By Jonathan Ugbal
Chairmen and Chairpersons of the 18 Local Government Areas in Cross River State on Monday bowed out of service after serving their constitutional three years in office.
Elected on May 30, 2020, amidst lockdowns occasioned by the SARS – CoV – 2 popular known as COVID-19, they were sworn into office on June 5, 2020, with Governor Ben Ayade saying they had a take-off grant of NGN11.38 billion which became a controversial topic.
Before then, the councils had been without heads since December 2016, and in the case of Bakassi, January 2017.
Plans For Elections Scuttled…
The Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission, CROSIEC had on July 20, 2022, announced May 24, 2023, as the date for LG polls in the State.
This was shortly after the Commission was reconstituted.
But, on September 27th, the Chairman, Associate Professor Mike Ushie announced the postponement of the polls until October 21, 2023.
“The reschedule is due to budgetary concerns as the approved 2023 Local Government Council elections is captured in the 2023 appropriation with no supplementary provision in the 2022 budget,” read the statement issued by the CROSIEC Chairman.
This was in line with Section 24 (2) of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended, the Commission said and directed political parties to sign and collect the rescheduled timetable at its headquarters in Calabar while adding that the guidelines remained unchanged.
As per the rescheduled timetable, parties are expected to have concluded primaries and submitted nomination forms with campaigns commencing nearly two weeks ago.
However, none of the activities have been followed.
But, in April, some stakeholders of the All Progressives Congress, APC raised an alarm over plans by the incumbent Governor Ben Ayade to conduct polls before he exits office following claims that the State party Chairman, Alphonsus Eba Esq had said they will get automatic tickets.
They were all elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party but defected to the APC with Governor Ayade.
Some Cross Riverians whom CrossRiverWatch spoke to and obtained their position shared their views on the performance of the outgone officials as well as what should be expected.
Ayade Shied Away… IPAC Chairman
The Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council in the State and Chairman of the Young Progressives Party, Mr. Anthony Bissong said the former Governor shied away when it mattered most but was not kind in his words about the council bosses.
“The last three years of the administration of local elected local government council officials was a monumental disaster never to be repeated in even the States that we don’t like.
“Having said that their inglorious days have come to an end ostensibly. Normally a fresh local election should have been conducted according to the constitution at least three months before the expiration of their tenure, but that wasn’t done for several reasons.
“Now, as we speak, there is no constitutionally elected person manning any local government council and that’s not supposed to be allowed in a democratic experiment like us right now.
“The truth of the matter is we never foresaw this at the initial time. But when it became very obvious, I think the responsibility was that of the governor who shied away from going ahead to do the elections,” Bissong said and stressed that there is a need for stakeholders to meet immediately to chart a way forward as it will take up to six months to conduct polls especially as no one knows the thoughts of the incumbent Governor.
“But here we are, faced with the new governor. We don’t know his plans, we don’t know his agenda. I am worried. My worry is that nobody should bring any unconstitutional approach to fill this vacuum,” he said.
We Are All To Blame… Obono-Obla
A former aide on prosecution to President Muhammadu Buhari, Okoi Obono-Obla Esq in a statement shared on his Facebook timeline said all are to be blamed for the way the third tier of Government is being treated.
Obono-Obla who said the fourth schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) prescribed the functions of local government councils in the country, said Nigerians like to “bury our heads into the ground like an ostrich,” on issues pertaining to roles to be played by the councils.
“We all share the blame for the ineptitude and unmitigated disaster that our local government systems have become. I will never subscribe to the proposition of how allocations from the federation accounts are partially withheld or inadequate as one of the factors responsible for the abysmal performance of our local councils. Local government councils are constitutionally entrusted with the carrying out of a myriad of responsibilities that they can take advantage of to massively generate revenue for their capital and recurrent expenditures.
“Are we saying that if allocation from Abuja ceases today the local government councils cannot function?
As local government councils’ elections loom large, we must strive to elect competent, capable, experienced, passionate, and courageous people into our various local government councils as chairmen and councilors.
“We must elect those that possess the passion and are imbued with the political and administrative skills and know how to turn the fortunes of our councils around.
“The political parties as vehicles for the recruitment of our elective leaders must strive to eschew the acts of donating tickets to incompetent, inexperienced, and timid people purely on the ground of satisfying political expediency,” Obono-Obla wrote.
He posited that the system has collapsed and warned that everyone must be on their toes to ensure the councils are not, “run by stooges, lackeys, and minions sponsored by local political potentates that are desperate to use the vehicle of the local government councils to create jobs to amass wealth and thereby create political influence for themselves to the detriment of the people.”
A Lot Performed Poorly, But… Says WTP
The Cross River State Coordinator of the not-for-profit, We The People – Center for Social Studies and Development, said the performance of most of the outgoing council bosses is below par.
“A lot of local governments, they performed poorly in my assessment. For instance, you go to a local government and there are grasses that have actually grown,” she said, adding that; “my concern for them is the fact that well, whoever is coming into office should actually use the money to run the administration, make it look like something is happening in the local government.”
She lamented that most of them were not in their Local Governments and kept traveling to live in Calabar – a complaint that former Governor Liyel Imoke had also made.
She said; “For instance, in a project (I worked on), there were children from different local governments. When we got to one Local Government where they were like the best all round, we didn’t see the Local Government Chairman. So, we had people coming from Abuja and elsewhere and the Chairman was not there to even receive them. I think that those who we will get as Local Government Chairmen or the Councillors should be those who reside in the local government.”
On the nonconduct of elections, she averred, “I am aware that there is going to be a vacuum but, we have civil servants who are Head of Local Government (Administration), HOLGA. If governments receive money, then HOLGA’s can actually run the local government. Yes, the HOLGAs can run it and it will be effective. I remember some time ago when HOLGA’s were in charge and when we did a few things in those Local Governments, you could see that the difference was clear because a lot of things actually took place. They understand the dynamics of the Local Government there.”