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Nigeria: Low turnout in Lagos election shows #EndSARS impact

By Nwokoye Mpi
Posted on Monday, 14 December 2020 15:10

lagos election
A man raises a ballot paper during the counting of governorship and state assembly election results in Lagos, Nigeria March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Adelaja Temilade

Barely two years after they cast their votes to elect a senator, the people of Lagos East returned to the polls after their senator died of coronavirus. 

The death in June this year of Bayo Osinowo, the senator representing Lagos East in Nigeria’s Parliament, forced residents to cast a fresh ballot on 5 December.

There were no surprises in the match between Tokunbo Abiru of the ruling APC and Babatunde Gbadamosi of the PDP. Former banker Abiru won by a large margin.

“Lagos East is one of the most compliant parts of Lagos, unlike the two other senatorial zones. They are areas where the ruling party has always been sure of its victory,” says Sulaiman Arigbabu, the Southwest coordinator of the Transition Monitoring Group.

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Since 1999, the APC (or its variants in the past – AD, ACN, and AC) have maintained a stranglehold on the Lagos East senatorial ticket, an area spanning five local government areas – Somolu, Kosofe, Ikorodu, Ibeju-Lekki, and Epe.

Low turnout at referendum on #EndSARS

But one fact stands out: turnout at historically low levels; with under one in ten residents turning out.

There are 1,168,790 registered voters in Lagos East, and just 104,405 votes cast, 2,069 of which were rejected.

In October, thousands of youth across Nigeria took to the streets to protest persistent brutality against young people by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an arm of the Nigeria Police Force. The protests metamorphosed into a demand for good governance from the ruling elites, forcing the Nigerian government to disband SARS, among other efforts at reforms.

READ MORE Lagos burns after army accused of ‘Lekki massacre’

It culminated in the shooting of unarmed protestors at the Lekki Toll Gate; currently under investigation by a government panel. While provoking the anger of Lagosians, and clearly an event with political ramifications, it was not enough to swing votes in favour of the PDP.

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“The impact of the endSARS protest is still hot now,” says Arigbabu. “But this is not a pan Lagos election, this is Lagos East.”

Seye Oladejo, the Publicity Secretary of the APC in Lagos State, said the #EndSARS protests were not directed at the party in the state because Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is performing “excellently.”

“I wouldn’t say the #EndSARS was due to a growing discontent of the government,” says Mr Oladejo.

PDP a fading force in Lagos

So if the PDP can’t win a Lagos election after #EndSARS, when will they ever? There are two key roadblocks to the PDP returning power: Tinubu and internal discipline.

Lagos has largely remained a one-party state under the control of Bola Tinubu, a former governor of the state and the APC national leader.

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“[The PDP] is a party in disarray. The PDP is not a threat at all,” says Oladejo “We are talking about a candidate, Gbadamosi, from their camp, who has been known to be unstable politically, inconsistent, jumping from party to party.”

In truth, the PDP in Lagos and crisis are not strange bedfellows. For years, the party members have been at loggerheads with one another, culminating in the state party chairman, Moshood Salvador, joining the APC in 2018.

But Taofik Gani, the PDP publicity secretary said the crises in the party now belong to the past, and that #EndSARS was a referendum on the APC. “In our own party, we have the issue of disagreeing to agree. We have gone past all that”.