Uproar over Plateau ‘indirect’ council polls
Governor Simon Bako Lalong’s decision to inaugurate new transitional committee chairmen to head the affairs of the 17 local government areas in Plateau State has come under heavy criticism as many fear that the governor is becoming too comfortable with th
When Governor Simon Bako Lalong terminated the tenure of the immediate past Transitional Committee Councils (TCC) in the state, the news was greeted with relief and anticipation that elected representatives might soon emerge for the local government areas.
Prior to the removal of the TCC, there had been speculations that the governor was for the fifth or sixth time attempting to extend their tenure.
In fact, news went round that the state Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Lateb Dabang, had lobbied members of the House of Assembly to agree to a smooth extension of the tenure of those who had been on the saddle for two years.
But on June 28, two years after they took office, Lalong shocked many when he slammed the hammer.
However, at the time when at least eight states have conducted local government elections in 2017, Lalong, to pundits, is beginning to portray an image of one who prefers the services of selected chairmen, and may likely not conduct election before the end of the year.
He has come under heavy criticism when he selected and swore in a new set of council members, tactically evading an attempt by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to trap him through the courts.
The PDP in the state, which had consistently accused the governor of being afraid to conduct elections, recently claimed fowl play when it filed a motion before the High Court, last Wednesday, to stop the swearing in. By Thursday, the file in the court was said to have gone missing while the state government, on the same day, sent the list of the selected council members to the House of Assembly.
In turn, the assembly immediately passed the request without scrutiny, paving the way for the emergence of new caretaker chairmen.
For the main opposition party in the state, the missing file was a delay tactic to sabotage the case from being assigned to a judge, which also explained why the governor hurriedly swore in the chairmen at night, last Friday.
Lalong, like many APC governors, met a democratically elected local government council on ground when he assumed leadership of the state in 2015.
He had then impressed many when he stated that he would not dissolve the council.
Ex-Governor, Jonah Jang, had at the twilight of his second term conducted election and expectedly, candidates of his party, the PDP, won everything.
However, few weeks after his statement, and at a time many thought the chairmen had relaxed, Lalong, in July, 2015, dissolved the elected council members over what he later described as “a popular view of the people and the need to check monumental corruption at the local government level.”
The then 14 chairmen, with the exception of those of Wase and Jos North, where elections did not take place; and Langtang North, where the chairman decamped to the APC, had accused the government of disobeying a court injunction which said they should not be sacked. The matter is still in court. It was under these circumstances that the caretaker chairmen appointed by Lalong stayed in office for the next two years; and he has now replaced them with a new set.
The PDP Publicity Secretary in the state, John Akans, told Daily Trust that: “The governor is legitimising illegality which is why he wents ahead to swear-in the new transitional committee chairmen at night.
“Right now, there is tension in the state because the Nigerian Constitution is clear that local government areas should only be run by a democratically elected council; and this same man dissolved an elected council when he became governor and replaced them with a caretaker. And he is doing the same thing all over,” he said.
What agitates the minds of many pundits is the decision of the governor to ask each ward to conduct a kind of an indirect election, whereby names of some people are pencilled down.
It was from those names that the governor selected secretaries for the local government areas but somehow picked those who would serve as chairmen on his own.
On its part, the Action Democratic Party (ADP), a newly registered party, has called on Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to step in and prevail on Lalong to conduct the polls.
Chairman of the party in Plateau State, Nanyah Andrew Daman, stated that unless Osinbajo called Lalong to order, the governor would likely plunge the state back to “pandemonium and full blown crisis due to crass impunity, imposition and total disregard for constitutionalism by selecting management committee in the 17 local government councils instead of conducting election like civilised governors and states.”
He called on the governor to quickly sign the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) Bill into law, and called on the Federal Ministry of Finance to stop the release of any funds to the state until duly elected council officials were in place.
But the Director of Press and Public Affairs to the Governor, Samuel Emmanuel Nanle, however, stated that the issue of election was no longer in the hands of government as PLASIEC was to come up with the timetable, not the government.
And the APC, through its Secretary, Bashiru Musan Sati, advised the opposition to prepare for elections instead of bickering.
Sati affirmed his party’s readiness as soon as PLASIEC and the state Ministry of Justice was done with scrutinising the bill which had been passed by the house.
Unarguably, the grumblings and misgivings that plagued the selection of the transitional council in certain local government areas have also taken their toll on the ruling APC in the state.
The selection of the council members had opened old sores, pitching the various APC tents against one another in Jos North, Kanam, Wase and Langtang North.
The situation in Kanke, observers said, was peculiar as many had witnessed the use of crass impunity in the selection of the chairman and secretary.
While some members of the APC said the final list of the selected council members from some local governments had been filled with names of those who only recently joined the party, others said certain stakeholders had been sidelined, resulting in petitions and protests.
In Kanke for instance, the names of those selected to serve as chairman and secretary by the ward chairmen and local government EXCO were mysteriously erased and replaced by others who did not vie for the positions.
One of the victims of the Kanke political manipulation, Kevin Pankshin, told Daily Trust that the 18 ward chairmen had teamed up with the EXCO to form a total of 30 to participate in the selection in which he won 21 votes to emerge as secretary.
Pankshin, however, expressed disappointment that the list was later altered in Jos before it was handed over to the governor, thereby replacing his name and that of the chairman.
For Jos North, where APC members were segmented based on three groupings, both chairman and secretary were selected from Jos North North and the quarrel is that both appointees are members of the G15,while the other two tents: Integrity Group and Unity Group, have been sidelined.
Most members of the G15, including the APC secretary, Speaker of the House of Assembly and the Commissioner for Information are holding sensitive positions in the state.
But Sati explained that the selections of chairman and secretary in Jos North had little to do with the three groupings, which he said the party had always discouraged.
“The selection was done merely on merit and political experience which was endorsed by other members of the APC groups,” he said.
“The party has set up machinery to look into the grievances and complaints of members; the transitional committees are to be in the council for only one month after which their performances would be reviewed.
“Those who have done well may be allowed to continue while those who are lagging may be replaced; and for those who have genuine complaints within the local governments, we will look into their complaints and effect changes where necessary,” he added.
Though government officials have refused to disclose the likely date for the conduct of the election, insiders, however, told Daily Trust that Lalong was targeting between November and December.
They said the governor intended to make it more credible than past elections, which was why he had to wait for the house to harmonise the two existing local government laws that had been used interchangeably by the past government of the state, as well as the repealed law establishing PLASIEC.
“The local government laws intend to nullify the issue of transitional committees or caretaker committees while the PLASEIC law intends to give the commission absolute control of local government elections, thereby empowering PLASIEC with the same powers that the electoral act gives to INEC. Lalong is a democrat, he is not doing this to benefit himself but the people of Plateau State,” one of the insiders said.
Governor Simon Bako Lalong