By Istifanus Yakubu
When last August 12, Mohammed Baba, Secretary to the Bauchi State Government, announced the dissolution of the 20 Local Government Councils in the state, deep held scepticism over the conduct of local government elections in the state, started to evaporate. But even at that, optimism was still muted because after 13 years of raised hopes and failed expectations, the people of the state had learnt to take government promises to conduct local government elections, with a pinch of salt.
Their fears were not unfounded. Starting with the tenure of Isa Yuguda, government after government, had pledged to midwife a democratically elected local government system. Each time, the people applauded. Each time, the government failed to deliver. The Administration of Bala Mohammed was not been spared the cynicism of those who accused him, albeit falsely, of reneging on his promise, to conduct the LGA elections within four months of the confirmation of his electoral victory, by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
That cynicism was deepened and glamourized by opponents who alleged that the delay by the Bala Mohammed Administration to conduct local government elections, was one of the reasons for their decision to dump the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressive Congress (APC). Senator Misau, for instance, had hinged his return to the APC on the same reason, one that is considered spurious and untenable by many people. For sure, their lame excuse was flawed for several reasons.
Firstly, unlike with previous Administrations, the case of the Bala Mohammed Administration, had nothing to do with lack of trying, dishonesty or deceit. Arrangements for local government elections had started long before those who decamped left the PDP. The arrangement was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a development that has paralyzed human activities on a scale never witnessed in contemporary history. Hence, as in virtually every other human activity, the State Government was compelled, time and again, to reschedule the elections even as the State Independent Electoral Commission never took its eyes off the ball. It is an irony and a great betrayal of the people that his opponents who claim to be migrating from one party to another for the love of the people, did not mind exposing the same Bauchi electorate to risk of widespread COVID-19 infection, simply so long as their self-serving political calculations were achieved. It is to the credit of the Bala Mohammed Administration that it did not succumb to that heartless enticement.
It is also heart-warming that, finally, the LGA elections has come and gone. All the stakeholders in the elections can pat themselves on the back that the elections were not only peaceful but were substantially in compliance with global best practice. It was the culmination of the painstaking preparation by the State Independent Election to actualize Bala Mohammed’s pledge, in his inaugural speech, to incorporate the rural areas, into the mainstream of Bauchi’s developmental agenda, by giving vent to the expectation that the local areas would constitute the primary recruitment ground, for political leadership. The Governor’s pledge rang out loud and clear, as he declared: “My dear compatriots, this (rural development) is another area that is central to the paradigm shift targeted by this administration, to accelerate the overall development of the state. We believe that if the Local Government Councils are allowed to function as envisaged by the framers of the constitution, they will be able to absorb some of the pressure on the state and federal levels of government. Besides, the local councils were conceived as training grounds from where leadership recruitment could be facilitated. This has not been the case. Those who have lost hope in the resuscitation of vibrant local councils should not despair: Hope has come”.
The first obvious implication of this development is that the Government, as in other areas, has kept it words; that the Bala Mohammed Administration can be trusted to honour its promises. In fact, at no time was the Administration reluctant to conduct the LG elections, as was mischievously alleged by some members of the opposition. What cannot be ignored is the fact that considerable planning, financing arrangement and legal instruments needed to be in place against the background that no such election had taken place in over thirteen years.
The second point to note is that, with the enthronement of democratically elected local councils in Bauchi State, the first by any Administration in thirteen years, the Bala Mohammed Administration has created the impetus for the local populace, to effectively take their destinies, into their own hands. They can now identify priorities and allocate resources, based on need and circumstances instead of an over-arching state machinery dictating projects and programmes from above. While that does not rule out collaboration with the state and federal governments, it simply means that consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, inter-governmental relations can now be organised to minimally confer the autonomy the LGAs deserve.
Thirdly, this is a practical step towards achieving the objective of turning the LG system into the recruitment ground, for future leaders of the state and the country. Younger people who, previously, had either been discouraged or out rightly excluded from participating in local administration will now be inspired to stake a hold on that level of government that provides a springboard for higher responsibilities. By starting their political careers at the grassroots level, the younger generation would, hopefully, acquire useful experience that will place them in good standing by the time they launch out to the state and national levels.
Fourthly, a point that needs no extra emphasis, empowering the local councils, through a free and fair local government elections as the Bala Mohammed Administration has done, will strengthen local government administration, boost the governance environment, free resources to jump start long abandoned economic activities, fast-track jobs creation, reduce crime, discourage rural-urban migration and ultimately, enhance social harmony in the state.
By fulfilling its promise to conduct local government elections, the Bala Mohammed Administration has demonstrated utmost fidelity with the people of Bauchi State. It has achieved a milestone. In keeping his promise to conduct local Government elections, Governor Bala Mohammed has etched his name on marble as a jinx breaker, the one who breathed the air of democracy into the erstwhile asphyxiated lungs of Bauchi Local Councils. Maybe his adversaries can now recant their deceptive effusions and join hands with the Administration towards ensuring that this paradigm shift, this dawn of a new era will ultimately produce the greatest good for the greatest number of Bauchi people who have long yearned for this moment.
We cannot conclude without commending all the stakeholders whose effort culminated in the conduct of a hitch-free elections devoid of violence, shedding of blood and destabilizing tension. The state independent electoral commission, the political parties, security agencies, voters and all other participants should be proud that collectively, they have created this narrative of a new dawn in local government administration in Bauchi State.
Once reconstituted, the new local councils will be expected to build on the aggressive rural transformation agenda of the State Government, an agenda that has witnessed massive infrastructural and people empowerment programmes and projects. In one word, what Governor Bala Mohammed has achieved is to kick start the reset button for the youth of Bauchi State, in terms of democratic engagement and leadership recruitment.
- Yakubu wrote from Pankshin, Plateau State.