Lagos Council Polls: A Few Takeaways, By Oladeinde Olawoyin
…our parties irrespective of political influence, are still largely the same. In the days leading to the election, there were threats dished out to ostensibly silence the obscure parties who had no resources to combat the bigger ones, as evident in the macabre dance that preceded the election.
Penultimate Saturday, I trekked from Makoko area of Lagos, through the Third Mainland Bridge, to Lagos Island. I had been deployed by PREMIUM TIMES to cover parts of the Island in the local council elections that held but the early morning downpour forced the driver assigned to take me around to remain on the Island. So I had to join him there. But since there was no vehicular movement, I had to trek.
What that tortuous experience offered me, however, were interesting insights into the dynamics of the whole electoral process.
As a caveat, I must state that elections anywhere in the world aren’t perfect, because perfection itself is an illusion. But if the experience of that Saturday was anything to go by, we still have a long way to go in our democratic journey in this part of the world.
For me, here are a few takeaways from the exercise.
First, the Lagos State Electoral Commission, in its post-election verdict, cleverly attributed the widespread apathy witnessed at the polls to the early morning downpour we experienced that memorable Saturday. Although this isn’t entirely untrue, it is still not the entire truth.
What the downpour did was to simply fuel the apathy, which would have been experienced if there hadn’t been rainfall anyway – maybe by a lesser degree, though. And I find it worrisome that the electoral umpire, in its desperation to defend that shambolic exercise, has not come to term with the reality of the situation. And this speaks to the bane of our problem in every sphere of our national life: our inability to address a challenge largely because of our failure to properly identify and define a dysfunction as what it exactly is in the first place.
To put it matter-of-factly, the apathy witnessed that Saturday was fuelled by many factors, the least of which was the downpour. At the Central Business District, Lagos Island, I spoke with many eligible voters who boycotted the exercise but yet defied the rainfall, barricaded the road and played football. When probed a little further, one of them told me they weren’t going to be part of a ‘tele-guided’ exercise that had already been ‘perfected’ by the political gladiators. Media reports showed that the situation wasn’t really different across other parts of the state. And #twitterNG, an integral part of the mobilisation process among our tech-savvy youth demography, simply dwelled on something entirely different.
So, technically, many people boycotted the exercise largely because they had no confidence in the system, not necessarily because of the rainfall.
Two, the process was ‘peaceful and fair’, only if we choose not to go beyond the surface of the matter. For, the ‘fairness’ pales into nothingness when put within the context of the atmosphere of chaos and not-so-subtle threats of violence that heralded the D-day. Some non-partisan Lagosians I spoke with off-the-record admitted they would have voted for some of the candidates fielded by the less popular parties, but were forced to stay indoors because of the fear of violence and brigandage.
This development, if dissected properly, created a sort of imbalance and covertly allowed the bigger parties to dominate the space; hence the ‘freedom and fairness’ we witnessed. And sadly, what happened in parts of Mushin and Ifelodun, in a way, validated people’s fears.
Three, our parties irrespective of political influence, are still largely the same. In the days leading to the election, there were threats dished out to ostensibly silence the obscure parties who had no resources to combat the bigger ones, as evident in the macabre dance that preceded the election. But a cursory look into the activities of these ‘weaker’ parties at the polls would break your heart; for, you would realise they were not part of the pre-election shenanigans not because they were not willing to, but because they were largely incapacitated by lack of resources – human and material.
Four, there is a dangerous form of disconnect between the electorate and the candidates, including even many of those who eventually won. A handful of the winners rode on the crest of the popularity of their parties, and not their individual track records or the beauty of their résumé. Almost all of the people who trekked to the Island with me that Saturday said they knew none of the candidates vying for positions. This becomes worrisome especially when situated within the context of the simple fact that the local government system is, by default, the closest to the people at the grassroots.
Five, in terms of operations, the electoral umpire needs to step up its game. Elections in some parts of the state were delayed for hours, thus frustrating many voters who had been at the poll as early as 8:00 am. Delivery of electoral materials must be promptly done, too. Elections must not just be fair; it must be seen to be fair.
In all, all stakeholders must in the future ensure that they play their parts for the success of the voting system. Many of the electorate complained of poor voter education and sensitisation. The media, electoral umpire, civil society organisations and even the politicians must ensure that the electorate are properly sensitised.
Most importantly, our politicians must learn to eschew the politics of violence, to allow the people they supposedly vow to serve exercise their franchise without fear. The path to the human mind is not that of violence and arson, but that of discourse. This, our politicians must realise.
And, of course, the electorate too must understand that they must be part of the process. Of course, many had genuine reasons to stay away from the exercise. But this fact does not excuse the laggards who would rather pontificate on their twitter and Facebook pages than go out there and take the bull by the horn. The political system, and by extension the state of our nation, will not change until we so decide to change it.
Oladeinde Olawoyin reports Business and Lagos metro for PREMIUM TIMES.