In a recent milestone event, Ekiti State in Nigeria witnessed local council elections that not only replaced outgoing officials but also showcased a unique approach to governance and gender inclusion. Governor Abiodun Oyebanji’s hands-off approach in candidate selection, coupled with an unprecedented surge in the participation of women candidates, highlights a potential model for fostering democracy and promoting gender equality at the grassroots level. Ekiti State, with 177 wards and 2,196 polling units, recently conducted local council elections under the leadership of Governor Abiodun Oyebanji. Unlike some of his counterparts who opt for caretaker chairpersons, Governor Oyebanji ensured the timely and proper conduct of elections to replace officials whose tenure was expiring. This departure from the norm was lauded for preventing the appointment of cronies with potential motives for financial mismanagement.
One of the most notable aspects of these elections was Governor Oyebanji’s deliberate decision to refrain from interfering in the selection of candidates for the All Progressives Congress (APC). His rationale, as articulated by the governor himself, was rooted in the belief that local government leaders should owe their allegiance to the people, not the governor. This approach was a stark contrast to the prevalent practice where state governors often dictate the choice of local council leaders, consolidating power at the expense of genuine grassroots representation. Governor Oyebanji emphasized, “I am not here to build a structure for myself; the structure must be built to serve the people of Ekiti State because the state is larger than the Governor.” This commitment to democratic principles and a people-centric governance style has garnered praise from various quarters, setting a positive precedent for other states.
Women inclusion in Ekiti grassroot elections.
Another remarkable development in these elections was the surge in the participation of women candidates. The numbers tell a compelling story – seven female candidates contested for the chairmanship, 16 for the vice chairmanship, and 33 for councillorship positions. This unprecedented level of female representation exceeded existing figures in the state, where seven out of 26 state assembly members and at least four commissioners are women. Akin Omoyajowo, a political affairs commentator, described Ekiti’s strides in gender inclusion as setting the pace for the affirmative action advocated by gender-based civil society organizations. While acknowledging room for improvement, he commended the political leaders in the state for their efforts in advancing gender equality.
Mrs. Beatrice Ogunjobi, the chairperson of a civil society organization, praised the APC in Ekiti State for its commitment to gender balancing in candidate selection. She urged other political parties to follow suit, expressing the hope that Ekiti’s example would serve as a catalyst for similar developments at the national level. Despite the commendable aspects of the elections, a recurring issue in local council polls across the country surfaced in Ekiti – resulting in a low voter turnout. Many attribute this to a lack of proper sensitization by both the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) and political parties. It emphasizes the need for building confidence among voters, assuring them that their votes will count.
Officials commended the election for peaceful conduct.
Nevertheless, candidates from the APC were declared winners in all 16 local governments, 22 Council Development Areas, and 177 councillorship seats. It is noteworthy that the two dominant political parties in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), did not participate in the election, raising questions about the competitive landscape. The State Independent Electoral Commissioner, Retired Justice Collinus Akintayo, received the results and acknowledged the participation of various political parties, including the Labour Party, Zenith Labour Party, Action Alliance, Action Democratic Congress, New Nigeria Peoples Party, and Peoples Redemption Party.
Civil Society Organizations, operating under the umbrella of the Nigerian Human Rights Community (NIHRCO), monitored the election across all 177 wards. In a joint statement, NIHRCO officials Fred Ojinika and Taiwo Adeleye commended the election for its peaceful conduct, absence of violence and rigging, and an outcome that reflected the voters’ free will. The statement by NIHRCO highlighted the early arrival of materials and effective administration by Ekiti State Independent Electoral Commission (EKSIEC), describing the election as a significant step toward building a sustainable democratic culture in Nigeria. The organization, consisting of 135 civil society and community-based groups, emphasized the need for increased efforts to replicate such success in other states.
NIHRCO says to address issues to enhance people’s representation.
While acknowledging the election’s strengths, opportunities, and shortcomings, NIHRCO called for addressing the observed issues to deepen democracy and enhance people’s representation at the grassroots. The organization praised Governor Oyebanji’s proactive non-violence campaign ahead of the election, emphasizing the importance of a deliberate policy of non-violence by state actors for sustainable development. Ekiti State’s recent local council elections serve as a beacon of hope for democratic governance and gender inclusion. Governor Oyebanji’s approach to candidate selection and the notable increase in women’s participation set a positive precedent. The election, though not without challenges, provides valuable lessons for other states and underscores the potential for genuine democratic practices at the grassroots level. It remains to be seen whether other states will draw inspiration from Ekiti’s example and take steps towards more inclusive and participatory local elections.