By Jonathan Ugbal
Former Governors Clement Ebri, Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke have remained tight lipped despite mounting calls on incumbent, Ben Ayade to conduct local government elections in Cross River State.
The tenures of the elected officials in the third tier of government elapsed in December 2016 excluding that of Bakassi which stayed till January 2017, and since then, Heads of Local Government Administrations have been acting in the void of elected officials.
And, following the implementation of a directive by the Federal Government for local government allocations to be paid to their accounts directly, there have been renewed calls for the conduct of the elections.
But, key players such as former Governors Ebri, Duke and Imoke kept mute when contacted.
This reporter had first reached the trio in May 2019. Several calls and messages were neither returned, acknowledged nor replied.
And on Monday, excluding Mr. Duke who dropped the call shortly after this reporter introduced himself and inquired his opinion on the matter, Mr. Imoke and Ebri did not take their calls.
However, several other respondents contacted within this period shared their opinions on the matter.
On the legality of the non existence of elected local government officials, the Chairman of the Calabar branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Emmanuel Idaka told CrossRiverWatch that; “We know that it shouldn’t be so.
“Since the constitution guarantees a democratically elected government at the local government level, they ought to be a local government election at that level but I think if there is none, it is an aberration.”
When asked if it was an impeachable offence, Mr. Idaka stated that: “You can’t really say it is an impeachable offence therefore compelling maybe the Governor to go through impeachment process because it is a violation of the Constitution.”
“Again, we have to know that across the country, that appears to be the norm for now,” he added.
But CrossRiverWatch findings reveal that, contrary to the claim of the Calabar Bar Chairman, it is not a norm in the country for LG elections not to be conducted.
Cross River state is among the only six states out of 36, and the only one in the South South that is yet to conduct LGA elections after Bayelsa took a date in July 2019.
Apart from Cross River in the South South zone, Anambra state is yet to conduct LG elections in the South East zone. All the states of the South West zone have their LGAs properly constituted and running and in the North Central zone, Niger and Kogi states, are yet to also conduct their own LG elections as well as Borno state due to insurgency.
For the Speaker of the 7th Cross River Assembly and one time acting Governor, Honorable Larry Odey, the non conduct of local government elections was a “sad” situation and a break from the norm.
“I don’t expect anyone to expect us to be happy about it including the Government and I lay the blame squarely on the table of the government of the day.
“A trend they came to meet; every of the last government in the last 16 years before the new government came to be in 2015 had an unbroken successive local government elections,” the former legislator said.
Describing the act as an aberration, he also said that: “It is totally unacceptable. I will add my voice to as many that have spoken to say that they should put logistics in place immediately to ensure that this mistake is corrected because that is where democracy truly begins and ends. I must tell you that because every politics is first local before it is wherever; whether international or national, it is first local.”
The Chairman of the All Progressives Congress which leads the opposition parties in the State, Mr. Etim John told this reporter in a telephone interview that the buck stopped at the Governor’s table as he could choose to conduct elections whenever he pleases.
“The best thing to do now is to find out from the Governor of the State what exactly is the problem. If he is saying it is lack of funds, is it that there is no budgetary provision for the election or why is there lack of funds,” he queried.
“For us Cross Riverians, we will not be able to say look hold elections this time or that time. That elections has to do with the House of Assembly and also the State Executive, that is the ruling party at the State level.
“If they decide there is going to be elections tomorrow, definitely there will be elections. If they decide that it is going to be next year, definitely there will fix a date and the elections will come up. But we as persons, it is difficult to say elections must hold or it must not hold,” John said, adding that; “The Governor is the best person to fix the date of the elections; that is what I believe so he should be contacted to know why up till this moment, he has not conducted elections because our comments, whether positive or negative does not add or subtract to whatever is to be done unless you tell me otherwise.”
The acting Chairman, Association of Cross River Online Journalists (ACROJ), Mr. Hope Obeten said the importance of conducting local government elections cannot be overemphasized.
“It is important for you to have Local Government elections and have people take charge in the local government because right now the leadership there is kind of confusing – having the security committees and the HOLGA’s without clearly stating their job description. It is high time we have a proper administration in the local government.
“In the past three to four years, the local governments have been dormant, idle and nothing has been happening there; no projects. We should have local government elections as soon as possible because right now in the whole South South (region) it is only Cross River State that is left,” Obeten, who is also the publisher of CalabarBlog.com said.
When contacted, the Chairman of the State council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Mr. Victor Udu, who is a civil servant in the state, declined comments on the matter.
However, a gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the APC in the 2015 general elections, Mr. John Upan Odey averred that the attempt to devolve powers to sub national governments through the creation of State electoral bodies created a loophole to be exploited by self seeking Governors.
“What we have seen after that 1999 amendment has been that every State Governor appoints sometimes, even partisan members into that commission and they go there and just return members of their party!” Odey said.
He posited that the planning process to the elections and even petition tribunals are run by the party in control at the State thereby making it difficult for true representation at the third tier of government in the country even as he expressed optimism that the directive by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to strengthen local government systems by paying their allocations directly was a step in the right direction.
“To stop this problem we need to go back to what NFIU is working with the Central Bank ensuring that local governments will be strengthened; monies meant for them should go to them and the financial system will no longer allow Governors to run local government accounts the way they were doing in the past,” he said.
On the political way out, he opined that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be allowed to organize council elections nationwide at a fixed time or the State Houses of Assembly choose flexible dates and tenures that suit the State while INEC is brought in to conduct the elections.
It is speculated in political circles that the new NFIU regulation will force Mr. Ayade to conduct elections especially as his administration has never really told Cross Riverians the reason for the delay.
This was buoyed on Tuesday last week, during the inauguration of the ninth Cross River House of Assembly where the new speaker, Honorable Eteng Jones (PDP, Yakurr II) had during his inaugural speech averred that: “I will encourage the State to conduct Local Government elections.”
Following the expiration of the tenures of the ex council chairmen and councillors and the failure of the State to conduct elections before December 2016, the APC had gone to court to stop Mr. Ayade from appointing caretaker committees but their suit was thrown out in a ruling by the Late State Chief Judge, Okoi Ikpi Itam and the then Chairman of the State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC), Mr. Mike Ushie had announced June 17, 2017 as the date for the local government elections.
However, an investigation by CrossRiverWatch had reveal that the elections will not hold with Mr. Ayade keen on “transition committees” and by May 2017, CROSIEC announced a suspension of the local government elections due to the Continuous Voters Registration exercise of the INEC.
Months later, rumors filled the air about a November date for the elections which Mr. Ushie denied in an interview with CrossRiverWatch. However, less than eight weeks later, there was drama and confusion over the sale of intent forms for local government elections by the People’s Democratic Party in the State.
However, the process was later cancelled following the intervention of Mr. Ayade.
There has been no official statement issued by the State on the reason why it did not conduct local government elections in 2016. However, the immediate past Special Adviser to Mr. Ayade on interparty affairs, Mr. Augustine Ibok had told Hosts of the ‘The Dialogue With Agba Jalingo’ in December 2016 that the major problem was funding as the State needed at least NGN6 billion to conduct the elections.
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