Lagos council election and rumblings within
Since the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) announced timelines for yesterday’s local government elections earlier in the year, the entire state systems have responded variously, some violently. The impact is felt more in the state chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), where grassroots operators seem to be defying the old order of queuing behind leaders. It seems the stakes have become too crucial to surrender entirely to some godfathers to decide who goes for council election.
That was what played out on Saturday, May 29, when what ought to be a peaceful primary election of the APC turned awry, as pandemonium broke out. The Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, venue of the event was turned upside down, as party members defied the trend of the proceedings. They smelt a rat and denounced what they alleged to be imposition of candidates by their leaders. Broken bottles, plastic chairs and electoral materials were used as missiles to chase away party officials, led by Tokunbo Afikuyomi, former senator and chairman of the electoral committee.
At a later councillorship primary, which took place at the Shogunle area of Lagos, Hamburger, a leader of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), was reportedly killed by rival gang members rooting for a different aspirant for office of council chairman. Such is the level of desperation by politicians and their followers to dominate local government offices.
It also led to a more elevated spat between national legal adviser of the APC, Muiz Banire and followers of national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, with groups calling for the removal of Banire as national officer of the party, for challenging what they perceived as affront to as supremacy of the leader.
For the other political parties, yesterday’s council elections was not much of an event because opposition parties have never being able to give the ruling party a serious chase. For the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Lagos is always a no-go area and they have never being able to turn their potential strength into something rewarding. They always bicker over campaign funds, and end up posing no threat. Yesterday’s council election was even worse, because the PDP had no idea where it would be, until the recent Supreme Court judgment that conferred victory to the Makarfi camp. All the time Ali Modu Sheriff held sway; the Makarfi group had cleverly asked members to align with the Labour Party to pursue their electoral dreams. That alignment was in mid-stream, when victory was pronounced and the time to properly prosecute the councillorship election was too little.
Other parties, like the National Conscience Party (NCP) are not well-heeled to go the gamut of electioneering contest in a place like Lagos, despite the party’s attractive social/welfare promises. In a place like Lagos where mega bucks are used to prosecute elections, the NCP has been perpetually in the fringes, at best making litigious noises. The party ought to be very strong at the grassroots.
The contest for space at the councils is more among APC members. The contest is serious business, because it is looked at as stepping stone to higher electoral pursuits. Lagos itself is divided into Senatorial zones. A national or state leader would normally have trusted allies in the zones to deliver the councils in his area. Once upon a time, the leader might be unchallenged, as everybody lines up behind whoever is the leader’s vassal in the respective zones.
In the Southwest, the process of clearing candidates for electoral contest used to be manageable, with party members respecting the leaders’ will. During his time, Pa Awolowo was good at recruiting candidates without much dissent. Since it is the prerogative of the political party to send names of candidates to the electoral body, it is often in contest what should be the standard of the ideal primary. Is it when supporters file up behind a candidate, or when party leaders gather to give support to one candidate, giving him some advantage over others?
This was the bone of contention in last year’s governorship election in Ondo State, when Bola Tinubu fell out with the national leadership of APC for not allowing him to exercise some preference in the choice of candidate for the party. It nearly tore the party apart as it was headed for a loss, except that the trouble that was orchestrated in the PDP saved the day.
In Lagos, the challenge of picking candidates for elections has always been there, since the days of Afenifere. It existed when Tinubu and the late Funso Williams contested the Lagos primary of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 1998/99. The leaders were able to manage the fallout of that episode and there was relative harmony. After Afenifere was sent packing towards 2003, the process of clearing aspirants and making them candidate became the lot of Tinubu himself. In picking a successor in 2006, Tinubu had a tough time convincing stakeholders why Babatunde Fashola was the best man for the job. Other outstanding governorship aspirants had to be mollified, but there was sufficient anger to make some permanently aggrieved, even though they could not challenge the leader.
Increasingly, at every election time, picking candidates is becoming problematic for parties. In this clime, every big politician wants to put somebody in office and have some say in the management of the affairs, as well as resources. Chief Bisi Akande, former interim chairman of the APC once alluded to a collegiate process where the party leadership supervises a primary in which the eventual candidate is arrived at on consensual basis, so that primaries are not just left for popularity contests. That means the party leadership could have a predetermined mindset, while the primary is a formality, more or less.
What the Electoral Act endorses is an open contest where all aspirants are offered a level playing field despite whatever horse-trading that may have taken place behind closed-doors or at a collegiate conference. If endorsements by party leaders are done without malice and the following primaries are free and fair, that seems fair; cause leaders too should be entitled to their choices. But it is imposition if some candidates are barred from primaries after they refuse to be persuaded by leaders. That will be a constitutional infringement and what to do is to take such matters to court.
Now, yesterday’s council election was delayed since the tenure of those elected in October 21 lapsed in October 2014. Fashola’s government gave different excuses why he could not endorse conduct of the poll during his tenure. When elections are delayed, it provides room for the polity to be agitated, especially members of the opposition who are never likely to be appointed into caretaker positions.
Even the appoint of members of the election body, LASIEC, did not enjoy confidence of opposition parties. There were allegations of notable APC members being appointed into the board, but that was brushed aside. The NCP went to court and the matter is yet to be discharged. More worrisome was the amendment of LASIEC law, last week, by the Lagos Assembly, which now permits substitution of candidates for council elections to take place three days to election, instead of the previous 14 days. The amendment was rushed and assent done immediately by Governor Ambode. That was done, apparently, to accommodate certain interests, which was self-serving. The ruling party shifted the post so close to election because it has the majority to do, as it liked. That is fraudulent.
Lagos can be the example to others on all issues, including party primaries and council elections. In the wider canvass of political participation, there is enough room for leaders, as well as aspiring leaders. All interests can be accommodated, without resorting to hiring of road transport militants to visit mayhem on one another.
Let Lagos truly be the centre of excellence!
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