It is an ill-wind turns none to good.” Thomas Tusser, 1524-1580.
It had been my deliberate policy to concentrate on matters affecting the Federal Government of Nigeria and to avoid state and local government matters since 1994 when Uncle Sam invited me to join the late great Alhaji Kola Animasaun on this page. Alhaji was the reason I bought SUNDAY VANGUARD for years. Never in my wildest dream did it ever occur to me that I would ever share the same page. His shoes were too big for me; so I brought my own smaller sized joggers. He actually helped me with two pieces of advice when I ran to him after Uncle Sam gave me a starting role. I asked him how to go about it. His reply was short and simple. “Start with facts that can be substantiated; then be courageous and let the facts lead you.” Simple, apparently, but I soon discovered how difficult to apply. He also told me to “face Abuja; don’t waste your talent on state and local matters.” Talent I had little of, so facing Abuja was good advice.
However, occasions arise when a state matter becomes very important because it represents an issue of principle. Then, exception must be made to the rule. Former Governor Akinwumi Ambode’s current travails in Lagos State and the confrontation that is building up within the APC in Lagos is one such example. Those who had been reading this column since 2010 and after will recall that my four-part article titled, LAGOS STATE GOVERNORSHIP 2015 – CHRISTIAN AGENDA, which appeared on this page in 2011. I was one of the founders of Christian Conscience, CC, an association established solely to realise the objective. Without going into details, our efforts were largely responsible for the selection of Ambode as the APC candidate for that election and his emergence as governor in 2015. So, to some extent, I feel partly responsible for Ambode – for good or otherwise.
Perhaps two facts need to be repeated here for the records. I never knew Ambode until he was selected by the party leadership. I have never been a card-carrying member of any political party – even though my family had always been a part of the progressive alliance. My senior brother, the late Chief Sanu Sobowale, represented the Action Group and Epe in the Federal Parliament during the First Republic and he was Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of Lagos State under Governor Jakande. By mutual agreement, I was to stay out of politics. That decision saved the entire family when General Buhari detained the office holders of the Second Republic and froze their accounts. Every member of the family relied on me – a free man – for support.
I might also add that I am a Lagosian from every part of my family – father and mother. And, after being born at Massey Children’s Hospital, I attended primary school in Lagos Island and secondary school at Igbobi College, Yaba. Although many have passed on, I have several classmates – the latest being Alhaji Rafiu Tinubu, who was Head of Service, HoS. Rafiu was my classmate at St Peter’s Faji Lagos, Ajele. There is probably no Old Boy at Igbobi College from 1958 to 1962 alive today who would not remember me at that school. Bode George and I learnt to walk at about the same time at Evans/Branco/Adu/Vincent Streets. Consequently, I move freely among Lagos Boys who are politicians without being part of them.
Thus, once Ambode was elected, my work was done. I never asked him for any favours and he granted none. Twice, I wrote to him to request that he should rebuild Massey Street to improve access to the children’s hospital. Till he left office, there was no reply. But, I have no ill feelings on account of that. A state governor cannot please everybody. I was only amused when his wife had the altercation with the Pastor of Christ the Light Chapel resulting in the man of God being given a brutally short time to pack out of the premises. It was ironic because the church was our meeting place from 2011 until Election Day 2015. We gathered there to strategise and pray that a Christian would emerge in 2015. Our prayers were answered; our host Pastor was the first casualty of the victory. Still, I harbour no grudges against the former governor. I was happy when people hailed him for his achievements. At least, we have not laboured in vain.
The first signs that, despite the outward signs of good performance by Ambode, trouble came at about the same time that I wrote my second unanswered letter about Massey Street. An old friend and political insider came to WAKA CLUB 1945 in late 2017 and he was livid with rage. He had tried to see the governor and was rebuffed. He went on to name other party leaders who had felt slighted. It is quite possible that if Ambode had acknowledged my letter, I would have drawn his attention to the revolt building up around him – some of it led by his Commissioners and Advisers. Perhaps if he had got somebody to warn him and had altered his management style, he would still be governor today.
“A man alone has not got a chance.” Ernest Hemmingway, 1898-1961.
As in the wild, animals which have perfected team work – wild dogs, hyenas etc – have been the best survivors. In human societies, groups which work together are usually more successful than stand-alone individuals. In fact, the successful lone ranger is more often a fiction promoted by ‘Action films’. Hemingway, an American Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, had this in mind when he wrote THE WAY TO DUSTY DEATH from which the statement is lifted. In politics, especially, a man alone has little chance of surviving for long – even if he gets into leadership position. The picture which gradually emerged from 2017 about Ambode was that of a self-isolated governor who was ruling with a small and tight circle of insiders – most of whom were not the people who worked for his election. The Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was the only one spared the humiliation which several party leaders at all levels felt.
By mid-2018, the uprising against the governor had reached such a stage that even Tinubu could no longer protect Ambode. First, rumours were spreading of a rift between Tinubu and Ambode. Tinubu was forced to disclaim any discord. As late as August 2018, Asiwaju was still announcing that Ambode was doing a good job and there was no plan to remove him. By then, the rebels were in full flight. They had scouted for a replacement and found one in Sanwo-Olu. Whether or not Ambode was aware of the plot until very late is unclear. But, he did very little to change his management style. He probably assumed that the enormous powers of an incumbent governor were sufficient to fetch him victory. He failed to learn from the recent downfall of Mugabe after years of survival. Unlike the Zimbabwe leader who had built up a strong political machine, Ambode has had little time to create his own support group. He was essentially alone. I was aware that the game was up as early as August last year. Thereafter, he had no chance.
“There are some people who are better kept on the inside pissing out than on the outside pissing in.” Sam Rayburn, 1882-1961.
But, all that is now history. Ambode as governor of Lagos State is now a thing of the past. Ordinarily, there should have been nothing more to be said about it. He even lost out on the ministerial and top level appointments which Buhari reportedly promised him. He is politically flat on his back. His political adversaries have won. One would have expected them to be contented with the humiliation handed to the former governor. Unfortunately, that is not the case. They want him politically dead and buried. That vindictiveness presents grave dangers to all concerned – including the party leaders at state and federal levels.
Sam Rayburn, considered one of the most powerful Speakers of the US Congress, offered that piece of advice when some party members wanted him to deal decisively with an erring member. According to Rayburn, some individuals might know too much and a political party and its leaders have to be careful how to deal with them when conflict arises. It is good advice for those after Ambode.
Some elements in Lagos APC might feel aggrieved by Ambode’s alleged monopoly of the dividend of the 2015 election which brought him to power. As a non-partisan observer, I cannot dispute or affirm the allegations. What is obvious is that the anti-Ambode caucus have had their wish; the man has been replaced by someone who, from all outward appearances, is more of a team player. But, they have since then gone further. They want him dead politically.
‘Ambode’s Many Sins Against Lagosians [Part 1]’
PUNCH, Wednesday, September 4, 2019, pp 26-7
That advertorial in the PUNCH jolted me like nothing about any conflict in the progressive camp had done since Abacha’s appointment of some Ministers from the ranks of the group did in 1993. Right away, I can see another dirty fight that will leave virtually everybody bloodied by it. Bearing in mind my earlier statement that Ambode did me no favours (for that matter no former governor of Lagos State did me any favours), I can, as a dispassionate observer, discern that the Eko Heritage Group, EHG, which sponsored the advertorial, might be going too far. Their efforts might result in unintended consequences for most of the major stakeholders – including perhaps the members of the Eko Heritage Group themselves.
That they want Ambode’s administration probed and the former governor jailed is the most obvious conclusion from reading the allegations made. They might get their wish. But, I can assure them it will not be an easy war. I might as well remind all those who will engage in this struggle of the words of General Sherman, 1820-1891, “I am tired of war…Its glory is all moonshine….War is hell.” (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 268). What they have declared is war by other means. Hell might follow.
“If you think your enemy has two courses open to him, be sure he will choose the third.” Helmut Von Moltke,1848-1916, German military strategist.
Moltke was no ordinary soldier; he was the author of several German victories in Europe before the rest of the world ganged up against Germany during World War I. Now, it is quite possible that some of the members of the EHG belong to a generation other than mine. In my secondary school days, one of our favourite Shakespeare, 1564-1616, plays was MERCHANT OF VENICE. One lesson that play taught us was to be careful how we go about claiming “our pound of flesh” from an adversary. Going for ultimate annihilation might backfire. Two reasons for caution readily suggest themselves and they are all couched in the words of one sage carved on stone for those who care to read and learn from them.
“I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for good character, and my enemies for good intellect. A man cannot be too careful in his choice of enemies.” Oscar Wilde, 1856-1900.
First, certainly Ambode was not the only beneficiary of his four years in office. He had made a few people rich beyond their wildest dreams. The contractors for those projects now being questioned have no choice but to line up behind him. Second, the man was Accountant General of the State for years; then governor for four. He has had access to information which will ensure he does not go down alone. If pushed to the wall, he will take others down with him…..
To be continued.