Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.


For many political watchers out there, one factor (outside of the will of God) made it possible for incumbent Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to get into office: the endorsement, help and support of the strongman of Lagos politics, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Since coming into office, however, a combination of events, of which the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest and perhaps the most tangential, have since conspired to push out the salient strengths possessed by the incumbent Governor and also helped to further expose for all to see, the broader foundations and depths that undergird Nigeria’s flagship state.

And the verdict quite plainly is all too evident for all to see: The Lagos trajectory and the Sanwo-Olu phenomenon need to be even more carefully dissected to get a firmer handle on things.

Historical footnotes

While there are copious accounts as to the origins and chronology of the developments that have helped to shape the city-state of Lagos, our choice of take-off point for our purpose here would be limited to the negotiations and politics, around and leading to the British declaration of Lagos in 1861 as its West African colony. This is because it is just before and after that event that both the economic, political and social life of the city-state began to take the shape that it has now come to have and sustain.

Again, underscoring Lagos’ place as one of the foremost centres of social and political exploration in the evolving modern space that has now come to crystallize into the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it was at the turn of the century already becoming established as a veritable centre of commerce, trade, media, politics and elite activity. Making it the capital of the amalgamated component protectorates after 1914 was, therefore, the logical outgrowth of this positioning.

Also underscoring the fact that a leadership status of sorts had at this point comes almost natural to the Lagos city-state, even the relocation of the formal political capital of the federation to Abuja in 1991 has not completely dampened too much of Lagos’s shine: it still leads in many ways than one, including most notably in the areas of politics, culture and trends.

It is within this framework then that the contest for the governorship of Lagos after the demise of the dictator, General Sani Abacha was very severely fought in 1998. With Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s emergence as governor in 1999, conscious steps were subsequently to be taken to firmly re-establish Lagos as a major centre in Nigerian national life. Among others, the Tinubu administration focused on raising the Internally Generated Revenue bar and did quite well in that regard such that when he was embroiled in a bruising political tiff with the Obasanjo presidency, Lagos was able to continue picking its bills fairly conveniently.

Building on that and the political miscalculations and misfortunes of the political opposition in the state, the Tinubu camp has over the years been able to expand its ‘stranglehold’ over this proud and hitherto most independent city-state and even leveraging on this to make a broader pitch for relevance in the extended South-West geopolitical arena. It is also part of the background capital with which Tinubu led his Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN co-travellers into the alliance with the Muhammadu Buhari-led CPC, the ANPP and several other political interests that was to ultimately result in the emergence of the All Progressives Congress, APC and the easing of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP from its erstwhile dominant position on the Nigerian political arena.

Dominating Lagos

In Lagos itself, this has seen the Tinubu camp being associated with governance in the past 12 years and counting since he completed his two terms in office as elected governor. Succeeded by Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN (who also served for two terms), and Akinwunmi Ambode (who was frontally denied a chance to get a second term) and now Babajide Sanwoolu, the Tinubu camp’s hold on the Lagos political firmament has since come to be established.

A culture of false starts

While Fashola did excellently well from the onset and soon established himself into the hearts of many a Lagosian from the get-go, Ambode and Sanwo-Olu have had a somewhat more bumpy beginning.

For Sanwo-Olu in particular, the fallouts of the bruising campaigns he had fought, disagreements over the environmental sanitation model he had inherited from his predecessor, a tardily executed attempt to probe his predecessor, defining how to play with his human benefactor, Tinubu and the handling of legacy state contracts that he was now inheriting were quite blinding in his early months of office.

This was then compounded by the spate of heavy rains in the city which further depressed the city’s road network and exponentially compounded its historically choking traffic challenges. The governor was panting for breath and as Lagosians soon began to remark quite caustically, he had ‘merely resigned himself to pointing at the problems!’

To his credit, however, the end of the rains and the turn into the year 2020 brought to the fore a more active Governor Sanwo-Olu, with several of his critics beginning to back off and take notice of the new burst of energy with which he was beginning to tackle most notably, the bad roads situation. And then he pushed the ante some more with the okada and Keke ban policy which by its abruptness and initially sloppy logistics, drew considerable ire from the urban poor who were seriously exposed to the vagaries of the consequent spike in public transport costs. This was, however, to be slightly mitigated by fresh facts that subsequently filtered into the public domain that enhanced city security was indeed the first factor in the enunciation of the policy.

Paradoxically, however, Sanwo-Olu’s finest hour may have come on account of his more-than-average handling of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While there have once again been logistical implementation gaffes as the distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable through political structures and the untoward judicial bullying of actress Funke Akindele on account of her ill-advised birthday party event, the state’s ensuring that its legislature gave formal assent to its COVID-19 emergency intervention programme and the regular direct engagement of the governor with the people at this point of the crisis have helped to establish Sanwo-Olu as a quite enlightened modern leader equipped with the necessary accoutrements of sound emotional intelligence. Equally helpful is the political intelligence that culminated in the dropping of charges earlier proffered against the popular, though misdirected grassroots icon, Naira Marley, and one of his very possible contenders in the battle for Lagos House in the 2023 Governorship race, B.O.G Gbadamosi. Dif the Holy Bible did not say ‘Wisdom is profitable to direct all things?’

Asked to access the governor’s performance this far, and notably in the light of his management of the COVID-19 crisis, the analyst and commentator, Waheed Alade says:

‘Sanwo-Olu has performed quite well. It can be said that he has surpassed initial expectations. Lagos has become the model for other states and even the Federal Government. However, the problems with food palliatives distribution about the COVID 19 crisis are quite disconcerting.’

Another commentator, Kenneth Opara is equally upbeat about Sanwo-Olu’s performance in the COVID-19 theatre:

‘I will score him as much as 80 per cent in the COVID-19 fight. Given the circumstances, he has provided quite appreciable leadership. But I am yet to be fully impressed as to his handling of other areas of governance.’

In addition to whatever individual strengths, Sanwo Olu may possess, some commentators say that one of the most critical factors that every Lagos governor has to contend with ultimately is the fact that as Nigeria’s centre of elite activism, the city puts leaders on their toes. And there are copious instances in its history.

Frederick Lugard after being stridently harassed by the Lagos Press is on record as having written to the Colonial Office in London seeking leave to relocate the capital of Nigeria to Kaduna. Former military administrator, Raji Rasaki was put on the spot over the Maroko demolition. Lagos was the hotbed of the June 12 movement and NADECO. Tinubu as governor was heavily censured by the stormy petrel, Gani Fawehinmi over his ‘Chicago certificates.’ Fashola was called out over the Lekki Toll Gate. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was stridently censured in Lagos during the #OccupyNigeria protests. Former Governor Ambode was harassed on account of his demolition of Otodo Gbame. Indeed the critical temper of Lagos is so well defined that we can paraphrase that old saying in explaining it, somewhat: ‘Lagosians do not suffer fools gladly.’ Eko oni baje o.


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