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State Independent Electoral Commissions seek financial autonomy

The Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions has called for financial autonomy for SIECs to ensure timely conduct of free and credible councils’ elections across the country.
The Chairman of the forum, Gloria Ukpong, made the call when she led a delegation of the body on a visit to the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja on Monday.
Ukpong said that most SIECs operated with ad hoc personnel, adding that financial independence would enable the commissions to employ their staff, who would have career progression.
She said: “It is no news that local government elections in most states of the federation are not being held as required by the Constitution.
“The state governors decide when to conduct the elections or to appoint and sack caretaker councils.
“Some state governors withhold funds made for the operation of SIECs which include conducting of elections, and the truth is you cannot conduct election without funds.
“We want to tell the nation that what is happening is not the fault of SEICs. Ad hoc members working at the commission, caretaker committees for councils and all that are illegal.
“If the president, governor and members of the National and state Houses of Assembly have fixed terms of four years. Let the tenure of local government council chairpersons and councillors be specified in the Constitution.”
Ukpong said the conduct of election was an expensive venture and that stakeholders should come to an agreement on the tenure of political officers at the local government level.
Ukpong, who is also Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission, described the frequent appointment and sacking of Chairmen of SEICs and local government councils as unconstitutional.
She explained: “The Constitution says the tenure of the chairpersons of SEICs is five years.
“People feel that chairpersons of SEICs are under the whims and caprices of governors of the states, but that is not true.
“The fact that the governors appoint SIECs chairpersons does not make that person a stooge; we are not core politicians, we are people who have been tested and trusted.
“They call us independent but when it comes to finance, we are not; a lot of work is expected to be carried out before elections but when we don’t have funds, what can we do?”
In his contribution, the Secretary of the forum, Chief Segun Oladitan, explained that FOSIECON was interested in the well-being of Nigeria’s election and democratic structures.
Oladitan said: “Local government is the closest tier to the people, but at the same time, it is the most abused in the country.
“Many states decide the tenure of local government chairmen; when such is done our independence is eroded, because we can’t conduct the council elections.
“We are a constitutional body and the Constitution that gave us the power says we will be there for five years.
“Conventions have shown us that it is only the governor that approves funds for election; therefore, each SIEC depends on the state government.
“There is need for constitutional amendment to specified that sources of funding for SIECs should be on the first-line charge and should be released to the body when budget is approve.”
Oladitan, who is also the Chairman of Osun State Independent Electoral Commission, said the presidential system of government as being practiced in the country should be adhered to strictly.
He said that local government elections should be allowed to hold like others.
He said: “The SIECs should be allowed to conduct councils’ elections. However, it is not the responsibility of SIECs to mobilise voters to vote; the political parties should do that.”
Also, the Treasurer of FOSEICON, Dr. Abdullahi Modibbo, decried the high rate of misdemeanour among politicians, especially during elections.
He said the electorate allowed political leaders to get away with all manner of manipulation.
Modibbo, who is the Chairman of Nasarawa State Independent Electoral Commission, called for true practice of federalism, saying that it gives the people more dividends of democracy.
In his response, the Editor-in-Chief of NAN, Malam Yusuf Zango, said the nature of political activities in the country had made it challenging for the SIECs to carry out their functions without interference.
He decried the manner some state governors were handling the local government councils and supported autonomy for the councils.
Zango said: “I welcome your decision to speak out about these political abnormalities; people need awareness because some believe that SIECs are under the control of the state governors.
“I want to assure you that NAN will be there for you anytime; this is because we are open for collaboration to enhance good governance.”