Lagos local government polls: Matters arising
The elections into all the local governments in Lagos State have been won and lost but the lessons therefrom must not be lost on all who believe in the finest form of democracy.
For many, the exercise was a socially and economically disruptive exercise as movement and businesses were at a standstill. The elections were not without big hitches as some registered citizens complained that they were disenfranchised by the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), the body charged with conducting the elections. Ballot boxes did not get to some areas and there were allegations of ballot papers being marked outside the polling centre. Voter turn-out was also abysmally low. Predictably, the reigning party in the state, the All Peoples’ Congress (APC) swept the polls without ceding an inch to other parties.
While the Lagos State Government deserves commendation for conducting local elections after nearly six years of inertia, it must also be noted that the standard fell short of public expectation. Lagos has always prided itself as the centre of excellence. Sadly, the last elections were anything but excellent.
The election day had been preceded by insensate violence in which lives were lost and many injured as internal party wrangling created so much tension. This, in fact, would seem to be one of the demons of Nigeria’s democracy which is yet to be tamed. From the first republic, implosions within parties have often snowballed into state-wide or nationwide violent crises. In the Lagos State exercise, some persons lost their lives and many were injured while reacting to the injustice of imposition of candidates by the top echelon of the party.
Indeed, Nigerians were shocked by the level of pre-election and post-election violence. Democracy is all about free will, thrives on the power of free expression and the ballot box is the sole determinant of who gets an office. Nobody should be compelled or prevented from exercising that inalienable right. Democracy is a contest of ideas and programmes. It has the power to put a man in office just as it has the capacity to remove him.
One would have expected the active partisans in politics to recognise this beauty in democracy and play by the rules. Exterminating or intimidating voters, imposing incumbent office holders on the people are certainly antithetical to the tenets of government of the people by the people for the people.
Lagos State claims to be the leading light in many things and this is largely true. But the supposed sophistication of Lagosians and the sagacity of its political elite were somewhat blighted by the conduct of the local government elections. From the APC-led government in the state, the exercise was hardly illustrative of positive ‘change’. In terms of pre-election preparations, producing candidates through free and fair primaries, the APC-led government failed the people of Lagos State. The candidates were generally not known. There were no issues canvassed. Voters complained that they never met most candidates. Apparently, the candidates were confident that all they needed was party endorsement. In other words, they had a great disregard for the electorate.
A local government election in Nigeria has become too sensitive as ‘godfathers’ often seek to ensure that their serfs win the seats. Created as a way of bringing government closer to the grassroots, local governments have virtually become appendages to the state governors and sundry power brokers in total contravention of democracy and its purpose. Thus securing the office is often a fight-to-finish for the powers-that-be. Once the chairmen are elected therefore, they become lackeys to the bosses in the corridors of power. This is the reigning travesty of democracy in all the states of the federation from which Lagos has sadly failed to exempt itself.
One big question in the minds of most citizens is when it would be possible to hold elections without disrupting the commercial and social lives of the people. Across the country, it has become a convention that election days are like a time of security emergency. Policemen and sometimes soldiers totting menacing weapons are a part of the tapestry. Civil liberties, except the act of voting are suspended. This very practice shows how fragile Nigeria’s democracy is. But it should not be so.
All the political parties have to school themselves on how to manage internal democracy. Imposing candidates on the people who are then backed by hook and crook by party leaders and wealthy overlords will not strengthen democracy; instead it weakens the democratic culture. Beneficiaries would end up being loyal to their godfathers and not the electorate. This would continue to raise tension in the polity and hinder development.
Local Government elections should be routinely conducted without violence. Perpetrators of election violence should be punished according to the laws of the land. For example, the killers in the last elections in Lagos State are yet to be brought to book but they must be identified and made to face the full wrath of the law.
The culture of imperial over-lordship by the governors must stop and the end must be put to interim administration in the local governments. The parties should practice internal democracy by allowing candidates to emerge fairly and the elections should be free and fair in order that democracy may thrive at that local level. It is only when the right examples are set with local elections that Nigeria can rightly claim significant progress has been made in the experience with democracy.