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INEC decries Democracy Deficit in Local Governments

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is lamenting the fact that of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, only 13 have elected local governments namely: Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Sokoto, Cross River, Rivers, and

Ebonyi. Others are Kwara, Taraba, Jigawa, Ogun, Niger and Zamfara. INEC also noted with dismay that nine (9) states in the Federation have no duly constituted State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). They are: Nasarawa, Bauchi, Kano, Bayelsa, Delta, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo and Anambra.

Rising from its second annual national conference with the Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions of Nigeria (FOSIECON), in Ilorin, Kwara State, INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, discounted calls in certain quarters for the abolition of state electoral commissions, amid allegations that the agencies had become willing tools through which state governors manipulate the electoral process in favor of their political parties.

Rather, INEC, in a communique issued after the conference underscored the 'urgent need to amend relevant provisions of the law to strengthen the independence and financial autonomy of SIECs,' urging 'states that do not have duly constituted SIECs to    establish same without further delay. Amongst the other recommendations made after the one-day conference included 'an urgent need for states where Caretaker Committees or Sole Administrators are at the helm of affairs in Local Governments to proceed with plans for elections in accordance with constitutional requirements.'

INEC also stressed that 'a strategic partnership between INEC and SIECs in collaboration with all security agencies should be forged to enhance the security of elections and thus their transparency and credibility. That voter education should be intensified through innovative public enlightenment and civic education programmes that should include relevant stakeholders such as CSOs, political parties and development partners…that FOSIECON should evolve a standard state electoral law that can be shared as a model that can be proposed for legislation by respective state assembly.'

INEC also harped on the need for independence and financial autonomy of SIECs, which it noted was critical to their capacity to conduct free, fair and credible elections. INEC further observed that 'while security of elections has visibly improved, there is yet a need to further address recurring incidents of violence in elections. That voter education is still inadequate as evidenced in the high number of voided ballots in both national and local elections, as well as low levels of voter consciousness about basic operations of the electoral process.' INEC concluded by suggesting 'a model state electoral law that can serve as a benchmark for the conduct of elections by SIECs.'

Opening the conference under the theme: 'Credible Local Government Elections: It is Possible,' Jega disclosed that going forward, political parties with factions will henceforth find it difficult getting INEC recognition in future elections. Such parties are expected to have resolved their differences and put their houses in order before getting the nod of the national electoral body, which has the mandate to recognize only united parties.

Jega, told reporters that election matters in all contemporary democracies remained a germane issue to stabilizing the polity. 'In INEC we do not recognize factions, we recognize legitimately, properly and legally registered political parties. We have already communicated that to the parties. So I don't need to start mentioning names.

'As far as we are concerned we have looked at the 'quarrels' and we have advised those that we know are wrong to go and look at the constitution and take appropriate measures. We deal with the party properly registered under the law,' he said.

Worried about the haphazard organization and conduct of some polls by SIECs during the councils' polls in some states of the Federation, Jega told the participants from the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja that it was time for the two electoral bodies to come together with a view to learning from one another towards securing the future of the country's political terrain.