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Concerned groups agitating for the conduct of council polls in Anambra State recently defied rain and threat of arrest by the state government to take to the streets, to demand for the conduct of chairmanship and councillorship elections. They set January 2021 as deadline.
The peaceful protest was staged by the Movement for Conduct of Local Government Elections, in collaboration with Recover Nigeria Project, Great Tipper Drivers Association of Anambra State Councillors Forum (ASCOF). However, the state government announced that the protesters risked arrest by security operatives. The Commissioner for Information, C. Don Adinuba, dismissed the protesters, claiming that there is a pending suit at the Supreme Court against the state government by a certain group. He pointed out that conducting the exercise was tantamount to contempt of court.
But the Coordinator of Recover Nigeria Project, Comrade Osita Obi, accused the state government of allegedly inducing the applicants to sue Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC) as a ploy not to conduct the polls. Obi, who spoke in company of the group’s Secretary and Coordinator of Community Empowerment Network, Elder Eloka Okafor and National Secretary of Great Drivers Association, Comrade Jerry Ifejika, hinted that the protesting groups’ ‘Occupy 21 local government councils’ would continue until the state government conducts polls into the councils, clear the arrears of allowances owed councilors who served from 1999 – 2002, and obey the 2013 N266 million judgment refund owed to tipper drivers. They clarified that the governor Willie Obiano-led government should conduct council elections without further delay.
Obi also pointed out that the state government has failed and refused to conduct council polls since 1998, with the exception of 2013 when the former governor, Mr. Peter Obi, was pressured to conduct the exercise a few weeks to his exit.
According to him, “We have found ourselves in a roller-coaster simply because a few individuals, who by the stroke of fate and finding themselves as captains of the ship of state, have consistently refused to ensure that a system of democratically-elected local government council is in place, as enshrined in the 1999 constitution as amended.”
In a five-point ‘Charter of Demand’ Obi read on behalf of the organisers, shortly after terminating the protest march at the state’s House of Assembly. He said the Obiano-led administration must urgently constitute and activate a board for Anambra State election management body (ANSIEC), appoint a chairman, and make available a budget line in the 2020 appropriation law for ANSIEC that is fully cash-backed.
The convener equally urged the governor to make public the set date for the conduct of council polls in the state within the next five months, while the existing caretaker committee in place be discontinued. In addition, he said the caretaker committees should account for the monies that had accrued to all the 21 councils in the last five years, total receipts, expenditures and projects and where they were channeled.
Obi recalled that the group had written the governor several times over the issue without response, followed by the group’s hunger strike, which started on August 17 and ended September 1.
Continuing, he said: “Today, we are set to cross the Rubicon and change the narrative for a new normal to emerge in the affairs of our dear state regarding local government elections. Within the Southeast zone, Anambra State has been made the black sheep and we shall not continue in this precarious road to perdition.
Also contributing, the National Secretary of Great Tipper Drivers Association, Comrade Jerry Ifejika and the Vice President of the association, Comrade Boniface Chinedu Udenwa, stated that the tipper drivers joined the strike to check an unwholesome situation where the state government hijacked functions and duties of councils. Ifejika and Udenwa pointed out that if there exists democratically-elected chairmen and councillors, the monthly allocations from the federation account would go straight to them instead of the State/Local Government Joint Account Committee (JAAC) allegedly mismanaging the fund.
According to them, having elected council chairmen would enable their groups take their problems to relevant councils and expect solutions to them.
Also, Chairman of ASCOF, Godson Nnuriam, claimed that no fewer than 50 members who served, as councillors between 1999 and 2002 have died untimely as a result of frustration, hunger and stress-related diseases.
Nnuriam, who spoke in company of ASCOF Secretary, Ifeanyi Obi in the presence of former councillors, pointed out that the state House of Assembly “had passed into law the recommendations of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) approved New Salary Structures for all elected officers in Nigeria for which the then Principal Secretary, Hez Nnukwe, issued a circular mandating our various local government chairmen to implement immediately.
“Instead of implementing the said Gazetted Law N0. 7 of Anambra State 2001, the various local government council chairmen in the state deliberately ignored the law.”
He stated that the state legislature, on October 21, 2003, passed a special resolution urging the state government to settle the outstanding arrears of salaries and allowances due to the former councillors, which he regretted was equally ignored.
According to him, only the Dame Virgy Etiaba administration managed to pay something to the former Councillors.
The ASCOF boss said: ‘The most pathetic aspect of these denials was that the severance gratuity that was designed to be paid enbloc to every elected person in Nigeria that served out his tenure to cushion the effect of redundancy/hardship after leaving office, has not been paid 18 years after leaving office.
“We would have graciously moved to the various local government councils we served to collect these allowances, but the state government has refused to conduct local government elections, thereby keeping all the resources of the local governments including their allocations from the federation account.”