With Mumini Abdulkareem
Following months of anxiety, speculation and expectation that trailed the non conduct of the local government election in Kwara, the announcement by the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWASIEC) to hold the exercise November to fill vacant elective position, which ironically became vacant last year November has changed the narratives from opposition political parties in the state. HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes further on the issue
The announcement from the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWASIEC) on Monday to conduct the much disputed local government election, no doubt jolted the polity and was received with near-surprise by some sections of the political class many of whom had no prior knowledge or even anticipated such decision. While it served as a soothing relief to the political players, especially from the opposition parties in the state who had long debated the legality or otherwise of the non-conduct of the election, it provided another opportunity for the ruling APC to commence the political process that will lead to 2019 election in the state.
According to KWASIEC, which spoke through its long standing chairman, Dr Uthman Ajidagba, the commission has fixed November 4, 2017 for the exercise, adding that it was determined to hold credible elections in the state.
The KWASIEC boss, during a media briefing in Ilorin, used the opportunity to also notify “all political parties and other relevant stakeholders of the commencement of 2017 local government electioneering in the state.
He said the commission had concluded arrangements to hold credible elections, adding that the exercise would be hitch-free and that KWASIEC had acquired boats to be used for the poll in the riverine areas of the state to give it a comprehensive coverage and capture remote and hard to reach areas.
But since the announcement, opposition parties in the state have expressed mixed fillings, optimism and at the same time appeared pessimistic about the whole development. The distrust and suspicion some of the parties had for KWASIEC have even led to the decision to boycott the exercise.
According to the leadership of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the state, the party would not participate in the coming poll despite the announcement from KWASIEC for ‘obvious reasons’ adding that the ruling APC is only using the exercise to further its hold on the political machinery in the state.
The Kwara state secretary for AD, Hon. Sunday Michael Ologunde, additionally premised the party’s decision on lack of trust in KWASIEC and its amenability to being used by the APC to achieve its mission.
“We are not participating in the poll, we have seen that there is no iota of truth in what Kwara State government is doing concerning the election. They are the ones that appointed the KWASIEC officials and he who pays the piper, of course dictates the tune and it is made worse by the peculiarity of the unique political situation we found ourselves here in Kwara state,” he submitted.
But for the state chapter of the factional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the announcement is a good omen for the crisis-ridden main opposition party to puts its inglorious past in order, a claim that might not reflect the reality of the situation if the vibes coming from both factions in the state are anything to go by.
Speaking to this medium, factional chairman of the state’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Sunday Fagbemi, said the announcement is an impetus for the party to strategise.
“Once the crisis at the state level is resolved by the national body, then we will have time to concentrate. The announcement signals time for us to start preparing,” he added.
On his part, secretary of the state chapter of Labour Party (LP), Comrade AbdulMumini Onagun, argued that the announcement for the conduct the council election now is belated because, “it should have been conducted a year ago”.
Onagun, who berated the modus operandi of the local electoral umpire, said it has failed to convey meeting with the opposition parties on the modalities for the poll, which should have given the all the parties involved a sense of belonging and a level playing field.
He said “KWASIEC should do the needful by inviting us to a round table meeting where we will discuss the modalities for the poll. We urged them to play the game the way it should be and according to the rules so that there could be level playing ground for all political parties.
Onagun appealed to the electoral body to make the elections credible and fair, adding that there should not be a recurrence of what happened in 2013.
According to him,” Our party won in three local governments of the state, instead of giving us the victory our candidates were mercilessly beaten up, we want to ensure we are safe before we go into the poll.
He, however, urged KWASIEC to put into consideration the prevailing economic recession in determining what to be paid for the nomination forms.
While the amount to be paid is still a subject of speculation, there is no doubt that States’ Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) where elections are to be conducted henceforth across the country, including Kwara, will fall under the spotlight coming few days after the constitutional amendment process by the National Assembly.
Although the issues deliberated upon for amendment can still be described as work in progress waiting for concurrence and final assent by the House of Representatives and the President respectively, the conduct of forthcoming council elections will either add bite or weaken the narrative that has trailed clamour for national INEC to take over the conduct of local government elections.
While it will be difficult for state executives to completely hands off its influence on the local INEC, especially when it appoints and pays the piper, the coming elections must be seen as marked difference from the ugly past from the executives, the political parties and down to the electorate, who should used the opportunity to demonstrate it has risen above money and stomach infrastructure politics.
Unlike initially when most of the opposition parties were in the process of aggregating their grievances to challenge the ruling government in the court over its non conduct of the exercise, this time should serve as a period to test the acceptability of otherwise by the electorate and whether the present economic situation in the state has in anyway diminished the support hitherto being enjoyed by the APC going into the next election. Now that KWASIEC has expressed its readiness to commence the exercise, all parties involved but not embrace such decision with apathy. To be sure and all things being equal, the coming local government election should serve as a litmus test for the ruling APC, all political parties in the state, the security operatives, electoral bodies, including KWASIEC and the electorate how ready are we committed to change the electoral process for good before 2019.
It is however worrisome that the Kwara State chapter of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and even the Congress of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), which has consistently raised many alarms over the alleged decision by the state government to extend the tenure of TIC appointees to oversee the sixteen local government councils in the state and non conduct of the council elections have somehow ran out of the needed steam to size the situation since the KWASIEC announcement.
For the bodies which include the one that prides itself as the umbrella body for all political parties in Kwara State (IPAC) that once said government should focus on keeping democracy flying instead of trying a avoid a defeat through unconstitutional means (with TIC appointment), the muteness this time around is not adding value to the whole scenario.