In the sight of over 21 million residents of Lagos, Ambode might have excelled in his position as the first man of the state but he doesn't deserve a second term as long as the political interests of a few powerful folks aren't guaranteed.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode
The travails of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State need to be fully documented not only by journalists and historians but also by political scientists across the world as it sets a new trend in Nigerian politics especially in our unformed version of democracy.
A few months ago, Ambode was the winning point of political arguments about the influence of godfatherism in politics and how the Lagos political warhorse, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been a legendary scout spotting the best heads for public offices. In the last 12 years, he has singlehandedly installed amazing governors namely Babatunde Raji Fashola and Ambode who have recorded enviable feats in the development of Lagos as a major financial hub in Africa and the world as a whole. Other public officer holders including the number one citizen of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari have also benefitted from Tinubu's unfathomable political prowess and sagacity.
The new capital projects undertaken by Ambode are conspicuous enough for all eyes to see. Even his die-hard critics at the bottom of their hearts will admit that Ambode has touched all aspects of life in Lagos State ranging from social amenities, entertainment, formal education, youth employment, business, health, housing, transportation, sports, security arts and culture and other critical sectors. Public engagement has also increased under the ardent speech-reading governor through his regular town hall meetings and other initiatives like “Your Voice Lagos" and "Tell Governor Ambode".
Any Doubting Thomas can simply Google-search the "35 Achievements of Governor Ambode In Lagos" for a sneak-peek into his progress so far.
Some political pundits even argued that the fastest way to lose yourhard- earned money and waste your time is by contesting against Ambode in the coming gubernatorial election in Lagos State. I'm sure this is the main reason why the main opposition party in Nigeria, Peoples Democratic Party has been reluctant to participate in the contest. The party has been apparently begging oil mogul Femi Otedola with its governorship ticket as the billionaire CEO of Forte Oil Plc blushes over their generosity like the Village Belle. Analysts have even gone as far as rating Ambode as the best state governor in the last three years. But all these changed about a month ago when rumours started filtering in that elements at the original seat of power - Bourdillion, Ikoyi where Tinubu resides weren’t at peace with Ambode.
Yes, in the sight of over 21 million residents of Lagos, he might have excelled in his position as the first man of the state but he doesn't deserve a second term as long as the political interests of a few powerful folks aren’t guaranteed. This paints a laughable scenario of the 'Lagos State Board of Trustees' not being satisfied with their Managing Director. This is a real mockery of democracy in Africa which has its roots in Oligarchy and the traditional system of Monarchy where the input of the governed doesn’t really count in the choice of leaders.
In our democracy, power doesn't reside with the people (majority) and this accounts for the reason why you see politicians thronging the houses of former leaders like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd) for political endorsements. The fate of would-be leaders is regularly sealed by a couple of powerful and noteworthy old people who I refer as 'Gerontocrats'; they hold political meetings at the odd hours of the day about the political future of a state and then give orders to their subordinates who are mostly young and energetic folks to pursue their cause for them while they operate remotely. These young people are like their foot soldiers whose conscience have been bought with money and other worldly benefits. They make up what we call 'political structure' in our local lexicon. The structure consists of journalists, political analysts, lawyers, media houses, government officials, artisans, market women, thugs, private bodies, entrepreneurs, musicians, actors, grassroots mobilizers, political strategists, thugs, social media warriors and mostly criminals who have made careers out of gathering intelligence on how to subvert the political system. Their definition of democracy is different from the textbook version we all advocate, so when you hear them harp on the efficacy of democracy with you in public places, don't be deceived, you guys are not talking the same thing.
There have been strong rumours that Ambode has been begging his benefactor, Tinubu endlessly and his wife, Bolanle has also been recruited to join the 'Bambiala train'. Sources claim that Ambode has been experiencing acute mood swings and that he recently burst into tears over his perceived disgraceful end. President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President YemiOsinbajo, traditional rulers, state governors, the national leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress have been pleading with the Jagaban of Lagos politics to forgive his former anointed son as he "didn't know what he was doing" but all their concerted efforts have ended in futility.
Doesn't it defy logic that Tinubu has only one vote, the 57 local government council chairmen of the Mandate Group have only one vote each and Ambode should rather be more focused on the millions of Lagosians singing his praises to ensure his re-election in 2019? Is that not what is obtainable in an ideal democratic system like the U.S where approval ratings could even be determined by the outcomes of mere debates or public utterances. President Donald Trump's approval rating was on a free fall following his controversial Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ambode whose major offence according to reports was not “servicing the APC political structure" will prefer to cry at the feet of his principal, Tinubu because he knows that his vote is ostensibly bigger than that of the general public. Democracy in Nigeria is the biggest political scam ever!
Politicians know how to beat the system by taking advantages of its loopholes. This is why the so-called Mandate Group holds sway and in a matter of barely seven days, it has made a bold statement with the emergence of Babajide Sanwo-Olu who has suspiciously obtained the APC's expression of interest and nomination forms of N22.5 million which his monthly earnings might not comfortably afford him. To add insults to Ambode’s injury, Sanwo-olu, is an appointee of Ambode. He was appointed as the Director of Lagos State Property Development Company (LSPDC) barely one year after the inauguration of his government. Dr. Femi Hamzat, a former Lagos State commissioner for works and infrastructure is also waiting to unseat Ambode in case he survives the storm of Sanwo-Olu. Partisan and pseudo-political analysts have claimed the emergence of Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat will strengthen the internal democracy of the APC and test the popularity of Ambode which liberal democracy entails but they have purposely ignored the fact that a bumpy playing field has been covertly created to the advantage of a favoured candidate which is odious.
Democratic institutions in Nigeria are inherently weak and the aged political juggernauts know that. They are well aware that political apathy in Nigeria is still rife as people are shy about participating actively in the electoral process. They express reluctance in obtaining their Permanent Voter’s Cards, PVCs. Even when they do, they are not motivated to use it due to the failure of past administrations promising an El Dorado like Buhari and technically delivering nothing tangible except more economic hardship, identity crisis and insecurity.
Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world with 87 million of her populace living in abject poverty and corruption has become part of our survival instincts in sharp contrast to the proliferation of religious institutions at the nooks and crannies of the country. The implication of poverty is that any available person can be bought or hired as long as you can ease his hunger with a mesh of porridge like the biblical Esau who sold his birthright to Jacob for a momentary satisfaction.
With an alarming illiteracy rate of 65 to 75 million people and poor voters’ education programmes, most people don't even understand the concept of voting as a civic right and responsibility not to talk of its essence in a political system. Also, the process of PVC collection is as narrow as the gate of heaven and this discourages any serious-minded person without much time on his hands from registering, not to talk of collecting it. You will rather take the easiest route of using social media to verbalize your critical political views which mostly don't count.
Also, the commercial nature of Lagos State and other urban centres in Nigeria militates against electoral participation indirectly. Since registration centres are opened during the week, most people register around their working places which are mostly far from their residences. Due to the ban on transportation on election day to forestall anticipated security breaches, these people are relegated to their houses during the voting exercises leaving their preferred candidates in the hands of fate and Providence. In 2015, 5,827,846 million people registered to vote in Lagos State, 3,771,199 million collected their PVCs and less than 1.5 million electorate participated in the election despite the large population size. This is poor!
How many Nigerians will sleep in or around their places of work just to cast their votes for their preferred candidates at the designated polling units without any incentives or being a direct beneficiary of the person contesting? I'm sure none except the northerners which brings back the memories of the success of the Indirect Rule system in the northern part of Nigeria.
Most Lagosians believe no candidate is worth the stress. But members of the Mandate Group and their followers majorly plebeians understand the system better than we educated folks who are too obsessed with the ideal system which is only obtainable in the nonexistent Utopian world. They register at polling units that are easily accessible to them, they obtain their PVCs, they mobilize other like-minded people, they vote and also stay behind to protect their votes while the so-called intellectuals dominate social media, TV, radio stations and other media platforms with their flowery political speeches laced with polished English language. Since politics is a game of numbers, they end up having their way at the detriment of societal progress.
Ambode knows this, he is aware that politics in Nigeria not just about competence, confidence and oratory skills. He has a firsthand experience of the subversion of the system in Lagos where his dusty image was built from an alleged erring senior civil servant who was forced to resign under the Fashola administration to save his face on allegations of corruption to a ‘Star Boy’ in Lagos politics. He is a product of an unlevelled playing ground. Ambode couldn't have defeated the 2015 gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party - Jimi Agbaje even if the latter's hands were tied to a stake. Ambode struggled to convince himself that he could do the job in his public speeches while Agbaje kept hitting the bull's eye with his views.
Rather than focus on the people who he is responsible to, Ambode would rather beg Jagaban with his life and clean his black shoes with his flowing tears to secure his second term in office. This is a gross aberration to the tenets of democracy.
With Ambode's high ratings following his top class performance in office within the last three years, he stands a chance against Tinubu if he has the heart to approach him head on. Tinubu is a force to be reckoned with in both local and national politics but his popularity is as fragile as a newborn's umbilical cord. His failed role in the APC governorship primaries in Ondo in 2016 is still fresh in our memories. Tinubu is reportedly the brain behind Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s political career. He backed the legal luminary to challenge Olusegun Mimiko, the then governor of Ondo State in 2012. In 2016, Tinubu endorsed Olusegun Abraham to get the APC ticket ahead of his former protege, Akeredolu. Akeredolu finally called his bluff, aligned with his Abuja friends and went ahead to win the primaries and the governorship election to the rude shock and displeasure of Tinubu. In fact, Tinubu's Plan B candidate, Olusola Oke finished a distant third under the banner of the Alliance for Democracy. Many will say Ondo is different from Lagos which is the home of Tinubu but that was the same way people doubted the chances of success of Akeredolu at the polls.
Pressure is being mounted on Ambode via the media through unconscionable and inordinate means to throw in the towel and endorse Sanwo-Olu. That is totally preposterous, nonsensical and unacceptable. I urge Ambode to die in battle with honour like a true soldier rather than beg his oppressor for his life.
In retrospect, the 2015 governorship election results in Lagos State offer chances of redemption for Ambode. Ambode, a political neophyte then with the influence of Tinubu and his exalted political machinery polled 811,994 votes while his main challenger Agbaje who has rejoined the race scored 659,788 votes. The difference in the votes at the peak of APC's strength and the Buhari euphoria was just 152,206. Now, Ambode has made a name for himself with colourful achievements and he stands the chance of attracting some sympathy votes from a section of the section of the electorate who now see him as a victim of brutal political machination.
Since politics all over the world is a matter of alignment and realignment, Ambode could give Tinubu a run for his money if he enters a coalition with other political parties and stakeholders including the PDP which has opened its arms for him. His present popularity, war chest, friends at the centre and a formidable coalition could help him breakaway from the stranglehold and stronghold of Tinubu which is the silent prayers of Lagosians. This isn't rocket science, it’s very feasible. No winner reigns forever and its time for someone to put Tinubu in his place as a former governor of Lagos State.
Even if Ambode fails, another politician in the nearest future will leverage on the attempt made by Ambode to challenge Tinubu to a political duel till he is finally demystified. History is about to be made and fate has put Ambode at a vantage point of glory. Nobody ever thought David stood a chance against Goliath but he defeated the arrogant giant before the raging Philistines, the same way American boxer Evander Holyfield reduced the almighty Mike Tyson to a dishonourable biting sportsman after dealing him some real punches in the WBA Heavyweight Championship in 1997. Ambode should man up, wipe his tears, pick up the challenge and see how the world will rally round him with selfless support.
Osayimwen Osahon George is a journalist and a PhD student of Political Science. He writes from Lagos State.