Friday, January 23, 2009

Council elections: When winners take all

Council elections: When winners take all
Published: Friday, 17 Oct 2008
OLAYINKA OYEBODE, in this report, examines the outcome of last Saturday’s local government election in Lagos State and compares it with results of similar exercises in some states.

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Our Correspondent
The Lagos State Governor, Mr.

PDP National Chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, (SAN), is certainly a happy man today. He surely has reasons to be. The Action Congress under his leadership has just recorded an overwhelming victory at the just concluded local government election in the state.

The AC swept all the chairmanship and councillorship positions in the election that was conducted in the state’s 20 Local Government Councils and the 37 Local Council Development Areas.

The election was dubbed, “Fashola’s election” by AC loyalists, because it was the governor’s first major electoral outing with the AC after his inauguration as the fourth executive governor of the state on May 29, 2007.

Although the manner in which the AC cleared all the available seats in the 57 councils was seen as quite unprecedented in the political history of the state, the leadership of the party sees it as a testimony of the confidence the people of the state reposed in the party.

The AC’s publicity secretary in the state, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, said that the outcome of the election could not have been short of what it was because the party went all out for the poll, in spite of the absence of stiff opposition. The result, according to Igbokwe, was the reflection of the mind set of the people about the AC.

But the Chairman of the Democratic Peoples Alliance in the state, Chief Supo Shonibare, countered Igbokwe’s logic. Shonibare argued that it was impossible for any single party to win all the available councillorship and chairmanship seats in the 57 councils.

Shonibare, who was a former chieftain of the Alliance for Democracy, from where both AC and DPA emerged, said that such overwhelming performance was never recorded by the AD, even when it was the most beloved party in the South-West.

He cited the 1998 local government election, saying that in spite of the popularity of the AD, the other opposition parties still got a sizeable number of seats in some areas where they were popular.

Although Shonibare noted that the Fashola administration had performed creditably well, because of some programmes it had embarked on in the last one and half years. He, however, said the same could not be said of the administrations in the 20 local government councils and the 37 LCDAs in the state. He said that most of the council administrations did not do anything meaningful for the people to merit their votes.

The DPA boss said that the poor performance of the council bosses, who were mainly AC members, was enough to discourage the people from voting for the party, adding that it was unimaginable that the AC-led council administration would get the endorsement of the people.

The Transition Monitoring Group, which deployed observers to monitor the election, also faulted the manner the AC won all the seats in the election, a development which it said was not comfortable with. Whereas the report of the group which was signed by TMG chairman, Mr. Moshood Erubami, did not include any act of electoral malpractices on the part of Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission and the AC, it, however, said that the winning margin fell short of what was expected from the state.

The TMG’s report states in part, “Observation revealed that the result of the Lagos State election fell below the high expectation that elections at that level, will be better conducted against all odds. As it turned out, it failed to make any significant departure from the electoral impunities that we have always experienced, given the recent flaws exposed by the 2007 elections organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission and subsequent local government election that followed.

“Those elections, emphasized first-past the post system of government and concept of winner-takes-all, as a single party wins the whole offices contested without recourse to justice of representative democracy.

“What was witnessed in most local government councils observed by our monitors portends very bad omen for Nigeria’s attempt to entrench representative democracy and legitimate leadership in government. It was a re-enactment of the past electoral impunity witnessed in recent elections topped by criminality of self-engagement as no strong opposition party was given the chance to win.

“In fact, the withdrawal of the PDP which represents strong opposition and the order on its members and supporters to stay at home was behind the recorded “landslide victory” of the winning party.”

Analysts believe that the TMG’s fear was quite understandable given the pattern already set by most PDP-controlled state government that had conducted their local government elections.

The pattern had been for the ruling parties in most states to win over 98 per cent and sometimes 100 per cent of the total number of council seats available.

A careful look at the result of most local government elections conducted since December 15, 2007 shows a set pattern of victory for the ruling parties.

The result of the local government election conducted by the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission on December 15, 2007, showed that the PDP winning all the 33 chairmanship seats and 359 of the 361 councillorship seats. The AC was left with one councillorship seat (in ward 5, Ibarapa Central Local Government Area).

In Ogun State, the ruling PDP won all the 20 chairmanship seats in the December 15, 2007 election. The party also won all 236 councillorship seats, according to the results announced by the chairman of the State’s Independent Electoral Commission, Chief Adetunji Fadairo.

In Ondo State, the ruling PDP also won all the 18 chairmanship seats in the election conducted on December 15, 2007.

The party also won all the 30 chairmanship seats in the Osun State council election. In Edo State, the ruling PDP also swept all the council seats.

In Enugu State, the ruling party got 15 of the 17 council seats, while the All Nigerian Peoples Party got one seat. The PDP also got 245 of the 254 councillorship seats, leaving ANPP with nine.

The trend also continued in ANPP- controlled Kano State as the ANPP cleared all the chairmanship seats in the council election conducted on November 17, 2007.

The general trend in most of the above-stated instances included the boycott of the election by the major opposition political parties in the state. And in the states where the major opposition parties did not boycott the election, they are usually overrun by the ruling party, who in most cases, enjoy the support of the state’s electoral commissions, the security agents as well as the incumbency factor of the sitting governors.

For instance, the Ondo State council poll was boycotted by the Labour Party, which was the main opposition party in the state. The LP was also joined in the boycott by other opposition parties, thereby leaving the space for the ruling PDP to coast home to victory.

The situations in Osun, Edo and Kano were quite similar. The major opposition parties also withdrew from the election, in protest against some alleged inherent flaws noticed in the arrangement by the respective SIECs. Yet, the respective state government went ahead with the conduct of the poll, leading to overwhelming victory for the ruling parties.

The situation is slightly different in Oyo and Enugu states. In Oyo, the opposition participated in the poll, but later regretted participating, following alleged manipulation of the process, by the ruling party. The outcome of the election in Oyo State sparked off protests by the AC, whose leader and former governor of the state, Alhaji Lam Adesina, accused the state government of masterminding the rigging, after assuring the opposition parties of a level playing field.

In Enugu also, the opposition participated in the council poll, but was overrun by the ruling PDP machinery. At the end , the ANPP got a chairmanship seat, but lost in areas hitherto considered as its stronghold.

The trend, according to the Secretary-General of the Democratic Socialist Movement, Mr. Segun Sango, has shown that there is no difference in the political style of both the ruling PDP and the other opposition parties.

Sango, who is a former chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the National Conscience Party, said the idea of the incumbent government winning all available seats without allowing as much as a seat for the opposition stabbed logic on the head.

He said that he found it difficult to believe that the overwhelming victories usually recorded by the ruling parties across the states in local government election were as a result of excellent performance.

“To me, this is simply an indication of what will happen in 2011. Every incumbent will win in their respective states and the PDP will also win at the national level,” he says, adding that performance will no longer matter.

The national chairman of the AC, Chief Bisi Akande, had said in an earlier interview that the AC would use the Lagos council poll as a model to be emulated by other states of the federation. The same was re-echoed by Fashola in his thank you message to Lagosians a day after the election, when he said that the peaceful conduct of the poll would be something to emulate by other states.

Observers are of the view that apart from the peaceful atmosphere that pervaded the entire state during the Saturday poll, it was not in any way different from the council elections conducted by other PDP states.

Sango, for instance, pointed out the withdrawal of the PDP and ANPP from the election, which is not different from the pattern recorded in other states where the major opposition parties would also withdrew from the process as a protest against the arrangement which they felt was favourable only to the ruling party.

But the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Fashola on Public Affairs, Mr. Idowu Ajanaku, debunked the allegation. Idowu said that the state government created the enabling environment for all the parties to participate in the council election, adding that the decision by the ANPP and PDP to pull out of the process was known only to the parties.

He said that apart from the love the people of Lagos has for the AC-led administration in the state, the withdrawal of the two parties paved the way for the AC to win all the available seats.

Ajanaku said there was the possibility of the PDP winning a few seats if it had participated in the process, adding that the party’s last minute withdrawal, after its candidates had started campaigning, ruled out that possibility.

Many observers believe that the withdrawal of PDP actually gave the AC the free hand to win all the seats. For instance, it is generally believed that the PDP is capable of making some impact in Ibeju-Lekki, Badagry and Ojoo Local Government Areas.

The PDP has two members in the State’s House of Assembly, representing the two constituencies in Ibeju-Lekki. The Election Petition Tribunal in the state has also declared the PDP candidate as the validly elected member representing the Ibeju-Lekki Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.

Many had expected the PDP to build up on these areas where it had very strong presence to win some seats. But the directive from the PDP national secretariat, ordering the state chapter to withdraw from the election put paid to such prospect.

With the PDP out, the DPA remained the only party left to give the AC a semblance of challenge.

But the DPA political machinery in the 2007 electioneering had slowed down considerably, since its arrowhead and governorship candidate, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, lost the 2007 contest. The party’s campaign for the council poll lacked the needed steam to give the AC a serious challenge.

The remaining smaller parties, though eager to make an impact through the council poll, lacked the material and human resources needed to mobilise support. Hence many of them only participated in the election to fulfil all righteousness.

But as noted by Sango, the winner-takes-all trend could be a foretaste of what will happen in 2011, especially if the electoral reform and constitutional review fail to find a panacea for it.

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