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by Idang Alibi
In spite of the bad name some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have acquired for themselves by the unscrupulous behavior of some of their members, there are some out there which are deeply concerned about our nation and such ones represent a force for national redemption and for real positive change in our democratic march. From the passion with which some of their members talk about Nigeria, one can easily see that they genuinely feel they have a big role to play to right some of the wrongs observable in our democratic practice. Some of them believe they have a right and responsibility to help in instituting a reign of good governance in our polity at the various levels of government.
It is with this positive mindset that a network of CSOs recently came together under the umbrella of Election Conflict Management Team (ECMT) and decided that it must play a role in the monitoring of pre- and post- election processes in the conduct of LG elections across the country to identify, if any, the potential or real sources of conflict and what can be done to nip them in the bud or right them if they inevitably arise. This reporter was a part of that team.
Katsina state was chosen as the first pilot ground. And one of the main reasons that informed the decision to begin with Katsina was that the State’s LG election had been scheduled to take place there last Saturday September 6. The decision to start with Katsina was also motivated by the huge reputation of Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema as one of the performing governors of the federation. The Team therefore wanted to see his touch on the conduct of LG elections in the state. The group will, in due course, go to other states wherever and whenever LG election is scheduled to hold to observe the pre- and post-election processes there. If steps are not taken to identify the sources of conflict in local or any other elections and do something about them, it is reasoned, our democracy will be doomed to fail or it will not take roots soon enough.
There is every need to begin to pay a much more critical attention to LG election is because they have steadily acquired notoriety as a charade. Any party that happens to be the ruling one in any of the states, invariably coasts home to victory in LG elections, sometimes virtually unchallenged. Interestingly, the country’s four leading parties–PDP, APC, Labour Party and APGA—are each controlling a state or states. As it is, while one may be a ruling party in one or two or more states, it may be an opposition party in other states. But in states where they are in control, there have in most cases not allowed any crumb of position to go to the opposition parties; they claim all, raising suspicion that some political performance enhancing drug is being used to achieve such dubious victory.
The Team arrived Katsina three days before the election. For any democratic election at the local level to succeed, four main stakeholders must necessarily be involved: the political parties, the SIEC, the people and the security forces. The first two are the most crucial. The Team found out that in Katsina, there are two formidable opposition parties to the ruling People’s Democratic Party. They are: the All Progressive Congress and the People’s Democratic Movement. As has been the case in some other states of the federation and in spite of their well-known electoral strength, these two opposition parties refused, for various reasons, to take part in the September 6 LG elections. Left unchallenged, the PDP of course swept the polls.
The APC and PDM said they would not take part because the Katsina SIEC did not give a 90-day notice for election as contained in the National Electoral Act. It gave 60. We verified that claim and discovered that the Katsina SIEC was even ‘over generous’ to the parties because a gazetted Katsina State Local Government Councils Electoral Law 2002 signed by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua when he was governor, provides for a minimum of 21 days. The two parties also complained about the qualifications required of candidates standing for the various offices and also about the nomination form fee charged the candidates which was eventually slashed by the SIEC following the outcry.
Even with some of these ‘concessions’, the parties refused to participate. A CSO man in Katsina who claimed he is impartial says that the opposition parties in the state are simply intimidated by the quantum of work done by Governor Shehu Shema across the state and do not therefore have any credible grounds to campaign against the PDP and win election.
Whether the excuses and allegations often given by opposition parties are valid or not, it does not say well of our democracy that gradually, LG elections are becoming a no- contest event but a coronation of candidates of whichever party is the ruling one in the state. It is the fault of the system that has allowed this to become a part of our democratic culture. But the opposition parties should have a large share of the blame for most of them suffer from psychological self-defeatism. They lose mentally even before the election is held.
The truth about Nigeria is that we do not have one single party that dominates the polity like used to be the case in, for instance, Mexico with the PRI. In Nigeria, a ruling party in one state is an opposition party in another so none of them can in all honesty claim moral superiority. Every party is perpetuating the very ill it complains about in one state in another state somewhere where it is in control. There is therefore a balance of terror or misbehavior and so no one should really complain but participate in the anomaly they have all allowed to become the norm.
The solution to the possible or actual rigging of the process by the ruling party at the local level is not in the opposition chickening out of the fight or boycotting the election as happened most recently in Katsina State. We all know where the problem lies: no one outside the party that happens to form the government at the state has any trust or confidence in the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). The SIEC is seen as an arm of the ruling government. Since every party that is in power at a state controls SIEC; it means that the main force at work is the evil side of our human nature namely, that whoever senses that he has a competitive advantage in any potential fight will seek to exploit it if you let him. And that is what opposition parties have been doing. They let the ruling party get away with it. This evil will not go away unless political actors have a change of heart and resolve that the answer does not lie in running away from a
good fight but in rolling up the sleeves and getting right into the ring. There will never be a change for the better for us if this type of negative attitude on the part of whichever parties find themselves in opposition in any state continues.
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