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

Daily Trust - - INSIDE POLITICS - From Lami Sadiq, Jos

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

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