As the 2023 general election in Nigeria gathers momentum, FIJ’s TOLA OWOYELE visited Sagamu, Ilaro and Abeokuta, all in Ogun State, to observe the ward meetings conducted by party members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Labour Party (LP). The mission was to expose the various mechanisms put in place by the parties to influence voters’ decisions come 2023.
Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike. – Plato
The cormorants are a widely distributed medium-large black seabirds with long necks and distensible pouches. They usually have dark plumages, webbed feet and slender hooked bills. More importantly, cormorants devour fish voraciously and for this reason, they have grown to become one of the most popular symbols of gluttony.
The word cormorant is being used to qualify greed, rapaciousness and insatiability, not just in birds, but also in humans. If an average Nigerian is asked to give an example of where cormorants can be found in large numbers, both the Nigerian executive and legislative arms of government would first be mentioned.
This is because they have seen enough in the country’s fourth republic to know that its main political actors are always entrenched in allegations of corruption, embezzlement of public funds, nepotism and high-handedness.
The fourth republic has also witnessed instances of politicians moving on to serve in a new state, and in a higher capacity, after serving for years in another state.
A classic example is Rauf Aregbesola, the incumbent Minister of Interior, who once served as Lagos State Commissioner of Works and Infrastructure for eight years (between 1999 and 2007) before going on to become the fourth civilian governor of Osun State in 2010.
Another example is Opeyemi Bamidele, who, after serving separate offices as Lagos State Commissioner for Youth, Sports and Social Development, and Commissioner for Information and Strategy, went on to become a senator representing Ekiti Central Senatorial District in Ekiti State.
Presently, a Lagos State-based senator is on the verge of making history by becoming the first member of the upper legislative arm to represent two districts in two different states (if elected in 2023). His name is Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, popularly known as ‘Yayi’.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH KEHINDE
On November 2, this reporter visited Ilaro in Yewa South Local Government Area of Ogun State to observe an APC Ward 1 Meeting held at Musa Street, a popular location in the town.
Before the meeting commenced, and despite choosing to take a back seat so as not to attract attention, this reporter was approached by three party members requesting to know whether he had written his name on a particular list being passed around.
When a fourth party member, who was a part of the meeting coordinators, would not leave without getting this reporter to write his name on the list, the name ‘Lekan Ahmed’ was given to him.
Five minutes after this, another party member, who later introduced himself as Kehinde, came to seat beside me.
“Have you written your name?” I asked Kehinde, a man likely to be in his late 40s, in Yoruba as he settled beside him in readiness for the day’s proceedings.
“Yes, I have written my name. Thank you,” Kehinde responded with a smile.
I then engaged the member in a chat, telling him that he had just arrived from Lagos and was interested in joining the party at the ward level in Ilaro.
When Kehinde was asked about the reason the meeting organisers were insistent on getting attendees to write their names on the list, he said the list would them to “easily sort out things”.
“One of the major reasons people are asked to write their names here is because we have many wards and units. It is just a way of sorting out the wards the people present here ought to belong to,” Kehinde said.
“When I got to where I was supposed to put down my name, the person in charge looked at my voter card and then asked for my full name and where I had cast my votes in the past before “clearing me”, allowing me to write my name and return to my seat.”
When this reporter asked Kehinde about the significance of having attendees to write their names on the list, he did not mince words.
“The significance of writing such names is that, if there is ‘something to be shared’, the officials here would know who to give,” Kehinde said.
“If your name is not written on that list, you will not be given what is being shared.”
This reporter then told the member that he was not with his voter card and asked to know whether that meant that something that was to be shared would not get to him.
“Hope you wrote your name?” Kehinde asked.
I said yes.
“Don’t worry, if something is to be shared today, you will definitely get your own share. They will understand that the reason you did not bring your card is because you are a first-time attendee,” Kehinde said
“They (the officials) will only just advise you that when coming next time, you should bring your card along. They will also appreciate the fact that you’ve shown a great deal of interest by attending the ward meeting for the first time.
“If they know you’re not a first-time attendee, and that you’ve been coming regularly to meetings for more than a year, and you now chose not to bring the card to the meeting, they’ll tell such person that he or she is not serious.
“They may even conclude that he does not have the card. But your own case is different. Apart from being a first-timer, they also do not know the kind of person you are, so, they would give you that honour.”
This reporter asked Kehinde how much he thought bringing a voter card to ward meetings could fetch an attendee per sitting.
“Sometimes, the voter card can fetch you good money for attending a ward meeting,” Kehinde said.
“Sometimes, you can get up to N2,000 or more, depending on what’s on the ground.
“This man (Yayi) is a very big man. He is also a very influential person. He is very generous. You need to see the big crowd that usually comes to welcome him anytime he visits Ilaro.
“People come from Ajilete, Ado, Owode and all other places to welcome him whenever he comes around. He is well loved here. He has money and he spends it. There are some senators like him that are stingy and would not spend like he does.”
‘NO VOTER CARD, NO MONEY!’
While addressing members of the ward at the meeting, Nurudeen Akinlade, the ward chairman, stressed the importance of having a voter card.
“Let us get prepared for the coming elections. We are already in the 11th month and February 25th is almost here. We only have three and a half months left to the D-Day,” Akinlade said in Yoruba.
“Let’s prepare ourselves so that we can start campaigning to our friends and family members. Our women here have a vital role to play in this campaign. If you look around, you will see that they are in the majority. So, their importance to this party cannot be overemphasised.
“Our men should also play their part. They should not say they would leave the job to the women alone because the women are in the majority. Everyone present here has key roles to play in ensuring that we secure victory.”
Then he went on to talk about the importance of having the voter card.
“Like we all know, getting our PVCs ready is very key if we are going to win this coming election,” Akinlade said.
“If you registered somewhere else before moving to this our present location, I expect that by now, you would have had your card transferred to this place.
“The card plays important roles in this party. Apart from using it to get our aspirants elected into various political offices, it is also a ticket for enjoying many goodies at our gatherings.
“No voter card, no money.”
Akinlade repeated the last comment he made with the crowd nodding in approval.
“In fact, anybody that comes to this gathering and is not able to provide his or her voter card would be seen as an impostor,” Akinlade further said.
“There are so many benefits attached to having a voter card around here. So, let us work hard in getting our friends and family members to go and pick up their cards.
“I even heard it in the news yesterday that Lagos, Ogun and one other state in the west have the highest number of people who are yet to pick up their cards. Please, let’s ensure we start working on them immediately.”
At this point, Kehinde leaned towards this reporter and said, “The issue of voter card is being taken very seriously by the party o. Thank God I have mine. I am so glad I was able to keep mine safe. Look at how useful it has now become. Please go look for yours; it is very important.”
What Kehinde meant by the card being useful was inspired by Akinlade’s “No voter’s card, no money” comment.
At that point, new attendees were encouraged to step forward with their voter cards so that they could write their names on the attendance list.
‘YOU’RE IN THE WRONG WARD’
As Akinlade continued to address the crowd, Niyi Dairo, the assistant secretary of the ward, who was also the man in charge of the day’s attendance list, approached this journalist.
“I am not sure I have seen this face before. Have you written your name sir? And are you with your voter card?” Dairo asked this reporter.
In response, this reporter told him he was new in the area and was staying at a place called Sabo.
“Ha! You’re supposed to attend a meeting at Ward 3, not here,” said Dairo.
“If you’re transferring your card, it would have to be stated in your request that you would like it to be transferred to African Church, Sabo.
“Ward 3 meetings also hold at the African Church premises every Tuesday.”
After saying this, Dairo quickly gave this reporter the number of a Ward 3 resource person.
Around this time, a drama unfolded at the gathering, and the reason Dairo and Akinlade were particular about getting attendees to write their names on the list became clear.
‘THE NUMBER OF NAMES ON THE LIST HAS BEEN INFLATED’
While Dairo was still addressing this reporter on the ward he belonged to, a ruckus began at the gathering.
A party member simply known as Elijah openly accused both Akinlade and Dairo of “inflating attendance list”.
“This nonsense has to stop. It keeps happening all the time. It has to stop!” Elijah screamed.
“Look around you; we are not more than 100 gathered here. But look at the names on the list, more than 150. Where did all these names come from? This nonsense has to stop!”
This reporter later gathered that the reason behind Elijah’s protest was because Yayi had in fact gifted the ward N50,000. As a matter of fact, the N50,000 ‘gift’ was a weekly feature at the meetings.
The aggrieved member, having realised that the party members present at the ward meeting were not up to the number of names reflected on the list, decided to raise the alarm.
He then went on to accuse Akinlade and Dairo of fraud, stating that an inflated list would mean that members would go home with lesser amounts than expected, while Akinlade, Dairo and other ward executives who are a party to the plot, would keep a huge chunk of Yayi’s monetary gift to themselves.
“Elijah is right in a way,” a party member later told this reporter.
“He has, however, gone about it the wrong way by openly confronting the ward excos. You see, Yayi gives every ward under Yewa South (Local Government Area) N50,000 on a weekly basis.
“The reason he gives out the money is to motivate party members and win their trust as the elections draw near.
“It is clear that the members that have gathered at the ward meeting today are not more than 100, so, where did the excos get over 150 names from?
“What this means is that the higher the names on the list, the lesser the amount you and I will end up taking home at the end of the day. So, if the members present here today are 100, and are also supposed to go home with N500 each, it means they would end up going home with a little over N300 because the attendance list has been inflated.”
The party member’s explanation threw more light on Dairo’s insistence on getting all the attendees to write their names on the list.
Elijah would eventually be escorted away before the meeting could come to an end.
N300 PER PERSON
As the meeting was about to come to an end, Akinlade and Dairo decided to share Yayi’s gift among party members present. This gesture was met with loud cheers, especially from the female members.
This part of the meeting was handled in such a way that a group of five members were called out from the list at intervals. The group of five were then given N1,500 to share..
It did not take long before this reporter, who had initially given his name as ‘Lekan Ahmed’, was called out alongside four other members.
“Oya, help them remove it; this is the person,” Dairo said, referring to this reporter and advising Akinlade to dole out another N1,500 from a small bag he had hanging over his neck.
“Oya, five of you should go and sort it out among yourselves, N300 each.”
The group of five had a middle-aged woman simply referred to as Alhaja, a man who later introduced himself as Ariyo, a man wearing an Ankara with a shuttle bag hung over his shoulders, a teenage girl and this reporter.
Alhaja came prepared. The moment the cash was handed over to her, she gave the teenage girl and the man with the shuttle bag N300 each, and then handed N600 (in N500 and N100 denominations) to Ariyo and this reporter.
“How do we do it now? Do you have N200 change so that I can give you N500?” Ariyo asked this reporter.
“Don’t worry about my share; you can keep everything,” this reporter replied.
The moment Ariyo heard this, his face lit up and he was full of gratitude.
“Ah, thank you, my brother. May God bless you,” he said, making a gesture that looked like he was almost prostrating.
As this reporter was about leaving the venue, Kehinde called from behind.
“Mr. Ahmed, are you leaving? Please, wait o, I would like to have your number,” he said.
This reporter said he only wanted to get water from a provision store down Musa Street.
“Okay, I will be waiting for you,” Kehinde again said.
As soon as this reporter got to the end of the street, however, he turned the corner and never returned to the meeting.
ONE MAN, TWO DIFFERENT SENATORIAL DISTRICTS
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While explaining his reason for leaving Lagos West to contest in Ogun West Senatorial District, Yayi said the move, branded the ‘West-to-West Agenda’, was inspired by his “desire to bring quality representation” to the land of his birth (Ogun State).
By 2023, the accountant-turned-politician would have completed 20 years as a lawmaker representing Lagos at the State House of Assembly, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In June, some members of the Lagos West Senatorial District dragged Yayi to court and prayed for an order of interim injunction restraining APC from submitting his name to INEC as its candidate in the 2023 general election while still a serving senator representing them at the National Assembly.
The plaintiffs also stated that the senator’s decision to accept a nomination form to contest as a senator in Ogun West while still a senator representing Lagos West at the National Assembly was a breach of the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other enabling statutes regulating the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
The complainants also posited that his actions meant abandoning his elected position and leaving the people of Lagos West without representation at the National Assembly.
They argued that Adeola failed to resign his appointment as the Lagos district’s representative before deciding to vie for the Ogun West ticket.
In October however, the Federal High Court sitting in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, dismissed the suit challenging Yayi’s selection and nomination as Ogun West APC Senatorial aspirant.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, the presiding judge, held that the suit “lacked merit”.
For Kehinde, Ariyo, Alhaja and other members of Ilaro APC Ward 1, Yayi’s “monetary gifts” at the weekly meetings are signs that if elected, people of the district “would experience better standards of living”.
Kehinde’s statement on Yayi partly showed that he would likely vote him come 2023. For him, the need to see the aspirant’s action plan (if voted into office) does not really matter anymore; the fact that he is “nice and generous” is enough.
Kehinde is not alone. Most of the ward members present at the meeting shared the same viewpoint. This view was further emphasised when Alhaja collected the N1,500 gift that was to be shared among five people.
“How will my household and I not vote for Yayi?” She asked rhetorically, as she joyfully handed N600 over to Ariyo and this reporter.
This is the first of a three-part series. Watch out for this same reporter’s visit to ward meetings held by members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP).
This Story was produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
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