The local government election in Kwara State coming up in November has raised some dust, especially with the exclusion of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s candidate in the race and over issues of alleged marginalisation and tax clearance. In this interview with HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, Chairman of the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWSIEC), Alhaji Uthman AbdurRahman Ajidagba clears air on some of the controversial issues relating to the commission. Excerpts:
How has preparation for the council elections been so far?
So far so good, we are doing things according to the dictates of the law because we are a creation of law and we are following it to the latter. We cannot do otherwise. It is one thing to follow the law religiously and another thing to satisfy some people. If we are caught in the dilemma of satisfying people and following the law, we will go for the law because that is the only thing that is enduring as the truth.
What are some steps you have taken since you came on board?
As a commission, our raw materials are human beings and we are for the people because they are our major resources. But be that as it may, we deal with the political parties who in turn deal with the populace. Once it was realised that elections would be conducted, the first set of people to know were the political parties and we invited them for address about the exercise and gave them dates for the different stages of the election process. We have met them about three times since we began this process and the last in the series of consultations between us was held last Friday 22nd, September, 2017. Apart from meetings held at our headquarters, we went round to also enlighten and sensitise them to let them know what’s on ground. So nobody was kept in the dark about anything.
You mean the commission visited the parties in their respective places to also enlighten them?
We invited the representatives of the parties for the meetings that took place here at our headquarters but during the tour, we invited the parties and the voters. It was a combination of both.
Where are the places you have visited and what other visitation plans you have in the pipeline?
We have so far visited Baruten, Kaiama, Patigi and Ifelodun and it has been successful so far. We are going to visit all the local governments in the state.
How have you been able to cope with the issue of funding?
As far as we are concerned here in KWSIEC, we don’t have that problem because this is not our first outing. We conducted election in 2013 and there was no complain of lack of materials. We are up to the task.
Some of the parties have alleged that the commission is not encouraging a level playing ground and stylishly working to undermine the chances of opposition parties in the state, especially through the registration process?
This is a baseless, unfounded accusation and unwarranted attack on us. When the election was to be held, we called all of them, addressed them and proclaimed the date of the election after which we gave them guidelines and the timetable based on the law. Election is not a one-day affair and there are certain things that have to take place which are time bond. 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 timetable, there was no complain of the time but when it remained just 24 hours, some of the parties were now making agitations, asking 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 there were no complain of insufficient time when we first rolled out the time table and guideline. Mark you, those who are making allegations are not the political parties per se but candidates. The Caretaker Committee Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party was here on the last day up till 3am in the morning. In fact, he came on Friday with other party officials to apologise that he was aware of what happened. It was all praises for us when they came. The candidates who were disgruntled about what happened now came to agitate. Their complaint was that they were not able to pay into the bank account in order to obtain form, but whose fault is that? And mind you, we cannot make the date elastic because if we accede to that request, another one would come and we would have opened the door to make mockery of the whole exercise.
But they have reportedly threatened to go to court?
The choice of going to court pays us because we’ll all go there and argue our cases. We are armed with fact and figures in this regard. Like I said, it’s individuals that are making this agitation and we have to remember that the law does not allow us to deal with individual candidate yet until the National Assembly finalises private candidacy bill. Until that is done, we can only deal with parties. But if on the other hand, the party feels cheated that they have facts, the recourse is the court and we are ready.
Why did the commission reject the request of cash payment for those that had problem of online payment?
We cannot do that because it will make mockery of the whole show, at this age and century for somebody advocating for payment by cash where people are going internet. We have not asked political parties to download the form via internet which we could have done. We were told in the past that political parties will bring cash and receipt will be selectively issued. What if the person that received the money disappeared with it? So to forestall untoward situation, we directed them to the bank. Mind you, payment was done via the bank in 2013 talk less of now in 2017 and if we have to accept cash, it has to be general for everybody, not selective.
But some still argued that you have reasons to accommodate these agitations in the light of the complaints raised by opposition parties?
How can a serious political party or candidate think of obtaining form on the last day? I don’t think that is reasonable. All these are ploys to disorganise the process which we will not allow
Your commission has been accused of charging for nomination and tax fees even when you are being funded by the government through the budget?
We are not a tax-collecting agency. Everybody knows that KWIRS is in charge of tax in the state, why can’t they go and complain to the agency instead of complaining to us. What we are saying is that as a statutory requirement, they have to show their tax clearance. We are not revenue agency and we don’t receive the money. All we ask them to pay for is nomination forms, N250,000 for chairmanship and N50,000 for councilors, even the bio data forms were given free of charge and all political parties in the state collected it. This was the same amount that was charged in 2013, we didn’t increase it. And as to the issue that we are being funded by the government, who else will do that and in any case, the laws allows us to charge any amount, there is already a pronouncement of competent court of law to that effect, we are only being sympathetic and considerate. This is not the first election that we will charge money, why are people bringing issues they did not raise in 2013.
Are you truly systematically marginalising Offa local government as a grand plan to weaken PDP in this election as being insinuated?
We are not marginalising anybody; 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.
State electoral commissions, including KWSIEC are always being accused by the opposition of doing the bidding of government to undermine the electoral process…
Everybody is entitled to his opinion and doing the bidding of government is not in our language here.
But is there any possibility of extending this election in the light of what is on ground?
Some political parties are even threatening to go to court if we extend and you want us to dabble into that. I don’t think that is advisable.
Since you commence activities for this election, what has been your greatest challenge so far?
It is the understanding of political parties. They are supposed to enlighten the voters but unfortunately some of them are behaving as if they don’t understand. But I think some are being mischievous, that is the issue. If we all agreed to play by the rules, there will be no problem, but in a situation where people who are suppose to know and they actually know now presenting something different to the voters, publics and electorates misleading them, that is regrettable. But we will continue to do our best and stand by the law.
When are you embarking on tour of Kwara Central?
We already have our timetable for these visitations and we will visit Kwara central last because of the proximity.
What is your reaction to the clamour for INEC to handle local government elections in the country?
Well, the 2017 local government elections in Kwara will be handled by this commission. All other things will be sorted out when we cross the bridge except there is a law tomorrow.
Are you under any threat or pressure for this election?
No, except you want to put one on me. We don’t need to satisfy anybody order than the law, period. Satisfaction to people is relative to people and what is constant is the law only.