Last month, specifically September 29, a major decision that affects Lagos State residents was announced with the tacit approval of the Lagos State House of Assembly. Significantly too, and painfully for me as a Lagos State resident, the decision did not get the required examination by the media.
That day, Fatai Adeyinka, a retired justice, and chairman, Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission, announced at a hearing held in the Lagos Assembly chambers that there were some “constraints” that will force a postponement of local government elections scheduled for this year. The four-year tenure of the 20 local government areas and 37 local council development areas will expire this month. Some of the “constraints” Adeyinka mentioned include the creation of additional wards in the state, which the Lagos State government had not approved as at that time, and the need to update the voters register which was used for the 2011 elections.
“We need an updated voter’s register which is with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and we have requested for this but INEC is not willing to release it,” the chairman said.
“We don’t want to conduct the election with the voter’s register on ground because it does not contain the addresses of electorate.
“So, if we decide to use an old register, we will be disenfranchising some voters from exercising their rights.”
He then declared, “Definitely, election cannot hold this year.”
The Deputy Speaker who presided over the plenary that day subsequently directed the House Leader to work with the Committee on Judiciary to liaise with the executive and come up with a law pending when council elections would hold.
By the way, Lagos State is not alone in the abracadabra of postponing or not holding council elections across the nation. Oyo, Osun, Ogun, and Delta States currently do not have elected folks at the helm of affairs in their local councils. Indeed, there has been no local government election in Anambra State since 2002. Yes, you read that correctly, 2002. So, why singling out Lagos State if it is a Nigerian phenomenon?
Two reasons prompted me to examine the matter: the first is the constitutional amendments passed by the House of Representatives on October 15 and the aphorism, ‘all politics is local’. As a tax-paying resident of Lagos who bear, with others, the brunt of ineptitude and crass incompetence on parade in the state among the local councils, it is painful that I will be denied an opportunity to exercise my franchise and vote out poor performers.
The House of Representatives approved the dissolution of local governments at the expiration of four years commencing from the date the council members were sworn in and also effected an alteration of Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution which stops revenue allocation from the Federation Account to local governments that are not democratically elected. Of course, the debate of how many federating units are in a federation is ongoing with some insisting that only the federal government and states are those units, but I wonder how such people reconcile the 774 local government areas that are in the 1999 Constitution.
It is interesting that Adeyinka conveniently waited till September before announcing to the people of Lagos that there would be no council elections. Curiously too, his commission did not tell us whether INEC has breached any constitutional provision by not releasing its voters’ register. Governor Babatunde Fashola has been pretty much busy on the lecture circuit these days and maybe that probably accounts for why his government too had not granted the request of the Lagos State Electoral Commission. His address of Sunday marking 2700 days in office had no reference at all to the postponed elections showing that it is not a priority as he rounds off his eight years tenure.
Graft is also not strange in Lagos councils. A recent report by Premium Times said, “A government audit of 57 local councils in Lagos State has indicted eight, accusing their officials of squandering at least N224 million of public funds on a range of questionable expenditure and unimplemented contracts.” Please note that this is an audit by the Lagos State government and it is for 2012, one wonders what could have happened in the last two years as we see councils that have failed woefully in the area of road construction.
Mr. Fashola says all the nice things about democracy, throwing jabs at the federal government anytime it catches his fancy and these are good things especially since he is the poster boy of his party. But it is doubtful if he ever turns the mirror to himself and sees how he performs as a democrat. Let’s have local council elections in Lagos and allow citizens the opportunity to reward or sanction those that have plundered us for the past four years.