Lagos APC bets a losing hand on thugs as an electoral strategy

There was a loud screech of car tyres, rapid footsteps, anguished cries, and instant violence. Thugs attack a polling unit at Okunmoyinbo Avenue, Ajah. They upturned plastic boxes, tore up ballot papers, broke chairs and desks, and descended on voters in the queue. Two policemen detailed to provide security were the first to flee.

On Saturday, voters in affluent Ikate, Lekki, Surulere, and other areas were intimidated and harassed by thugs connected to the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress. “Thugs have destroyed ballot boxes and threw away the ballot papers at Oba Elegushi,” wrote Joey Akpan, a journalist on Twitter who happened to be at the scene.

With every frantic scream of fearful voters, every run for safety, and every curse, the myth of Lagos as the party’s stronghold keeps disintegrating. As with a decaying plantain that thinks it’s ripening, the party is mistaking the ability to summon hydra-headed monsters as evidence of its supremacy. As with all monsters, they will have to live with the problem of taming them.

Though there were restrictions on movement, thugs had enough numbers and official cover to move around the state, questioning the efficacy of the hordes of policemen and soldiers deployed to the state.

Trying to influence elections through thuggery is not peculiar to Lagos. For instance, Natasha Akpoti, the Kogi State SDP governorship aspirant, accused Yahaya Bello, the APC governor, of hiring thugs to disrupt elections on Saturday. The problem with Lagos is that thuggery is an institution.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between a tout and government employees. The state’s traffic agency has devolved into authorized touts. Police officers in the state test the patience of young people daily in extortion rackets. State government agencies lie in wait for SMEs, ambush market women, and demand half of every naira you make in Lagos.

Prior to the elections, local leaders in backwater Lagos communities have warned residents, especially those who are not Yorubas, (generally termed Igbos), that they risk grave consequences if they fail to support the APC.

In a leaked audio tape posted online, a local community leader in Jakande, Eti-Osa LGA, recently threatened to deal with anyone who failed to vote for APC. Market leaders threaten members who are inclined not to support the APC.

To assemble the massive crowds who thronged at Bola Tinubu’s campaign rallies in Lagos, markets were shut and traders were forced to show up or lose their stalls.

Unpopular political parties use shady methods to hold onto power in democratic societies all over the world. For instance, in the United States, voter suppression laws, gerrymandered voting districts, and unfair election laws that make it more difficult for groups that typically support the Democratic Party, like blacks, to vote, help the Republican Party maintain power.

The APC apparatchik has used some of the same tactics for voter suppression, but they lack the shady sophistication and intellectual bandwidth needed to pass off their behavior as legitimate.

Additionally, because elections are centrally controlled, it is challenging for anyone to influence the process. To level the playing field, they employ thugs.

Compromising elections begins with making the voter registration process needlessly herculean. Then, when voter cards are printed, the process of collecting them gets tougher. Long accused of disinterest in elections, young people showed up in 2023, and the electoral umpire’s incompetence shone in all its glory.

Weeks before the elections, the Labour Party called for the dismissal of Segun Agbaje, the resident electoral commissioner for Lagos State, on the grounds that he had allegedly mismanaged the collection of permanent voter cards.INEC refused, citing its independence. Many people thought it was strange that an electoral umpire prioritized the perception of independence over the valid claims of a partisan arbiter.

As a result, problems are more likely to occur in Lagos neighborhoods with high ethnic diversity. Election personnel and materials would arrive late, BVAS machines would fail, and thugs would use the voters in these areas as targets: Mafoluku, Festac, Okota, Ibeju Lekki, Surulere, among others. Thugs in Mafoluku set fire to election materials, doubting the party’s chances there.

The destruction would undoubtedly affect some APC votes, but the strategy is that votes in the party’s established strongholds, such as Alimosho, Shomolu, and Agege, among others, would make up for any loss.

But the problem is that this is not a sustainable solution. The thing about violence is that no one has a monopoly. The vulnerable areas of today will, with time, harden their resolve and meet violence with violence. And this time, the helpless security personnel, as they say, will also “collect.”

Lagos is home to over 20 million Nigerians; it is the country’s economic capital and the melting pot of commerce and industry, yet it is run with the crude sophistication of a motor park garage. Grandiose ambitions are no substitute for common sense policies, and skyscrapers on Victoria Island will always be blighted by Mushin’s slums.

A state that wants to be known as a “centre of excellence” cannot conduct its affairs as though the omerta were a rule of law.

A state where every agency is required to generate revenue cannot continue to avoid financial scrutiny without its citizens looking for alternatives.

While extracting them under threat of violence, state and non-state actors bury residents in a sea of levies, and the government does nothing. Touts extort citizens on the roads and in market places at every turn. If your vehicle breaks down on any road or your truck slows down, touts will appear and extort you.

According to analysis, a significant number of voters, including those of the Yoruba ethnic group, who have traditionally called Lagos home, are bringing their frustrations with them to the polls. When people from Benin say “Edo no be Lagos,” they mean to move Lagosians to shame, to rouse them from slumber, to warn their own politicians that they won’t agree to be treated like a conquered people.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the first executive governor of Lagos State in the fourth republic and the APC’s presidential candidate, spent months campaigning on his past reforms programmes including waste management and education, but he said nothing about the army thugs he gave carte blanche to run amok in the state.

It’s a conspiracy of silence, a silent acquiescence to their mutual value.

After the attacks around Oba Elegushi’s palace on Saturday, soldiers and policemen restored order and voting resumed. However, early results from over a half-dozen polling units showed the APC losing them. According to some voters, after the attacks, those considering voting for the party changed their minds.

“Although they beat people up, they did not succeed,” said Fisayo Soyombo, an investigative journalist, in a post on Twitter.