Six years after former Governor Babatunde Fashola conducted local council election at the commencement of his second term of office in 2011, the table is set for another exercise to test the popularity of political parties at the grassroots level in Lagos State.
This followed the pledge of the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, after the passage by the House of Assembly, last January, of the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) Amendment Law and the provision of funds for the exercise in the 2017 budget.
According to the timetable released for the poll by LASIEC, the actual exercise will take place on July 22 but the first major democratic hurdle will be crossed next week when participating political parties are expected to hold their primary elections to pick their candidates for the contest from a pool of aspirants whose intra-party campaigns, in the last three weeks, have increased the tempo of political activities in the state.
Although the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), because of its control of state administration, wide political structure that had been existing since the advent of the current democratic dispensation in 1999 and the recent take-over of the grounds lost in the 2015 elections when 6 out of the 8 members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the House of Assembly joined it, looked good enough to win most of the seats, visible cracks in the walls of the party may deny it of victory.
Unlike other states of the federation where it is taken for granted that a state-conducted council election must produce a landslide victory for the party in government, Lagos, with its sophisticated electorate, has proved to be an exception. In 2011, Babajide Obanikoro of the PDP was declared by the tribunal to have won the seat of Ikoyi/Obalende Local Council Development Area (LCDA) but was only denied victory in controversial circumstances.
The looming crisis over the current exercise is anchored on suspicions that some unpopular aspirants could be foisted on the party to thwart the democratic process and deny members of their rights to choose their candidates.
In the centre of the crisis are both the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Ambode who are said to have different lists of endorsed aspirants for the primary election.
Incidentally, the leader, as Tinubu is referred to, is allegedly disposed to rewarding those party faithful who provided the grassroots platform for his support for Ambode in the preparation for the 2015 governorship election and the earlier party primary that produced him as the candidate while the governor is said to be building his own structure of loyalists.
It was an open secret that Fashola, who is now Minister for Power, Works and Housing, was not favourably disposed to Ambode as his successor, a factor that is already taking a toll on Lagos/Federal Government relationship. He could however not muster enough political strength to sway those loyal to Tinubu.
In order to reward the loyalty of these elements, identified especially in 19 out of a total 37 seats to be vied for across the three senatorial districts, Tinubu, according to sources, has directed local leaders to ensure their emergence as chairmanship candidates of the party.
For instance in Lagos Island, which has two seats, Tinubu is said to have told the leaders to allow his former Personal Assistant who was not in Nigeria before the period of collection of forms lapsed, not only to secure the form but to also be assisted in picking the ticket.
The alleged directive has pitched the aspirant against fellow contestants who included former Executive Secretary (ES) in the council, Toyese Olusi who is said to enjoy the supports of leaders and Wale Ojora, reputed to be the anointed candidate of Ambode. Other contenders in this area are Ajibade Ayeni and Moshood Mayegun, a serving ES in the council.
In the Lagos Island East LCDA, the same pattern of endorsement and counter-endorsement is playing out as the immediate past chairman of the council who is said to lack the support of the leaders, is alleged to have been endorsed by Tinubu while Wale Salawe, another politician from the area, is believed to have the support of the governor.
In this axis where a major contender, Taiwo Olasupo whose popularity has secured for him the endorsement of both the leaders and the youths of the area and who is said to rely on a transparent primary exercise to pick the ticket, are others like Said Adegboyega Salawe, Lukman Omotosho and the only female aspirant, Bukky Fidelis.
While a body of stakeholders on the Island, Surulere and Coker-Aguda LCDAs of the central senatorial district are poised to challenge the contradictory involvement of Tinubu and Ambode, by insisting on the letters of Article 20 of the APC constitution, others are threatening anti-party actions if any of the aspirants is imposed.
They appealed to the national leadership of the party to send a powerful monitoring team to manage the election even as it was disclosed that plans are at advanced stage to carry out the imposition.
A source told The Guardian that a meeting to endorse the imposition has been scheduled to hold today (Wednesday) at the APC secretariat in Ilape and that other aspirants would be directed to step down as the primary election commences at Glover Memorial Hall next week.
ON the mainland, the Alimosho Youth Development Association of Nigeria (AYDAN) came out last week with the same allegation of a plan to disenfranchise some aspirants and impose others across the six LCDA of Alimosho Local Government where another force, that of Osun governor, Rauf Aregbesola, is at play.
The group’s General Secretary, Thanni Kamil alleged that the plans are being perfected by G18, an influential group in the ruling party in Alimosho ahead of the scheduled primaries.
It alleged that a chieftain of APC, who is the head of the G18, has approved the duo of one Kunle Sanyaolu and Jelili Sulaimon as chairmen for Egbe-Idimu and Alimosho LCDAs.
According to the group, “While Sanyaolu, a two-time vice chairman of Egbe-Idimu LCDA and the immediate past Executive Secretary of the LCDA, has been favoured, his former contender, Mutiu Adebiyi, has been compelled to take the position of vice chairman. Ironically, both aspirants are from Egbe and there is no representative from Idimu, which is a violation of the structure.”
They also claimed that the State Organising Secretary of APC, Alhaji Enilolobo Abd Rasheed, in collaboration with the leader of the G18, have anointed the immediate past Executive Secretary, Jelili Sulaimon against other contestants for the chairmanship.
It noted that in Agbado Oke-Odo LCDA one Famuyiwa Davids has been penciled for the chairmanship position against other aspirants like Tawakalitu Oyebanji, Afeez Alaran and others. There is also insinuation one Olabisi Adebajo has been penciled for the chairman, against other contestants like Ayo Orimolade and Abiodun Falade.
Although, the National Legal Adviser of APC, Dr. Muiz Banire said it is too early to start talking of imposition within the party when aspirants are still obtaining forms and going for screening, he raised critical issues against LASIEC and the procedure of the elections, saying it did not only negates the principle of free, fair and credible elections but would also disrupt internal democracy within the parties.
Some of the issues he raised against the umpire bothered on its decision not to use Card Reader for the polls saying, “We fought for the use of card readers with everything, we resisted the attempt by the PDP-led government then not to use card reader. We have no excuse, our party is the greatest beneficiary of the card reader, why would you now say in a state like Lagos you wont use card reader?
“I agree legally that there is no provision for it and I want to tell you, what is even amazing there is I can recall that more than eight months ago when they wanted to amend the LASIEC law, we put in a proposal to the Lagos State House of Assembly to incorporate card reader into it, but it was not.
Expressing his concern that the Lagos State government might be up to something in the election, Banire said he wasn’t comfortable with the whole arrangement adding, “my advice to them is that they need to review those things, try as much as possible to be transparent.”
Banire also disagreed with LASIEC on the fees for procuring the forms, a position he shared with other participating political platforms like the PDP, Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and the National Conscience Party (NCP).
The chairman of PDP committee for the election, Tolagbe Animashaun said the party is already in court to challenge the umpire adding that the fee is too exorbitant and it was deliberate to frustrate aspirants from other platforms to participate.
According to him, “The ruling party in collaboration with LASIEC must have been up to a script to rig the election ahead of time. The development would also encourage corruption because if you force people to pay unreasonable fees, there is the tendency they would want to recoup their money when they get to office.”
He however added that the PDP would not because of that boycott the exercise saying, “There is no need to boycott the election. We are relying on the court and the media to intervene on behalf of the electorate.”
The state chairman of NCP, Fatai Ibu-Owo also expressed the readiness of his party to challenge the nomination fee in court saying the step is inevitable because the party had written the commission twice on the illegality of the fees.
He wondered why LASIEC would charge N100, 000, N75, 000 and N50, 000 as nomination fees for Chairmanship, Vice-Chairmanship and Councillorship aspirants respectively when it had enough budget to conduct the polls.
According to him, “The state government already budgeted N3 billion for LASIEC for the conduct of the election and additional N360 million for its recurrent expenditure, so why the illegal fees? It is capable of shutting out some political parties and aspirants for the various positions across the 57 councils.”
While also against the “outrageous” nomination fees, the DPP however pledged to financially support qualified aspirants who are willing to participate under the platform of the party.
The State Chairman of DPP, Tajudeen Yunus who disclosed this yesterday after a closed door meeting with the national leadership of the party in Lagos, described the fee as too much for an average Nigerian willing to exercise his/her political right.
He also lamented what he called “the manner LASIEC is relating with political parties” towards the election which he said “indicates that the body refuses to listen to cries of stakeholders regarding the illegal exorbitant price placed on the procurement of nomination forms.”