Since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, local government elections across the country have always been controversial.
Stakeholders say that part of the reasons is perhaps, the quest by governors and the ruling party in the state, to control the local government structure and funds accruing to them.
In some states, elections do not even hold for years at the local government level, incumbent governors often appoint caretaker committees mostly made up of cronies, loyalists and party leaders.
Amid the increased agitations in recent times for local government autonomy, observers say that this quest to control the structure of the council is perhaps, why state governors and their cronies have consistently shown lukewarm attitude and resistance to the demand.
The local government, being the third tier of government, is the closest to the people and is supposed to execute projects that would have a direct impact on the masses.
But the reverse has been the case in Nigeria. In the last twenty-two years, local government areas have been faced with poor governance, the absence of periodic credible elections, corruption and almost non-existent governance structures, among others.
Pundits say that the inability of the country to fix the leadership recruitment lapses at local government level perhaps remains a major threat and setback for Nigeria’s democracy.
Kayode Kehinde, a political analyst, says that the local government and the conduct of the election remains crucial if Nigeria is serious about deepening democracy, providing good governance especially to the grassroots and sustaining peace in the political system.
“Local government elections are fundamental to engraving the significance of democratic representation at the grassroots level. As much as this is evident in theory, little concentration is often placed on the weight of the process to sustain peace, development, and growth of a nation,” he said.
According to Kehinde, “The just-concluded local government elections are a testimonial to the reality of a steady loss of the significance of local government elections in Nigeria.
“Of course, this assertion is connected to the level of political apathy and low voter turnout. This being said, a major concern with almost all local government elections conducted in Nigeria, not only as noticed in Lagos or Ogun State, is the issue of party politics as a tool of the state government to influence the outcomes of the elections.”
Across Nigeria usually, the elections are conducted by the different States Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC), in which the ruling party wins all or most of the elective positions contested for.
In some instances, it is often boycotted by the opposition parties knowing the results are already pre-determined.
Such was the situation in the July 24 council poll in Lagos and Ogun states where the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) won all the positions contested.
In Lagos State, the APC won all the chairmanship positions in the 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the state.
The APC also won 375 out of the 377 councillors’ seats spread across the 20 LGs and 37 LCDAs.
Interestingly, only two councillors’ seats were won by the opposition candidates, with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate winning in Ward G, Yaba LCDA, while the Young Progressive Party (YPP) candidate also won in Ward D of Orile-Agege LCDA.
The conduct of the council election in both states has been condemned by observers, civic society organisation and well-meaning individuals.
To some it was a mockery of democracy and a charade. For example, in Lagos State, the election was marred by voter apathy across the state, voting irregularities, alleged manipulations and general lack of information about the voting process.
This was obvious in several polling units monitored by BusinessDay, where some people were allowed to vote with their National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) cards rather than the Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) and the Temporary Voters’ Card (TPV) the Lagos State Independent National Electoral Commission (LASIEC) had promised would be used to vote.
The overwhelming apathy toward the election in the state was a clear signal of the level of distrust the masses had about the process.
In its preliminary assessment report on the conduct of the July 24 council poll in Lagos State, Yiaga Africa, a civil society organisation, said the election results from some local government areas in Lagos were either partially announced or not announced.
Eze Nwagwu, a board member of the organisation, told journalists in a press conference a day after the election that in other places, results were not collated by the electoral officers.
“LGA results collation centres revealed that the official results were either partially announced or not announced. LASIEC officials in the Lagos Island collation centre did not conduct the results collation,” he said.
“In Ajeromi/Ifelodun, only submission of results happened at the collation centre, results from the polling units were collated and the officials left without addressing people,” he said.
The view was supported by, Cynthia Mbamalu, the group’s director of programmes, who lamented voter apathy in the election, stressing that the people showed lack of interest in the process.
According to her, “This presents a disturbing trend in a state with 6, 570, 291 registered voters and poses a major challenge to the practice of democracy in the state and Nigeria.
“The next four years will be by individuals who are elected by a very small fraction of the voting population”.
Meanwhile, in the last one week the conduct of the council election in both states have fuelled debates among pundits and stakeholders on the way forward for governance at the third tier of government.
Some stakeholders have even jokingly said that there was no need for governors to continue to spend billions of naira to conduct local government elections and that they should rather select their party loyalists to fill the positions.
Also, others have called for the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) and amendment of the 1999 Constitution to give powers to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections at the local government level.
But Sylvester Odion, a professor of political science, said the solution did not lie in handing over the conduct of local government elections to INEC, especially at a period when there are agitations for restructuring of the country and true federalism.
Akhaine said what Nigerians should rather clamour for is restructuring of the country to give regions the power to create the number of local governments that they can manage in relation to their resources.
According to him, “People are saying INEC should handle local elections; to me, that is regression. You are talking about restructuring you are not talking of centralising power.
“What we need to do is to clamour for restructuring of the country, because you should ask yourself if Lagos needs 57 local government areas and LCDAs, the 20 they had before was sufficient. These are the questions we should ask ourselves.
“If we have a restructured Nigeria the power to create local government would dissolve in the region or state and they can create the number of local governments they feel they have the resources for.
“When you have a restructured Nigeria government should not be so powerful because states or federating regions are supposed to have constitutions like the first republic. So the powers are written out just like we had in the first republic”.
The professor stressed that council election in Nigeria is often the way it is, because of the lack of internal party democracy in political parties and the general faulty electoral process.
“A situation in which the party that controls the gubernatorial in the state ends up winning all the positions because of the control they have in the party and the empire.
“There is no internal democracy in the existing party and that is because Nigeria does not have what we call institutionalised party structure.
“Despite the veto some of the governors have they would not be able to rig outright. But I don’t go with the idea that some people are saying to be the solution,” he added.
Kunle Okunade, a political analyst, said perhaps, the biggest danger in the manner council polls are conducted in Nigeria is that the electoral process is subverted to favour the candidate of the ruling party without any fear.
According to him, “Well, I see no problem in a party winning all seats credibly but I have a problem with how a ruling party would make electoral process and voting procedure to favour itself and its candidates.
“In a country like Nigeria where a ruling party in a state wins all seats in a local government elections show that the process may likely be unfair, not credible and full of electoral manipulations.
“All this kills our grassroots democracy and destroys the justification for the creation of local government. However, solutions to such manipulative processes and systems cannot be disconnected from having a people-oriented Electoral Act that will eradicate electoral fraud and punish electoral offenders.”
“Also, the opposition parties need a great deal of work to do on constructive criticism of the ruling party on the basis of scrutinising the public policies formulated and implemented by the ruling party,” the political analyst further said.
According to him, “Most often, in most of the states where the ruling party wins all seats, the opposition either boycotts or goes to the polls with weak interest. The opposition needs to engage in serious voter education on why the electorate should cast their vote for them”.
Otegbola Rasheed Adedeji, a PDP chairmanship candidate in Ejigbo LCDA in the just concluded election, alleged manipulations and irregularities in the exercise.
“I want to sincerely tell the masses that the election was a predetermined election. We thought we could beat Justice Phillips to it, but she outsmarted us.
Have you ever heard in the history of Nigeria where a national identity card has been used to vote? Even an international passport and driver licence were used to vote. I have not heard it anywhere,” Adedeji said.
According to him, “I went to some polling units to interview the LASEIC officials; I was told the use of such items was ordered from above. There was no information of such for stakeholders; if we had been told we would have objected to that.
“I even went to the police station in my area to complain but they said I should make a video recording and you know when they see a candidate coming they would stop. The APC candidates must have prepared that strategy and they put it to LASIEC that it should be allowed, it is never done in the history of election in Nigeria.”
“Don’t we hope for a better tomorrow? How long are we going to continue in this system; it is alarming,” he said.