An Open Letter to Obanikoro By Bayo Olupohunda
‘If one is sent on a slave errand, one has the choice to deliver the message as a freeborn’’
… Yoruba proverb
Dear Sir, I am writing this public missive to you with a deep sense of sadness given the recent tragedies in our country. The scar of the Abuja bombing that claimed the lives of fellow citizens is still fresh. Even while many have considered your position as a Minister of State as a junior and political appointment, you are nonetheless still part of a team responsible for the war against a dangerous terror group whose jihadist manifesto is now not in doubt. While the purpose of this letter is not an examination of your activities as a minister, I had sometimes wondered if you had a clear knowledge of what your roles entailed in your new position. My letter to you has been necessitated by the recent controversy between you and the Lagos State government. I will attempt, in this letter, to put this controversy in a historical perspective as the continuation of the cat and mouse relationship that had existed between the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government of which, in my own humble view, you have become a protagonist.
As a politician, I have followed your political trajectory in the last few years. After emerging in your early years as the chairman of the Island Local Government Council, your political activities in the Fourth Republic as a perennial governorship aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party is well known. To underscore your place in your party, you had also gone on to hold a position as an ambassador until your recent appointment as minster. Your appointment is also said to be a lacklustre attempt by the Jonathan administration to address the alleged marginalisation of Lagos and the South-West. In the course of your political career, your dream of becoming the governor of Lagos State has pitted you in constant electoral battle against the ruling party in the state, the All Progressives Congress. While this undying dream of yours has led to many unsavory encounters in the past, it is your recent position as a minister that seems to have re-awakened the Lagos-Abuja rivalry.
With the recent confrontations with the Fashola administration, it seems Lagos is back to the days when “federal power’’ aided by local henchmen doing the bidding of their masters in Abuja was unleashed on the state. As the recent confrontation between your person and the Fashola administration unfolds before our eyes, there is a feeling of déjà vu that we have seen it all before. As you engage the state government, precedents have shown us that it is nothing but the politics of the battle for Lagos. We know that the destination for this battle is 2015 which will intensify as the date draws near. There is also no doubt that residents are in for another battle of two elephants. The actors in this unfolding drama have always been the same.
While the Federal Government plays the unseen hand, the actors have always been local politicians like you on the other side of the divide who must be used to “capture” Lagos by all means necessary. As you may well know, this battle is as old as Lagos. As a politician with the knowledge of the political history of the state in its relationship with the government at the centre, you will realise that you have also now joined a long line of politicians that have been used by the centre in its jinxed bid to get Lagos. From the years when Obafemi Awolowo dominated politics in the South-West until the Second Republic, no party at the federal level had ruled Lagos. Even the brief reign of the PDP in the Fourth Republic was not considered significant enough. The sad part of the bad politics between the two gladiators is that Lagos has come off worse for it.
The impact of the intrigue on Lagos and the historical predictability of your “new role” is the concern of this letter. In the bad politics between Lagos and federal actors, this state has been denied critical infrastructural projects. Development has often been slowed down or stalled altogether. Looking back, we saw how the laudable Metro Line project of the Lateef Jakande administration was killed by the Lagos-Abuja politics. The state missed a lifetime opportunity to begin a modern transport system that could have rivalled any in the world. Because of selfish and myopic politics, Lagos was denied such a significant project that would have revolutionised its transport system.
This has sadly intensified in the Fourth Republic with politicians who are always ready not to play politics by the rule. The former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, used the enormous power of the Federal Government to bully and deny the state of projects that could have catalysed its development. Unfortunately, there were politicians from the state that were used to carry out the dirty job of the federal actors. You will recall that the Enron power project by the Tinubu administration was truncated because of this. The project which was initiated by the Tinubu administration and scuttled by Obasanjo represents the face of politics in Nigeria where selfish and myopic politicians do not care about common good except their own selfish end. The current reforms in the power sector could have benefited from the pioneering Enron-Lagos power initiative had it been allowed to succeed. After Enron, came a litany of clashes that stalled development. The Tinubu administration was denied its federal allocation over a constitutional matter that allows states to create local governments.
But the Federal Government bullied the state for exercising its constitutional duty. This was done in its bid to weaken the state and wrest political power from it. Even the Yar’Adua administration reneged having first agreed to uphold the rule of law in the matter that had pitted the Fashola administration against the Federal Government. The supremacy battle between the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency and the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency also continued the saga. Lagos has come out battered and bruised when its politicians have not been able to separate politics from politicking. It is one reason why this state has not been granted the needed special status as a former federal capital. Now, I am afraid that you have become the new pawn in the political power play.
Perhaps, you should learn from politicians who have attempted to achieve political power not on their own merit but through the backing of Abuja. While I do not begrudge your political ambition, I would have preferred a situation where you do not operate under the shadows of “federal power”. Let the residents see how you can make a difference in their lives. Remember Lagosians are no fools. The Ilubirin incident where you were alleged to have used soldiers to lay siege on a proposed housing project that will benefit residents was uncalled for. Was that part of your duty as a defence minister when the country is harassed daily by Boko Haram insurgents? Why not explore legal means? You were also alleged to have caused disturbances in some states during the just concluded by-election. These actions dent your image and portray you as a desperate politician no matter how much you claim to love Lagos. Please tread softly.
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