In Nigeria, ‘The police is your friend’ is not an uncommon mantra. But the actions of a certain branch of the Nigeria Police Force have, over time, proved otherwise, and the gatekeepers of the law have simply looked the other way. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), was set up to help deal with crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes, but the unit became notorious for its frequent involvement in robberies, kidnappings, murders and so much more that were targeted mainly at young Nigerians. Things got to a head in October 2020 when a bizarrely steep rise in these robberies and extrajudicial killings led to an outbreak of protests that eventually became mass demonstrations across the country. The protests ended when soldiers and policemen at various locations shot at peaceful protesters and left many people dead. The Lekki tollgate demonstrations were the most highlighted protests with the shootings being live-streamed on Instagram. It was an episode that left many saddened. In the aftermath of the shootings, and the subsequent crackdown on those suspected to be involved in the protests, the Lagos State House of Assembly reacted horrendously.

The Lagos House of Assembly held a session on the protests where the Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, said that those involved in the protests were miscreants who didn’t deserve a moment of silence. He wasn’t alone in this. Another member of the Lagos House of Assembly, Mojisola Alli-Macaulay, who represents Amuwo Odofin Constituency 1 at the Lagos State House of Assembly, claimed that those involved in the protests, including most young people who use social media were addicts who were always high on drugs. The rest of the House largely toed this line of condemnation, and they refused to react appropriately to the improper conduct of the police and the state government that also sponsored attacks on the protesters.

The Lagos State House of Assembly is a legislative body that is supposed to check the state government’s actions as the Senate and House of Representatives, but it has never performed this role. All it does is enable the state government so that its members can be taken care of by the executive. The people of Lagos now have the opportunity to correct the situation as they go to the polls to elect a new governor and members of the state house of assembly, on 11 March 2023. 40 seats are being contested by 394 candidates representing different political parties such as the All Progressive Congress, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Action Democratic Party (ADP), Labour Party (LP) and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

The APC had a clean sweep in the 2019 Lagos State House of Assembly elections by taking all 40 seats, but a closer look at some numbers from the past and present could give some hope that they are more vulnerable than they appear. But the question is, how well can the opposition parties perform in these elections?

The 2019 elections were characterised by abysmally low voter turnouts. For example, the Lagos Mainland House of Assembly election had a winner who got 27,333 votes out of 36,670 in a constituency with 240,933 registered voters. In Lagos Island, the winner had 31,991 votes out of 40,337 votes cast in a constituency with 196,401 registered voters. The pattern is clear. Poor voter turnout has been a major problem. But the discontent with the APC has ensured a surge in voter registration with six million more registered voters than in the 2019 election season. Hopefully, with the increased numbers and the energy around these elections, Lagosians will get to elect lawmakers who will represent their best interests.