THE defection of popular Lagos politician, Jimi Agbaje to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has further galvanized the political landscape in Lagos as the two major political parties strategise to outsmart one another in the forthcoming gubernatorial election.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
WITH an estimated population of 21 million, Lagos State is unarguably the biggest pie in the 2015 electoral map at the state level.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic, the state has been out of the grip of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and hence the seeming desperation of party chieftains in the state and in Abuja to find a sellable candidate.
Until Agbaje’s entry into the party last week, it had been almost an open field for the incumbent Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro.
Besides finding a sellable candidate, chieftains of the party in the state have on their own and sometimes with the forced nudge of party officials in Abuja been forced to put aside their perennial differences.
With the PDP almost looking formidable, the ruling party in Lagos, the All Progressives Congress, APC, is also equipping itself with fresh strategies and ideas to fend off its perennial foe.
Indeed, at one point in time, the state which has since the advent of the Fourth Republic almost entirely been in the political stranglehold of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu began to look vulnerable.
The first signpost of trouble was in 2007 when Tinubu, the first executive governor in the Fourth Republic prepared his exit played the last minute joker on his associates with his decision to produce his then Chief of Staff, Babatunde Fashola, as his successor. The house of Tinubu was temporarily shaken but it recovered not too long after, to overcome a stiff challenge mounted by the PDP through its candidate at that time, Senator Obanikoro, himself a former associate of Tinubu.
The second sign of trouble for the Tinubu crowd was the local government elections conducted after the 2011 elections in October of the same year. The election ended with the acclaimed victory of the PDP in some councils which embarrassingly included Ikoyi-Obalende which is the base of the APC national leader, Tinubu.
It took a court decision which some stakeholders considered suspicious for the APC to recover the council and a few others where the opposition PDP claimed to have won. It is no surprise that ahead of the 2015 round of general elections the authorities in Lagos are reported to be apprehensive about the conduct of the local government elections which is due in the last quarter of the year.
Conventional wisdom is that the APC authorities in Lagos would not want to stir the calm waters by conducting a local government election which could lead to bad blood among party members just before the decisive general elections in 2015.
Tinubu, generally reckoned for his abundance of political strategies is believed to have started planning the Fashola succession a long time ago.
Sources in the Tinubu camp generally admit that the way and manner Fashola was made would not be used in plotting the emergence of a successor for the incumbent governor.
Among issues that have come to play in the consideration of the camp of the APC leader are zoning, ability to win the hearts of the people and off course loyalty. Though Tinubu was said to have publicly dismissed religion as a factor, given the liberalism of the Yoruba voter, the political strategist was, however, not oblivious of the long stretch of Muslim governors that have ruled the state and the agitation of Christians, and Ibos who constitute the second largest tribe in Lagos for a Christian governor of the state.
Whatever the factors, Tinubu and his associates are said to have acknowledged that having their way in Lagos would not be as easy as it was in 2007 when Fashola was crowned over the reluctance of many of his associates.
Tinubu it is alleged, has finally settled on former Accountant-General of the State, Akinwunmi Ambode. Ambode who resigned about three years ago despite having a couple of years to attain before retirement is credited with having formulated the financial formula that saved the state when former President Olusegun Obasanjo seized council funds meant for Lagos during the Tinubu years.
Unlike 2007 when Tinubu was the sole determinant of the candidate, this time, Tinubu it is alleged would have to consider several other factors including the incumbent governor, Fashola and other major stakeholders including other aspirants on the platform of the APC.
Among the major aspirants on the platform of the APC presently are Ambode, Senator Ganiyu Solomon, the incumbent commissioner for works, Dr. Femi Hamzat, speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Chief Adeyemi Kuforoji, former commissioner for Health, Dr. Leke Pitan and a member of the House of Representatives, Rep. Abike Dabiri-Erewa among others. Of the lot in the APC, only Senator Solomon has so far openly made a declaration.
Tinubu it was learnt has not openly come out to endorse any one and surprisingly, inside sources say that he has encouraged all aspirants who have approached him for support to enter the race, saying that a level play ground would be given to all.
That injunction is not lost on Asiwaju as it gives him the moral high ground to affirm that whoever emerges from the primaries is the product of a democratic exercise and not the product of imposition.
Besides the lot, a number of those also interested in succeeding Fashola it was learnt are also quietly doing underground work purportedly aimed at derailing Ambode from his track.
When news of Tinubu’s alleged endorsement of Ambode emerged earlier in the year, it was believed to be a kite as it was claimed that Tinubu would only wait till the last minute to endorse a candidate as was done with Fashola in 2007.
Explaining the reason for the relatively early endorsement of Ambode, a source close to Tinubu revealed:
“In 2007 a lot of energy was consumed in the Fashola project because of the timing and this time around it was considered wise to conserve energy by bringing out a candidate early enough.”
Whatever, it is also generally agreed among political associates close to Tinubu that a different game plan from that used in 2007 would have to be adopted in 2015.
The complexities for 2015 in Lagos were further complicated last week after the apparent defection of Jimi Agbaje to the PDP.
How Agbaje could derail the gubernatorial aspiration of Senator Obanikoro on the platform of the PDP remains to be seen.
It has remained a matter of conjunction among political stakeholders on whether Tinubu and Fashola are on the same page on the issue of Ambode
The perception that the Hamzat camp is still flexing its muscle has drawn queries as to the suggestion that Fashola and his predecessor are on the same page.
The prospects for Hamzat who was at one time also said to be in the consideration of Tinubu were dimmed few years ago when his father, also said to be an associate of Tinubu took up a traditional title in nearby Ogun State.
For sensitive Lagosians, the decision of the senior Hamzat, Alhaja Olatunji Hamzat to become the Olu of Afowowa-Sogade in Ewekoro in Ogun State was said to have raised eyebrows among some who championed the gubernatorial cause of his son.
Nevertheless, there have been recent suggestions that irrespective of the determination of the pair of Tinubu and Fashola to synergise on the succession, that fourth columnists are working to frustrate that kind of synergy. Such forces it was learnt are determined to ensure that Fashola is made irrelevant in the determination of who succeeds him.
It is, however, doubtful if Tinubu would buy into any such scheme by his associates given his determination not to allow any friction among his forces in the fight against the PDP.
Even if Fashola may not come out openly to name his successor, associates of the incumbent governor paint a picture of the typology of the man they want.
“I think for Fashola the typology is more important than the man and that I think is what he is working towards,” an associate of the governor disclosed.
If that typology fits in with Fashola, then there could indeed be no problem and the Asiwaju phenomenon would again have been seen to have prevailed.