Loyalists of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode are threatening to conduct a parallel exercise after alleging disenfranchisement in today’s All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primaries across Lagos State.
After days of eleventh-hour postponements, the primaries finally opened at different ward units across the state. The APC adopted a direct primaries method in Lagos State, which means all registered party members are eligible to vote to elect their governorship candidate.
The aspirants field was streamlined some weeks ago, leaving the race for Mr Ambode and Jide Sanwo-Olu, a former commissioner who recently emerged the favourite over the incumbent.
Both candidates have sparred repeatedly since Mr Sanwo-Olu picked the party’s nomination forms less than three weeks ago, a move that subsequently propelled him into the limelight after strong indications that he was being backed by Bola Tinubu emerged.
Mr Ambode was reportedly under pressure to step down for Mr Sanwo-Olu, who scored back-to-back endorsements from key political interests in Lagos, including 36 out of 40 state lawmakers and all the 57 local council chairpersons.
Mr Tinubu and federal lawmakers from Lagos also formally announced they were backing Mr Sanwo-Olu in the last two days, leaving Mr Ambode virtually alone in the clash for the ticket to participate in the governorship election of Nigeria’s richest state.
Mr Ambode, however, remained defiant, warding off insinuations that he would be humiliated at the primaries while launching a barrage of personal attacks at Mr Sanwo-Olu.
A last-minute mediation effort by President Muhammadu Buhari, who reportedly summoned Messrs Tinubu and Ambode to Abuja on Monday, fell through, as the former Lagos governor insisted Mr Ambode, whom he backed for office in 2015, must concede the ticket to Mr Sanwo-Olu.
As members started streaming out to venues at about 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Mr Ambode’s loyalists started pushing out allegations that police officers and political thugs have taken over some venues to deprive the governor a chance in the race.
Fouad Oki, a factional leader of APC in Lagos, told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday afternoon that potential voters of Mr Ambode are being disenfranchised on the basis of their voting credentials, a development he said could compel him and other loyalists of the governor to polarise the exercise.
“Go to Alimosho now, people are not being allowed to vote because they have no electronic card,” Mr Oki said. “Our demand has been that the party’s register must be used and any member who has the registration slip should be allowed to take part in the primaries.”
He accused Tunde Balogun, the Lagos APC chairman of being used by Mr Tinubu to derail the exercise, warning that if members with only party slips, most of whom he said are potential voters of Mr Ambode, are not allowed to vote, separate primaries might be conducted with a more liberal requirement.
“According to Tunde Balogun and his benefactor, I should not be allowed to vote because I am not issued with the plastic card. Just as it is in Delta where Pat Utomi withdrew from the race because the party’s register is compromised,” Mr Oki said.
“Let me tell you what you will see today, and take it from me, you will see a situation where there will be parallel primaries in Lagos. Take it from me,” the factional leader added. “Because those with genuine membership ID would not be allowed to be disenfranchised. That would either result in violence or they choose to do what we did in May when we conducted parallel congresses.”
Mr Oki was involved in the parallel congresses in Lagos on May 19, challenging Mr Tinubu’s grip over the state’s party structure. He rejected alleged plots to politically suffocate Mr Ambode, saying the governor’s office should be respected and he should be allowed to contest freely and fairly.
Abel Badejo, a former local council chairman in Lagos and loyalist of Mr Ambode, said Mr Sanwo-Olu’s supporters were conniving with police to harass people at the primaries venue in Abesan Estate, Ipaja.
“The exercise was a mess,” Mr Badejo told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Tuesday afternoon. “Everything was in shambles.”
“I got to the venue and before I realised they have bastardised our members. It was in the presence of policemen that my people were being victimised and vandalised. It embarrasses me that it is thugs and cultists that the other side recruited to do this,” he alleged.
“Our members who were holding slips were not allowed to enter into the voting area. If the governor could not have control over police, then Nigeria is doomed. Not Lagos alone,” he said. “My people from Agbado Oke-Odo also reported that. There was no exercise. If we have a message to conduct primaries we would.”
He said they ran away from the venues and returned to their houses because they do not want to cause trouble and the police area commander here said he could not protect them because it is a political matter which they should go and resolve with other parties.
The politician said a woman who voted for Mr Ambode after being allowed to vote was beaten and thrown out of the venue. PREMIUM TIMES has not been able speak with the victim to independently verify this claim and others by Mr Badejo. However, the News Agency of Nigeria reports that the voting process of the primary was disrupted for a while at Ward G North, Abesan in Alimosho, as thugs chased away voters. Thugs numbering about 15 invaded the Abesan High School, venue of the exercise around 9.45 a.m. ,flogging voters, preventing them from being accredited, the federal government-owned news agency reported.
AMBODE DEMANDED FAIR ELECTION
The complaints come a day after Mr Ambode met with the party’s national executives who were in the state to supervise the primaries from Abuja. The governor demanded a free and fair atmosphere for the primaries in other to avert any outbreak of violence.
A spokesperson for Mr Sanwo-Olu did not return requests for comments from PREMIUM TIMES. However, Joe Igbokwe, Lagos APC spokesperson, said members had been warned not to show up at the primaries with a slip.
“I took my own card and I went to vote with it. That is what we were told yesterday by the party. Everybody was asked to go and pick their membership card and they did not go,” Mr Igbokwe said.
The spokesperson said he saw a video online in which Mr Ambode was being presented his membership card after failing to pick it up by himself, saying those who are complaining might be amongst those who similarly did not go for their cards and had no one to take it to them.
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