By OBINNA EZUGWU
It is no longer news; the political love affair in Lagos state is in trouble. For the first time since 1999, a sitting governor is facing a real challenge from his own party for the ticket. The indignity can only be imagined and its implications continue to reverberate across the state and nation.
Initially many people thought it was just a Lagos affair; but the happening last week changed that. It has become an APC problem and its chances of winning the state. With resolution far from sight, the national party and even the president waded into the growing political conundrum. And the whole nation is waiting anxiously for the next move.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, since leaving office as governor had decided what happened in the state; now the equation seems to be changing. Those who had acted at his behest are now demanding to act themselves. The Mandate Group, the political platform behind his structure is asserting its influence. And Gov. Ambode has become a pawn in the chess game.
His potential opponent is the Managing Director of Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSPDC), Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu, who has already picked his nomination form to contest the primary, which incidentally has been shifted by one week, perhaps to allow for a settlement. The situation is such that the power mongers in the APC may win the battle but the war is a different ball game.
Tinubu and his cabal may control the party, but the party does not determine the election. Lagosians now insist that the power to determine the governor lies with them and the party can choose whoever they want; it is the outcome that makes the difference.
Most people believe that Tinubu had been able to control things in the state because his choices have delivered. Former governor Fashola was a runaway success. And after just three years, Ambode also seems to be delivering and changing him cannot be justified on the basis on performance. So they wonder what could be responsible for this apparent self induced crisis, if not selfish.
The APC is taking a gamble because of the weakened position of the main opposition, the PDP, which lost the 2015 election with just 120,000 votes. Even with the near absence of the opposition the APC and Tinubu would be making a political miscalculation to discount the consciousness of the voters. Lagos boasts of the most political conscious and enlightened people and any act of insensitivity to their interests could spell doom.
Political dynamics can change and last week seemed to prove this abundantly as an old political foe in the 2015 election, who apparently had never been in the picture for the 2019 poll, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, announced his participation in the primary of the PDP. Before then, the PDP had gleefully offered its ticket to Ambode if his party rejected him. And there is also the speculated interest of the oil billionaire, Mr. Femi Otedola.
With this fluidity of the situation, Ambode has become the beautiful bride and Lagosians may go with him to spite the domination of the Tinubu dynasty. He seems to know that and wants to fight to the very end. While the power brokers have insisted on indirect primary for the governorship selection, Ambode and other insist on direct, which will allow all the members of the party to participate.
Tinubu and his people would have preferred to used his political machinery to upstage the governor; throwing it open to all members will undermine and neutralize his power over the party.
BusinessHallmark went around to seek views of Lagosians on what they thought would be the governor’s fate should he not be allowed to fly the ruling party’s flag.
While some said they were indifferent as, according to them, what is happening is simply politics, a vast majority expressed shock that anyone would contemplate replacing the governor, who according to them, has done well, just as they vowed to vote for the governor even if he is eventually forced to run on another party’s platform.
“I am in shock, and I can tell you everyone I know is in shock,” said Mr. Idris Taiwo, a building engineer based in Berger area of the state. “I was discussing it (the plan to remove Ambode) with my friends yesterday and I can tell you, they are all very angry and insisted that they will vote for him even if he is no longer in APC.
“Ambode has done well. He should be allowed to complete his eight years. It is only fair. And there can’t be any other reason beyond selfish interest for anyone wanting him out. He should be allowed to continue,” he concluded.
Another resident, Mr. Lawal Sodeeq, a graphics designer suggested that the news might be just a ploy by Tinubu and the APC to gauge the opinions of Lagosians, but said if there was really any plan to stop the governor, he could count on his vote in whatever party he decides to run.
“It could be their style of politics,” Lawal said. “Remember the same thing happened during the (Babatunde) Fashola administration, so, this one may not be an exception.
“What triggered this in my opinion is that it is likely APC as a party wants to assess people’s opinions to weigh the chances they stand in the preparation of the forthcoming election. Strategically, it is a form of appraisal to assess Ambode’s popularity among the masses. Remember, Tinubu is a political mathematician.
He noted nonetheless that, “Even if Ambode contests on the platform of PDP, he already has my vote.”
Miss Ese Amadin is a banker who says she has little interest in politics, but insists regardless that Governor Ambode is doing well for the state and it will only be fair to reward him with a second term.
“He (Ambode) has tried. He is building roads, bridges and flyovers here and there,” she said. “I feel he should be allowed to go for another term and yes, he will have my vote.”
Mr. Yusuf Mohammed, a journalist asserts that the plot could be a ploy by Tinubu to negotiate a deal with Ambode, as he would not want to think that the former would be unreasonable enough to change Ambode at this stage.
“I think he is trying to renegotiate with Ambode,” he said. “I don’t think Tinubu would be that unreasonable enough to change Ambode at this point. “I remember he tried something similar with Fashola in 2011″
His view is also shared by Lagos Publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Taofic Gani who told BusinessHallmark that the development could very well be a political gimmick.
“The APC here is so organized politically that they have different political gimmick,” said Mr. Gani, whose party is reportedly trying to field billionaire business man, Femi Otedola as its candidate. “They can make you look the other way in so many ways. I’m not going to be distracted by any infighting amongst them. As far as we are concerned, we are going to roll out our campaign strategy in a different way when the campaign starts proper.
He admitted nonetheless that the ruling party is having intractable crisis. “However, it’s obvious that the acrimony in the APC has snowballed into a situation where they will not be able to get it right anymore. But as far as we are concerned, we are going to work with what we have, not relying on their mistakes.”
For IT expert, Mr. Richard Adeolu, it matters little which way it goes. But according to him, if Tinubu is actually planning to replace Ambode, he should be wary because it could backfire.
“I’m indifferent really. If Tinubu stops Ambode, he better have a ready plot to win Lagos, because the move may backfire,” he said. “This is politics. It doesn’t matter what you have done or you are doing. It’s about the party and power blocs.”
Mr. Omeje Adolph, a business man based in Oyingbo area of the state also concludes that it’s all about interests and power play. “Precisely, what is happening now is just power play. If you do me, I do you scenario. A conflict of interest,” Omeje said.
“Once news of this sort crop up, one can justifiably say, ‘there is a question of disloyalty to the dictate of the political godfather.’ Ambode was next to none as of 2015 election, because he was a loyal servant,” he noted.
“But having got what he aspired for he may have felt a free being, and would like to take decisions that sometimes might to some extent be in conflict with the interest of the his boss.”
Last week, 57 council chairmen loyal to Tinubu reportedly met and pledged their support for Sanwo-olu who previously served as Commissioner for Establishments and Training and is said to be Tinubu’s preferred candidate.
This was even so as Cardinal James Odunmbaku, popularly called “Baba Eto,” a popular APC chieftain in the state and an ally of Tinubu had declared at a meeting with the party’s stakeholders last week that, “By the grace of God, “Hon. Babajide sanwo-olu is the incoming governor of Lagos.”
BusinessHallmark had previously reported that Ambode had incurred the anger of several political stakeholders in the state, including Odunmbaku, with his policies.
The governor had for instance, stripped Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), run by Odunmbaku, the responsibility of waste disposal in the state and subsequently handed the responsibility to a Dubai based company, Visionscape.
The governor has also been accused of forming his own political structure to rival that of Tinubu in the state.
Although Ambode had, while addressing members of the ruling party in Epe, during the election of delegates for the presidential primary and national convention of the APC, on Wednesday, said there was “no fight” between him and Tinubu, as according to him, “The National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and my good self are not in any fight, we are not in any controversy,” a member of the party and ally of Tinubu told our correspondent that there is indeed plot to stop the governor.
“My ears are on the ground,” the party source said. “The Maga (Ambode) has made too many enemies for himself. And also want to form his own caucus.”
The governor is also being threatened with impeachment by the state House of Assembly controlled largely by Tinubu following his decision to pick APC’s nomination form on Monday, sources said.
Ambode had, after picking the ruling party’s nomination form on Monday, told party faithful in Alausa to join him to build a prosperous state driven by a vibrant economy, equity and justice.
“In these three and a half years as your governor, I have seen visible proof that we can achieve unbelievable things when we all come together with no more than our belief in our dreams.
“But there is still a lot more to be done and I am not tired. I am sure you feel the same way because we all envision a better Lagos of our dreams.
“So, I humbly call you again to give me your support as I seek to continue with your mandate to steer the affairs of our state; let us achieve more,” Ambode said.
Meanwhile, Sanwo-olu had, while addressing journalists at the National Secretariat of the APC on Wednesday after submitting his nomination form, said his participation was about the Lagos of his dream and not due to the endorsement of party leader, Bola Tinubu.
“There is no doubt that things would be said here and there. A man that is standing in front of you – a fully grown man with several years of experience – cannot take this decision lightly. Like I said, it is about the Lagos of our dream, it is about the Lagos we want to take to the next level,” he said.
“I think it has nothing to do with our leader and there is no denial that he’s our national leader. And he takes back position not only in the state but in the national and you know he has interest in the well-being and improvement in Nigeria’s dream.”
Also in what is increasingly becoming a complicated governorship race Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, the erstwhile Commissioner for Works whom Tinubu had allegedly favoured to succeed Fashola in 2015, but was compelled to drop for Ambode following the insistence of Christian leaders in the state that one of them should emerge in 2015, has also joined the race making the situation more confusing.
Obafemi is the son of Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat who founded the Justice Forum, which provided the political structure for Tinubu’s emergence in the lead up to 1999 election that brought him to power, and as a reward, Tinubu allegedly wanted to make his son, Olatunji governor.
However, as Christian leaders kicked, Tinubu opted for Ambode who had, allegedly, as Accountant General of the State under Fashola, handed Tinubu cheques of local governments funds owed the state by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, but released by Goodluck Jonathan, instead of Fashola who was governor.
The action was said to have triggered severe conflict between Fashola and Ambode, leading to the latter’s resignation. And Tinubu promised to reward him subsequently.