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Why Soludo Must Fulfil His Promise To Conduct Local Government Elections in Anambra

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Anambra State, a vibrant and significant part of Nigeria’s south-eastern region, is under Governor Charles Soludo’s leadership, who assumed office in March 2022. During his inaugural address, Governor Soludo laid out a comprehensive vision for the state, emphasising the importance of security, education, infrastructure, and economic development, among many other priorities. However, a crucial aspect of governance that still needs to be fulfilled is the conduct of local government elections.

The absence of constitutionally and legitimately elected local government chairmen, coupled with Governor Soludo not honouring his word, is very detrimental to Anambra’s democracy and Ndi Anambra’s belief in said democracy. Citizens will feel disconnected from the political process and believe that their participation does not impact the outcome, hence excluding them from the democratic process. Appointed officials lack the motivation to be as accountable to the people as elected representatives, threatening local government autonomy and weakening the quality of governance at the local level.

Local government elections are vital for several reasons. Firstly, they facilitate the decentralisation of power, allowing for more direct representation and participation of citizens in their local governance. This can lead to more efficient and tailored solutions to local issues, as well as promote accountability and transparency at the grassroots level. Secondly, local governments play a critical role in service delivery, including primary education, healthcare, sanitation, and infrastructure development. The effective functioning of local governments is, therefore, essential for the overall development of the state.

The 1999 constitution (as amended) stipulates that each of the 774 local governments in Nigeria be vested with some powers and duties, which include registration of births, deaths, and marriages; maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds, and homes for the destitute or infirm; registration of outdoor advertising licences; licensing of bicycles, vehicles, canoes, wheelbarrows, and carts; regulation of slaughterhouses, markets, motor parks and public conveniences as well as construction and maintenance of roads, streets lightings, drains, parks, gardens, open spaces etc. They are also in charge of naming roads and streets, but unarguably, their most important responsibility lies in the delivery and upkeep of primary, adult and vocational education and health services.

Despite these benefits and the clear mandate from the constitution that local government elections be conducted periodically, Governor Soludo’s administration has yet to fulfil this crucial democratic obligation. It has been over two years since he took office, and the last local government election in Anambra State was conducted in November 2014, during the administration of Governor Peter Obi. This is close to 10 years ago and it also means that Anambra has only conducted local government elections once since we returned to democracy in 1999. This delay not only undermines the principles of democracy but also hampers the development and effective functioning of local governments in the state.

The Constitution mandates that every state must enact laws governing the creation, organisation, makeup, financing, and duties of local government councils. However, the duration of tenure for elected officials in local councils varies from one state to another, as each state government determines it. Additionally, state governments hold the authority to decide the timing of local government elections. This variation in governance practices can be linked to the misuse of this dependence on state governments by governors.

In an August 2022 speech, former President Buhari condemned governors for their financial misappropriation of local government funds. This accusation came on the heels of protests from some quarters following his signing of Executive Order 10 in May 2020. This order sought to give local governments financial autonomy over state governments. However, on February 12, 2022, the executive order was Invalidated by the Supreme Court in a divided ruling with six Justices in favour and one against. The court stated that the order was illegal and inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution. The 9th Assembly sustained the fight for the independence of LG as they initiated a constitutional amendment process in March 2022. The National Assembly transmitted 44 bills to the state houses of assembly for their concurrence to get Mr President to sign them into law. Among these was the local government autonomy bill. Eventually, the bill and eight others failed to meet the required two-thirds approval threshold from the 36 state houses of assembly.

The absence of democratically elected local government councils has led to appointed officials managing these bodies. In the current Anambra dispensation, Governor Soludo renews the tenure of caretaker chairmen every three (3) months with the help of the State’s Assembly. This arrangement is undemocratic and often leads to inefficiency and a lack of accountability. Moreover, the non-conduct of local government elections has implications for the state’s relationship with development partners. It is reported that the need for local government elections in Anambra State is costing the state partnerships with development agencies, as many of these partners prefer to work with democratically elected local governments.

In December 2023, the Senate considered suspending statutory allocations to local governments that were not democratically elected. Prompted by some governors’ flagrant violation of the Constitution, the Senate passed a resolution urging the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Finance, to cut off funding to appointed local governments, adjusting the scope to include all errant states. If this were to go through, this would not only hamper service delivery at the grassroots in Anambra but would eventually lead to a lengthy litigation process at the Supreme Court, where scarce state resources would be expended.

Governor Soludo’s delay in conducting local government elections also contradicts his promise to do so. During his inaugural address in 2022, he promised that “over the next two years, we shall review, amend the relevant legislations, reform and strengthen the system for efficiency, restructure and strengthen the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission and conduct local government elections.” This delay is not only a breach of trust but raises questions about the administration’s commitment to democratic principles and local governance. To this end, we at AdvoKC Foundation have started an online campaign to raise awareness of the promise and ensure Governor Soludo holds his end of the bargain by conducting LGA elections.

The campaign tagged #SoludoConductLGAElections includes a petition on change.org and a movement on social media galvanising Anambra citizens and other Nigerians to push for the fulfilment of the promise. As a civic tech platform established to help citizens hold elected leaders accountable for their promises, we are unwavering in our commitment to promoting accountability and transparency in governance, as we know it is the cornerstone of a thriving democracy. This movement to insist that the governor holds LG elections is a part of the Soludo-meter promise tracker, a wider effort to track 50 of the most important promises Governor Soludo made while campaigning for office.

All stakeholders, including Ndi Anambra, the media, civil society organisations, development agencies, and other concerned Nigerians, are urged to engage with the campaign. Your participation is crucial in ensuring that our local communities have the opportunity to elect their representatives and participate in decision-making processes. By joining our campaign and adding your voice, you will help pressure the governor to fulfil his commitment to strengthening democracy, promoting good governance, and empowering citizens at the grassroots level. Together, let us demand accountability and ensure that our voices are heard!

Promise Source: Professor Charles Soludo, “[FULL SPEECH] Soludo’s Inaugural Address As Anambra Governor,” YouTube, https://youtu.be/EoZdcmmKGkI?si=_NtxNma0l7AVr5aE, 00:18:36 – 00:19:14.

 

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