The Commissioner for Public Affairs and Information of the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission, Dr. Andrew Nkom, says owing to legal tussle in court, the Commission cannot fix a date for the conduct of Local Government elections in the state. In an interview with AMOS TAUNA, Dr. Nkom however assures that the present SIECOM is determined to conduct a free, fair, credible and acceptable election in the state. Excerpts:
The Interim management council chairmen in the state have been given an extension of another six month by Governor Nasir El-Rufai, how does the State Independent Electoral Commission, SIECOM, sees this development?
Let me start by saying that the appointment for administrators of Local Government to run the councils is not the responsibility of the Commission, we have nothing to do with it. It is the state government that has that responsibility. Coming back to what you said because we want people to know that in line with the mandate of the Commission, we are trying to do our best to implement the functions that have been ascribed to us which all goes towards deepening democracy in the interest of the citizens of Kaduna State. That is the basic concern of everything we are trying to do in this commission.
What are the legal implications of shifting the local government election in the state, is it in line with constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
The local government election was not shifted. You shift an election when you have actually fixed the date. Let me substantiate for you the environment in which we work. The Commission is the creation of the Constitution of the country, the same constitution gives the state the powers to establish State Electoral Commission as well as to bring up the law that will aid in the administration and management of the election of the local government. So, we are working within the ambit of those legislations. We cannot now give you a public discussion of all the issues that are involved in announcing a date for the next local government election in the state because we have a certain constraints. The first constraint is the fact that we are in court, we were taken to court by the citizens of Kaduna State since November 2015 and we are joined in the suit together with the governor of the state, the State House of Assembly and the Attorney General of the state. We have to defend ourselves in that case as the defendant, the plaintiff in that case is asking the court to make certain order against us the defendants and one of the orders is the one that directly concerns us as a Commission, which is that we should be made to conduct local government elections in the state. Now we cannot discuss with you when we would be able as a commission on when to make an announcement as to the date of the election because that is one of the issues in contention in the case in court. We cannot discuss any of the prayers that is contain in that case without infringing a court regulation and we will not do that. Our number one issue is that we cannot discuss with the public the date of the election until that case has somehow been decided by the court. The second issue that l will call a problem is how often we will do local government election and what will be the tenure of the people that will be elected. As l mentioned earlier, the constitution gives the state government the powers to make laws for the administration of Local Government. As l speak to you, there is a legislative activity going on in Kaduna State to amend the existing Local Government administration law. l understand it has almost reached a final stage. As soon as it is passed, we are looking forward for it to be passed into law, it will now give the Commission certain visions on what amendment to do to our own law in order to have election and what will be the tenure of those who will be elected as chairmen and Councilors. So, these are some of the things we are looking into.
How prepared is the Commission towards ensuring a free, fair and credible Local Government election?
As already mentioned, there is a case in court as to when election will be held and other issues related to elections in the state. That does not mean we will not continue with the work that we are supposed to do as a Commission. The fact of the matter in principle, we are ready to conduct election as soon as some of these challenges are resolved. We need to explain to our citizens in the state that our concern is to discharge those responsibilities as we can in the interest of the state. So, we have carried out certain activities such as the voters’ registers have been treated and ready. We have conducted training exercises for our staff and right now, we are in the process of training another group of staff of the Commission in relation to the work that we are doing here. We have already written some books that are going to be used to educate the general public in Kaduna State about what democracy is, what the elections are all about and what really is their interest in carrying out these elections. For the first time, we are covering the general public in what we called public education so that people will not think that the voters’ education is only directed at those who can vote, that is 18 years and above. Democracy covers every citizen and even those that are not eligible to vote, they should be taught how democracy runs and as such, we will encourage them through enlightenment to come out and register when they are up to 18 years of age. So, we are ready, we have produced all that is necessary and we are waiting for the court case to be resolved for us to go into action of what we have on ground. The most immediate activity that we are now going to carry on is the sensitization meeting for all stakeholders starting from the stakeholders meeting at the state level. We are waiting for the governor to give us a date that is convenient to him, his cabinet and other stakeholders for us to carry out the sensitization meeting that will kick off the whole process thereby it will give us the opportunity to go to the Local Government, communities and to the wards in order to be sure that we cover all the stakeholders including children.
What is the Commission putting in place to ensure credible and peaceful Local Government election in the state?
When we came into this assignment, our review of the work that has been done not just in Kaduna State but in other state Electoral Commissions showed us that everything has almost exclusively been on voter education in preparation for actual elections but we realized that the electoral process goes beyond mere election. It covers a lot of things long before you actually do the election. That is, preparations are made, what do people know and how they decide who they can vote for to represent them. The realization is that we as citizens cannot all go to the House of Assembly and so we have some people that are to represent us, we have to actually get people do the job we want them to do on our behalf and after the election, that is the most critical aspect of it. That is, what happens after the election? People should be able to know what democracy is all about as government of the people, for the people and by the people. That is, the ability to do what the people want, to be able to serve them the way they want. If democracy had been for the people, the resources that had been stolen in this country were supposed to go towards the development of the people, they didn’t, so we need to develop that aspect of democracy and that is what we want to do in Kaduna State so that the citizens of the state take responsibility for their actions and for thosee elect to represent them and l believe this will lead to a proper development of Kaduna State and reduce tensions and conflicts that have engulfed the state by electing the right person to do the job for the people.
What do you want to be remembered for after leaving the Commission?
It is the commission that is doing the work not me, l am only representing the Commission and as a result, we work together to achieve our set goals and ensure we do what we are assigned to do so that Kaduna State gets to the promised land in all spheres of life. We want as an overall community, gets the best of the dividends of democracy and set the pace for generations yet unborn.
How is the interface between the Commission and the various political parties in the state?
All of us in the Commission were appointed because we do not belong to any political party, so as far as we are concern, all political parties are our responsibility. We don’t know anything about ruling party or opposition party but all parties are ours and we treat all parties in the same manner regardless of how small or how big they are because they all have contributions they can make towards the development of the state. So, our relationship is good. We have a unit in the commission that liaise with them all the times and the parties contact the unit where they can call on the Commission to find out what is happening if the need arises.
What are some of the challenges the commission is facing in carrying out its activities? I have already told you in the area of the court case but generally we are fortunate to have an administration that is not interfering in what we are doing as a Commission. They are interested in who wins election not which political party wins election. The individual that will wins election and do the job that the citizens want him to do.