In this piece, ENIOLA AKINKUOTU looks at the battle for the soul of Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre

In his book titled the Myth of Sisyphus, Nobel Laureate, Albert Camus, talks about the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a man who was cursed by the gods. Every day, Sisyphus would roll a huge rock to the top of the mountain only for the rock to roll back again. The following day, Sisyphus would roll the stone up just for it to roll back down.

This, without a doubt, has been the story of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State. Every election season, the party holds non-stop campaigns, vowing to oust the All Progressives Congress only for the PDP to be humiliated at the polls again and again for 16 years.

Curiously, every member of the APC that has ever defected to the PDP has been defeated at the polls. In 2002, when two serving senators, Adeseye Ogunlewe and Wahab Dosunmu, defected to the PDP from the Alliance for Democracy, which metamorphosed into the APC, they were humiliated at the polls in the 2003 elections.

Similarly, when Senator Musiliu Obanikoro defected from the then AD to the PDP to run for governorship, he lost.

Lagos, it seems, has been allergic to the PDP. Prior to the 2015 elections, the APC controlled the three senatorial districts, the 24 House of Representatives seats and the 40 House of Assembly seats, giving the APC 100 per cent control of Lagos. Even when the entire South-West fell to the PDP in 2003, Lagos stood its ground and refused to join the bandwagon.

However, the PDP recorded some successes on March 28 presidential election, winning six reps seats, its biggest victory in the last 16 years. Similarly, the result of the presidential election showed that the difference between the APC and the PDP was about 160,000 votes, a gap which is still too slim to conclude how the governorship election will be won. It is for this reason that an analysis of some of the factors that will determine the outcome of Saturday’s election is imperative.

Bola Tinubu vs Bode George    

On the surface, the battle for the Alausa seat of power might be between the governorship candidate of the APC, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode; and his PDP counterpart, Mr. Jimi Agbaje. However, those who have been following Lagos State politics for years understand that the real battle is between the APC leader in the state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the PDP leader, Chief Bode George.

Both men played a pivotal role in ensuring that Ambode and Agbaje emerged the governorship candidate of their respective parties

Tinubu and George are archenemies and have never hidden their disdain for each other. George, who was once convicted of financial impropriety but later exonerated by the Supreme Court, has always blamed Tinubu for the two years he spent in Kirikiri Prison.

George has more often than not, described Tinubu as the Emperor of Bourdillon, “whose daughter must be Iyaloja, whose wife must be a senator, whose in-law must be in the House of Reps; who must control everything. But the people are wiser now.”

George even said recently that he would go on exile if Tinubu found his way into the national government because Tinubu would order his (George’s) arrest.

Knowing the influence Tinubu wields, the PDP has spent a considerable amount of time campaigning against Tinubu and even came up with a documentary in a bid to ‘educate’ the people of Lagos on Tinubu’s ‘many sins.’

However, Tinubu, who recently described George as ‘the biggest liar in Lagos,’ is known to be a master strategist who is largely responsible for the success of the APC. Tinubu, it is believed, ensured that the APC not only retained Lagos for the last 16 years but also extended the influence of the party to the entire South-West and then helped a serial loser, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to win the presidency.

In fact, the world-renowned, United Kingdom-based Financial Times newspaper, which wrote a cover-page story titled, ‘Nigeria’s Machiavelli: How a political godfather helped bring down a President,’ described Tinubu as an astute politician whose political influence in the South-West can be compared to that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

The success or failure of either party will largely be determined by these two men.

Bandwagon effect

Due to the nature of Nigerian politics in which the winner takes all, thousands of PDP members including former governors and senators, who want to partake in the national cake, have defected to the APC, following the victory of the APC at the presidential election.

The importance of states aligning to the central government in a country where most states rely on the Federal Government for revenue and capital intensive projects cannot be overemphasised.

It is for this reason that the APC has changed its campaign strategy, highlighting the need for Lagos to enjoy the benefits accruable from the centre.

Just last Friday, the governorship candidates of 10 political parties shelved their ambitions and jointly endorsed Ambode.

Also, the Vice President-elect, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, said Lagos had suffered for too long as an opposition state and it was time for the state to enjoy more Federal Government presence. Similarly, the APC publicity secretary in the state, Joe Igbokwe, said capital intensive projects such as the long-awaited 4th Mainland Bridge and the much-delayed light rail project will now be possible in Lagos since the APC now controls the National Assembly and the presidency which are in charge of national economy.

Igbokwe said if the people of Lagos voted for the PDP, Lagos may be denied of such benefits which come through intense lobbying.

However, Agbaje countered the argument by insisting that Lagos has always done well as an opposition state. He pointed that since its creation, Lagos had been in the opposition and had developed tremendously, adding that Lagos must continue with the tradition of being in the opposition.

He explained that Lagos was in the opposition under Alhaji Lateef Jakande of the Unity Party of Nigeria; it was in the opposition under Sir Michael Otedola of the National Republican Convention and remained in the opposition under Tinubu of the AD (now APC) as well as Babatunde Fashola.

He stated further that the people of Lagos had nothing to fear since Buhari had promised not to run a vindictive government. Lagos, which generated about N300bn in Internally Generated Revenue last year, is one of the few states that are economically viable.

Non-indigene factor

Due to the inability of Nigeria to conduct a proper population census, it is almost impossible to know the number of non-Yoruba speaking people living in Lagos. However, facts available show that four local governments are dominated by Igbo-speaking people. They are: Ajeromi/Ifelodun, Amuwo Odofin, Ojo and Oshodi/Isolo. Surulere local government also has a large Igbo population but not as large as the others. Curiously, the PDP won in all the five local governments last week.

The reason is not far-fetched: the PDP governorship candidate spent a considerable amount of time wooing the Igbo. Also, the love the people of the South-East have for President Jonathan reflected in the voting pattern. The PDP also ensured that the Igbo were given House of Reps tickets in all the concerned local governments which led to its victory in those places.

Angered by the trend of voting in the last election, the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, issued a threat, saying any Igbo who voted against his candidate, Ambode, on Saturday would perish in the lagoon.

The oba has received sharp criticisms over the statement especially from the Igbo community, many of whom have vowed to vote for the PDP. The controversial issue is widely seen as a setback for Ambode who has since Monday been visiting Igbo communities, appealing to them not to take offence.

Buhari and Tinubu have also called on the Ndigbo to forgive and pay the oba no attention since he is not a member of the APC. Political analysts, however, say majority of the Igbo would have still voted for the PDP whether the oba made the threat or not.

Hopefully for Ambode, however, the Arewa community has given undivided support to the APC in Lagos largely because Buhari is from the North. In fact, analysts say it was the large number of Hausa voters in Apapa that caused Agbaje to fail to ensure PDP’s victory at his polling unit on March 28. While Jonathan got 60 votes, Buhari got 126 votes at Agbaje’s polling unit.

Similarly, a large number of Yoruba see a PDP victory as an avenue for the Igbo to take dominance of Lagos politics. This could also work in Ambode’s favour.

Voter turnout and statistics

Despite having 3.9 million voters, the number of people who voted on March 28 was just about 1.5 million which constitutes less than half of the voting population.

The media adviser to Tinubu, Mr. Sunday Dare, told our correspondent that the APC was worried by the low voter turnout. He pointed out that while Jonathan got 632,327 in Lagos, Buhari polled 792,460, a difference of 160,133.

Dare said most of the people that did not vote were staunch APC supporters. He said efforts were on to ensure that more people come out.

Similarly, the Governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola, said in a statement that the people of Lagos would be doing a great disservice to themselves if they allowed Lagos to fall to the PDP because of their reluctance to vote.

Political analysts say the reason for the low voter turnout could be attributed to the fact that many people had relocated in the last four years for various reasons ranging from marriage to increase in rents. It is made worse by the fact that there is a restriction on movement on election days. Also, owing to the violence that occurred during the countdown to the elections, many voters refused to vote because they feared that the election might turn bloody

Voter apathy and low turnout in Lagos could work in favour or against any political party.

Areas of strength

Both Agbaje and Ambode are from Lagos-East senatorial district but due to the heterogeneous demography of Lagos, most voters will not vote based on where a candidate comes from.

According to the statistics of last week’s election, Alimosho, which is the largest local government in Lagos, had a voter turnout of about 145,000. While the PDP polled about 59,316 votes, the APC got 86,897, a difference of 27,581 votes. The APC has always won Alimosho.

The second largest local government is Ajeromi/Ifelodun, which has a high Igbo population. While the PDP got 57, 494, the APC got 37,716, a difference of nearly 20,000. The PDP has won in this local government in the last three elections.

The third largest local government by voter population is Surulere with about 116,000 voters. It is where both Fashola and the House of Representatives minority leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, hail from. It was a close contest last week as the PDP got 58, 649 votes, while the APC got 57,798, a difference of just 851 votes. An APC source attributed the loss to the large Igbo population in the Aguda area of the state where the APC did not get many votes. Surulere is expected to be a battleground on Saturday.

Mushin came fourth with about 94,000 voters. Mushin is a stronghold of the APC and it boasts of many strong politicians such as Senator Ganiyu Solomon and Dr. Muiz Banire, who is the APC’s national legal adviser. The APC won in Mushin by almost 30,000 votes on March 28.

The PDP is expected to win in Oshodi/Isolo, Badagry, Ojo and Amuwo Odofin local governments while Somolu, Kosofe, Agege, Lagos Island and Ifako/Ijaye should fall to the APC.

As the zero hour beckons and the people of Lagos hold their breath in anticipation of who will carry the day in the April 11 governorship election, posterity would be either told the story of how the myth of Sisyphus was demystified by a group of umbrella-wielding people in Lagos on April 11, 1015, or how a broom-wielding ‘godfather’ helped create a powerful political party in the history of Nigeria which for the first time, brought Lagos and the centre under the same party.