Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.

By PRINCE EMEKA OBASI 

Over a year before the end of his tenure, I began to worry about the future of Akinwunmi Ambode’s Lagos especially with regards to the harmony of its multiple ethnic communities. I had never met Gov. Ambode or even interacted with him in any capacity. As an original Omo-Eko myself, he was a total stranger to me. Obviously, that must have been as a result of his earlier career as a civil servant. Civil servants are usually not regular players on the socio-political eco system where reporters often ply their wares. In that regards, he was very different from his two predecessors; Bola Tinubu and Raji Fashola, with whom I had cultivated relationships of varying degrees. Nevertheless, I took due notice of Ambode during the campaigns for the governorship election, carefully noting his sartorial elegance and impressive good looks.

As an Igbo who has made Lagos home, I was deeply alarmed by the polarization of the election campaigns in 2014/2015. I found the strategy of introducing ethnic logic in the governorship campaigns, particularly irritating. Trying to play the Igbo against the Yoruba every election cycle in Lagos was a cheap tactic with very dangerous consequences. I could never understand why the PDP would insist on such reprehensive strategy in spite of its obvious challenges. It has never worked, and in fact should never do! Candidates for electoral offices should campaign on the strength of their vision and the manifesto of their political parties. This is my position and will remain so. Those who resort to extraneous logic are often bereft of worthy ideas to promote their candidacy. The 2015 electoral cycle was the high-water mark in the ugly politics of ethnicity in Lagos. The PDP flaunted its strong Igbo support base thereby forcing the APC to become increasingly insular. Then the respected Oba of Lagos chose the perfect moment to raise the stakes by pouring gallons of gasoline into the raging inferno with his infamous statement, to wit, “if anyone of you (Igbo), I swear in the name of God, goes against my wish that [APC candidate] Ambode will be the next governor of Lagos state, the person is going to die inside this water.”

Predictably, the statement offset a volcanic eruption and for a while, the danger of ethnic warfare became a real possibility. I was deeply alarmed. Luckily for everyone, wise counsel prevailed and the atomic bomb didn’t go off after all. From my innocuous position as an eye witness to history and in observing Gov. Ambode, I strongly felt that he never fully came to terms with the opposition of some Igbos to his election. I may not be able to cite any empirical evidence to validate this position but of course there was the issue of the token Igbo position in the Lagos state Executive council, which had existed for over twelve years dating back to Bola Tinubu. The latter had made the commitment to a select group of Igbo business men and leaders at a private meeting he had with them in Lagos in the heady days leading to the 2003 governorship elections. The meeting which was hosted by business mogul Chief Emma Bishop Okonkwo, was held in the home of Orange Drugs Chairman, Chief Tony Ezenna. I was one of those invited to that meeting. Bola Tinubu was under intense pressure against a surging PDP scorched earth campaign to over- run the entire S/West. In desperation, he reached out to the Igbo big wigs who subsequently pledged to support him. Among the promises he made that night were to ensure a favorable environment for trade and business to flourish and bring the Igbo into the Lagos State Executive council. It is to his eternal credit that he made good on those promises. Most remarkably, Gov. Fashola also maintained the tradition. But when he assumed office as governor, Ambode broke faith with that tradition and thus, for the first time in over a decade, no Igbo served on the Lagos State Executive Council.

There were other worrying signals which disturbed me. I had also noticed a growing climate of intolerance in inter-ethnic relations, with a lot of it deriving from the polarization of the general elections. It was even more alarming among the body of Christ, the born again Christian community. Most shockingly, within my Redeemed Christian Church, opinions especially on socio-political issues were developing along acerbic ethnic lines. An ethnic baiting atmosphere reminiscent of Rwanda was growing. Perhaps, unknown to many, the Christian Church in Rwanda was an active participant in the Tutsi pogrom. Roman Catholic priests, sisters and nuns freely engaged in the orgy of arson, murder and general bloodletting. Given the position many of my hitherto brethren were adopting, the omens were foreboding.

Apparently, the Nigerian born again Christian has worked out a comfortable formula of how to be irredentist and yet remain born again. As far as some of them are concerned, they could remain truly born again while discriminating and even hating other people who are of a different ethnic origin. I became increasingly worried, especially as I observed Ambode’s body language to the Igbo. I was worried that if the 2015 scenario was repeated in 2019, with the Igbo not supporting his re- election bid, the situation might deteriorate further. I therefore decided to act decisively by setting up a political action platform to mobilize support for him among the Igbo. I mooted the idea to a very highly placed official of his administration who welcomed the proposal but advised me to wait until after the governorship primaries.

If I were more politically intuitive, I would have surmised at that point that the APC High Command in the state was cold towards his reelection. But of course I wasn’t and so I didn’t heed the advice. I went ahead to set up the structure and started mobilizing support among the Igbo across the entire state for his re-election. Mind you, I had never met Ambode or even spoken with him. But I am not sure that any of the Igbo political activists who used to congregate in my house every week ever believed that, or ever will! Many of them assumed that Ambode had given me millions to muster support for him. But we made steady progress until thunder struck and he lost the nomination battle.

However, with the progress we had made already, it was easy to redirect our efforts to Gov. Babajide Sanwolu as soon as he emerged. Our members were in the driving wheel of the endorsements by the Ohaneze Lagos and other Igbo groups. Our task was simply to ensure that Igbos in Lagos would be counted among the support structure of the APC governorship candidate in order to facilitate greater harmony in the state. I am pleased that our modest efforts yielded success. It is now incumbent on Gov. Sanwolu to govern Lagos without the sentimental hang-ups which hobbled his predecessor.

Lagos is a unique state. It is Africa’s leading cosmopolitan city state. Its future lies in following the path of modernity and pursuing inclusive policies. It is not Akure, Abeokuta or even Ibadan. And certainly, it cannot be Owerri, Uyo or Umuahia. Try as much as it can, Kaduna cannot be like Lagos. This is a special city and state. It is organically Yoruba, but practically Nigerian, pan-African and global. It represents some of the best attributes of the Nigerian possibility. Its main success lies in its openness, warmth and freedom. It has become a real home to many and should remain so. All my children who were not born abroad were born in Lagos and see Lagos as home, like many generations of Lagosians before them. They should be allowed to continue in this regard. Gov. Sanwolu should stridently resist the easy temptation to make Lagos the ‘new capital of the Yoruba nation.’ Such efforts will be counter-productive and diminish the brand equity of this magnificent state of aquatic splendour.

The sad reality is that if anything happens to this awesome mosaic, then we should all kiss goodbye to the idea of one Nigeria. The consequences will be utterly cataclysmic. The road ahead is challenging and even treacherous. As the Nigerian population continues to soar and the economy worsens, social tensions are bound to rise. The lesson of history is that when such situation occurs, conflicts tend to develop along fault lines. In Nigeria, ethnic and religious divides are the traditional fault lines. They constitute the big elephant in the shop. Informed commentators all over the world are already predicting violent upheavals in Nigeria within the foreseeable future. It behoves men and women of goodwill to work against such a frightening eventuality. Lagos should not be the linchpin of such a frightening scenario. Instead, it should remain the bastion of freedom, openness, free enterprise and a beacon of excellence. That is the path Gov. Sanwolu should follow; it is the path of statesmanship and true greatness. He should never heed the pressure of little-minded individuals, losers who can only excel by peddling discrimination and ethnic bigotry. It does not matter whether they are in the Church, Mosque or Palace. If he does this; if he insists on keeping Lagos true to the dreams and aspirations of its founding fathers, his success will be unrivalled and I will continue to mobilize support for him from my little corner.

The Presidency with Prince Emeka Obasi: [email protected]

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