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Sanwo-Olu and that Pyrrhic victory at Lagos council polls

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[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

Any party that takes credit for the rain must not be surprised if its opponents blame it for the drought – Dwight W. Morrow.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State recently swore in local council chairmen with a parting shot that should not go unexamined. Upon reflection, I think Mr. Sanwo-Olu, who has good intentions for the State, also has a duty to capture its reality as factual as possible, and try not to insult the intelligence of the governed.

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Metaphysics taught us early in our university days that appearance is rarely the reality. Philosophers, mostly of the idealist orientation, agree that reality is out there, but an attempt to capture it (only as it appears to one) makes reality subjective. At the risk of arriving at philosophical scepticism; thinkers advised us never to hold any position as absolute. Rather, to keep subjecting it to critique, to improve it. And that is the framework of this piece.

Mr. Sanwo-Olu attempted to capture the state of things in Lagos in his speech at the swearing-in event. It was just days after the local council elections in which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) made a clean sweep across the board. The governor made sense of it thus: “Today, we are witnessing the dawn of a new era in local government administration in Lagos State. A resounding statement has been made, once again, that Lagos is APC, and that the people of Lagos continue to regard our party as the most viable and most credible political choice for the most populous State and biggest sub-national economy in the country. We consider this overwhelming support as a vote of confidence in our administration and our great party, and it will never be taken for granted.”

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Sanwo-Olu went on to task the new officeholders to “justify their autonomy by initiating people-oriented policies and programmes to improve the lives and livelihood of the people at the grassroots”. He added that the “administrative and financial autonomy” being enjoyed by LGAs and LCDAs for almost two decades is to achieve a bottom-up growth model for the acceleration of coordinated development across the State.

The governor was right on the imperative of getting the local government administration to work for the people of Lagos. But muddled into the narrative are the ‘new era’ claim, the two-decade-old autonomy, and his perceived implication of the polls itself. Let’s take them from the rear.

It is curious that the governor, perhaps his speechwriters, embarked on a self-congratulatory flight of fancy on an election that was largely flawed. The final result by LASIEC indeed looks good, but unaccounted for were pockets of violence and impropriety recorded against the ruling party’s desperation to win. I think the governor and other leaders of the party in Lagos, as men of honour, should have shown remorse if not take responsibility for the voter apathy that made nonsense of that all-important election.

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It is on record that the party primaries were marred by widespread violence and unresolved complaints, showing a lack of internal democracy in the ruling party. That was the prelude to the election itself and a sufficient reason for voters to steer clear of ‘their family business’. And contrary to the perception of Mr. Governor, the “resounding statement” made at the poll was the loss of interest in the political process and the chaotic party system in Lagos. In other words, democracy has retrogressed. A way to measure democratic growth or otherwise is to gauge public awareness and their involvement in the process. But that has not improved. A similar election in 2011 recorded about 1.6 million voters – a low for a commercial nerve centre that had about 11.2 million population and more than 60 per cent of the voting age. Ten years later, with a population of over 20 million, the total participation at the last election was less than a million voters! What is more confounding is that Lagos has 6.5 million registered voters, out of which 2.5 million are registered members of the Lagos APC – according to the recent party membership and revalidation exercise. If the APC has 2.5 million members and potential voters in the bag, yet less than a total of 800,000 voters showed up for election statewide, then it is safe to say that majority of the APC card-carrying members did not turn up in solidarity with their party or its flag bearers. Technically, that scorecard is not a victory but a failure. And in saner climes, which have credible opposition that is a paradise lost for the sitting administration.

As at the last check, the local councils in Lagos, like in other parts of the country, are beggarly dependent on the State government for revenue. That is one of the inherent contradictions in our flawed Federal Constitution and the reason this newspaper continues to campaign that true Federalism is the answer. True autonomy entitles local councils to receive monthly allocation (another aberration ab initio) directly from sources in Abuja, not through their State governors. Lagos still collects and appropriates to local councils monthly. So, where did Mr. Governor derive the two-decade-old autonomy in local council administration? Lest we forget, President Muhammadu Buhari recently bemoaned the malfeasance of State governors short-changing their local governments. None of the State governors has put up a denial to date. In fact, the trend in Lagos is for the State government to initiate and execute projects inwards, independent of the concerned LGA/LCDA! About two years ago, the government awarded millions worth of development grants to some best-performing Community Development Associations (CDAs). A CDA was awarded the sum of N1.2m, signed for it, yet got only 50 per cent of the sum. That is neither financial nor political autonomy.

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The dominant perception out there is that the local council tier of government is in a complete mess. And the people, who wear the shoe, can tell that it hurts. The closest Lagosians have seen of most of the local councils was during the last election, when those seeking reelection made feeble attempts to grade streets and share noodle packs. For the rest of the tenure, they were using touts to hound street traders, motorists, dispatchers, Keke, and okada riders, to rake in revenue to themselves and their cronies. Tales of their sheer irresponsibility are well known to the Lagos House of Assembly Committee on Local Government Administration and Community Affairs.

However, should Lagos look forward to a new era in local government administration as the governor hinted? The onus is on Mr. Governor to make it happen. It should begin with an honest appreciation of the state of affairs and its rots. Then, he would need the will-power to take remedial steps to make governance work at the grassroots and not for a few opportunists. If he succeeds (I pray he does), his party would neither need desperate measures to win elections, nor the governor condemned to make a speech full of farce and fiction. Ire o!

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