Mr. Austin Ibok is the special adviser to the governor of Cross River State on interparty affairs. In this interview with our correspondent, UBONG INYANG, he advanced reasons why the governor has not conducted local government elections.
There has been so much controversy over the non-conduct of local government elections. In fact, the running of councils by Heads of administrations (HOLGAS) as directed by the governor has drawn the ire of some Cross Riverians including the opposition APC. What is your take on this?
The law clearly states that there should be conduct of elections after the expiration of the tenure of political office holders. But when elections are not conducted within a specific time, what do we do? I think there should be no room for vacuum. What has happened in Cross River is not a new thing. In most APC states, it is caretaker committees that are in place. There is no big deal. In Cross River, the reason why local government election was not conducted as at when due, was due to the composition of the Cross River Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC). What I mean is that the composition of CROSIEC executive came late. When they came on board money had already been appropriated for the conduct of election and this appropriation was done by the former CROSIEC executive. When Ayade came on board, he had to look at records and discovered that what CROSIEC budgeted before was not even enough to conduct election, given the harsh economic realities. In general terms, to conduct an election in Cross River state would be cost effective. Even the former local government chairmen that left on December 15 are expected to be paid severance- that is why we are saying approximately it is going to take us up to N6billion. Severance is not only for the local government chairmen or Vice-Chairmen; it is not only for councillors. It cuts across all the elected local government officials in each of the local government. And in each of the local government approximately we have up to 47 persons and you are to pay them severance- calculate 47 times all the local governments you will know that it is much. Don't also forget that there are former political appointees who served in previous government that are still on the waiting list for their severance. These ones are still on the neck of the present government. The conduct of elections on its own also runs into billions of naira. Don't forget that you are going to print ballot papers, make provisions for security, and other things. Outside that, you are also going to recruit ad hoc staff that would be paid. You know when people are discussing they do not take statistics of all these things. You are going to pay ad hoc staff, permanent staff in various local governments- that will also cost money. So the conduct of elections is not just about coming out with time table and printing of ballot papers. Don't also forget that we need vehicles to move electoral materials- how many vehicles does CROSIEC have? You need to buy vehicles and may be taking some from ministries. It has always been a norm that when an election is conducted and chairmen and other elected officials emerges, you buy them cars. The present government came through a thorough democratic process, so I know that the governor has the interest of the people at heart. The governor in his wisdom weighed so many options and he thought that instead of me using N6 billion now when there is hardship to conduct elections, he should rather use it to pay salaries. As at today, no civil servant in the state is owed. The ones that are owed are the ones that are yet to be biometrically captured. All political appointees have been paid.
In as much as it is not good to create a vacuum, let us also look at the legality in the appointment of HOLGAS
The constitution made provision for the conduct of elections and that same constitution clearly states what should be done in the event that elections are not conducted within a specified period of time. I think this is one of the reasons we have caretaker committees or HOLGAs. A lot of people are quoting the December 9 judgement of the Supreme Court which is not the same in the case of Cross River State. The judgement was given due to the fact that a certain state sacked elected local government chairmen even when their tenure was still running. The law does not permit you to sack elected political appointees before their tenure expires, except through the court. As a governor, you cannot just wake up and sack elected officials. I think the judgment of the Supreme Court also said that no state shall have access to federal allocation if they do not have elected officials. The judgment did not say you cannot put in HOLGAs. This same matter is at the high court in Calabar. So as it is, I don't want to pre-empt the decision of the court in the case of Cross River.
As the Special Adviser to the governor on interparty affairs, what is your advice to him regarding the conduct of local government election?
The governor that I know is already planning to conduct local government election. I have heard from some quarters that the governor is scared of losing that is why he has not conducted election. I will not speak for PDP or APC because by the virtue of my office, I have to show a certain level of neutrality. But let me say that APC being the party at the centre does not automatically mean that they will win election. Also, being the ruling party at the state level does not mean you will sweep the polls. It is the people that will decide.