Local elections postponed to 10 August

A controversy over local elections in Nigeria, originally scheduled for 18 May, was resolved on Wednesday with all stakeholders agreeing on a postponement to 10 August.

The decision to defer the polls - so as to accommodate a revision of the voters' register and new political parties - was made at a meeting chaired by President Olusegun Obasanjo. The country's 36 state governors, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and leaders of state legislatures participated in that meeting.

The state governments had chosen the May date following a Supreme Court ruling against an extension of the tenure of local councils from three to four years by the national legislature. The ruling also affirmed that states had constitutional control over local governments.

"Transition committees will be appointed to oversee local government councils from 29 May to 29 August. Then local government elections will take place on 10 August in the entire country," Enugu State's governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, told reporters at the end of the meeting.

He said INEC was given until 25 July to finish revising the voters' register.

Doubts had mounted over the initial date the state governments had chosen, after a court ruled two weeks ago that the polls could not be held without a review of the voters' register. The ruling was in favour of 10 youths who had sued INEC on the grounds they would be disenfranchised if the polls used the old voters' register prepared for elections in 1999, when they had not yet reached the voting age of 18 years.

New political parties, required by the constitution to win a stipulated number of seats in local elections in order to qualify for other polls, also complained that the May date was inconvenient.

Nigeria had been gripped by political controversy after the national legislature passed, in December 2001, a new electoral law which put local elections after presidential, gubernatorial and legislative polls. This, in effect, extended the tenure of elected local governments to four years against the three prescribed by the constitution. It also meant that new parties would not be able to contest state and national positions until 2007.

The move was widely viewed as Obasanjo's ploy to keep out emerging political parties likely to threaten his re-election plans.

Governors of the country's 36 states filed a suit at the Supreme Court challenging the electoral law as an usurpation of powers which the constitution granted to the states over local governments. Last month the Court nullified the extension of the tenure of local governments, that meant that local polls had to be held.

Meanwhile Obasanjo announced on Thursday he will run for re-election in April 2003. "I have decided that it is best that I make myself available as a presidential candidate,'' Obasanjo told thousands of supporters at a rally in the capital, Abuja.