Published On: Mon, Sep 10th, 2018

Itesiwaku Eko’ Ambode’s dilemma

Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State

As far as Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s second term bid is concerned, things have gone awry for him. The political complications of Lagos, a state dubbed Africa’s economic hub, has gotten on the way. And there is now a high possibility that a governor widely praised for his performance could have his term in office cut short.

A technocrat, who, before assuming office as governor in 2015, served as the Accountant General of the state in what was the apex of his 27-year civil service career, Ambode is easily your ideal governor for a state that boasts of a trillion naira economy – cosmopolitan, grand, but also rowdy and reeking with poor organisation and therefore in dire need of an overhaul.

Not everyone had high expectations of the relatively unknown, soft spoken governor who, it could be said, was literally installed by the state’s political kingmaker, a former governor himself, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

But once on the saddle, Ambode made clear his intentions to make Lagos’ money work for Lagos – some knock him nonetheless for lack of transparency. He marshalled out plans to turn the state into a 21st Century modern smart city in the mould of Dubai. This project is very much on course. New roads, flyovers, bridges and bus stops have been built. The Lagos light rail project has come to fruition. Ongoing projects are preponderant and massive. He has won the hearts of many – but perhaps not the political class.

“Ambode is doing well, I’m impressed with his performance,” said a building contractor, Mr. Taiwo Idris. “Lagos is gradually becoming a smart city. If you go to TBS, it is almost like you are in London.”

“Ambode is a performing governor,” asserted Mr. Obinna Asogwa. “That’s what I can say. He is doing well. The bus-stops he is doing have improved flow of traffic.”

Not everyone is too impressed however. Mr. Adejumo Justus, a journalist, asserts that while the governor is doing a good job in providing infrastructure, there is little accountability.

“He is trying. I score him high in the provision of street lights and other infrastructure,” Adejumo said. “But the administration is steeped in secrecy. No transparency. I score him low when it comes to observance of rule of law.”

But that which is the source of his admirer’s joy, is also in some ways, why their beloved governor now faces an uncertain future. And as the all important 2019 election approaches in a matter of months, the governor may be relying on the support of the masses rather than the political super structure held by Tinubu to retain power. A difficult task it could prove to be. But it would be almost inconceivable to many to have another individual as Lagos governor in 2019.

Lagos is, somewhat, a state controlled by political groups divided, in ‘mafia-like manner,’ into: The Mandate Forum, founded  by Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola in 2003, and is said to be the strongest and controls the largest number of local government; The Justice Forum, said to have been formed in the lead up to 1999 election that brought Tinubu, by Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat, now an Oba in Ogun State, and Ekosako, allegedly led by a certain Olabinjo, with a number of other groups such as the Ideal, set up by Senator Ganiyu Solomon; Crusader, established by Henry Ajomale holding grounds in different areas.

The interest of these various political actors are protected and served through an intricate distribution of control of LGAs and LCDAs’ in the mould of appointing chairmen, other top officials as well as contracts to maintain peace and a semblance of political stability.

For instance, a serving minister in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet is said to control LGAs and LCDAs between Apapa and Ajegunle and thus, decides who becomes chairman in all. Similarly, contracts, it is said, are first signed out to political contractors who in turn, hire professional to execute same.

But it’s an arrangement now being distorted increasingly as the governor pushes for more professionalism and perhaps, as some have alleged, tries to build his own political structure. The political actors affected are barring no holds. The bitter politics in-between is said to be threatening his second term bid.

The governor was said to have promoted his own candidates during the state’s LGA and LCDA elections last year, a move that set him on war path with the likes of Aregbesola. Although the governor did not have his way and Aregbesola’s Mandate Forum ended up with many of the LGAs and LCDAs, a seed of distrust was sown.

Another case in point is the governor’s decision to transfer the responsibility of waste collection and disposal from the Lagos Waste Management Authority ( LAWMA), which had been in charge under a Private Sector Participation (PSP) arrangement with the state government, to a Dubai based waste management company, Visionscape.

The LAWMA franchise is said to be run by one of the most popular chieftains of the Lagos All Progressives Congress (APC), Cardinal James Odumbaku, popularly called “Baba Eto.” And as was allegedly the practice, he allowed members of the party to participate in running the franchise by recruiting staff and sundry other benefits. With Visionscape however, such privileges have been stripped, prompting a backlash.

The governor is, as part of his new Lagos vision, also changing the entire transportation arrangement of the state. He is planning to deploy a more efficient transport system by bringing in long and medium size buses under similar Bus rapid transit (BRT) franchise. When implemented, the ubiquitous “Danfo” buses would be phased out. And of critical importance, the state’s transport union which has been an integral part of the state political structure could be out of business.

Bus drivers have been assured that they would be incorporated into the new system as drivers, but being most likely a franchise, the very lucrative transport unionism could die naturally. A prospect many big wigs who profiteer from the largely exploitative system, have not stomached.

But apart from Ambode’s policies blocking channels through which the state’s political actors reap financial benefits, the idea that he is building a political structure of his own is said to have set him on collision path with Tinubu, who sources say, is concerned that giving him another four years will help him to consolidate power.

“Jagaban (Tinubu) may support another candidate in 2019,” said an insider who prefers anonymity. “But even he knows that things will be complex. It’s better to watch and see what happens.”

Another twist to what is fast becoming a complicated political scenario is the senatorial ambition of Aregbesola, who, sources say, is pushing to represent Lagos West, his political stronghold, in the upper legislative chamber upon the completion of his tenure as Osun governor. The Lagos West Senate seat is currently held by Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola. A seat former minister, Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro is also eyeing.

Being a popular political figure in the senatorial zone, and being in control of the powerful Mandate Forum, Aregbesola is said to have reasoned that it would be easier to achieve his senatorial ambition in Lagos than Osun where his fading popularity and the complicated nature of the Osun politics could make it impossible for him, especially if the PDP takes power in the state in the coming governorship election.

But it’s an ambition that Tinubu, who is himself, coming under pressure from other political actors that are allegedly becoming increasingly uncomfortable with his dominance, is said to have rejected, citing possible backlash. He had, sources said, told Aregbesola that he would be a hard sell, especially given that his wife, Remi, is also in the Senate and is of the same Mandate Forum. Those who see themselves as the original Lagosians are said to be nursing bitterness over the dominance of the Osun strand as led by Tinubu who governed the state from 1999 to 2007.

Still Aregbesola was said to have proceeded to Ambode to persuade him to convince Tinubu, but the governor had allegedly also rejected the idea as a ‘difficult sell,’ leading to further fallout between the two and Aregbesola rekindled push for his ouster.

Factional chairman of the APC in the state, Mr. Fouad Oki, had, for instance, revealed in an interview with THISDAY, few months ago, that Ambode’s re-election had long been under threat, and fingered Aregbesola, in the plot.

He had revealed that the Osun governor is not hatching the plot alone, but with others like the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa and Chairman of the House Committee on Lands, Hon. Bayo Oshinowo.

Indeed, to complicate matters, a section of Lagos political class had become uncomfortable with Tinubu, it was revealed, over his penchant for choosing technocrats, as represented by former governor, Babatunde Fashola and Ambode, ahead of them to govern the state. And Ambode’s ‘unfriendly’ programmes have inflamed this anger. Thus, there is a convergence of interest working to deny the governor the ruling party’s ticket.

Yet, there is also now a religious angle to it. It had taken a spirited intervention from notable religious leaders in the state who insisted that it was time for a Christian governor to emerge for Ambode to be chosen. The state’s governance had been dominated by Muslims, from Lateef Jakande, to Tinubu and Fashola.

Suggestions are also emerging that the governor’s troubles may also have to do with his Christian faith, as it is alleged that Tinubu is planning to replace him with yet another Muslim candidate.

“I am informed also that part of the present problems of Governor Ambode in Lagos State in his bid for a second term may be related to his faith,” noted human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa.

Faced with this apparent challenge, the governor was said to have, as reported by many media outlets, been consulting with members of his cabinet over possible defection from the APC to either the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or the African Democratic Congress (ADC).

Instructively, no official communication denying the report emanated from Ambode’s government. Instead, the governor was only reported to have denied such plans by President Buhari’s media aide, Ahmad Bashir, who said in a tweet last Sunday that Ambode, who was with the president in China at the time, told him he was not leaving the ruling party.

“I told Gov. @AkinwunmiAmbode of Lagos State that @LeadersNG and some other media platforms have been spreading fake news that he’s planning to leave the APC, he smiled and said Bashir if they don’t know tell them I am here in Beijing in President @MBuhari’s entourage,” Bashir posted.

However, several sources disclosed to BusinessHallmark that in truth, the governor is plotting a possible exit from the APC.  Nonetheless, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, spokesperson for the APC in the state had told BusinessHallmark that the report was a lie, noting that there is no rift between the former governor and the incumbent.

“It’s a lie; it’s a lie from the pit of hell,” Igbokwe said. “Anybody who is telling you that is a liar. Don’t listen to that person.”

 

 

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