By YUSUF ISHAKU GOJE
It is no news – after weeks of speculation and rumors – that the Kaduna state 2021 Local Government Elections has once again been postponed by the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECOM). The postponement of local government elections in the state is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Therefore, it did not come as a surprise when the Commission announced for the second time that the polls earlier scheduled to hold on June 5th has been postponed indefinitely. This followed the initial postponement from May 15th, 2021, to June 5th for non-compliance to the electoral law and guidelines – as a result of the bridge of the mandatory 90-day notice before commencement of election and other sections.
This time around the commission blamed the indefinite postponement on non-availability of non-sensitive materials for the polls; which includes batteries to power the electronic voting machine. The commission is said to be awaiting the delivery of the EVM batteries from the manufacturers in China. Accordingly, the shipment dates for the delivery of the EVM batteries from China to Abuja is said to be scheduled between July 1 and 10, 2021.
According to the Commission, from August 2, 2021, it would take another two days for the distribution of sensitive election materials before the commission can fix a possible election date. Pundits have reasoned that the continuous postponement of the exercise has brought to question the credibility of the process. They argue that it is seemingly a ploy to give undue advantage to the ruling party because there is no smoke without fire.
However, the postponement of local government elections is not new in Kaduna state. Many will recall that in 2017, the Commission had announced the indefinite suspension of the local government elections, which was earlier slated to hold on December 30th.The postponement, according to the Commission, was necessary as the State House of Assembly then had not passed the new law to guide the election.
The series of last minute postponements suggest that the culture of poor planning has bedeviled the commission; which gives undue advantage to the ruling party in the state. The recent one has thrown up allegations by stakeholders that the postponement could give room for the ruling party to recover following the fallout of its controversial screening and primary election. The process was said to have deeply divided the party, as different contending camps see the forthcoming election as a litmus test and opportunity to position themselves for the 2023 general elections.
Furthermore, the postponement means the election will now be held after the tenure of the present local government Councils have expired in June, which means Interim Management Councils (IMC) will be appointed by the Governor. This gives the ruling party undue political advantage, especially in local governments controlled by the opposition party. It also means the state has lost the opportunity to break the jinx by instituting the much needed democratic process of elected Councils handing over to newly elected ones.
So far, it is fair to say that the preparation process for the local government elections leaves much to be desired. Worthy of note was the initial illegal introduction of the position and appointment of Alhaji Ibrahim Sambo as overseer of the Commission, which is unknown by law. As a result of the protest by stakeholders, the State House of Assembly hurriedly screened and cleared the commissioners with the exception of the Chairperson, and the said overseer was then made acting Chairman. The Chairperson, Dr. Saratu Dikko, is said to have not been confirmed and is facing the House Committee on Ethics, with her offence yet to be made public over three months after.
Within the same period, there was unsubstantiated rumor that a bill had been smuggled into the State House of Assembly to amend the local government law, which was said to empower the governor to appoint IMC for three years. This uncertain atmosphere raised suspicions that there were plans to cancel the long awaited polls, because many believe that the ruling party is determined not to lose any of the Council seats to the opposition, as was the case in 2018. The postponements, political observers believe, is either aimed at weakening the opposition or outright cancellation.
Consequently, even if the elections still holds, those at disadvantage are the opposition parties who had probably expended most of their resources and don’t have the capacity to sustain campaigns for another three or more months. Already, even before the postponement of the current date many of them have largely been inactive or inconsistent in campaigning, compared to the ruling party. It is also worrisome that they have failed to play the expected role of effective opposition.
Opposition parties in the state have demonstrated clearly the inability to effectively hold the ruling party accountable, despite ongoing governance reforms that have increased access to information, citizen’s participation and responsiveness. Particularly, in the area of the state government’s inability to sufficiently remit the mandatory 10% to and internal revenue collected on behalf of the local governments. Also, not to forget to mention the remittance of statutory allocations by the local governments to the state government as mandated by the state law, without proper accountability. The implication is that many of the local governments have been unable to carry out people oriented public service delivery.
Finally, it is hoped that this would be the last time the 2021 local government elections would be postponed. The commission must ensure that all the non-sensitive materials needed are made available in time to ensure that the process is not only free and fair, but wins the confidence of all stakeholders, particularly the electorate.