News Analysis: Wait, so the ACN is allowed to do this but the PDP is not?

The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) styles itself as a progressive party. In the changing Nigerian political lexicon, “progressive” means “belonging to the opposition”; it is not an ideological bent. Hence a man can switch from conservative to progressive to conservative again in a year – it’s just an euphemistic way of saying he switches parties as often as his political survival dictates.

So it should perhaps not be surprising given their interchangeability that the ACN is proposing in Lagos state, an amendment to the laws which the PDP at the federal level attempted and failed to do, and which, most importantly, the ACN roundly criticised at the time.

What are we on about?

The Lagos state government in conjunction with the Lagos state house of assembly, and of course with the backing of the predominant party in that state, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), plans to extend the tenure of local government chairmen and councillors in Lagos State.

In other words, even though local council officials campaigned and got elected, with the promise to implement their plans and policies within the three years fixed by the law, and are already half way there, the Lagos government has suddenly decided that it’s better to add another year to their tenure. It’s like changing the rules during a game of football, and declaring that scoring a goal with the hands is suddenly acceptable right after a player scores a goal with the hand.

The proposed amendment to the state’s Local Government Administration Law, 1999, aims to review Section 27 of the law to elongate the tenure of the current elected officers at the grassroots from three years to four years. It also aims to limit the number of terms elected officers can serve to two terms of eight years in line with the constitutional provisions for the tenure of the president and governors.

“Notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 12(1) and 27(3), Councilors and Chairmen of Local Government and Local Council Development Areas that were sworn in prior to the commencement of this Law may hold office for the term prescribed by this Law,” the proposed amendment reads.

The argument of the ACN and the Lagos government is simple. As stated by the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeola Rahman Ipaye, there have been many complaints about the poor performance of council chairmen in the state and the excuse given by the chairmen is that the number of years for which they are eligible to serve, constrains them. Hence the need for the amendment.

It would be difficult for the Lagos government to sell that argument. The argument most Lagosians believe is this – the Lagos ACN is worried that holding another council poll in October 2014, about six months to the general elections in the country could cause disaffection among party men that may be difficult to reconcile before then. They fear heading into the 2015 elections as a divided party.

Furthermore if such an election is held and the ACN loses its grip on the state, then they would most likely lose the momentum heading into 2015.

But critics argue that systems cannot be tinkered with to preserve the monopoly of a particular party.

They point to the glaring hypocrisy of the ACN, which Yinka Odumakin of Save Nigeria Group (SNG) described as “double standards… crass hypocrisy and manifestation of do-as-I-say but don’t do as I do.”

In 2011, when President Goodluck Jonathan briefly flirted with the idea of tinkering the constitution to amend the number of years elected state governors and presidents can spend in office, the ACN was one of the harshest, most prominent critics.

See how Lai Mohammed, the ACN spokesman described the president’s moves:

“Much as most Nigerians are shocked by President Jonathan’s plan, we are sure it did not come to them as a total surprise, because it is in line with his style since assuming office. After the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua and his (President Jonathan’s) ascension to office, he cannot be remembered for anything beyond stoking the fire of zoning or no zoning, which burned brightly until he was elected President.

“Now, three months after he promised Nigerians heaven and earth in his inauguration speech but delivered nothing, while Nigerians are daily being subjected to hellish living, all he has come up with is a bill to amend the Constitution so the President and state governors can serve only one term. How is this issue more important than taking measures to grow our moribund economy; or to ensure that millions of our jobless youths are gainfully employed?

“How does this check the widespread insecurity of lives and property in the land, especially in areas under the stranglehold of Boko Haram? How are the so-called merits of the plan, which its promoters said include checking the acrimony that accompanies re-election campaign, more important than making kerosene, diesel and Jet-A1 abundantly available to slash the rising costs? How does this project turn around the appalling state of our infrastructure? And how does it check the spiralling exchange rate of the Naira to the major currencies, with its bandwagon effects?

“By seeking to use this meaningless bill to divert the attention of Nigerians from the issues listed above, while cunningly buying his government enough time to consolidate, President Jonathan has done an incalculable damage to his integrity and disappointed the millions who voted him into office. He should therefore jettison this ill-advised pursuit of tenure elongation through the back door, apologise to Nigerians and face squarely the daunting task of serious governance. If he fails to do so, which is very likely, the National Assembly should not waste time in throwing it away,” the statement said.

It is striking how those words apply exactly to the ACN, Babatunde Fashola, and whoever else’s voice we hear from the background.

This move is diversionary, it is not what the ACN campaigned on, and it does nothing to solve the myriad challenges confronting Lagos state.

Also, the fact that this has come into the open, does incalculable damage to the integrity of Fashola and his party. If it scales through, then they should kiss goodbye to whatever slim claims of progressiveness they clung on to.

Just like prominent critics, including the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch, has argued, the move is immoral and illegal.

It is even doubtful that a retroactive law can stand a judicial test.

It is a shame however, that buoyed by their false sense of invincibility as a result of their supreme grip on the entire chain of governance in Lagos, the ACN remains defiant and presses on with the amendment. But then as it is said, “most kings get their heads cut off.”

Source: The Scoop.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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