By Akeem Soboyede
It’s really mind-boggling, so to speak, this entire Akinwunmi Ambode business. The guy with the dubious distinction of being the first sitting governor in Nigeria to know he would not be returning to the Office more than seven months before the end of his first term in that Office now gallivants all over the place, even “palling” in public—all smiles—with his seemingly-inevitable successor in that Office, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
It’s a strange thing, this Politics of God-fatherism in Nigeria’s most populated state, Lagos. Just two weeks ago, Ambode let the whole world know he was throwing down the gauntlet and would do anything to secure, even grab, the nod from Jagaban Bola Ahmed Tinubu to return to Office come May next year for an assured second term as governor of Lagos. He had good reason to entertain such an aspiration, by all accounts, given what is considered Ambode’s achievements during his present first term in Office. No less a personality than the present Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo—himself no stranger to Lagos politics—made that point only a few days ago.
Ambode also appeared determined to back up his aspiration with action. He called a strangely-styled “world press conference”, where he huffed and puffed and then let loose on the alleged criminal tendencies of Sanwo-Olu, his erstwhile godfather’s newly-anointed godson. Sanwo-Olu, puffed Ambode, had been in trouble some years past for spending fake dollars in—where else?—the United States of America. Ambode was not done: he also alerted the world to Sanwo-Olu’s alleged psychiatric records at Gbagada General Hospital, where he alleged the incoming governor of Lagos State (barring any last-minute surprise named “Agbaje”!) had undergone extensive rehabilitation for certain psychiatric ailments.
Then, barely three days and one seemingly-inconclusive Lagos APC primary election later, Ambode dropped his “resistance” with a whimper through a startling press release, conceding his status—not to mention disgrace—as a rare one-term governor of Lagos State under the current democratic dispensation.. Not only this, Ambode literally went on his knees in the same release (not what you think!) and swore continued, if not eternal, fealty and loyalty to the unquestioned godfather of Lagos politics, the ultimate “Baba Sope“, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu.
Outgoing governor Ambode’s swift about-turn on the issue of his second term in Office surprised me, but not completely. I had interpreted his initial show of umbrage at the emergence of Sanwo-Olu as heir-apparent to the governorship of Lagos as that of a strong-headed minion suddenly realizing that a gilded rug had ultimately been pulled from under his feet—but not completely unexpectedly. Tales had circulated for months, on and off the Internet, that the man whose voice mattered most in Lagos politics was not exactly happy with Ambode, the brilliant civil servant who realized at great cost to his ego and personal history that he was one clueless captain in the slippery seas of Nigerian politics.
I was also not quite surprised to read that not being a “good party man” was one of the reasons adduced for Ambode not receiving the nod for a second term in Office; often, that term is an euphemism for an administrator, no matter how well-performing, who is blissfully unaware that the “party” neither starts nor ends with his performance in office, not to mention visibility in the media. How could Ambode not know that ending the PSP arrangement for waste disposal in Lagos, as he unwisely did, meant the legendary “Jeun Soke” political credo that sustained his erstwhile godfather’s hold on Lagos politics was at great risk? He ought to have known that sacrificing this great pillar of the “Jeun Soke” political philosophy inevitably risked a revolt against the APC party leadership, by local grassroots leaders of the party.
But witnessing Ambode’s penance in recent days, starting from his press release that dripped with penance—not to mention his later “hug-fest” and festival of smiles at the recent APC National Convention in Abuja—only further raised to the stratosphere the profile of the godfather that felled Ambode with a loud thud, and whose continued dominance of Lagos politics is certainly assured for the forseeable future (and, once again, barring any surprise named “Agbaje”).
I have met Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in person twice, once in Maryland, the United States, in 2009, in a setting that could be described as pretty informal and the next time later that year at his Bourdillon residence in Ikoyi, Lagos—in the very early hours of the morning, I should add (such is the life of uber-busy and relevant Nigerian politicians like Asiwaju). I’ll admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that on both occasions when I met the Jagaban, I had hoped the dividends of democracy the likes of myself had fought for as a Nigerian journalist who practiced actively there during the Babangida and Abacha dictatorships would flow my way in the form of a political appointment or even a recommendation in that regard to others capable of making that quest a reality. While none such opportunity materialized, I have never held the astute political strategist responsible for this. Instead, I have marvelled over the years at the contrasts between Tinubu’s actual physical stature (short and probably weighs far less than 150 pounds) and the towering and overwhelming reality of his influence and stature in the politics of Nigeria’s most populous and influential state, not to mention Nigeria. Like it or not there likely would have been no Buhari Presidency without Tinubu placing an early—and strategic—bet on that possibility prior to the elections of 2015.
Still, one’s admiration of the Asiwaju’s masterful political moves ought to incorporate certain rationalizations spurred by cold,hard facts. Even up till the moment he finally bit the dust at the Jagaban’s imperious feet, almost everyone acknowledged Ambode’s achievements as Lagos State governor were nothing to sneer at, and were destined to stand the test of time, especially in the area of infrastructural delivery.. Ignoring “Jeun Soke” or not, how come Ambode has now ended up as likely the only one-term incumbent governor in Nigeria at this time who already knows his successor (and once again, barring any…)? No one is also likely to ever forget the reported admonitions of another Jagaban acolyte, Vice President Osinbajo, that it would be beyond unfair and asinine to cast someone like Ambode into the winds at this time, when the litmus test for any astute administrator is service-delivery to a large segment of the populace, not just to political operatives capable of showing up and conjuring up much-needed votes at every election cycle.
It now follows that the emergence of Sanwo-Olu to literally complete Ambode’s tenure in Office (and, once again, barring…) is being viewed in certain quarters as only the further consolidation of the Tinubu empire and exchequer in Lagos, not necessarily a change engineered to raise Lagos to greater heights (presence of a “blueprint” or not) and deliver the dividends of democracy to a majority of its populace. In other words, once he gets into Office next year, the fear is that Sanwo-Olu will have to quickly transform himself into a: “Sanwo-Tinubu”!