New study offers ways to improve local government elections in Nigeria

Anambra Election used to illustrate the story

SIECs conduct local government elections in all the states.

A new study by the Centre for Democracy and Development, a West African organisation, has increased calls to strengthen the State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIEC, in Nigeria.

The study, launched in Abuja on Wednesday, was carried out during the implementation of the centre’s project on effective decentralisation of governance.

The study followed years of consistently heightened complaints against irregularities in local government elections which has made elections into local government councils lack credibility and transparency.

In most cases, the candidates are handpicked by the state governor, imposed on the party, with state machinery deployed to ensure they emerge victorious at the polls.

The 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended saddles state governments with the power to organize elections into local governments through the SIEC established by such state. The state governor appoints the chairpersons and commissioners of SIEC.

This act has made the SIEC institutionally weak and susceptible to the appointing authority which has affected the quality of elections at the local level, leading to the popular assertion that local government elections are ‘mere selections not elections’ the study said.

The director of Centre for Democracy and Development, Jibrin Ibrahim, told PREMIUM TIMES that the research was carried out in six geopolitical zones of the country in selected states of Kaduna, Imo, Plateau, Bauchi, Edo and Lagos.

“What we found out in this research in the six geopolitical zones of the country was that governors influence the state houses of assembly when doing the enabling laws establishing the State Independent Electoral Commission State,” Mr Ibrahim said.

He argued that most SIECs are not autonomous since the governor appoints all the members of the commission and they tend to appoint political supporters to the commission.

“We found out that there are so many people of high integrity in many of those commissions who are trying to do their best to carry out free and fair elections, and they have a number of constraints. One of the constraints they have is finance, they don’t have enough resources to organize,” he explained.

He added that “those people of high integrity who try to ensure credible elections are also under a lot of political pleasure from the governors in particular who want to make sure that in every local government elections the ruling party wins all the seats, both for chairmen and all the councillors. This makes it unacceptable and it must change,” he said.

The research drew up recommendations it believes will strengthen SIECs and enhance local government administrations for better delivery of public goods and services.

The factors that would strengthen SIECs and local government administrations according to the research are autonomy, inclusiveness, capacity, impartiality, and citizens’ involvement.

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