Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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I never heard that name before. It was the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu who first brought it to my attention. At the launch of a book, a Biography, titled “The Art of Selfless Service” in Lagos early in May 2014, the Oba threw caution to the wind.
“The APC can go ahead with their primaries but the elders of the state have met and agreed that Ambode should be the next governor of Lagos”, the Oba declared.
The 1999 Constitution forbids traditional rulers from participating in partisan politics so I began to ask my Lagos friends “Who is this Ambode that the whole Oba of Lagos is prepared to throw his hat in the ring over?”
I was told he was a retired civil servant, a financial consultant who rose to the position of permanent secretary in the Lagos State government; that he was now in the race for the gubernatorial office in the state.
It still remained a mystery to me that a whole Oba could stake his name and office on a politician in a country where politicians are very slippery characters. Before I could resolve the mystery, the Oba threw another bombshell. On April 5th 2015 he spoke to some Igbo leader’s resident in Lagos who came to see him.
“If any one of you goes against Ambode who I picked, that is your end. If it doesn’t happen in seven days, just know that I am a bastard and it’s not my father who gave birth to me. By the grace of God, I am the owner of Lagos for the time being. This is an undivided chair. The palace belongs to the dead and those coming in the future. If anyone of you, I swear in the name of God, goes against my wish that Ambode will be the next governor of Lagos state, the person is going to die inside this water,” the Oba thundered.
At the time of this royal outburst, the Igbos in Lagos had been voting for the PDP and it seemed as if they could swing victory far away from Ambode and the APC. Whether his threat did the magic or not I cannot say. On 29th May 2015 however, Ambode took office as governor of Lagos state having won the elections.
As governor, Ambode appeared to be doing a good job at least in the eyes of those of us resident outside Lagos. But Lagos is a megacity and has a very complicated history and political culture. Even when the hints started coming that all was not well between Ambode and Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, some of us thought it was normal and given the steam with which he came on to clinch the coveted gubernatorial seat, he would also have his second term with ease. After all, Fashola who succeeded Tinubu as governor had similar misunderstandings before things were sorted out for his second term.
Sadly, for Ambode, whatever went wrong between him and the grandmaster of Lagos politics went terribly wrong and not even the intervention of the Oba – with his threats of drowning his opponents in the sea – could save him this time, at least not his second term on the ticket of the APC. His greatest crime is said to be his failure to lubricate the political machine that brought him to power. Local potentates of the APC all over Lagos felt left out in his distribution of patronage and put unbearable pressure on Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, the undisputed master of Lagos politics to ditch him. And for all his bold attempts to put up a bold face and fight on bravely till the very end, he suffered humiliating defeat in the hands of his challenger Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The recent political drama in Lagos appears to be a confirmation of the growing strength of Asiwaju Tinubu, fondly called the Lion of Bourdillon by his admirers. When he roars, everybody takes cover. He has come a long way since he made his political debut as a Senator under the transition program of Ibrahim Babangida in the early 90’s. As a kingmaker in the SDP, he took that Senate by storm, determining who got what.
He was also in the forefront for the campaigns of Chief Moshood Abiola to become President of Nigeria. When Chief Abiola’s victory at the polls was voided by the military, he was in the vanguard of those who fought the military for its validation. A notable leader of NADECO, he fled into exile when the ruthless dictatorship unleashed by General Sani Abacha started hunting down opponents of what was the most ruthless military tyranny in Nigeria.
The restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria saw his return to the country in 1999. For his role in standing up to the military, he was rewarded with the governorship office of Lagos state – at a very high cost. Allegations soon emerged that he had forged certificates in his cv. His problems as governor of Lagos multiplied with the bad blood between him and the duo of Kofo Bucknor and Femi Pedro – all his deputy governors – who turned his inveterate critics even while still serving in his government. When you add to them the treachery he suffered in the hands of Musiliu Obanikoro and Jimi Agbaje, all his trusted political apostles turned apostate, you can understand the wounds of the lion.
As governor of Lagos State, he also had to face the might of the federal government with Olusegun Obasanjo as President. In the 1999 elections, the South West under the Alliance for Democracy voted massively against Obasanjo, defeating him even at his ward in Ogun State. It was a humiliation Obasanjo, famous for revenge actions would never forgive. He leaked his wounds in 1999 and waited for 2003 to serve his revenge – cold and sweet.
In the election of 2003, Obasanjo played the ethnic card. He lured the AD into sleep, arguing that since there was a Yoruba President, the AD had no need to promote another Yoruba presidential candidate. Thus deceived, they went into the elections of that year without a presidential candidate believing that Obasanjo would in turn secure their second term in office as agreed. With their vigilance lowered, Obasanjo moved in swiftly and outvoted or outrigged all the South West governors, planting in their offices his stooge PDP potentates.
Amazingly, Ahmed Tinubu the streetwise governor of Lagos could not be deceived. He remained vigilant and survived the massive electoral heist. For daring to resist defeat, Obasanjo seized the statutory federal allocations to Lagos. Tinubu went to court, but not even a ruling by the Supreme Court in his favor would make Obasanjo release the funds.
The survival of Lagos in 2003 turned Tinubu into a colossus. It gave birth to the Action Congress, AC; then the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and later still the All Progressives Congress APC of today. All through these grueling battles, Tinubu has had to rely on a handful of faithful lieutenants: Fashola, Osinbajo, Fowler, Lai Mohammed, Ojudu, Ade Ipaye, Rauf, Hamzat, GOS, Gbajabiamila, Faleke, Yayi, Ashafa, Opeifa, Tunji Bello, Leke Pitan, Jide Idris, Dele Alake, Mamora etc.
With them by his side, he was able to ward off the chocking powers of the federal government for sixteen years. Not even the wily, old President Olusegun Obasanjo with his hit men: Minister of Works Ogunleye, PDP BOT Chairman Bode George, Minister of Defense Obanikoro and Minister of Industries Olusegun Aganga could subdue him.
Jagaba in Hausa means pulling ahead. That is the title the Borgu people of Niger State gave Tinubu. Lagos Bobo, Akinwumi Ambode should have known this: when Ahmed Tinubu moves, it is foolish to stand in his way.