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LAGOS COUNCIL POLL: A POST-MORTEM

By NBF News
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By guile and intrigue, the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) on Monday finally concluded last Saturday's controversial Local Government poll. The announcement of the result came nearly 72 hours after the conduct of the election across 20 Local Government Areas and 37 Local Development Council Areas (LCDA) in the state without any convincing reason for the unanticipated delay from the Chairman of the electoral umpire, Justice Fatai Adeyinka, who declared the winners.

And expectedly, the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) emerged victorious with a landslide clinching all the available 57 chairmanship positions in the state. Though its strongest rival, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), did its best to wrestle power in some council areas, its best was not good enough. Rather, it went home with only 18 councillorship positions. The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) on the other hand took a third distant position with just two councillorship seats.

What's more! The election has come and gone but the question still remains: How transparent is the process? Just like the usual contestation that has always characterized every election in the country, this result has been another major source of controversy among concerned parties in the last couple of days. Indeed, other than the 2007 general elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the leadership of Prof Maurice Iwu, no other poll in the recent past had generated as much protests and condemnation as the last Saturday's election. Much of the public criticism of the process is based on operational lapses of the umpire, especially the poor logistics arrangement.

Not only that the election was characterized by voters' apathy and low turn out, the voting process was also marred by a number of irregularities ranging from lack of adequate materials and late arrival to ballot snatching and stuffing as well as other logistic challenges.

This was contrary to the assurance from the chairman of the commission on the eve of the election, saying that perfect logistic arrangements had been put in place to guarantee a smooth and hitch free poll. Addressing a press conference at the Yaba Headquarters of the commission to sensitize the voters ahead of the poll, he said the commission was poised to conduct a most transparent election. He also dismissed the insinuation of an alleged rigging plan by the ACN as untrue.

However, in most council areas where Sunday Sun monitored the election, the performance of the umpire in the overall conduct of the poll was less than inspiring. In Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government, Badagry, Agbado-Oke-Odo LCDA, Somolu logistic challenges were suggestive of ineptitude of the electoral officers in charge, lack of adequate preparation or deliberate connivance with a particular party in the contest. For instance, at Ward C, unit 005, Onibaba polling unit in Ajeromi, there were protests by the voters over inadequate supply of ballot papers.

A looming crisis was slightly averted by the timely intervention of the Electoral Commissioners in charge of logistics, Barrister Musbau Oyefeso, who assured the restive party agents that enough voting materials would be supplied. According to the spokesperson for the aggrieved voters and councillorship candidate of the CPC, Uche, out of 679 voters' list, only 50 ballot papers were supplied, alleging that it was a deliberate attempt to manipulate the election in favour of a particular party.

But Oyefeso, while justifying the short supply of voting materials, assured that, 'The vote will be counted in the presence of everybody and the winner will be declared instantly. Security personnel will also follow them (electoral officers) to the collation centres. So, there wouldn't be any hanky panky. After using the 50 ballot papers, we will make sure we supply more. We want to make sure that they do not release excess ballot papers because one of the ways by which people do malpractices is by stuffing ballot box, using unused ballot papers for their own selfish end.

This time around, we are monitoring the ballot papers. So, let voting start with the 50; once they exhaust that, the electoral officer will bring in more.' The Electoral Officer in charge of materials in the area, Mr. Shola Abiodun, also speaking with Sunday Sun, said, 'All we want to avoid is a situation whereby we overload ballot papers to people. If they issue 50, nobody will wait for them to get to 45 before they are reimbursed.'

A similar scenario also played itself out at Ward C, 052, Orodu Primary school, in the same council when a team of journalists visited the area. As at 11: 15 a.m when the group arrived in the centre, voting was yet to start because a wrong voters' register was brought to the polling unit. A visibly angry voter, Mr. Samuel Abiodun, could not hide his anger, saying, 'We are angry because they are just keeping us waiting endlessly. I have been here since 8 o'clock but electoral officers didn't come until 10 o'clock. And even when they came, they brought a wrong voters' list. So, we have asked them to go and bring our own register. We are still waiting for them.'

At Ifelodun LCDA, a boy was caught with two empty boxes at about 11:45 a.m. And when confronted, he said the bus which was supposed to convey them to their respective units disappointed them. But the Electoral Officer for the council area, Mr. Ayodeji Pedro, debunked the claim, saying they merely changed some boxes with worn out keys. He, however, confirmed logistic challenges.

Badagry was not speared of the perceived irregularities either. At Badagry West LCDA, Mrs. Basirat Adele, the Electoral Officer in charge of ward C, unit 006, disclosed that only 400 ballots were supplied as against a registered list of 1134 voters. The Chairman of the council, Hon Bamigbose Hontonyon Joseph, confirming the shortage in an interview with journalists, said, 'The only challenge we have is limited supply of ballot papers which is a peculiar situation all over. And this is because if the materials are too much, people may be tempted to do otherwise. I think it is a control measure by LASIEC.'

Apart from all these irregularities, there were also allegations of widespread ballot snatching and stuffing in Somolu, Ikoyi/Obalende, Ojoo and Agbado Oke-Odo LCDA, among others. For instance, at Agbado Oke-Odo, a 14-seater Volkswagen bus with registration number XU 200 BGD was caught with thumb printed ballot papers. As such, the PDP has declared as unacceptable the results of the election announced by the LASIEC which gave victory to the ACN. And accordingly, there were protests against the outcome of the poll across the state. It only took the intervention of the police to disperse the aggrieved voters and PDP supporters who besieged the secretariat of Agbado Oke-Odo LCDA protesting the victory of the ACN.

How genuine or otherwise some of these grievances are is definitely a matter for the electoral body to prove. But on a balance of scale, the process is apparently flawed and it is a good example of how not to conduct a transparent election. For one, the delay in the announcement of the result has given room for suspicion. Secondly, the pronouncement of the Chairman was at variance with what eventually transpired on the day of the election. His words, 'We have also heard the allegation that LASIEC has decided not to count votes at the polling units. That is not true.

If the election period is 8 am to 3 pm and movement restriction is from 7 am to 4 pm, that means we reserve one hour for counting. We did it in 2008 and we are doing it again this time around. The one hour is for counting and movement of the results to collation centres.' Had the results been declared at the polling centres as promised by the commission, certainly, there wouldn't have been any basis for the needless controversies. The rest is history! But there is always another day.

So, it is instructive for the victorious ACN to know in the final analysis that the voters' apathy in this election was an indication of its declining popularity at the grassroots level due to the dismal performance of its chairmen in their respective council areas. Rather than embarking on meaningful development projects that would touch the lives of the people, many of them engage in sycophancy by using public funds to build structures that are named after some particular individuals just to marshal the ego of their political godfather.

With a trend like this, the next election may not be a walkover for the party because performance has come to be a critical factor in election of candidates into the position of authority as demonstrated in the South West during the April general election.