BY HEMBADOON ORSAR
…..the highs and lows of the recent local government council election which held in Benue State.
Even though the Benue State government has been commended for conducting local government elections which had not held since 2012 (5 years), the ruling party in the state, All Progressives Congress (APC) was however criticised over the outcome of the election. The party won all the seats, sparking some concern.
The Benue State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC) had, last Sunday, through its chairman John Tsuwa, while briefing newsmen in Makurdi disclosed that the APC won all the 23 chairmanship and 276 councillorship positions in the local government elections.
“From the results declared at the polling units to ward levels and to the local government headquarters across the state, APC won the entire chairmanship and councillorshp seats of the 23 local government areas.”
According to him out of the 276 councillorship seats, 182 candidates of APC were elected unopposed, while 94 seats that were contested by other political parties were still won by APC.
Dr. Tsuwa applauded the eight political parties that participated in the elections for exhibiting high maturity and conducting the affairs of their parties in a orderly manner during and after the elections.
“For the first time in the history of Local government elections in Benue State, the election was devoid of violence as it did not witness snatching of ballot boxes, killings, gunshot and destruction of electoral materials in polling units across the Local government areas.”
However, it was observed that there was poor turn out of voters and the number of security personnel out numbered the voters, across the three zones in the state.
In most of the places visited, people of voting age were rather using the opportunity to attend to their personal things, while in most of the villages most people were seen in their farm instead of polling units.
Some of the people who spoke with leadership Sunday including Hembaor Ver, Teryila Vandekaan, Blessing Olotu and Derakwase Nyikwagh all described the low turnout of voters as a sign that people are not happy with the APC-led administration
“People are not happy at all, we are suffering, aside that all the names of the chairmen were written no body is willing to go out and vote in hunger, there is nothing like election in all the council wards as you will be going round, you will discover that everybody is attending to his or her business.
However, the state Governor Samuel Ortom, in company of his wife, Dr Eunice Ortom, voted at Ako polling unit, Mbabegha in Nzorov District, Guma local government area.
Speaking with journalists shortly afterwards, he assured that the democratic structures in Benue State are very strong.
“This informed the decision of the State Executive Council and the entire people of Benue State to conduct this election because we know that local governments are the third tier of government and just like we have democratic process at the federal level and at the state, local government too should have the opportunity to enjoy democracy.
“This is what informed our decision to conduct this election though at a very difficult time that there is no money to pay salaries as and when due but because we want democracy at the local government level. May be it will help instil sanity and discipline and make the council system more functional because here you are going to have representatives of the people who are going to be elected. I am happy that the entire state is today very peaceful in conducting this election. This shows the commitment we have to ensure peace for our state and I am happy that we are conducting the election.”
Reacting to the notion that the election is one sided the governor explained that “I am aware that about eight political parties are contesting this election. PDP is not an issue. Their internal wrangling has nothing to do with the election. And I am aware that PDP also fielded candidates in this election and it is going on. So that is their own internal thing and that was why some of us had to leave the party because the party is not organized and I can’t see it standing anywhere. In any case which ever faction that fielded candidates we were ready to contend with it because we as a party, the All Progressives Congress is ready to face any opponent legitimately and by law. We have done our home work. We are the only political party that went out to campaign and seek for votes so why can’t the people vote for us. It is very clear. Which other political party came out to work the way we did. We launched our campaign in the three senatorial zones which I was personally there. Again, we went to all the local government areas and we went to all the wards. So we are sure of victory at the end of the day”
The governor however advised the electorate to remain calm and exercise their votes freely.
“There is no intimidation as you can see. Everywhere is peaceful, the election is going on and we don’t envisage any problem but where there are issues or challenges, I want to assure you that adequate security arrangement has been made. So no one should take laws into his hands.”
In the same vein, Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Mr. Terkimbi Ikyange acknowledged the enthusiasm shown by the people of Ushongo local government election.
The speaker who made his feelings known, after he cast his vote at Atee Pulling Unit in Ikov Council Ward of Ushongo Local Government Area at about 1: 53 pm, noted that the huge turn out noticed in all the pulling units he supervised was a clear demonstration of the seriousness the people of the area attached to the election.
He commended the people of his Constituency for their peaceful and orderly conduct during the election stressing that, it was an indication that the people were determined to entrenched democracy at the third tier of government.
He appealed to the people to sustain the peace after the declaration of the results, saying for democracy to be deepened in the Country, both the contestants and electorates must learn to accept outcomes of election as the will of the people.
Across the three zones in the state, there was voter apathy just as electoral materials also arrived late in virtually all the polling units across the zones.
In Makurdi, the state capital, people did not turn out to vote even as there was strict restriction of movement. Shops, motor parks and several other business concerns were seen closed while large number of police officers were deployed to major parts of the town to ensure security.
In zone c, the deputy governor, Engr Benson Abounu who voted at Otukpo – Icho playground expressed happiness at the peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections and called on the people of Benue State to continue to keep faith with the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom. He said the election of June 3 is not different from previous elections.
On the issue of local government autonomy the deputy governor emphasized that there will be no interference.
“Even though money is going to be the main issue, we will try our best, we will allow democratic principles to prevail at the local government, especially now that an elected government is put in place, we will ensure check and balances”
Before the polls however, a Federal High Court sitting in Makurdi, presided over by Justice Joseph Aneke, had struck out the suit filed by the John Ngbede, 23 chairmanship aspirants and 276 councillorship of Makarfi led faction of PDP against Dan Ale of the Alimodu Sheriff faction, BSIEC and others seeking for the enforcement of their fundamental human right to be fielded as contestants in the council polls for lack of merit.
In his ruling, justice Aneke said he has totally agreed with the submissions of the defense counsel that the suit lack merit and accordingly dismissed it.
After the elections and announcement of results on Sunday on June 4 2017, BESIEC announced that winners of all elections should come to their office on Monday 5 for collection of certificate of return, where every chairman was made to pay N60,000 and N20,000 respectively before the certificate was handed over to them.
Going by this calculation, BSIEC made over N8m from sale of Certificate of Return to Chairmen and Councillors- elect in the state.
Some of the councillors who told newsmen on grounds of anonymity said that it is strange for the umpire body to asked them to pay for certificates of return that suppose to have been given to them free of charge.
“During our screening at the commission headquarters in Makurdi before the main election, all councillorship candidates were compelled to paid the sum of N155,000.00, while chairmanship candidates paid the sum of N250,000.00 respectively to obtained screening forms that qualified them to participated in the election, now again we were call to come and collect our certificate of return only for us to come and discover that both of us are paying money before collection”
Another Chairman-elect from zone “C”senatorial district of the state who also spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that this has never happened before, describing the development as uncomplimentary on the side of a ruling party like All Progressives Congress, (APC).
“We are totally against this practice by the commission but we have no option than to comply with the commission’s directives and paid the said money, but our prayer is that, the opposition parties should use this development against the success of our ruling party and rubbish the creditability of the election which was freely and fairly conducted by the commission’’, he stated.
Reacting to this development, the Chairman of BESIEC, Dr. John Tsuwa, stated that what the commission mandated the elected chairmen and councillors to paid is not illegal but within the ambit of the electoral guidelines as provided by the electoral laws.
The chairman who spoke through the director of information in the Commission, Mr. Austin Odiba, explained that the commission actually collected the sum of N60,000 and 25,000 respectively from the elected local government officers being fees for certificate of return.
By and large, observers and most stakeholders agreed that while the election was free, fair, credible and peaceful, they were concerned over the poor turnout of voters, a scenario that does not augur well ahead of the 2019 general elections.