The Trials Of Brother Ambo, By Joel Nwokeoma
The stoic mien he has put on in public in recent days notwithstanding, it is obvious that these are not the best of times for Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State. And it just speaks of the unpredictability of the game of politics and its definition by the Prussian philosopher, Otto Von Bismarck, as “the art of the possible, of the attainable, of the next best thing”. What started, first, as a “wicked rumour”, as some people would say, spoken more in hushed tones in closed quarters in the state but feasted wildly in the cyberspace, crystallised on Wednesday when the media reported that the darling boy of Lagos, or so many thought before now, will battle for the governorship ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress with two other aspirants in the state.
The new kids on the block are a former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, and another former commissioner, Babajide Sanwoolu. In particular, Sanwoolu had earlier served as the Special Adviser to former Deputy Governor Femi Pedro and later to then Governor Bola Tinubu before being appointed, at different times, the state Commissioner for Commerce, Budget and Planning and later Establishments and Training. Both men had the unique distinction of serving the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Tinubu, who himself had in 2015 thrown up a largely unknown Ambode and had him made governor eventually ahead of others believed to be more highly placed than him, the subtle protestations of the then incumbent governor, Babatunde Fashola, who was believed to have rooted for his Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the state, Mr. Olasupo Shasore (SAN) notwithstanding.
What this means is that Ambode will suffer the indignity of going through the direct primary of the party with the two other or more aspirants sometime soon, an outcome which should enervate the governor given that the party structure at the ward, local government and state levels, unlike what obtains in most states across the federation, is solidly not in his hands but in the hands of Asiwaju Tinubu. And it is trite that if indeed one of the new aspirants is allegedly enjoying the open support and endorsement of the “Lion of Bourdillion”, as evidenced in the reported open declaration of support and solidarity of the 57 local government chairmen in the state, we may well be witnessing, as an analyst posited, a transition from AmboDEY to AmboGONE!
As an aside, Lagos presents a scintillating case study for the understanding of the thesis of the renowned American political scientist, Robert Dahl. In his celebrated work, Who Governs?: Democracy and power in an American city, published in 1961, Dahl provides insights in the dynamics and location of political power and representation in New Haven, Connecticut. Meaning, power could be located away from the symbolic seat of government! As watchers of political power relations in Lagos over the years have come to know, political power in the state since 2007 resides kilometers away from Alausa, the seat of government, and is located in Bourdillion, Ikoyi. When in 2011 former Governor Fashola attempted to swim against the tide of the boisterous current from Bourdillion, he was made to sweat it out, as Ambode is currently doing. In the end, Alausa inevitably lost out to Bourdillion. In 2015, at the expiration of his eight years in office, it came to pass that Fashola had no hand in deciding who succeeded him, a privilege granted many of his colleagues across the federation. In Imo State, for instance, and much of the South-East geopolitical zone, “power and might” belong to the occupants of the Government House. Decisions over the political fortune of anyone mainly flow from the Government Houses. In Lagos, it is not so.
Political observers watch with bated breath what will become of Ambode now that it seems, paraphrasing the Bible account of King Saul’s failure to follow Prophet Samuel’s divine instruction, “the spirit” of Bourdillion has “departed from him”. But how did the governor, who recently basked in the euphoria of international affirmation following the visits of the French President, Emmanuel Macron and the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in quick succession, appear to have lost his mojo before his godfather? Or, how did Ambode offend the Lion? There are many theories as there are many willing to discuss the development. One, some argue that Ambode has not been forgiven by the Asiwaju for the fiasco that the removal of the local PSP operators in the state and subsequent replacement by a certain Visionscape has turned into. Instead of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative Ambode envisaged to achieve, the state has turned into one mega refuse dump with heaps of garbage acquiring more prominence than the famed Cocoa House in Ibadan. Lagos has become ever dirtier, to the consternation of the residents, since then leading to Tinubu intervening, at a time, to mediate between the governor and the aggrieved PSP operators. The matter is yet to be resolved. Lagos is still a centre of aquatic decay and dirt, as some say!
Some observers of political developments in Lagos also point to the controversy that followed the implementation of the Land Use Charge by the state government as a reason for the current face-off. The strident determination of the government to carry on with the implementation despite widespread opposition, it is claimed, pitted Ambode against the party apparatchiks who felt the governor was undermining the electoral strength of the party, a year to a critical national election. The time of reckoning has come, and it is believed that the “owners of the party”, which unfortunately do not include the governor, are looking forward to “teach him” a lesson.
Yet another school of thought is of the view that the greatest undoing of the governor is his not helping to fund the party. It is believed that the governor has not been financially helpful to the party that was given a run for its money by the opposition PDP in the last election in 2015. A closer follower of events in Alausa enthused that reprieve could come the way of the governor if he “plays ball.” And he has no choice except he feels he has got the muscles to go it his way.
Interestingly, politics is all about interest. And it is the interest of the power providers, not office holders, that determines the outcomes of the power relations. And as they say, in politics, interest, not friendship or enmity, is permanent. But, can the godfather throw his godson under the bus for whatever emerging interest? Nonetheless, when viewed dispassionately, the travails of Ambode are a pointer to the defining peculiarity of Nigeria’s brand of democracy. The reign of godfathers who dictate and determine political outcomes outside of the electorate, where sovereignty is believed to reside. You can see it in Yobe where Governor Ibrahim Gaidam officially announced the National Secretary of the APC, Maimala Buni, as his successor months before the first ballot is cast. The desperation of Governor Rochas Okorocha to impose his son-in-law as his successor is at the root of the problem in the party in Imo. It speaks volumes that Ambode is made to sweat profusely to even fly the flag of a party he has been the poster child in the last three years not so much on account of his performance or lack of it in office but on the disposition of the power behind the throne.
And until someone arises in future to give a Tinubu treatment to the Bourdillion hegemony in Lagos, we will be here every four years to be treated to the macabre dance of those propped up to power trying to assert their political strength.
It was first Fashola, now it is Ambode, seemingly. Recall that as governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Tinubu masterminded the rooting out of the dominant tendencies of the Afenifere from the then Alliance for Democracy leading to the formation of the Afenifere Renewal Group, sympathetic to his political interests.
Unfortunately, Ambode cannot look up to his immediate predecessor, Fashola, for succor at a time like this reason being that his first decisions in office were believed to have targeted him. Can he then dare his godfather in this battle royale all on his own? Does he have the people, who could be longing for a liberation of sort from the hegemonic grip on Alausa from Bourdillion, on his side? This could make the governorship election in Lagos more interesting than the presidential poll whose outcome many feel is settled. If he does and wins, democracy is the better for it. But if he loses, the fall will be louder than the rise.