Igbeaku Orji writes on the task before the Abia State Independent Electoral Commission (ABSIEC) headed by Prof. Mkpa Agu Mkpa ahead of the December local government elections in the state
Prof. Mkpa Agu Mkpa is at the threshold of history. His appointment as chairman of the Abia State Independent Electoral Commission (ABSIEC) was met with stiff opposition but the State House of Assembly ignored that and confirmed him, obviously because the snipe at Mkpa was not widespread but from a section, the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC).
His traducers had nothing to impinge his impeccable public service record except that he would be partisan having served as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG). Those who rejected Mkpa did not hinge their position on incompetence or misconduct.
They contended that it is not possible to serve in such elevated level without being a card carrying member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Mkpa, however, dismissed the claim, saying: “I am not a card carrying member of PDP.” Opponents of the Abiriba born academic have no option, whoever will occupy the office must, by law, be appointed by the governor of the state.
Prior to his stint at mainstream political service, Mkpa had a meritorious reign as Vice Chancellor of Abia State University, Uturu, where he took innovative initiatives that made the university the envy of its contemporaries. He was also one time commissioner for Education. In these areas of service, he came out clean.
Mkpa is therefore not only an accomplished academic of note but also an administrative egg head to eminently head any organization and to be an unbiased umpire even in ABEIEC. It should however, be borne in mind, that notwithstanding previous experiences, every opportunity throws up peculiar challenges. The present assignment, undoubtedly, will be the first time Mkpa will be dealing directly with politicians and political parties in their raw form.
The pragmatism required in this job is antithetical to the academic ambience of the ivory tower. Again, this will be one of the few times there will be serious opposition in local government elections in Abia State. Interestingly, Mkpa has since resumed at his new duty post.
He has also announced December 18 as the election date, and last week, he came out with the election timetable. He has assured political parties of a level playing field.
According to the timetable and schedule of activities, Issuance of Notice of date of Election has been done on September 11. Collection of forms for election by political parties was on September 25, while conduct of primaries by political parties, including resolution of disputes arising from the primaries will take place from between September 21 and October 21.
Submission of names of candidates to ABSIEC by parties will be between October 29 and November 12, while screening of candidates by ABSIEC will be from November 16 to November 27. Hearing of appeal and complaints by the screening committee is between 2 and 3 and replacement of unqualified candidates and screening of replaced candidates is on December 7. Notice of withdrawal of nomination (if any) by candidates will be on December 8 and 9, while submission of final list and nomination forms by parties is on December 10. Commencement of campaign by political parties in public is on November 20, while training of permanent staff of the commission is from November 16 to
- Training of ad hoc staff will be from November 30 to December 4. Submission of names of polling agents for the election to the electoral officers of the local government areas is between December 7 and 11, while return of list of candidates declared qualified to contest election is on December 11.
The last day for campaigns is December 16. Date for elections is December 18, while announcement of results is December 19. Run-off elections (where necessary) is scheduled for December 24. It is against this background that the APC in the state gave the condition for participating in the election.
Leader of the party and senator representing Abia North, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, insisted that the election and preparations preceding it must be convincingly free and fair to guarantee the party’s participation.
The Abia State APC caucus leader in the National Assembly said his party would want to see all the original election materials to guarantee that the process will not be compromised.
Kalu, who is the Senate Chief whip, also declared that materials for the election must be authenticated at the local government headquarters and in the field as well to foster trust in the process. “We are asking for a free, fair, and credible election. We urge all the security agencies to be ready for the election and all eyes to be on the election,” he said.
The former governor expressed delight that a large number of defectors from other political parties in Abia State are identifying with the APC and maintained that with the growing popularity of APC in the state, the party will sweep the polls, particularly Abia North in a free and fair electoral contest.
He added that APC is ready to slug it out with the ruling PDP in the state, while hinting that the APC will field popular and credible candidates across the local governments to enhance its chances of victory. According to the Abia North senator, “the era when results of elections are manufactured is gone.” He, therefore, called on the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, to advise ABSIEC to allow the will of the people to prevail.
He equally appealed to the law enforcement agencies to be vigilant as APC will not tolerate unlawful acts during the election. Many have doubted the commission’s sincerity in conducting a credible, free and fair poll. They argued that the present leadership of ABSIEC cannot possibly deviate from the precedent already set for it.
Those who hold this view averred: “They cannot afford to conduct a credible election because they know that the lackluster performance of the PDP will give opposition the upper hand and they will not give opposition the advantage of controlling the fund of any local government council.
The best the opposition can get is councillors, where the victory is incontrovertibly incontestable. “The opposition will sweep the polls it if the votes count, but they will not allow that.
In fact, what will happen is that while the actual votes are still being counted, results would be announced on radio. You know what it means to allow opposition to win council chairmanship. It means that what they are doing with the local government fund will stop because an APC chairman, for instance, will not accept that.”
The pessimism, notwithstanding, history comes often times with uncanny twists, of repeating itself. But from all the books of political history and anthropology, it is evident that history does not birth in isolation, it is made by those who give events a different direction. To those who have character, integrity and honour, there is more to guard and cherish than the servile acquiescence to imperious directive.
How one executes an assignment is a proof of the stuff one is made of. For instance, Attahiru Jega, a professor of History, was appointed chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by President Goodluck Jonathan, but he presided over the election that sacked him. The recent Edo election is also instructive.
The electoral umpire did not pander to the whim of the ruling party. The peoples choice prevailed and the election will, as has been expectedly adjudged, go down in the annals of electoral process as among the fairest and freest elections.
It is expected that the ephemeral trappings of power should not blind one to the larger picture of national and global perception and accolade.
It is worthy of note that former ABSIEC bosses have served and left unsung as they merely came to interpret prepared script. While the December local government election has been described by political watchers in Abia State as a foretaste of the 2023 contest, there is no doubt that the poll is equally a litmus test for ABSIEC. So, as the parties try one another for size, evaluate their respective capacity and capability, make necessary adjustments for future contests, it is left to the commission to prove critics wrong.
It must not rubber stamp predetermined outcomes or candidates as in the past. It is on record that the election, if conducted, will be the second by the present administration. Previous exercises were repulsive cyclical legalisation of the preferred unconstitutional transition committee council. The election merely gives legitimacy to the illegality, it changes nothing.
As in the transition contraption, the elected chairmen are still tied to the imperious strings of the governor. They hardly, if ever, embark on any project of significance, in spite of the federal monthly receipts.