If violence by extra-state actors on law-abiding citizens is the unofficial answer to any and every referendum in Lagos, be it in the form of elections or protests, then perhaps the Lagos State government, through APC, needs to re-examine its grapple on power—and the heavy yet frantic costs it keeps paying to hold it.
Nigeria’s general elections have now come and gone and the results from both elections contain immutable lessons for the Nigerian political system, especially for Lagos State. The presidential election of 25 February has been described as the least participatory in Nigeria’s democratic history after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reported valid votes of just 27 per cent of the total 93.5 million registered voters. Additionally, the gubernatorial elections of 18 March were marked by widespread violence propagated by supporters of the ruling party. As such, the initial hopeful disposition and excitement around the 2023 elections have now been dampened.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial melting point, the mood preceding the elections was anxious. Buoyed by the dark memories of the #EndSARS protests and the incongruent legacy of the All Progressives Congress’s 24-year political hold on Lagos, both old and young rallied together to perform their civic obligation as guaranteed by Section 77 (2) of the 1999 Constitution. However, the promise of a free and fair election as pledged by INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, was not effectively delivered to these voters.
In pictures and videos shared across social media on the day of the presidential election, an array of Lagosians expressed their exasperation at having to idle around polling units before INEC officials arrived with the election materials and waiting while voting, though riddled with delays, began. Enthusiastic voters complained of the general tardiness of the election procedure, which resulted in a backlog of prospective voters in states like Bayelsa and Edo, whose citizens voted the following day. What’s more, the commission’s Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) both suffered malfunctions supposedly due to the workload placed on them. These issues are despite the commission having enough time to prepare for the elections and having earmarked about ₦355 billion specifically for the civic exercise.
THE ESTABLISHMENT VS THE PEOPLE
Beyond INEC’s logistical incompetence, both elections in Lagos State brought to the fore a salient affair that has pervaded the state for a long time now: citizen suppression at the polls. At the presidential polls, video footage made the rounds showing certain extra-state actors bullying, harassing and intimidating voters against voting for any presidential or legislative candidate outside the ruling APC. Two weeks later, electoral observers of the state elections in Lagos were no less inundated by stark scenes of cross-cutting voter suppression and election violence at the gubernatorial polls.
‘Today we came to cast our votes as good citizens, but then before we knew it we had thugs came in here with bottles and canes’, one young voter disclosed to me. ‘They kept on saying things like if you’re not voting APC get out of here because we’re going to beat you and kill you.’
These observations make a mockery of Lagos’ teeming democracy, especially since the ruling political actors in the state have a demonstrated history of unnerving voters both at pre-election and election points. In 2018, there was widespread voter disenfranchisement at the APC primary election which sought to unmake then-Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, as the party’s gubernatorial candidate in the 2019 election. In the 2015 and 2019 state elections, there were reports of targeted ethnic remarks and voter suppression attempts, especially against Igbos. Both years saw concerted efforts by APC’s political apparatus to install Ambode (2015) and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (2019) as the governors of Lagos. This dystopian political culture is more disconcerting given Lagos’ long-standing public relations move as a ‘mega city’ deserving of attracting the best global commercial investments.
The unchecked culture of voter suppression in Lagos doesn’t seem to begin or end at polling units. On 27 February 2023, newsrooms reported that hoodlums attacked shops and businesses of many Lagosians of Igbo extraction who were believed to have voted for the Labour Party’s Peter Obi, an ‘Igbo candidate’. The attack came after INEC declared Obi, as the winner of the presidential votes cast in Lagos state. Officers of the Nigerian Army had to be driven in to quell the ensuing tension, but this was not before Ben Hundeyin, the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Police Command, further incensed the situation by stating that ‘Igbo traders’ purportedly reneged on a stay-at-home agreement, hence the attack on their livelihoods. The untoward ethnic profiling of Igbo traders by Hundeyin deservedly drew the ire of many social media users who questioned the truth of his assertion. Hundeyin’s comments, among others, revealed deep-seated tribalism present amongst a sizable section of the security and political hierarchy within Lagos State.
The Lagos State government prides itself as administering the most cardinal metropolis in Nigeria, and perhaps Africa. The government touts its vast business-friendly innovations as a reason why the average Lagos voter should be enamoured with APC and its mode of governance. However, the recurring cases of citizen suppression, voter clampdowns and sectional based violence in Lagos all show that Lagos is not as welcoming as it fronts. On one hand, the rights to move freely, to be accorded fair treatment regardless of ethnic difference and to be able to speak freely are protected by the Constitution. On the other hand, however, it would seem that the political players in Lagos pay no regard to these provisions and resort to wielding the proverbial big stick over the voting population any time they feel challenged, either during an election season or a period of general heightening of the Lagos zeitgeist—as seen recently in the handling of the #EndSARS protests.
A TOLERANT CITY
Following the skirmishes in different parts of the state after the presidential polls, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu declared the state as peaceful and said his administration would not condone any form of violence—déjà vu to the platitudes he provided in 2020 after the protests, reiterating that Lagos State does not condone violence. Still, frequent citizen clampdowns in the state remain unattended. There remains no conclusive governmental position on the #EndSARS protests as the reports provided by the judicial panel set up by the government on the restitution of SARS-related abuses in Lagos have been rendered controvertible. The protracted SARS-related human rights abuses in the state remain unextinguished and fundamental questions like the origin of the directive inviting the Nigerian Armed Forces to the Lekki toll-gate continue to linger in the collective mind of the state’s residents.
Exclusionary governance in Lagos has continued to widen the divide between the voting class and the ruling class, leading to frequent clampdowns. Lagosians witness suppression either at protest grounds, a recurring event since the shootings at the Lekki tollgate in October 2020, and recently, the 2023 polls. In 2022, armed men of the Lagos State Police Command used canisters of tear gas to disperse citizens who gathered at the tollgate to mark the second anniversary of the protests.
In this time, powerful extra-state actors like ‘MC Oluomo’ and his retinue of goons have also grown in stature to symbolize state-sponsored brigandage and terrorism, unleashed on everyday Lagosians who only demand more inclusive governance. Ethnic profiling and tribalist affiliations have trended upwards during this period and the totality of these suppressive efforts bared themselves brazenly in the just concluded presidential and governorship elections in Lagos. Notable pro-APC Lagos personalities like the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu and Senator Remi Tinubu, a former first lady of Lagos State and a senator representing Lagos-Central Senatorial District at the National Assembly have also stoked ethnic tensions purely for political purposes. In these instances, Akiolu reportedly said that ‘Igbos would be thrown into the Lagoon‘ and Tinubu said that ‘deities would be invoked on Igbos‘ if voters from the tribe did not follow the APC political order.
Lagos, as led by APC, touts itself as a sprawling African city; a welcoming one for all corporate ventures, but the state is currently doing a poor job at the physical manifestation of this claim. If violence by extra-state actors on law-abiding citizens is the unofficial answer to any and every referendum in the state, be it in the form of elections or protests, then perhaps the Lagos State government, through APC, needs to re-examine its grapple on power—and the heavy yet frantic costs it keeps paying to hold it⎈
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