For several months, permutations had pervaded the political space over Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s next move towards his re-election ambition. Rumors were rife that the relationship between the Lagos State governor and his godfather, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, may have hit the rocks.
Recently, the online media space was awash with reports that Governor Ambode was planning to dump the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to prosecute his second term ambition on account of the alleged irreconcilable differences between him and Tinubu, who is the national leader of APC.
The rumours were, however, quickly rebutted on behalf of the governor by Ahmad Bashir, President Muhammadu Buhari’s personal assistant on New Media. Ambode, at the time, was on the president’s delegation to China. He described the report as false.
In a tweet, Bashir wrote: “I told Gov. @AkinwunmiAmbode of Lagos State that @LeadersNG and some other media platforms have been spreading fake news that he’s planning to leave the APC, he smiled and said, Bashir if they don’t know, tell them I am here in Beijing in President @MBuhari’s entourage.”
But when on Monday, September 10, 2018, the news broke that Ambode had eventually picked the governorship form, many observers thought that whatever differences he had with Tinubu must have been laid to rest. There were fair comments and feeling of reassurance among the lovers of the governor.
By the next day, however, a new development surfaced. It emerged that Ambode’s quest to be re-elected as governor was being threatened as the chairmen of the 20 local government areas and 37 development areas loyal to Tinubu, under the aegis of Mandate Group, met in a hotel somewhere in Ikeja and pledged their support for Jide Sanyaolu Sanwonolu, current managing director of Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSPDC), who is alleged to be Tinubu’s preferred choice.
The council chairmen are the most influential grassroots mobilisers under the direct primary system adopted by APC to pick governorship candidates.
Another aspirant, Obafemi Hamzat, a former commissioner for works in the Babatunde Fashola administration, was also said to have picked a nomination form by proxy.
At a meeting held after he picked up his nomination form, James Odunmbaku, an ally of Tinubu known as “Baba Eto” in the political circles, declared that “Sanwololu is the incoming governor of Lagos”.
Observers have noted that the implication of changing Ambode just after a term could be telling on the state.
Anthony Alli, a resident and civil engineer by training, said such an arrangement could distort the initiatives the Ambode administration has rolled out for Lagos.
“If you move around Lagos you will see the massive infrastructural projects going on, particularly in the government’s quest to transform the face of transportation in Lagos State. I am not surprised that he is facing stiff opposition because there may be those whose interests may have been negatively affected by the re-engineering work of the governor. It is unusual to have a swelling opposition, as we see it, against a sitting governor. Remember that former Governor Babatunde Fashola had a similar problem, but with very slight difference. In Fashola’s case, it was only Tinubu that initially put a resistance. At that time, if you recall, Fashola had stolen the hearts of people with his sterling performance that even those who were trying to deny him a return ticket were jittery that he could decamp to another party and win on that platform.
“I am not very sure that the scenario is the same in the current situation. Although there are massive constructions going on in the state, some faulty decisions that were considered anti-people appeared to have created some problems for the governor. But common sense should tell those behind the plan to deny him a second term that it would take the state many years to recover from the dislocation such action would engender,” Alli said.
He further condemned the alleged complaint that Ambode refused to share money or the usual political patronage to some leaders of the party, saying that Nigeria must outgrow such primordial way of life.
“How do you expect a governor to be sharing money to every Tom, Dick and Harry? These are some of the things that have held back the progress of this country. Monies accruing to the state coffers are for projects that benefit everyone; it is only if you did not see any project on ground to justify the inflows that you should question where the monies are going, not when everyone can see massive works going on all over the place,” Alli further said.
An analyst, who asked not to be named, expressed surprise that Ambode could suffer such abandonment, going by his political trajectory. The pundit said he least expected that Tinubu could turn his back against Ambode for any reason.
“We all knew how Ambode emerged governor of Lagos State in 2015. Here is a man who left the Fashola government unceremoniously; then he was sent to Harvard by Tinubu for further studies. Upon his return, Tinubu insisted he was going to succeed Fashola. He has been with Tinubu all his life and owes his achievements in politics, wholly, to the godfather. It may be difficult to say exactly what the problem is. It goes to confirm the saying that politics is about permanent interest. But I think it would be in the overall interest of the people and the state itself for Tinubu to forgive and forget, and allow Ambode to do another term, to enable him complete the projects at hand,” the analyst said.
Some sources who claimed to know the goings on at the seat of power in the Government House, Alausa, claim that the Oba of Lagos, Oba Akiolu, had reconciled Tinubu and Ambode. They had also said that the governor stepped on big toes by not “allowing the largesse to flow down to some power brokers in the state”, hence the decision not to allow him to do a second term.
“If you look at Asiwaju’s style in Lagos, he makes sure that his followers are taken good care of. He does not ‘chop’ alone. There are those who have been with him for so many years and have been surviving on political patronage. Many of them are not working; they are always present at every party function and they are usually being taken good care of. This has been the practice. Now, they allege that Ambode is no longer sustaining that practice even though the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR) has tremendously increased,” a close source in the state government told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity.
Another observer said he believed the problem was more than just Ambode’s inability to carry stakeholders to along.
“I heard that it is about clash of interests between Tinubu and Ambode. There is actually no permanent friend or foe in politics but permanent interest. Even Siamese twins can kill each other over politics. It is a volatile game. We saw how Bukola Saraki, Senate president, wrestled his father to point of standstill and whittled down the old man’s power base, and he never recovered from it till he died,” he said.
“But the question is, must governance shut down because of patronage? To what extent should politicians take care of their godfathers and other cronies against service to the people? Nigeria is entering the era of conscience. People are beginning to ask questions unlike in the past when they were blind followers. It is now clearly a fight between what is right and wrong,” an analyst said.
“If Ambode should leave APC today for another party, that may probably be the ticket or his campaign thrust that he was denied ticket because he wanted to protect the interest of the people,” he further said.