Yiaga Africa Organises Roundtable Meetings on Local Government Election Reforms in Akwa Ibom and Lagos States

In line with its efforts to  improve the quality of local government elections in Nigeria, Yiaga Africa has organised roundtable meetings on improving local government elections in Akwa Ibom and Lagos States. The roundtable meetings are a part of its project launched earlier in April aimed at increasing public confidence in subnational elections by promoting institutional independence, resilience, and capacity among state independent electoral commissions (SIECs), of which Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKSIEC) and the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) are two of the three model SIECs that are part of the project.

The project is informed by the growing need to prioritise discussions around grassroots involvement in elections and governance, particularly those pertaining to Local Government elections. Being the tier of government that operates closest to the grassroots, the Local Government is expected to make citizens’ participation in governance easy thereby ensuring that citizens at that level  contribute to shaping good governance. 

The meeting presented an opportunity for election stakeholders in the state including civil society organisations, political parties, government officials and officials of AKSIEC & LASIEC to discuss some factors impacting the quality of local government elections in the state, while providing possible solutions for achieving credible, free and fair local government elections.

Participants at the roundtable meeting

In his keynote address at the Akwa Ibom roundtable meeting, Ezenwa Nwagwu, the Chair, Partners for Electoral Reforms and a Yiaga Africa Board Member spoke about how credible local government elections are a necessity for our democratic development as it allows for the emergence of competent leadership at the grassroots level

“There should be a deeper consciousness of sub-national elections so that there will be full participation. Crimes will reduce when local governments work and function optimally. 

“CSOs and the media need to intensify efforts in carrying out voter and civic education at the grassroots so that people will be conscious of governance vis-a-vis budgets of the local government,” Nwagwu recommended.

Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chair, Partners for Electoral Reforms

Cynthia Mbamalu, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programmes in her address encouraged citizens at the grassroots level to heighten their awareness regarding matters concerning local government elections by engaging not only in casting votes but also actively participating in the governance procedures, 

“Elections transcend mere political exercises but constitute a fundamental aspect of human rights to be exercised by eligible voters’” she underscored.

She also reviewed the state’s electoral legal framework, highlighting gaps and challenges, pointing out that these present opportunities for targeted advocacy campaigns that will achieve reforms for credible elections.

Cynthia Mbamalu, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programs

Acknowledging Akwa Ibom’s proactive stance as one of the leading states in revising its State Electoral Law, Mbamalu emphasised the importance for State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) to embrace the latest electoral legislation in order to enhance their operational effectiveness.

“The Electoral Act enables financial autonomy for INEC and the same should be applied to SIEC to enable the body to function optimally,” she stressed.

Expressing Yiaga Africa’s commitment to championing participatory elections at the grassroots, Safiya Bichi, Yiaga Africa’s Head of Knowledge Management and Learning, emphasised the role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in securing the delivery of good governance at the local level.

“Yiaga Africa recommends that CSOs look out for the factors restricting citizens participation in elections and tinker with ways of addressing them by reawakening their interests through vigorous voter education.”

Safiya Bichi, Head of Knowledge Management and Learning, Yiaga Africa

Mr. Aniedi Ikoiwak, Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKSIEC), shared his insights into the factors that contribute to the failure of local government elections. He highlighted that abnormalities in the constitution pose significant hindrances to the proper conduct of electoral processes at the local government level.

“The constitution is silent on the required tenure of the council chairmen unlike the president at the national level and the governors at the state level,” Ikoiwak pointed out.

Aniedi Ikoiwak, Chair, AKSIEC

In Lagos, the keynote speaker, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, the Founding Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) spoke of the need to reform local government structure to allow a more independent body or non-partisan persons to conduct local government elections.

Mr Uche George, who represented Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi of WARDC

“It is also important that local governments are given full autonomy in terms of management of finances so that they can have more impactful service delivery.”

In her presentation, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programmes Cynthia Mbamalu proposed a four-year tenure for local government positions to ensure uniformity in terms of office at state and federal levels in Nigeria.

“This will ensure that state governors do not have the right to decide whether to do elections or not.”

“Asides Lagos State and a few other states who hold periodic elections, some states have not held local government elections for more than ten years. They would rather have caretaker committees and no elected local government officials, and this should not be encouraged.”

Cynthia Mbamalu, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programmes at the Lagos roundtable meeting

Mr Stanley Kuti of LASIEC called for more collaborations with stakeholders and the need for active sensitisation to avoid voter apathy.

The meetings concluded with participants proposing strategies for an advocacy campaign for legislative reforms that will reform the electoral legal framework for local government elections in their respective states.

Paul James, Yiaga Africa’s Elections Programme Manager reading out the communique from the Akwa Ibom meeting

Akwa Ibom is one out of the three states where Yiaga Africa is working with its SIEC to be model SIECs for improving the quality of local government elections in their domains. Lagos and Kaduna are the other two states.

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