By Chinelo Obogo
As is common in many states whenever Local Government elections are conducted, the party in power more often than not usually sweeps the polls. Expectedly, the July 23 Lagos Local Government (LG) election produced similar outcome, as the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) swept the 20 Local Government Areas (LGA) and 37 Local Council Development Area (LCDA) seats.
The legal battles
But Lagos State government did not just wake up to conduct the election. Daily Sun gathered that it took pressures from other smaller parties, to compel the government to do the needful. Following the expiration of the three-year statutory tenures of the council chairmen in 2014, the former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola appointed the Executive Secretaries of the councils to manage the affairs of the 57 LGAs and LCDA’s. This move was criticised by opposition parties like the National Conscience Party (NCP) founded by the late lawyer and activist, Gani Fawehinmi. The party dragged the government to court, challenging the appointment of caretaker chairmen. It asked the court to compel the government to remove those appointed and conduct proper elections into the councils.
On October 23, 2015, the trial judge, Justice Abdulfatal Lawal declared that the appointment of caretaker committees was unconstitutional and ordered the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) to conduct elections within 30 days.
The government filed a Notice of Appeal against the judgement and asked the court to stay action on the execution of the judgement pending the hearing and determination of the appeal. The Lagos State government and LASIEC argued that unless the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) gave voters register to LASIEC, election could not be conducted. It therefore asked the court to dismiss the case.
As the controversy continued, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the ‘Local Government Administration and Amendment bill 2016’ into law. Among other provisions, the amendment extended the tenure of the local council chairmen from three to four years. It also confirmed the appointment of Justice Ayotunde Philips as the chairman of LASIEC on June 9, 2016.
The Justice Ayotunde-led administration subsequently announced July 22, 2017 as the day for the election.
With the date set for the election, political parties went into full campaign mode. But just as issues dogged the decision to conduct the elections by LASIEC, the primary elections in some political parties were also crisis ridden. For instance, in the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there were two factions; one was led by Segun Adewale who is loyal to the ousted acting national chairman of the party, Ali Modu Sheriff, while the other was led by Moshood Salvador, who belonged to the Ahmed Makarfi faction.
While the national PDP crisis lingered, the Makarfi group went into alliances with other parties in order to take part in local government elections. It prompted Salvador’s faction to go into an alliance with the Lagos State chapter of the Labour Party (LP) and during its primary most of the candidates fielded by the LP were members of the PDP.
Adewale’s faction also conducted primary and fielded candidates who contested on the PDP platform.
In the APC, the primary which held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium was marred by violence. Muiz Banire, the national legal adviser of the APC, had earlier advised the party against holding the primary election in a central place. He said according to the constitution, electoral act and the party’s constitution, election should be held at the designated venue in the local government area.
At the primary, violence erupted after Tokunbo Afikuyomi, chairman of the electoral committee, started announcing the names candidates whom he said were sole candidates of the of the party.
Aggrieved party members and their supporters interrupted Afikunyomi by smashing ballot boxes, breaking chairs and chasing out delegates and electoral officials. Security operatives had to reinforce to prevent further breakdown of order.
There was protest against the alleged imposition of candidates by the APC hierarchy in the state and even Banire, also sided with a candidate who sued the party over the conduct of the primary of Odi-Olowo local council. Banire consistently accused the party of flouting its own constitution and warned that if care was not taken, the party might implode.
The NCP also had its own share of issues. Prior to the election, it accused LASIEC of making it difficult for 77 of its council candidates to obtain registration forms for the council elections.
Its national secretary, Ayodele Akele alleged that the guidelines instituted by LASIEC before candidates could obtain forms made it difficult for parties to participate in the elections. He also accused the electoral body of conniving with one of the former executive members of the party who defected to the APC and is now a member of the LASIEC board of short listing names of candidates whom he said were not members of NCP.
The party also sued LASIEC at the High Court, Igbosere asking it to order LASIEC to call off the elections pending when the issues would be resolved. On 21 July 2017, a day to the elections, the case was struck out on the grounds that the ‘Originating Summons’ did not contain the issues under determination.
As if that was not enough, barely a week to the election, the Lagos State House of Assembly drew the ire of civil society when in a swift move; it again amended the LASIEC Act to make provisions for political parties to substitute candidates three days to the election. Critics accused the House of acting out the script of the ruling party as the amendment made nonsense of the judgement obtained by Odi-Olowo council candidate, over imposition of candidate.
The United Action for Change (UAC), a group convened by Banire criticised the amendment. The group told journalists that the LASIEC law was amended in a ‘hurry’ to make provision for the APC to make changes to the list of its Local Government candidates just three days to the election, saying“it showed legislative indecency of the highest order, for no decent legislature would pass a law in such a hurry in the middle of the game to favour the ruling party which the majority of the legislators are its members. The said bill passed through the first, second and a third reading within 10 minutes and same was presented to the governor for his assent immediately. The legislative process to amend the LASIEC law came after the decision of the High Court of Lagos State nullifying the imposition of a candidate from Odi-Olowo Local council Development Area. The legislative disregard for common sense and the hurried primary election held in Odi-Olowo came by, despite the fact that the time for nomination of candidates had elapsed and no new primary elections can be held by a party in default. The implication is that the amendment to the LASIEC law carried out by the Assembly was done to favour APC.
“The amendment process did not take into consideration the interest of other political parties and neither did it consider the options or perception of the public, hence, there was no need for public hearing before the amendment was made. The amendment was carried out in a black market manner and it offends all legislative traditions and conventions. It is an impunity transported from the bedroom of dictators to the hallowed chambers of the legislature.
“The amendment allowing a political party to substitute it’s candidate three days to the election was basically to enable APC whose imposed candidate has been nullified by the court to present the same candidate, thereby necessitating changing the goal post in the middle of the game,”the group, added.
Aftermath of the election
After the election was won and lost, the state PDP said it would contest the legality of the APC to take part in the election in the first place based on the procedure through which the House carried out the amendment of the LASIEC act.
The PDP state chairman, Moshood Salvador who was a member of the House of Representatives argued that the mere fact the Assembly presented the bill and passed it through the three readings on the same day is enough reason for the amendment to be declared unconstitutional by any court of competent jurisdiction.
“The emergency law that was sponsored by the state government which was presented, read on the floor of the House, went through the first, second and third reading, passed and also signed into law by the governor on the same day was done just three days to the elections.
“There are statutory processes in lawmaking and the failure to go through those processes will invalidate the laws. There was no publication of the laws in three national dailies for the statutory number of days and there was no public hearing on the laws before reading. Such laws cannot be accepted anywhere in the world. Therefore, all APC acclaimed winners are not validly elected since there was no primary at the various constituencies. The new law (enacted) to protect them was not validly made,” PDP, said.
But can a court of competent jurisdiction void an election on the basis of the fact that the House of Assembly carried out an expedited passage of a bill? It seems only time will tell.