Above all, would the electoral umpire, the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWSIEC) be seen to have satisfied all parties involved in the contest especially bearing in mind the narrative of alleged rigging of the 2013 exercise in places like Offa by the ruling party that has refused to go away? These and many other questions will continue to agitate the minds of stakeholders as the countdown to the local government election continues.
The tone for this discourse was ignited first by the controversy that trailed the guidelines set by KWSIEC for registration of candidates for the exercise slated for November 18. The commission had fixed September 19 as last day of submission for registration forms but some opposition parties with the bulk from the PDP missed out, which attracted series of complaints. The situation expectedly did not go down well with the PDP and there was altercation between KWSIEC and affected political parties.
According to the PDP’s caretaker committee Chairman, Chief Tunde Akindehin, the party is not satisfied with the conduct of KWSIEC concerning the registration process and it would do everything to right the perceived wrong. He alleged that the KWSIEC is using bureaucracies and technicalities to systematically disenfranchise opposition candidates, thereby preparing the ruling party for victory ahead of the poll. But he assured that such alleged shenanigans would not favour the commission.
According to the Ondo indigene while speaking with Pilot Politics on the issue, “whatever KWSIEC has up in their sleeve will not help them because Nigerians know that the history of state electoral commission has not been smooth running. Manipulation or not, what we are saying is that people should be mobilised to go and vote, ensure their votes count and monitor it and whoever is announced is okay because we know that is the choice of the people.
“As at the time our money was going to the bank, the bank said they have closed and if we don’t obtain their teller, KWSIEC will not give the form. It’s because of their bureaucracy and technicalities, but we will cross the bridge when we get there.
“We are not satisfied with that conduct (of KWSIEC). The state electoral commission gave only four days for which they opened the nomination. And in an era of recession where people will have to struggle to look for money, what they have done in the first place to us is an absurdity demanding that a councillorship and chairmanship candidates to pay money”.
He added that the party would challenge the decision of the commission in court and that state laws should not be at variance with that of the central government otherwise the latter supersedes.
But in a swift reaction, KWSIEC through its Chairman, Dr Uthman AbdurRahman Ajidagba disagreed with the PDP, stressing that the party can only blame it (electoral body) for the fate that befell it in Offa.
“This is a baseless and unfounded accusation and unwarranted attack on us that we are not encouraging level playing field and stylishly working to undermine the chances of opposition parties in the state through the registration process.
“When the election was to be held, we addressed all of them and proclaimed the date of the election after which we gave them guidelines and the time table based on the law.
“Election is not a one day affair and there are certain things that have to take place which are time bound. We are created by law and our activities are guided by it. By the time parties submitted their nomination and bio data forms, it must be sixty days to the time of election. When we gave them the time table, there was no complaint of the time but when it remained just 24 hours, some of the parties were now making agitations, requesting us to extend the exercise. Some complied but those who failed to do so due to reasons best known to them are making this agitation and we have said we cannot shift it because extension would have opened the door to make mockery of the whole exercise.
“We are not marginalising anybody in Offa or elsewhere; they have complained and we have explained our position. If a political party did not submit name to stand for election in a particular area, what magic do we have to include such person. It is the problem of the political parties and they should sort it out themselves. As far as we are concerned, time is up for registration”.
On the threat to drag KWSIEC to court, Ajidagba said the commission is armed with fact and figures to argue its case.
However the hope of the opposition PDP and other political parties getting any victory from the court was dashed last week when the Kwara State High Court quashed the prayers of the party to halt the conduct of the election.
The PDP had, through its counsel, Salman Jawondo, approached the court seeking for orders to restrain KWSIEC from conducting the poll and also nullify the nomination fee of the electoral commission and the tax clearance demanded from those participating in the poll by the Kwara Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS). The party claimed alleged unconstitutionality inherent in KWSIEC guidelines for candidates participating in the council poll.
But the court on Tuesday threw out the plea of the PDP seeking to stop the conduct of the November 18 exercise.
In his judgment, Justice Sulaiman Akanbi said, there was nothing unconstitutional by the legislation passed by the Kwara State House of Assembly and therefore ordered the state electoral umpire to go ahead with the poll.
“What the Kwara State House of Assembly did constitutionally and additionally is to aide the Federal Law; the state law is not inconsistent with the Electoral law. Kwara State House of Assembly did not run foul of the constitution rather it complemented it.
“It is crystal clear that the action of the Kwara State House of Assembly is constitutionally guaranteed as regards the council elections. Section 106 of the Constitution is also emphatic on this. I therefore resolved the two issues raised by the claimant in favour of the defendants’.”
On the basis of that judgment, although KWSIEC and the ruling party seems to have won the battle, the war may not be over yet especially for the ruling APC in the council election in Offa if recent disturbing development in the polity are considered.
According to the Chief Imam of Offa, Ustadh Muideen Hussein, while speaking at the empowerment programme of the House Leader of the 24 APC member Kwara State House of Assembly, Hon Hassan Oyeleke, the people will not be fooled by their love and continue to return the ruling parties candidates even if such people are not popular or ready to add value to governance.
“This time around, the people will not vote for unpopular candidates simply because they are from APC. So it is better the party puts his house in and the scheme out anybody that will not leverage of the popularity of the party to better the lot of the people”.
In all of these, the ruling APC through its state chairman, Ishola Balogun Fulani told Pilot Politics that his party will continue to field popular and acceptable candidates for all positions.
He added that APC remained the ruling party to beat in the state and would continue to consolidate its leading positions in all elections in the state.
As things stand now, the APC should ordinarily have no contest from the opposition after the PDP shot itself in the foot before the poll by failing to register candidates for the crucial election. Coupled with the fact that place of independent candidates is out of the discussion for the coming exercise since it has not had the constitutional backing yet, will there be a tsunami of sort against the APC in the local government polls or will fringe parties like the Action Alliance (AA) and other candidate who presented chairmanship and councillorship candidates in Offa reap positively from the whole scenario. The pendulum is swinging.