By OBINNA EZUGWU
I understand the arguments against Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State, ahead of Saturday’s governorship election. Lagos is not that world class mega city it ought to be. It has the resources to do much better, but it is held down by an overbearing godfather. The harassment by touts is intolerable. These are valid points, which I share, too. And there is merit in the assertion that the governor can do better. No doubt, there is always room for improvement, and I’m convinced that even Sanwo-Olu’s ardent supporters will agree that maybe he ought to have done one or two things differently.
But is there a perfect administration anywhere? No. Has Sanwo-Olu performed worse than his counterparts in other states? No. Has he done enough to earn a second term? Yes, in my own estimation. Has he earned the support of Ndigbo going into Saturday? Yes, definitely.
I understand the logic behind the support for Peter Obi and Labour Party, even if many mischievously attribute it to ethnicity and religion. The underwhelming performance of the Muhammadu Buhari administration has caused mass disillusionment, particularly among the youths. The need for a radical departure from the ruinous politics of the present is a crying one. And like many, I believe that Obi is the best man for the job in Abuja at this point.
Obi did very well as governor of Anambra. Most importantly, he demonstrated rare probity and accountability in governance. The several awards he received on account of his performance as governor, even without paying the organisers ‘shishi’ is testament. If I had my PVC, I’d have voted for him on February 25. But now that the presidential election is over, and Obi is in court challenging the outcome, it’s time for more strategic thinking.
While I believe that the support for Obi makes sense, I think that stretching the argument beyond him, to attempt to use the Obidient movement to change government in Lagos, is going too far. Perhaps there would be such a day when the need to change the ruling establishment in the state becomes absolutely necessary. But when such a day comes, it should be the Yoruba; the owners of the land, who ought to be at the forefront, not anyone else; certainly not the Igbo.
Igbo people in Lagos have done very well. They have thrived, are still thriving. What should be of paramount importance to them is to have the space and the enabling environment to do their business. Sanwo-Olu has provided these as governor, and this should count above all else.
Yes, there is the frustration with touts, but touts harass the Igbo and Yoruba alike. It is not an Igbo specific problem. No challenge faced in Lagos is Igbo specific. On a good day, business owners don’t play opposition politics. But attempting to play opposition politics as a business owner in another man’s locality is hubris.
The rising ethnic tension in Lagos is worrisome, and every Igbo person should be concerned. I do not think it’s necessary, and we can all agree that the arguments fuelling it are totally unreasonable, if not utterly reprehensible.
But of course, what is happening is that the establishment is jittery and fighting back, after the showing of Labour Party on February 25. The tension is needless, but dangerous. And I encourage every Igbo to do the only sensible thing on Saturday, which is voting Sanwo-Olu or staying away altogether. To try to do anything contrary is to fight a war of blame. Voting out Sanwo-Olu is of no special benefit to the Igbo, but attempting to do so could cost them heavily. A wise shop owner won’t dare a man with a gallon of petrol and a matchstick to do his worst.
It therefore makes sense for proactive steps to be taken in the interest of harmony. It is not a question of right or wrong, it is a question of being pragmatic enough to understand that certain fights are needless, even if you are the one being provoked.
The governorship election features three leading candidates, all whom are Yoruba. Yes, there is the orchestrated attempt to tag the Labour Party candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivor as an “Igbo agenda,” through whom the Igbo want to take over Lagos. This is, of course, not new. We saw it play out during the days of Jimi Agbaje of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Yes, it is very illogical, but the Igbo response should not be emotional, it should be strategic. Which is partly why it is important to support Sanwo-Olu.
No doubt, many would be tempted to argue otherwise, but the obvious question is, do Ndigbo have a dog in the fight? None beyond the general desire to see a better Lagos. But who says there can’t be a better Lagos under Sanwo-Olu, or that Rhodes-Vivor can’t fail to perform as governor?
You could argue that yes, the Igbo have a stake and are justified in trying to rally behind a candidate they believe would do better as governor. But I have a problem with this logic because it has no basis in concrete facts. Perhaps more importantly, it tends to suggest that you have assumed the role of determining for others what or who is better for them without seeking their consent. In a settled democracy driven by ideology and overall societal interest, this push for the ideal would make perfect sense. But Nigeria is not a settled democracy, and group interests and group fears cannot be relegated to the background in the quest for ‘good governance,’ whatever that means.
Every Nigerian has a right to vote for any candidate of their choice in an election, and one could argue, correctly, that the Igbo reserve the right to vote for Rhodes-Vivor. But after all said and done, choices have consequences. Before taking a decision, it important to do a cost and effect analysis. What is the strategic interest of the Igbo in Lagos? It is simply a conducive atmosphere to do business. Has Sanwo-Olu provided this atmosphere? I’m convinced that he has. Do the Igbo have anything to lose by supporting Sanwo-Olu? Absolutely nothing. Do they have anything to gain specially from supporting his opponent? Absolutely nothing. But will supporting his opponent come at a cost? Obviously.
You see, I agree, easily, that the APC government in Lagos hasn’t managed its relationship with the Igbo community well, and maybe it’s not in its strategic interest to do so. But I also think that the Igbo have not played strategic politics in the state. Politics in Nigerian context is about interest. As business owners in Lagos, it is in the best interest of Ndigbo to be fully in support of the ruling establishment in the state. This has not been the case, and it is the reason each election cycle turns into an ethnic warfare.
But of course, the orchestrated argument that Ndigbo want to take over Lagos through Rhodes-Vivor flies on the face of logic. However, this is not a question of what is logical or what isn’t, it is a question of interest and narratives, and narratives are very powerful.
It was the narrative that the Jews, on account of their visible success in business, were the problem of Germany, that turned Adolf Hitler and his gang into murderous lunatics who wanted to exterminate the Jewish race. It was the narrative that the Tutsi were responsible for the assassination of a Hutu president, Juvénal Habyarimanasame, that led to the Rwandan genocide. It is important to pay attention to narratives, whether or not they are logical, and be pragmatic in responding to them.
Going into next Saturday’s governorship poll, the prevalent argument for opting for Rhodes-Vivor appears to be that Lagos needs to be freed from the grip of Tinubu, the country’s president-elect who has loomed large in the state for over two decades. But really? Did the Yoruba people say that they are unhappy with Tinubu being in charge of Lagos? It is not the Igbo who should ‘save Lagos from Tinubu.’ This, given the intricacies of Nigerian politics, would amount to being meddlesome. If the Yoruba or the indigenous people of Lagos are tired of Tinubu, they should be the ones to lead the fight against him.
The argument that Lagos is not well governed is contentious and weak. Of course, every single state in Nigeria is poorly governed, and this is true of the country itself.
I think that much of the energy should be spent on ensuring that competent people take leadership positions in the Southeast. If anything, the outcome of the presidential and national assembly elections have shown that the dubious political actors who have held the region hostage by perpetually manipulating the electoral process are now vulnerable.
Obviously, Lagos is not where it ought to be, but so is true of Nigeria, and every single state therein. The country can do much better than it is doing, and clearly the Obidient movement bears eloquent testimony to the fact that Nigerian youths are rising to demand for a better country. Peter Obi, who ran for president under a relatively unknown platform, swept many states, including Lagos. It’s a bold statement. But while most Lagosians, including the Yoruba opted for him in the presidential election, the reality is different for the governorship election.
Sanwo-Olu has sufficiently extended a hand of friendship to Ndigbo, and I advise that he be embraced in return. If I had my PVC, I’d have voted for him. He has done enough to win reelection, and I’m thoroughly confident that he will emerge victorious on Saturday.
This is not time to flex muscles or attempt to prove anything. It is time to be pragmatic and proactive; it is time to play politics with common sense, and my appeal to Ndigbo is that common sense is allowed to prevail.
Obinna Ezugwu can be reached via this email address, [email protected]