In recent times, the conduct of Local Government Council elections across Nigeria has been bedeviled by irregularities, electoral violence and malpractice. This has led to increasing voter apathy as citizens have consistently declined from participating in the elections. As a matter of fact, opposition parties in recent times have boycotted LGA council elections due to what it described as lack of neutrality by State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) and the lack of a level playing ground during such elections.
For instance, in the recent LG election conducted in Oyo and River states, the main opposition parties in the state did not participate, citing lack of level playing ground. Thus there were recurring images of electoral officials sitting idle while waiting for the arrival of prospective voters who didn’t show up. Similarly, during the Rivers LGA elections, election materials arrived at some polling units as late as 11.30am. These among other irregularities climaxed the election which was described as a charade by close observers.
Concerned by the recent trends of irregularities in Local Government elections, Yiaga Africa has kicked off a comprehensive study to dissect the challenges, problems and prospects of conducting Local Government elections. According to the Head of the Election Program Paul James, the aim of the study which commenced in Oyo State was to assess the conduct of local government elections and proffer recommendations for improving the quality of the electoral process at the local level.
During the study, the Yiaga Africa Head of Election Programs, Paul James; Media Officer Moshood Isah; Program Officer, Opeyemi Haruna and State Focal Point, Gboyega Tokunbo engaged election stakeholders from the state election management body, security, media, election observer groups, Civil Society Organisations and other marginalised groups including voices of citizens in Oyo State.
The visiting team met with the Chairman of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) Barrister Isiaka Abiola Olagunju (SAN) who lamented the recurring voter apathy during LGA elections. He also raised concerns about logistics and security issues as challenges of conducting LGA elections. Similarly, engagements with Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Amotekun revealed security concerns which include activities of miscreants, cultists and bandits in border areas and other notable flashpoints in the state.
On the relevance of observing LGA elections in Nigeria, Civil Society Organisations like Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), EduCare, and the Joint Association of People with Disability (JONAPWD) remain optimistic that observing LG elections will bring about recommendations that could improve the process. CSO representatives also believe that observing the LG election will further motivate other stakeholders to delve into its observation and provide more independent oversight to shore up citizens’ confidence and increase participation.
Amongst other recommendations, stakeholders have advocated for the independence and neutrality of state independent electoral commissions, autonomy of local government governing bodies and intensive education of voters on the importance of participating in the grassroots poll. Other stakeholders recommended capacity building for state election management bodies in a bid to standardize the conduct of polls at the LGA level.