UNENDING BLAME GAME IN THE KWARA LG POLL

Filed in Politics by on November 7, 2010

Unending blame game in the Kwara LG poll
By EMMANUEL ADDEH
Sunday, 7 Nov 2010

One week after the local government election held in Kwara State, EMMANUEL ADDEH writes that stakeholders in the state are still at loggerheads over the conduct and the outcome of the poll.

The Kwara State local government election that was held penultimate Saturday has continued to generate accusations and counter-accusations from all the stakeholders.

Indeed, from the security agencies to the supporters of the Action Congress of Nigeria; Peoples Democratic Party; State Independent Electoral Commission; election monitors and to the state government, the blame game has continued to resonate in the most unpalatable manner.

The PDP had on Sunday been announced the winner of 15 of the 16 local governments in the state, with one local council election annulled. Elections were cancelled in Offa local government and Pada ward in Pategi local council due to violence and sundry malpractices.

Announcing the results of the election last Sunday, the KSIEC Chairman, Mr Bashir Oni, had declared that the ACN won only two wards.

With the results released, the PDP polled a cumulative 495,229 in all the local governments, while the ACN got 15,226 votes.

The elections were however totally boycotted by the Democratic Peoples Party even as the ACN leadership which had earlier lost a suit to stop the poll, advised its members to stay away.

Interestingly, many of the winners did so without any competition, while the few ACN contestants did not score up to 3,000 in any of the local governments.

With voter apathy and complaints of late arrival of election materials almost marring the exercise in some of the councils, there are already fears in certain quarters that if the election would be used as a gauge for the 2011 poll, then the country may perhaps not have started its march towards genuine democracy.

To say that the parties whose function it was to enlighten the voters on the modalities, as well as to enunciate their programmes and mobilise them for elections simply went to sleep would be stating the obvious.

Indeed, concerned stakeholders attributed this to the loss of the case by the ACN seeking to stop the KSIEC from conducting the local council elections.

The party had prayed the court to restrain the commission from conducting council poll on grounds that the current voter register was invalid.

But throwing out the suit four days before the election, Justice Olayinka Faji had noted that in treating the case, the court had looked at the objections filed by the defendants which bothered on the constitutional right of the court to hear the suit.

Even with the loss of the case, analysts believe that a serious-minded party should have had a plan B, in case the suit was thrown out. But that was not the case as the ACN, regarded as a fairly strong party in the state and the rest of the parties went to bed, except in Offa.

But just as the court case remained like a sore in the throat of stakeholders, the blame game in the poll has continued unabated. For instance, the state governor, Dr Bukola Saraki, attributed the low turnout to the near absence of competition from the opposition in the state.

Also, the PDP National Secretary, Alhaji Abubakar Baraje, noted that the usual practice of waiting for the last minute to vote by the electorate was responsible for the development.

However, the ACN Secretary in the state, Ismail Agboola, argued that the party as an umbrella was not participating because it had earlier challenged the legality of the matter in court, but added that individual members who were interested in participating had a right to do so. Perhaps his reasoning has thus raised questions whether the election was really boycotted by the opposition.

The electoral umpire was not also spared the blame as it was caught napping in some of its responsibilities. For example, in places like Pake, Zango ward in Ilorin East local council, polling did not take place on time.

The ACN also accused the umpire of purposely supplying the polling booths less than the required ballot materials because they wanted to connive with the PDP to rig the elections.

Though there was a fairly high turnout at Mogaji Ngeri Ward, Ilorin West, it was attributed to the fact that the incumbent, Alhaji Toyin Sanusi, who eventually won unopposed hails from the area.

Initially, it was reported that pockets of violence and ballot snatching had taken place in some of the polling units in Offa, usually regarded as the hotbed of political rivalry between the ACN and the PDP in the state.

There were also reports of ballot snatching in Opeloyeru ward, Balogun and a few other wards in Offa, which led to an unconfirmed number of arrests by the security agents.

Against this backdrop, it was therefore not surprising that the ACN had to call for the cancellation of the council poll.

The party argued that the elections were marred by gross abuse of electoral guidelines, short supply of ballot papers in eight local government areas.

According to the party‘s state Chairman, Prince Sunday Fagbemi, the poll is a mockery of the electoral process.

He added that the alleged irregularities and violence that characterised the conduct of the poll had vindicated the political parties that decided to boycott the elections.

Fagbemi insisted that six members of the ACN were shot by security operatives in Offa, a claim which the police had refuted.

But the PDP in the state holds the view that the ACN and the other opposition comments on the poll were like tales told to the mariners. The PDP which won 15 of the 16 local councils also described the election as one of the most credible polls held in recent times.

The Chairman of the party in the state, Alhaji Yusuf Ayedun, who spoke on the controversies trailing the poll, explained that the outcome of the election only confirmed the strength of the PDP in the state.

He argued that the loss of two wards to the ACN in the state, was a result of protest votes by its members and vowed that the party would discipline those behind the ‘‘betrayal‘‘.

Ayedun explained that already, the party had set up a panel to investigate the loss of two of the 193 wards in the state, adding that the committee set up had already started work.

Besides Ayedun and his co-travellers, election observers and monitors were not left out of the blame game.

A Civil Society Organisation Observer Team appointed by the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on civil societies‘ relations, Mr Chineme Umeh-Ezeoke, blamed security lapses for the violence which erupted in Offa.

The team led by Dr Onyike Isaac and Prof Femi Olaleye, former Provost, Postgraduate School, University of Abuja, consequently called for ”adequate policing of the electoral process.”

They noted that there was inadequate presence of security personnel, saying that most polling stations visited had only an average of two security operatives.

Members of the team therefore urged the state government to constitute a committee to properly look into the ”remote and immediate causes of the ugly incidence in Offa and Kpada, Ward 1 in Patigi local government with a view to finding lasting solution to the problem.‘‘

Olaleye, particularly observed that the violence was built overtime, adding that at the time the team got to the area, the tension had escalated.

Also, in a preliminary report signed by the President of Human Rights Monitor Mr. Festus Okoye, Umar Faruk of Transparency Movement and Sarah Menta, Centre for Gender Rights Protection, the observers urged security agencies to apprehend and prosecute all electoral offenders to act as a deterrent to others.

The coalition noted, “Impunity will continue to recycle itself if the authorities do not show in clear terms that there are consequences for breaking the law. Nigerians must at all times embrace the rule of law and due process and have faith in the judicial process as the ultimate arbiters of electoral disputes.”

Okoye, who led the team said the election was disrupted in the 86 polling units in Offa, adding that as soon as accreditation commenced, a band of youths started smashing ballot boxes, beating up electoral officials and vandalising electoral materials.

Though it is not clear how the controversies surrounding the poll would end, what is certain is that until all those who have a stake in the election process in the country sincerely decide to adhere to the rules and see credible poll as a sine qua non for good governance, every election would continue to generate its own controversies.

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