The position of Lagos as the country’s commercial nerve centre has made it attractive to every ethnic group, raising the assumption that the population of non-indigenes in the state is more than that of the indigenes.
It is therefore not surprising that as 2015 general elections draw nearer, candidates of different political parties have been going to various town unions and associations to solicit their support. Some of these associations have also been endorsing candidates of their choice for the elections.
Anselm Njoku is the President, Ndigbo United Association in Lagos. Recently, he endorsed the candidature of Jimi Agbaje, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He told Sunday Independent that Ndigbo in Lagos decided to support Agbaje because his party recognises their voting power and conceded some positions to them. He said the Ndigbo in Lagos State constitute more than 40 per cent of the total voting population of the state.
“In 2005/2006, when the population census was taken, the government of Bola Tinubu did a census alongside the Federal Government and came out with the figure that Igbo have 43 per cent population in Lagos State. And because of the insurgency in the north today, the population has increased. Those over there in the north have come back home in Lagos’’, he said.
He further explained that PDP in Lagos State has realised the importance of the non-indigenes, hence the party decided to concede some elective positions to them. Presently, PDP has given about six National Assembly and state House of Assembly seats to non-indigenes in the state. Njoku said the group approached the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, but it snubbed them, hence the decision of Ndigbo to support the PDP.
Similarly, President of Arewa Community in Lagos, Kabiru Abdullahi, has endorsed Akinwunmi Ambode, the governorship candidate of APC in the coming election. The endorsement is seen as a great boost for APC judging by the numerical strength of the Arewa Community in the state. Abdullahi promised to move round the state to convince the members to vote for Ambode.
The President, Aka Ikenga, an umbrella organisation of Igbo professionals in Nigeria, Goddy Uwazurike, also corroborated Njoku’s view that non-indigenes form large chunk of voting population in the state. According to Uwazurike, non-indigenes constitute about 60 per cent of the population of Lagos, but they had never asserted themselves during elections in the state. “Though we have a majority number in the state, we have been allowing the indigenes to have their way when it comes to general elections”.
But, in 2015, non-indigenes want to play a leading role in the emergence of the next governor of the state. Thus, Uwazurike stated that any candidate that undermines the population of non-indigenes in the state, does that at his own risk. According to him, “The population of non-indigenes in the state is not less than 60 per cent and that is why various parties are scrambling for their support”, he said. He said that though the non-indigenes have not been able to come together under a single platform to endorse a candidate of their choice, various ethnic groups and associations have been doing so. In preparation for the elections, non-Yoruba speaking residents have been organising themselves politically. Several town unions and groups have been springing up in the last few years.
Recently, there was a split in Arewa PDP Forum for effective participation of non-indigenes in the coming elections. Those from North Central or Middle Belt decided to forge a separate identity for themselves. They argued that their interest would be better protected in the state if they have a different union from the general Arewa group.
Amande Orbo, leader of North Central PDP Forum stated that what they have done does not mean that they have dissociated themselves from Arewa in Lagos. “We have decided to regroup ourselves based on the geo-political arrangement in the country”, he explained.
At the third anniversary of the Onu Igala in Lagos, one of the PDP governorship aspirants, Babatunde Gbadamosi, told the gathering that he had recognised the political strength and contributions of the non-indigenes in the state. He particularly commended the northern indigenes for the peaceful manner they have been conducting themselves in the state. He further stated that with their contributions it would be easier for a candidate of their choice to win the governorship election in the state.
The PDP House of Representatives candidate for Amuwo-Odofin Federal Constituency, Oghene Egoh, in a telephone conversation, stated that non-indigenes in the state would determine those that will win the 2015 general elections. Long before the 2015 primaries, the governorship candidate of PDP, Agbaje, through his Project Eko Initiative involved non-indigenes at the ward level. The Chairman, Lagos State PDP South-South Forum, Sunday Ekanem, said the non-indigenes in the state have the voting strength to determine those that will win the next elections.
Ekanem, on behalf of the forum, endorsed Agbaje at an elaborate ceremony last month at the party secretariat, along Adekunle Fajuyi road, GRA. Agbaje at the ceremony acknowledged the tremendous support he has enjoyed from non-indigenes in the state, especially from South-south people. He promised to involve non-indigenes in his government if elected into power.
“My government if elected, by the grace of God, would not discriminate against non-indigenes. We will create enabling environment to ensure that they carry out their business in the state,” he said.
Challenge of PVC distribution
One thing that may hinder non-indigenes from achieving their desire of deciding who wins the next elections in the state is the alleged discrimination in the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in the state. Some of them have complained that some INEC officials in the state have not been fair to them in the distribution of PVCs. They claimed that some INEC staff, especially the ad hoc ones, normally tell them that their cards are not ready immediately he or she discovers that they are non-indigenes. That was why the Coalition of South-South/South-East Forum last Thursday took their grievances to INEC office in Lagos.
According to Ekanem, many of his members from South South and South East were denied of PVCs.
He further told Sunday Independent that the peaceful protest was to demonstrate to the whole world that as long as they reside in Lagos and pay taxes like any other persons, they have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice in the state. According to Ekanem, the usual action of INEC was in collaboration with the ruling APC in the state.
“APC is very desperate in winning the election. I learnt that in Kosofe Local Government area, many PVCs were stolen and destroyed when it was discovered that any card biometric data would not be accepted by INEC’’, he stated. He reiterated the determination of non-indigenes in the state to vote for a change in Lagos State because the present government has not been fair to them.
The National Publicity Secretary Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, last month, accused some leaders of APC of working with INEC staff to deny non-indigenes their PVCs in Lagos State. Metuh lamented that about 90 per cent of those that were being denied are members of the ruling PDP. He appealed to the party members and INEC to stop such practice, which he stressed, is against democratic principles.
But, the APC Assistant Publicity Secretary in Lagos, Abiodun Salami, described the information as strange and far from the truth. “For God’s sake why should anybody link INEC’s job with the party”, he lamented. He advised residents of Lagos to dismiss the rumuor, which, he said, is aimed at tarnishing APC image in the state. He urged Lagos residents to ignore the information, which he added, is aimed at causing disaffection among the indigenes and non-indigenes, who have been living peacefully in the state for a long time. He said he knew many non-Yoruba residents that have collected their PVCs already.
However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Lagos State, according to a report last Wednesday, said it had relieved two persons it engaged for the distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) of their assignment. This was contained in a statement issued by the commission’s Head of Public Affairs in the state, Femi Akinbiyi. It said the two persons were found to have denied a few non-indigenes the chance to collect their cards in the state.
“The records we have at our disposal, and they are available for all to see, indicate that Lagosians of different ethnic backgrounds have been coming forward to collect their cards.
“To be sure, the bulk of the ad hoc staff engaged for the distribution exercise are NYSC members who come from different ethnic backgrounds.
“With such diverse backgrounds, among whom a substantial number of them are non-indigenes, it is most unlikely that they would embark on discriminating against non indigenes like themselves.
“Our findings, however, revealed that in few places where we did not have the full complement of NYSC members, some members of the community, whom we engaged for the exercise, two of them were found to have denied a few non-indigenes the collection of their cards.
“We have consequently relieved them of this assignment”, he stressed.
The decision of INEC to sack the two staff came after the Lagos State chapter of PDP gave 48-hour ultimatum to the commission to prosecute those involved in denying non-indigenes their PVCs in the state. The Publicity Secretary of the party, Gani Taofeek, stated that it is not enough for the commission to acknowledge that two of its staff were found guilty in the matter; the electoral body must be prepared to prosecute them. With the intervention of PDP and INEC, it is hoped that the discrimination may stop. But if it true that some PVCs were destroyed as alleged, it may be impossible for the affected voters to vote in the election, because INEC does not make provision for lost or misplaced PVCs.
However, although the stakeholders are working to effectively mobilise the non-indigenes to actively participate in the elections, some of them are not ready to do so. According to John Musa, a native of Kaduna State residing in Ogolonto, standing on a long queue to vote for some body that will not remember one at the end of the day, is a waste of time and effort.
Hear him: “I know what I went through before I could cast my vote in 2011. So, I don’t think I have the time and strength to go through similar exercise this year.” Musa further stated that he made several efforts to collect his PVC, but met a brick wall and vowed not to continue with the effort.
Though the case of Gabriel Ebije from Kogi State is not the same with that of Musa, he too may not vote in the coming elections.
According to him, “I don’t want to be in Lagos during the general elections, because, anything can happen.” Like Ebije, many non-indigenes are planning to leave the state during the elections. However, for non-indigenes to maximise their voting strength in the state, they must resolve to pay the price of going through the rigorous exercise of getting their voter cards and be ready to vote during the elections.
As Victor Ogugua noted, non-indigenes have a large population in the state that can decide who becomes the governor or any position. But, he lamented that many of them hardly come out to vote during the elections. “Unless there is a concerted initiative to awaken their consciousness, many of them may be thinking that what happens in the state does not affect them, because, they will one day go back to their states of origin”, he maintained.