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Niger LG election: How returning officer’s disappearance created logjam

Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello and Speaker of Niger State House of Assembly, Barrister Abdullahi Bawa Bwari
Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello and Speaker of Niger State House of Assembly, Barrister Abdullahi Bawa Bwari

The outcome of Saturday, November 30 local government elections in Niger state has no doubt shocked analysts and observers alike. Many had expected a run over with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) sweeping all the chairmanship and councillorship seats across the existing 25 local government areas and 274 wards. In fact, analysts had predicted it, while many observers had already drawn up the likely outcome of the contest which they said, would be an easy ride.

However, as collations progressed across the polling units and wards, it became obvious, that the exercise wasn’t just like any other, with the outcome leaving the ruling party with unexpected bruises.  It lost Gbako to the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); managed a slight margin of win in some local government areas but beaten in several wards designated as its major strongholds.

Key among the shocks that trailed the poll was the defeat of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello in his own Alkali Mustapha Polling Unit, Central Ward in Kontagora local government area of the state to PDP.

Many had thumbed up the State Independent Electoral Commission (NSIEC) for maintaining some level of “neutrality and transparency” in the conduct of the election. However, the cancellation on Monday of the results for Tafa local government area by the commission over the alleged disappearance of the returning officer deployed to the area, tended to cloud the seeming success of the exercise and draws the ire of youths in the area and other political parties in the contest.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the commission had on Sunday announced the poll outcome for 23 out of 25 local government areas while awaiting the results from Tafa and Mashegu local government areas. The preceding Sunday the commission called journalists to its headquarters where it announced the outcome of the poll for Mashegu local government area but canceled that of Tafa following the alleged disappearance of the returning officer.

The commission’s chairman, Alhaji Aminu Baba averred that the disappearance of the officer had put the credibility of the poll in doubt. “As of today, we still don’t know the whereabouts of the Returning Officer for Tafa local government so the reliability of the outcome of election there is no longer tenable. We, therefore, have no option than to cancel the poll in that Council,” he declared.

The commission’s declaration did not go down well with the opposition PDP which claimed to have won the election in the area going by the results from the polling units and wards allegedly announced before the returning officer went missing. The party seemed to have anticipated the commission’s action and had reacted promptly in a letter dated 1st December calling on SIEC to appoint a new returning officer to declare the winner since the collated results have been forwarded to the Local Government Collation Centre.

The letter signed by the State chairman of the party, Barrister Tanko Beji reads, “As you are aware the election for the Tafa Local Government Chairman was conducted successfully on 30th November 2019. Results were collated and forwarded to Local Government Collation Centre, wherein from the results PDP won.

“However, since yesterday after the collation, the Local Government Returning Officer was nowhere to be found. We, therefore, by this letter, request you to use your good office to appoint a Returning Officer who shall proceed to Tafa Local Government.”

However, the commission went ahead to cancel the poll the next day, promising to announce the date for fresh election in the area in due course. The cancellation understandably triggered protest in Sabon Wuse the headquarters of the local government by aggrieved PDP youths who barricaded the ever-busy Abuja-Kaduna expressway, demanding the announcement of the canceled results before they were dispersed by the police.

The Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) in the state stepped into the matter during its executive meeting on Wednesday calling on SIEC to proceed with the collation of the results of the remaining wards and announcement of the outcome.

In a statement signed by its secretary, Mohammed Bello Maikujeri, IPAC noted: “Hence collation of results and returns were made at the wards levels and the only reason given by the commission was the disappearance of the Returning Officer, we urge for the completion of the process and whoever emerges victorious should be declared winner irrespective of political parties.”

It said its position is in line with the desire and wish of the two contending political parties, the PDP) and APC.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the commission seems to have succumbed to pressure by agreeing to go ahead with the collation in the affected council. It was learnt that a team comprising of SIEC personnel, IPAC and representatives of security agencies left Minna Friday morning for Sabon Wusee over the matter.

Responding to our reporter’s enquiries on the new development, IPAC secretary, Maikujeri confirmed that the team was on ground in Tafa. “As we speak, we are at the local government collation centre in Sabon Wuse and I will call you when we are done from here,” he promised.

As the team seek a way out of the current logjam, analysts believed, that APC stakeholders in the state need to bring its feuding members in the local government area to a roundtable if a lasting solution must be find. Our correspondent learnt that the crisis was merely a show of strength between the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Barrister Abdullahi Bawa Bwari and the former chairman of the local government, Hon Ado Abubakar over the control of the Council.

Bwari was formerly of the PDP but defected to APC and later contested and won the Assembly seat, while Ado was one of the founding members of the APC in the area. The emergence of Bwari as speaker seemingly altered the leadership arrangement of the area to his advantage but to the detriment of the former chairman who hitherto controlled the party structure.  The local government election therefore, it was learnt, was a test ground for the two forces with Ado aligning with the PDP’s candidate who is also said to be very popular.

“But as the number three man in the hierarchy of the state, it would be suicidal for the speaker to lose an entire local government. So its an ego battle playing out,” an analyst, Abdulkarim Rulwanu pointed out.

“With the power shifting to former PDP members who defected to the ruling coupled with several incidences of imposition of candidates, you should expect such protest,” another analyst, Salihu Jato remarked.

Our correspondent reports that there were telltale signs of such protest votes and corresponding incidences of process disruptions in areas considered as the ruling party’s strongholds during the poll. “It was somesort of revolts within,” Yunisa Abdulkadir summarized.

However, despite the seeming flaws in the process, stakeholders commended SIEC for introducing some innovations into the conduct of election in the state.

IPAC lauded the commission for insuring some measure of neutrality and transparency in the recruitment of adhoc staff, the printing of customized ballot papers and distribution of electoral materials as well as the conduct of the entire exercise.

It also commended the security agencies for securing the state and exhibiting high level of professionalism as well as neutrality during the election.

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