by Dare Lawal
Since Wednesday, February 18th, President Goodluck Jonathan has basically set up camp in the South West zone, spending four nights at the State House in Marina, Lagos.
In terms of official work done, there have been three major highlights from his visit so far – the commissioning of four warships procured for the Nigerian Navy on Thursday; the commissioning of the 750MW Olorunsogo Phase II Power station on Friday and the re-commissioning of the rehabilitated Egbin Thermal Plant on Saturday.
But from the moment he set foot in Lagos, it was clear that the president intended to mix those official duties with a serious dose of political campaigning, as he prepares for the poll which comes up in five weeks.
Perhaps to underscore the relevance of Lagos and the South West to his electoral chances, President Jonathan decided to spend over four days in Lagos, more time than he has spent consecutively in any zone since the start of the campaign season.
So far, President Jonathan has hosted at least 15 different groups in Lagos and Ogun states as more Nigerians declare support for his candidacy. Some groups that have paid solidarity visits to him include the Yoruba Council of Elders; New Generation Group which is affiliated to the PDP governorship candidate in Lagos state, Jimi Agbaje; South West market women and leaders; and the Ogun state council of traditional rulers. Others include the Oodua Cooperative Alliance, Igbo market leaders in Lagos state, Igbo leaders and elders in Lagos, the Arewa community in Lagos and Ogun, the Igala community in Lagos and Ogun, and Islamic clerics and scholars from the South West.
For most of the visiting groups, Jonathan’s pitch was simple: Lagos is currently under bondage, and Lagosians need to ensure the PDP’s victory at the polls in order to be free from oppression.
One of the president’s campaign strategist, Mr. Segun Awosanya, who spoke with The Scoop, said that even though the president’s visit to the South West is not all about campaigning, it will definitely boost the party’s chances in the region. He condemned those who were seeing the visit simply in terms of it being a show of might against the APC.
“As president of the country, Jonathan can choose to be anywhere he pleases. It is not a show of might. But the APC, being founded on falsehood believe a lot of phantasmagoria. They are afraid that we are here to destroy their propaganda; afraid that their campaign has hit a pause; that their candidate is absent and they are shaking over the presence of the president,” he said.
Similarly, a member of the policy team of the PDP presidential campaign who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the president chose to spend this much time in Lagos to prove a point to the opposition that he intends to win the state and the entire South West as convincingly as he did during the 2011 elections.
She said: “It’s the South West that will determine this election, whether anybody likes it or not. We need to shake Lagos. We need to take over the streets of Lagos. It’s the main way that we will make up for the votes that might come out of Kano for the opposition.”
In a reaction, the All Progressives Congress in Lagos state dismissed claims of any perceived advantage for the PDP. Publicity secretary of the party in Lagos, Joe Igbokwe, said that the president’s visit will have no effect because “Nigerians know that he has failed already. He can go anywhere he likes, but he has lost this election already.”
Gambo Manzo, a former APC ward councilor in Apapa local government area of Lagos who now works in the backroom team of the APC vice presidential candidate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, also dismissed Jonathan’s visit. “It does not worry us at all,” he said. According to Manzo, the president is simply trying to counter the hard work which Osinbajo has already done in Lagos and other states in the South West. He however believed that Jonathan’s strategy would not work because unlike “Osinbajo who went out to meet and feel the people, Pres. Jonathan simply invited people to come and meet him in his house.”
President Jonathan is expected to return to Abuja on Sunday.