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Yiaga faults overbearing influence of governors on council elections

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Ahmad Muhammad (Kano) and Joseph Wantu (Makurdi), Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi)
31 July 2021   |   3:10 am
As voters troop out today in Lagos and Ogun states to elect their local council chairmen and councillors, Yiaga Africa has lamented the overbearing influence of state governors on the grassroots election...

[files] Sanwo-Olu voting at PU 019, Femi Okunu/Lateef Jakande ward 09, Ikoyi 2, Eti Osa LGA at the just concludedLocal Government Elections. Photo/facebook/jidesanwooluofficial

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As voters troop out today in Lagos and Ogun states to elect their local council chairmen and councillors, Yiaga Africa has lamented the overbearing influence of state governors on the grassroots election.

Meanwhile, a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos has declined the request by 11 political parties to halt today’s council elections in Lagos.

The presiding judge, Justice Akintayo Aluko, made the decision in a ruling delivered yesterday in Suit No FHC/L/CS/596/2021, which was filed by the Alliance of Social Democrats and 10 other political parties against Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) and the Lagos State government.

According to the Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, the absence of periodic, genuine, and transparent elections at the local council level in the country remains a major threat to Nigeria’s democracy.

Mbamalu said: “Twenty-two years after democracy, local councils in Nigeria struggle with poor governance, the absence of periodic, credible elections, and almost non-existent governance structures that promote citizen engagement and accountability. The worst fate of local councils in Nigeria remains the overbearing control by state governors and a select few power brokers who have perfected a system that both impoverishes the people and denies the people a voice when the elections are rigged.

“The Lagos LGA election is significant in time, especially as more citizens join the call for a constitutional amendment to guarantee local government autonomy. The constitutional amendment will provide a long-term solution to the challenge of poor local governance. However, the LGA elections provide a major entry point for citizens and election stakeholders to jointly support credible elections in the state.”

Yiaga stated that today’s election is another opportunity for stakeholders, especially the election management bodies, security agencies, and indeed the citizens to change the negative narrative that has been associated with local council obscured elections in recent times.

The group, however, accused the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) of hoarding information and refusing online applications for observers. It alleged that LASIEC ignored all online applications and requested groups to resubmit hard copy applications to its office barely 24 hours before the elections, saying it impacted planning for observer deployments.

But the chairman of LASIEC, Justice Ayotunde Phillips, has pledged that the Commission would ensure transparency during the voting process and upload the results of the election on the cloud.

Phillips made the comment yesterday while intimating newsmen on the Commission’s preparation for the election.

Her words: “On Saturday, July 24, 2021 (today), Lagosians will cast their votes as part of orderly transfer of power at the local level in a democratic manner.

“The development that leads to a free, fair and credible election starts with the promotion of public confidence and trust in the process. This can only be achieved through the active involvement of critical stakeholders like the media being the fourth estate of the realm.

“In line with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Lagos State Government and other relevant health authorities, protocols on COVID-19, the Commission shall strictly enforce at polling centres, the use of facemasks and observance of social distancing. The Commission shall ensure the provision of infrared thermometres, alcohol-based hand sanitisers, disinfection of chairs, tables, and work areas for the safety of voters and electoral officials.”

On the voting period, she said: “Voting process starts at and ends at 3 p.m, while those on the queue by shall be attended to. Election shall be conducted with the use of Smart Card Readers, PVC, and TVC. Persons living with disabilities would be adequately assisted in the election process, while elderly people, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers shall be giving preference in casting their votes.”

Philips gave the assurance that there would be adequate security during the exercise.

“Members of Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security, and Civil Defence Corps, Neighbourhood watch shall be the first responders, while the joint forces of Operation MESSA shall equally be on standby,” she added.

The Lagos State Police Command corroborated her position when it announced that it has deployed human and material resources to provide adequate security before, during, and after the election.

The Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu, disclosed this yesterday in a statement signed by the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi.

Odumosu met with Area Commanders, Divisional Police Officers, Squadron/Tactical Units leaders yesterday at the end of which the statement was issued.

Odumosu said directives were given to the officers and men to ensure that all LASIEC’s facilities, sensitive materials, polling units and collation centres were adequately protected.

“Officers and men who had been detailed for the election duty must work hand in hand with other security operatives that are being incorporated into the security arrangements for the elections.

“The officers and men must discharge their duties according to the Standard Operating Procedure of the Nigeria Police and extant electoral laws,” he said.

He warned politicians and their supporters, stakeholders, and residents of the state to play the game according to the rules, saying the police and other security agencies deployed for the exercise would not condone any act of thuggery, hooliganism, electoral malpractices, and criminality in any part of the state before, during and after the elections.

Justice Aluko in the ruling upheld the submissions of the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) on behalf of the Lagos State Government.

In a similar development, the above decision of the Court was also upheld in another matter filed by the Youth Party against LASIEC and another in Suit No FHC/L/CS/625/2021.

The Court not only declined jurisdiction but also vacated the Interim Order of Injunction earlier granted in the matter on July 12.

The Director Public Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Lagos State, Kayode Oyekanmi, in a statement signed and issued last night, said the elections in the 20 Local Councils and 57 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) would hold as earlier scheduled.

He urged members of the public to peacefully exercise their franchise by ensuring that they come out to vote and abide by the guidelines of LASIEC.