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Tunde Leye: The Battle For Who Becomes Next Lagos State Governor

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People have often accused me of being more critical of the APC government in Lagos than I am of the PDP government at the center. And that exactly is what it should be. All politics is local. Because I have lived most of my life in Lagos, work and pay my tax in Lagos, what happens in Lagos is of more interest to me than what happens in Abuja, same way what happens in Abuja is more important to me than what happens in Addis Ababa. This of course is not to say that Abuja is not important to me; it is a thing of degrees, and Lagos is definitely higher up for me than Abuja. Hence, I am keenly interested in the governorship race of Lagos State towards the 2015 Elections.

As a background, Lagos is the only state in the South West which has been in opposition hands since 1999. Being the economic capital of the country, this has proven strategically important. It is the only state which generates sufficient IGR to be independent of the federal government, and this was especially important when the PDP blitzkrieg swept through the region under Obasanjo. It was critical in providing the funding for the opposition fight back to wrest the South West back from the PDP and in the process, the former governor of Lagos, Bola Tinubu, who controlled those resources emerged as the foremost politician in the South West and in the opposition ACN. Most of the other opposition parties did not have this independent funding and hence they did not do as well as the ACN. With the merger of the opposition parties and the birth of the APC, the opposition was ready to play at the national stage. But the criticality of Lagos was still reinforced with the primacy of Tinubu at the APC convention. It is therefore extremely important to the APC that it retains Lagos in 2015.

But the signs cannot be more troubling for the APC. First, the South West is the one place where voters do not simply vote for you because you are their party. Ondo has shown this and Ekiti is a more recent reminder of this. Voters here will not simply line up and deliver bloc votes for your party.

Second, unlike 2011 where an immensely popular Fashola was running and had incumbency on his side, in 2015, APC will have to present a new candidate. Fashola is definitely not as popular as he was in 2011 and he unfortunately could not complete the Lagos Light rail project. Tejuosho is yet to be ready. Most of the very visible and landmark projects are simply not completed and this has affected the ability to use them as campaign tools. Normally, Tinubu manages the non-elite part of Lagos politics for Fashola. But with actions like appointing his daughter the Iyaloja General, following which Iponri market was closed, many of those market women are seething and wait for their opportunity to kick out those who imposed on them. Those in the Lekki-Epe axis also speak of the 2nd Toll Gate on the road. The sentiment is that the tolling is yet to start because of the elections and if APC wins in 2015, the tolling will start in earnest.

The greatest threat to the APC is however from within. Unlike 2011 when it was a no brainer that Fashola would emerge as the party’s candidate, all the political gladiators in the Lagos APC are lining up to take a shot at the highest office in the state. In characteristic manner, the APC leader is determined that the ticket will come to the candidate he backs, Akinwumi Ambode. The calculations are for a Christian governor, and Tinubu would prefer to back a candidate that does not have political structures of his own, making him totally dependent on the APC leader’s own machinery. Of course, with Lagos being his turf, it is important to Tinubu that he prevails. A politician worth his salt and who wants to have a say nationally must prove that he still has control of his own constituency. One will recall the length the APC went when Babajide Obanikoro was declared winner of Ikoyi-Obalende local government chairmanship by a tribunal in Ikeja. Tinubu’s house is in the Local Government Area.

But reports have it that the incumbent governor, Babatunde Fashola prefers his Commissioner for Work and Infrastructure, Femi Hamzat. Hamzat is the son of a former Commissioner for Transport and APC chieftain who has his own structures. He does not fit into the political calculations of Tinubu as he is a Muslim, and will probably be more independent than Ambode since he has his own power base, backed by his father who is now a traditional ruler.

Senator Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon also wants to be governor. His bases are in Mushin and Alimosho, both hugely populous Local Government Areas in Lagos. Whilst he will be unable to win without the backing of the top brass, he can play the role of spoiler. We can include Leke Pitan, Muiz Banire and some others in the mix, potentially fragmenting APC’s votes further. This could recreate the situation in 1992, where the SDP which was expected to win lost to NRC due to infighting between the SDP contenders for the ticket.

This does not bode well for the APC, especially in this period. Only recently, Jimi Agbaje, who ran on the platform of the DPA in 2007 and did remarkably well, has declared that he will be running on the platform of the PDP. He is a formidable and experienced candidate and if he clinches the PDP ticket, APC will have a pre-2007 situation when PDP had a very strong Funso Williams whilst the Alliance for Democracy was facing internal wrangling. His assassination proved expedient for the AD and they went ahead to win with Fashola.

But the PDP can also face internal opposition to Agbaje as the long term party faithful in the state will see him as a newcomer who wants to take the highest office. Musiliu Obanikoro, the current Minister for State, Defense and former governorship aspirant for the PDP will be interested in governorship. It is possible the PDP manages this situation by giving the deputy governorship ticket to Obanikoro’s son who proved himself in the Ikoyi-Obalende chairmanship elections for the PDP.

The battle for Lagos in 2015 promises to be an exciting one, and it is too early to call. What is sure is that both political parties recognize the importance and will campaign vigorously to win votes. The previous disposition of the APC has been an attitude of entitlement to electorate support. Ekiti was a rude but good awakening that electorate support must be sought and won. Sometimes, it is better to lose a smaller battle and correct the deficiencies that led to the loss rather than carry those deficiencies into the more critical battles. APC also needs to resolve its internal issues and come to terms with growing electorate antipathy so that moves can be made to address this, if it wants to win the formidable battle the PDP is gearing up to give for the control of Lagos in 2015.

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Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.

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