The confusion around the Lagos State All Progressives Congress (APC) primary took a turn for the worse yesterday as the exercise was postponed the fourth time in a week and indefinitely.
The bewilderment intensified with the showdown between the state chapter of the party and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) tasked with overseeing the poll.
After thousands of party members had trooped out across the state to cast votes that suggested Mr. Jide Sanwo-Olu, the main challenger to incumbent Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was leading by a landslide, the NWC dismissed the exercise, announcing a fresh election would be held at a “fresh time and date.”
Sanwo-Olu enjoys the endorsement of the party’s National Leader Bola Tinubu, who is the state’s political godfather and Ambode’s estranged benefactor.
The NWC team, led by a former Cross River State governor, Clement Ebri, had on Monday told the state’s party chieftains that the national body proposed the use of ballot papers and membership slips for persons without cards.
The party leaders however rejected the idea, harping that the exercise might not hold yesterday.
But at about 11:10 p.m., the same day, Mr. Wale Ahmed, secretary to the state chairman, Mr. Tunde Balogun, issued a statement saying: “I have the authority of the state chairman to inform you all that our gubernatorial primaries election will hold on October 2 (yesterday) at 9:00 a.m., as earlier planned.
All are enjoined to go out and play their roles and pass the information to all members.
Please, note that there will be no ballot papers, no ballot boxes and no acceptance of slips. Strictly APC membership ID cards for the election.”
Ambode, who appears to have the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, had earlier expressed concern that he and many of his supporters might be disenfranchised on account of having only the slips.
A presidency source told The Guardian Buhari was watching events with keen interest and has vowed to reject anything that falls short of a credible poll.
He added that Tinubu at a meeting with Buhari on Monday was also charged to ensure there were no undue manipulations.
While invalidating yesterday’s primary, Ebri said the NWC never authorised the exercise, as modalities were violated.
He told reporters that the state executives failed to turn in the list of officials appointed to supervise the election.
The list only got to the panel at about 3:00 p.m., he said, stressing it would have been impossible to go ahead with the process without the list.
“There was no way we could have got up at 8:00 a.m., sat down in this place for about eight to nine hours without seeing anybody, and then I would go ahead and do something?
It is only fair that when you don’t see one party, you have to wait and be patient. That is what has brought us to this point,” he said.
He explained further: “We received from one party a list about one hour ago.
At one point, they brought a list for seven local governments out of 20. About five hours later, they brought a list for 11.
Even the other two local governments have not been provided till this moment. Do you blame me?
“Will you have expected us to collect 18 from one person and 20 from another person? No. This is all about fairness and equity.
This is about integrity and I think that at the end of the day, what we did was the best.
I couldn’t have collected materials and say because the other party didn’t come, I give (them) to the other person and say go and conduct the election.”
But Balogun stood his ground. The poll will not be cancelled, he said, and the position of the NWC will not stand.
“I am the APC chairman for Lagos State and I cannot disenfranchise about 1.5 million people that took part in this exercise all over the state. It will be unfair and unjust to do so,” he insisted.
He told reporters: “The election stands because it was conducted according to the constitution of the party.
A large number of you were at the different venues where it held. The primary took place in all the 245 wards and it was peaceful.
Or did you experience violence anywhere? Not a single case of violence was recorded. It was peaceful, fair and transparent.
It was not secretive; it was direct primary and that is what we did.”
Asked about the NWC’s concern with guidelines, he answered: “What guidelines are you talking about? The basic tool for direct primary is to have people accredited.
Once that is done, you count the numbers of those that have decided to queue behind any aspirant of their choice.”
The party consequently announced Sanwo-Olu as the winner of the primary yesterday.
Meanwhile, following his meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa yesterday APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole maintained: “Everything that is being done (in Lagos) is done under the control of and supervision and direction of the NWC.”
He added that measures were being taken to ensure the primary did not go violent.
According to him, “Democracy doesn’t flourish with violence and Nigeria must begin to learn how to differ in opinion and in choice without fighting. And for me, I am excited that if we can do it in Lagos, we can do it anywhere.”
During the controversial election, supporters of the incumbent alleged harassment by Sanwo-Olu enthusiasts, a complaint that equivalently emanated from Ambode’s Epe stronghold where an agent of the challenger was physically assaulted.
The tempo of the political drama rose with the surprise desertion of Ambode by his deputy, Dr. Idiat Oluranti Adebule, who openly declared she voted for Sanwo-Olu.
Justifying her decision, she said: “I stand with my party at this time. It is a very clear election, as you can see.
People are voting in line with the dictates of the party. We have voted for the person whom the leaders of the party have chosen.
It is an overwhelming experience. We will continue to support the party and abide by its rules.”
This came as Ambode’s campaign organisation issued a statement urging people to ignore what it described as fake news suggesting the incumbent has conceded defeat.
“Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has not conceded any defeat, as primary election is yet to hold in Lagos State.
There are guidelines and procedures, which the NWC has insisted must be followed in conducting a credible poll.
These include the usage of membership slips and membership cards by registered party members, as well as the adoption of secret ballot system, which protects the electorate.
“The NWC came from Abuja with sufficient ballot papers, which are yet to be distributed.
As a loyal and responsible party member and a democrat, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is guided by the process announced by the party and shall await the new date of the governorship primary.
“We therefore urge all party members and our teeming supporters to remain calm and peaceful and refuse to be intimidated.
Governor Ambode is still very much in the race and is poised to win, to continue the good works he has been doing in the last three and half years,” the statement reads.