Lagos thugs had free rein during March 18th poll

“The robust resistance of informed citizens is what secures the institutions of free government and makes them work” – Spin Dictators by Sergei Guriev & Daniel Treisman.

Lagos thugs supporting the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party had free rein during the March 18th gubernatorial poll. They suppressed voters. They intimidated voters. They scared voters away. Where they succeeded, they outnumbered supporters of opposition parties, especially those of the Labour Party (LP).

They resorted to mostly non-lethal means to keep voters away with a consistency that points to central co-ordination that had the law in view. Had security operatives been more enthused as they were during the February 25th presidential election, they would not have succeeded as much as they did regardless.

Clearly, the security establishment had a different brief this time around: light-touch enforcement. I did not see any evidence that traditional ‘oro’ cult festivals originally planned around the dates of the gubernatorial poll in Lagos still went ahead.

Yes, there were very visible traditional rites by the subjects of the obas and chiefs around their respective domains. But these were not ‘oro’ rites; and they did not restrict anyone’s movement as originally feared. They did not have to: the thugs made sure of that.

To the chagrin of many middle-class and affluent Lagosians, polling units were moved from inside some of Lagos myriad gated housing estates to the front of their respective gates.

This measure was a great source of inconvenience and discouragement, as thugs had more latitude to intimidate voters consequently. Voter turnout suffered considerably in Lagos owing to these voter suppression measures. The triumphalism of Lagos APC elite afterwards is evidence enough of complicity on the part of the authorities.

Igbo voters were particularly profiled and targeted in Lagos during the gubernatorial poll. Sadly, the anti-Igbo rhetoric ahead of the Lagos governorship election was effective.

This is unfortunate. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, LP’s governorship candidate, was unabashedly targeted unfairly as an Igbo stooge: Mr Rhodes-Vivour, who is a Lagos indigene of excellent pedigree, has an Igbo wife. Incidentally, many members of the Yoruba political elite have non-Yoruba wives too.

Besides, many of those opposed to APC in Lagos are Yorubas. In the future, it might be a better strategy for Lagos opposition parties to pre-empt any anti-Igbo rhetoric with a bottom-up indigenisation strategy.

As many young Nigerians feel disenfranchised, there is a real risk that they might resort to self-help. I would advise that we continue to rely on the institutional and legal processes to express our grievances, even as they clearly do not inspire confidence or trust. What are the alternatives though?

The real challenge before well-meaning Nigerians, in my view, is the incipient Tinubu presidency that Lagos thugs clearly believe will have their backs. We saw evidence of this in the newfound confidence with which they so shamelessly conducted themselves during the March 18th poll. Mr Tinubu’s potential excesses can only be contained by the Nigerian elite.

True, law, policies, and institutions matter. But in almost every case where electoral dictatorships have been reined in successfully, there was concerted effort by informed members of society. Even the archetypal American democracy had to bear with a volatile Donald Trump presidency for four years. Stopping Mr Trump from securing a second term in office did not come easy.

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But it was done legally via an election; which he also tried to undermine. And it is only now, a year or so after he left office, that American authorities are beginning to make incremental progress towards prosecuting him for his misdeeds in office.

A Tinubu presidency might still be short-lived if the courts order a rerun of the presidential election in about a year. But I wouldn’t count on it: it is a long shot. Still, opposition presidential candidates in the 2023 poll should pursue all legal measures allowed in the law. At the very least, it will ensure that they remain engaged with the citizenry for at least a year into the Tinubu presidency.

In any case, every presidency quite literally has two years to govern, as it spends the first year settling down, and the fourth year campaigning for re-election. In all the decisions that disaffected Nigerians make over the next one to four years to keep the Tinubu presidency in check, we should always bear in mind that there must be a country to govern after all is said and done.

Thus, we must continually seek to improve our public institutions to ensure they do not continue to disappoint us so shockingly, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has done during this 2023 election cycle. We must pay attention to those who get appointed into government positions.

We must not wait till we become victims ourselves before speaking up. We should not wait till the 2027 elections before engaging in citizen action. We must keep forging ahead.

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