THERE is a palpable tension in Kwara State as to whether the planned council election, meant to lead to the emergence of elected officials that will run the affairs of the16 local government areas in the state, will still hold as scheduled. The election is expected to hold next Saturday, barring a restraining court order or a last minute change of plan by the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWASIEC).
For weeks, opposition politicians and political parties, as well as other stakeholders, have been at loggerhead with the ruling All Progressives Congress and the chairman of KWASIEC, Dr. Uthman Ajidagba, over a number of issues, including allegations that he has a mandate to declare all the candidates of the ruling parties as winners of the election across the state.
While the commission and its chairman continue to deny these allegations with incessant promises that the scheduled election will be free and fair, the opposition parties in the state have also been unrelenting in their show of distrust in the process. The development has led to a situation where observers have expressed serious concern over the possible outcome of the polls.
Comrade Alhassan Ajirotutu is the State Coordinator of Voters' Right Agenda (VRA). Confirming the tense political atmosphere prevalent in the state ahead of Saturday’s election, he warned that the complaints of the opposition political parties should be looked into with more seriousness by the government to prevent possible post-election crisis.
"We all know how volatile politics can be in Kwara State. The signs here are not good. We have a situation where the opposition parties are united in their distrust of the umpire of the election. It is important for the authorities to listen to them and allay their fears. Where their fears are genuine, it is still not too late to effect necessary changes so as to ensure credibility of the process and prevent post-election mayhem,"he said.
But it appears the authorities are not seeing things the way of other stakeholders see them. Sources within the ruling APC were of the opinion that the opposition parties are only raising false alarm and as such, should not be taken serious. “We know their tricks and there is no way the government will remove Ajidagba because these habitual complainants are afraid of losing elections,” a member of the APC State Executive Committee said.
The confusion surrounding the election heightened two weeks ago when KWASIEC stopped four, out of the 16 PDP chairmanship candidates from participating in the election by rejecting their nomination forms. Amidst fresh allegations of bias, the commission claimed that the candidate violated electoral guidelines by submitting their forms late.
"Those candidates couldn’t pay on October 19th, 2017 to the banks before close of business and therefore marched to KWASIEC headquarters with money in their hands on the same day and were there until 12 midnight. Efforts to get the officials of the commission, especially the Chairman failed as they all refused to pick their calls all through the day and night only to claim the forms were submitted late the next morning," a chieftain of the PDP said.
The atmosphere in the state was further charged during the week when a Kwara State High Court, sitting in Ilorin, the state capital, commenced hearing into a case filed against KWASIEC, Ajidagba and Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed, by dissatisfied political parties, who are seeking a change in the leadership of the electoral commission before next Saturday’s election can hold.
The hearing of the suit, which is seeking the removal of Ajidagba, among other reliefs, started with the presiding judge, Justice Halima Salman, warning the parties in the case against delay tactics as according to her, the court will not tolerate delays because time is of utmost importance in the determination of the matters involved in the suit.
Appearing as lead counsel for the applicants is Sambo Muritala. Hamid Gegele represented the third respondent, while A.K, Abdul was defense counsel for first and second respondents. The trial judge promised to ensure that judgement is given in good time to ensure that nobody is denied their rights as a result of unnecessary delay.
Determined to stop Ajidagba from conducting the election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and three other political parties, filed the suit to challenge the competence of Ajidagba, the KWASIEC Chairman, to superintend the elections scheduled for 18 November. The other disaffected parties are Action Democratic Party (ADP), Kowa Party (KP) and Labour Party (LP).
The parties are praying the court to pronounce Ajidagba as bias, and as such, unfit to chair KWASIEC.
While the ruling party is battling to stave off the plan of the opposition to stop the election from going ahead under the current arrangement, it appears the APC itself is not united over the forthcoming election as some prominent chieftains of the party in the state have come out to openly condemn the refusal of the government to address the complains of the opposition parties.
A group within the APC, Caucus for Progressive Change (CPC), while urging the government to do the needful, appealed to the public not to see the party “as an assembly of low thinkers." Spokesman of the group, Alhaji Suleiman Kayode, in a statement condemned what he described as lack of basic knowledge of constitutional democracy on the part of the ruling party for allowing the KWASIEC chairman to appear on its radio programme at a time like this.
"We have warned times without number that those managing the affairs of the party at the state level are not only incompetent but arrogant and the more reason they are embarrassed every day. It a clear show of crass incompetence, lack of basic knowledge of constitutional democracy and disservice to teeming members of the party for the leadership of our great party to have donated a space for KWASIEC to appear on a radio programme sponsored with our party's fund.
But the embattled KWASIEC boss, Ajidagba, says the electoral commission has concluded arrangements to conduct local government election on November 18, 2017. He denied all allegations of bias and high-handedness, insisting that the commission has been guided by the provisions of the laws of the land in all its dealings as regards the council election.
"We are guided by law and everything is on course. We are ready, prepared, willing and enormous to conduct free, credible and fair election on 18th November, 2017. There will be no change of election date," said Ajidagba. He promised that KWASIEC will give every party equal right and will not disappoint the general public.
And according to the chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Kwara state, Ishola Balogun-Fulani, there is no cause for arm as the APC will will clear all the 16 chairmanship and 193 Councillorship seats in the state because the party has delivered on its promises to earn the confidence of the electorate. While warning party supporters against apathy on election day, he said the people of the state will vote for the party on Saturday.