By Jerome, Uneje Mary
Nigeria 28th April 2015. The atmosphere appeared filled with of hope and expectations as Pa Josiah (not real name) cast his vote with satisfaction. As he emerged from the polling booth, a smile cracks across his old wrinkled face. As he hobbles away from the polling booth under the support of his walking stick, he feels a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment being part of the process that will effect the desire of the people in the governance structure of his country at all levels.
Three days later, the results are announced. The opposition has won. Pa Josiah is happy. He helped effect change. This he reasoned is democracy. There is no standard definition of the word democracy. It’s said to be “A system of government in which all the people of a state or polity are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly”. The people clamoring for change are still in the joyous mood on acquisition of power by the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the ever ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The 2015 general elections was the fifth time Nigerians had the opportunity to exercise their franchise in selecting their country’s leadership both at the State and National level since the return of democracy in 1999. Though not perfect, as there were recorded pockets of irregularities here and there, the general perception however is that the elections were to an acceptable extend free and fair. It is believed that the people’s votes did actually count including Pa Josiah’s. It can therefore be said with some level of confidence that our democracy has recorded some level of improvement and growth since 2011 when we last went to the polls.
Despite the seeming growth and development of democracy at the National level it still leaves much to be desired especially at the grassroots. The sustainable growth and development of all things including democracy is better from the grassroots up but not the reverse.
Local governments in Nigeria remain the first and the closest governance structure in Nigeria. It is the governance structure, whose leadership is supposed to reflect the wishes and desires of the people whom it is was created to serve. The reverse is however the case as local governments remains the manor farm of State Governors nationwide. The State executives have hijacked the local government structures as they determine their leadership by staging charade elections through the state independent electoral commissions. This action deprives the grassroots people the right and privilege to choose leaders of their choice who will represent and defend their interest while in office. As stooges of the governor the implanted local government executives connive in looting the treasuries of their local councils thereby leaving the people impoverished and grossly underdeveloped.
Riding on the crest of the wave of change as recorded in the last general elections 2015, it is high time this change begins to cascade down to the grassroots. As the new Government assumes the reins of Power across the country, the era of local government elections being the manor of State Executives must discontinue. The peoples of Nigeria at the grassroots who form over seventy five percent (75%) of the country’s population deserve to choose and elect the leaders of their choice according to their conscience in a free and fair atmosphere.
In Benue State for example, the tenure of the elected local government executives came to an end since November 2014 and the leadership of the local government councils have been determined by the State Governor since then. Only recently, the outgoing Governor appointed caretaker committee members to manage the resources of the twenty three (23) Local Government Areas in Benue State until the next local government elections is conducted by the State Independent Electoral Commission. This new local administration has been foisted on the people. As they are neither chosen nor elected by the electorate, they owe no accountability to the people but rather to the Executive Governor who appoints them. The State Independent Electoral Commission, saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections in the State has not shown any form of preparedness to conduct the elections any time soon. A recent Media report has it that the Governor-elect Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom has promised to conduct a free and fair local government elections in the State as soon as he gets into power.
This is a sign of good things to come. As it is yet a promise, we earnestly look forward to its fulfillment as democracy can only be entrenched where it is strongest at the grassroots. As Pa Josiah and the rest of Nigerians are jubilating over the outcome of the last general elections as indicator of a maturing democracy in Nigeria, we must remind ourselves that until every Nigerian, including the villagers elect their leaders in a free and fair elections even at the local councils, our democracy cannot and will never be matured.