2015: The Battle For The Soul Of Lagos, By Dele Momodu
There is no doubt that Lagos is the most important State in our dearly beloved country. Once upon a time, it was our Federal capital before Abuja was carved out in what was supposed to be the centre of Nigeria. The idea for Abuja was not entirely new or original. I was told during a visit to Australia about six years ago, that the master-plan emanated from Canberra, the seat of government in that country. I used to think Sydney was the Capital, or even Melbourne.
But I was kindly educated by the then Nigerian High Commissioner to Australia, Professor Olu Agbi, a Diplomatic Historian, who made sure I visited Canberra. I truly saw some similarities between Abuja and Canberra except that Abuja remains a chaotic ersatz, a shambolic attempt at emulating a masterpiece.
Despite the migration of the Federal capital from Lagos to Abuja, Lagos has continued being the nerve-centre of Nigeria, our own veritable New York. Every Nigerian is a stakeholder in Lagos because practically everyone has one link or the other to what is probably the most exciting city on the African continent. This is why Lagos has become a microcosm of Nigeria by representing every culture, tradition, religion, socio-political belief of the nation. Lagos reflects the American dream that anyone can aspire, whether stranger or not, due to its assimilative spirit.
For this reason, Lagos has become the toast and target of most politicians.
Whosoever controls Lagos has Nigeria by the neck. This is probably the only State that can snub the notorious Federal Allocation and still survive. This was tested in those days of acrimony between President Olusegun Obasanjo and Governor Bola Tinubu when the statutory allocation to Lagos was stopped by Presidential fiat. The Governor of Lagos is as good as a mini-President. Amongst Governors he is clearly primus inter pares. Who wouldn’t want to be in that position? This is why the battle for the soul of Lagos is going to be a Third World War, without any shade of doubt.
Let’s now come down to brass tacks and open up the anatomy of Lagos politics. Since 1999, only a particular Party metamorphosing into different parties has held sway in Lagos. Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu rode on the crest of the pro-June 12 struggles and advocacy to become the Governor. He governed the State for two terms spanning eight years and was able to pass the baton effortlessly to his former Chief of Staff, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN). By next year, Governor Fashola would also have served two terms of four years each and it would be time to hand over power. In theory, the ruling party in Lagos is supposed and expected to retain its stranglehold without any major challenge from the opposition PDP. But let me say categorically that it is not going to be that simple. Permit me to deliver my permutations.
The APC looks good on paper but it has gargantuan challenges ahead. The party is currently a house divided against itself and may collapse if care is not taken. The main actors are the former Governor Tinubu and his political godson and current Governor Fashola. Tinubu believes that he’s the biggest investor and shareholder in the Lagos conglomerate and as such should have the final say in who takes over from Fashola. For now, he has already picked his choice in a former Accountant-General of Lagos, Mr Akin Ambode, but this decision has produced unprecedented sour grapes and overt dissension within the rank and file of the party.
On the other hand, Fashola feels that as the occupier of the exalted seat, he should be entitled to the privilege Tinubu enjoyed at the expiration of his tenure by also picking his own successor. Unfortunately, his former boss does not agree. As a matter of fact, Tinubu had grudgingly agreed to a second term for Fashola when it became obvious that his protégé’s rising profile was too massive to be toyed with. Never mind their public comportment, their relationship has been frosty, a cat and mouse affair, and it is doubtful that they would ever agree to a consensus candidate. Governor Fashola wants his former Attorney-General, Mr Supo Shasore to succeed him but Asiwaju Tinubu won’t permit any such heresy. If it was just a mere race between Ambode and Shasore, the latter would have been a surer bet because Fashola would have thrown anything and everything to the fire. But his boss has blatantly disregarded such opportunity.
The problem does not end there. It is further compounded by the motley crowd of other distinguished aspirants who want true Democracy in their party. The hard-core politicians amongst them are raising dust, railing, screaming and kicking against the imposition of someone they consider at the very best a bystander, if not an outsider, who wants to reap where he did not sow. The Tinubu/Ambode camp is responding by saying Fashola himself was a product and beneficiary of imposition. The brickbats continue.
As at the last count, about ten or more other aspirants have picked up nomination forms. This unwieldy number should be ominous to APC and Tinubu in particular. Tinubu has, till now, failed to get them to drop their collective aspirations for Ambode. Many friends of Tinubu are worried stiff about the possible demystification of Tinubu as the ultimate powerhouse in Lagos if he continues to stubbornly support Ambode and maintain that his choice must prevail. It is sad that most people tell him what they know he wants to hear and say ugly things behind his back. They make reference to how Tinubu’s fabled war chest could not save Ondo and Ekiti States and his former kingdom is shrinking by the day because of his obstinate disposition.
There are never-before-seen frontal attacks against Tinubu. While it seems the Governor has chosen not to fight his mentor publicly, his proxies have picked up the gauntlet. Most of the former cabinet members have decided to back one of their own Mr Supo Shasore, born on January 22, 1964, with everything necessary. This has provided him with veritable political platforms across the State which he lacks as he is only a consummate lawyer and seasoned technocrat. It would be difficult if not impossible to win an election in any part of Nigeria without grassroots support and mobilisation. It is believed that Tinubu has become a third party spender and may not have the singular financial muscle of Fashola & Friends when the time comes to fight this battle.
The biggest threat to Ambode comes from one of Tinubu’s core-loyalists, Rt. Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, the only Speaker who has served three terms in a House of Assembly in Nigeria. He’s believed to be Tinubu’s secret weapon if politicians reject Ambode outright as things stand at the moment. Ikuforiji has a wealth of experience as he’s served under both Tinubu and Fashola and must have been privy to most of the government activities in Lagos.
There is a major hitch in Tinubu’s Ambode project which was anchored on the blind loyalty of the 57 Local Government Chairmen whose tenure, unfortunately, expired in October, and they have not been reappointed as Executive Secretaries, which was the practice in the past. Inevitably, the war of the Titans in Lagos may not only emasculate the ambitions of any APC candidate it may also badly jeopardise the chances of any APC Presidential candidate next February. The open secret fear in APC circles is that Tinubu by trade with President Jonathan if he fails to get his iron grip on APC as was the case in ACN where his word was Law. He’s being resisted and frustrated over Ambode and also failing to field his choice as Vice Presidential candidate.
The APC National Legal Adviser, Dr Muiz Banire has boldly come out to warn about the danger this issue of imposition poses to the good health of the party. Banire was only echoing the loud whispers from behind the scene. The intractable squabble in Lagos is fast becoming an embarrassment to members and sympathisers of the party who find the conflict resolution apparatus of the party most appalling. Everyone is asking why at this late hour a party promoting change does not have a list of elected delegates that can be given to aspirants for verification and authentication. The party elders are expected to intervene speedily or watch the party haemorrhage to death on the altar of vaunting ambitions.
The APC Lagos should watch out for the PDP candidate which should be a straight fight between Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and Mr Jimi Agbaje. I foresee Obanikoro picking the ticket for many reasons. Mr Jimi Agbaje was the 2007 gubernatorial candidate of the Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA), who defected to PDP. It is unnatural for politicians who have bonded together for so long to “dash” their ticket to a newcomer, as they see Agbaje. Besides, many believe Agbaje is too gentle to face the APC onslaught in Lagos.
Obanikoro has no rival in today’s PDP. He’s the most prepared politician who has gone the full gamut over the years. Born in 1957, Obanikoro joined politics as soon as he returned from his studies in the United States where he bagged a B.Sc in Public Affairs and Master’s in Public Administration. He cut his teeth as Chairman Caretaker Committee of Surulere Local Government. He won election as State Deputy Chairman of the National Republican Convention. The Miracle Governor, Sir Michael Otedola appointed him Director, Lagos State Bulk Purchasing Corporation as well as member Lagos State Football Association. He has been a delegate at all levels from Local Government Congress to State Congress and ultimately, National Convention. He was elected State Secretary of the influential Justice Forum and Chairman of the powerful Lagos Island Local Government.
Obanikoro became Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture in 1999 and was extremely close to Tinubu. He won his Senatorial election in 2003 and fought an epic electoral battle against Tinubu’s candidate, Fashola in 2007. It is not for fun that he earned the sobriquet of KORO IBO (the vote poacher). He has since been a very successful High Commissioner to The Republic of Ghana and was until recently the Minister of State for Defence.
I’m surprised that APC is about to underrate such a man by fighting a needless war of attrition when PDP is virtually ready with a candidate who knows their tactics too well. If Tinubu succeeds in picking his avowed candidate, Ambode, as APC flagbearer, anything can happen in Lagos.
Many politicians have sworn to teach Tinubu a lesson. The historians point not only to the Sir Otedola debacle of the Second Republic but the more recent events which led to the ouster of Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala in Oyo State. As I told Ambode when he invited me to a meeting, his biggest strength is also his greatest weakness. He is a fantastic gentleman with intimidating credentials but I wonder how he’s going to pacify those who see him as a mere stooge of Bola Tinubu. That is the crux of the matter.
For APC, it is morning yet on creation day.
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