The immortal words of former British Prime Minister and statesman, Winston Churchill that “truth is incontrovertible” speaks directly to the increasing falsehood and malicious misrepresentation of Jimi Agbaje, governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State. Churchill further states that “panic may resent truth, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is”.
Of all the shocking allegations against the PDP candidate, the one that disconcerts the most is the accusation that Agbaje frequently inflames passion by pandering to ethnic issues anytime he is on the ballot. This is most unfortunate and uncharitable. Anybody who follows Agbaje’s politics of moderation and civility can easily attest to his restraint, especially on volatile issues like ethnicity and religion. In their sober moments, his worst critics appreciate his self-control and politeness even under the nastiest conditions by those seeking to drown all alternative voices in the governorship contest in Lagos State.
If there were medals for decorum and fair-play in governorship contests in the last eight years and now, the PDP candidate would easily have received all the prizes because of the maturity he brings to politics. Recently, he was asked how he would confront the violence associated with the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forthcoming election, given the ruling party’s record on election days. Even though he recognises the reality of elections in Lagos State, having been a victim, he still managed to assure his skeptical supporters that the security agencies will not tolerate violence or anything that is capable of discrediting the electoral process next year. As soothing as that reassurance may be, residents of Lagos know the unbridled and raw energy supporters of the APC bring into every election.
We all remember the obnoxious issues and intimidation that trailed APC’s convention in Lagos State a few months ago where supporters of the sitting governor were reportedly beaten and chased out of the polling booths for holding a different view from those of the godfathers. Is that politics? And when a man talks about freedom and democracy, they mock and vilify him. But did we see anything of such in the exercise that produced Agbaje in the PDP? Yet, this same moderate politician is maligned and profiled, almost on a daily basis because he is exercising his fundamental human right.
For the avoidance of any doubt, we wish to reiterate that the few times Agbaje made reference to tribe or ethnicity were in response to issues of injustice and propaganda which the ruling party is well known for. The first was shortly before the 2015 general election when there was a royal proclamation to drown his supporters in the lagoon if they dare vote for him. Unfortunately, some APC supporters and even enlightened people, including newspaper columnists who should know the consequences of such declaration in a globalised world are today in agreement with such despicable pronouncement.
Like Nigeria’s electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that continues to retain the names of dead persons in its register, the APC, Lagos State had only recently claimed that it had in its cabinet, some non-indigenes currently serving in the government of Governor Akinwumi Ambode. This was another lie Agbaje punctured with his response which was merely to clarify and put things in proper perspective before the public is misled. After all, the last known non-indigene commissioner was Ben Akabueze who served under Babatunde Fashola.
So, the claim about always invoking and flying the non-indigene flag to create disaffection is not only unfounded, but a smear campaign to tarnish Agbaje’s image and deplete his growing support base across the state.
Look around Lagos State and the deluge of posters everywhere in this season of politics, Agbaje is the only one among his peers who remains true to himself. Unlike Babajide Sanwo-Olu and other politicians posing with cultural attires of other Nigerian tribes, Agbaje sticks with his native Yoruba dress and English suit in order not to be misunderstood. You can imagine the accusation and backlash if he had travelled that same route of wearing, for instance, Igbo traditional outfit.
It is interesting to note that the PDP candidate chose freedom and democracy not because people are in chains, but because he believes, just like many people, that Lagos State is in the firm grip of a few. These days, it is common for people from other parts of Nigeria to refer to Lagos as the colony of one man. How sad!
However, Agbaje acknowledges that even in the contradictions of modern Lagos, development and growth are not totally absent. His grouse with those managing Lagos today is that they are underdeveloping Lagos State, given the state’s huge resources, potential, location and size. According to him, Lagos State is not where it should be considering the humongous resources it receives and generates since 1999. And Agbaje has said repeatedly that Lagos is one of the few mega cities without a mono rail and that the state’s economy is the size of five African countries put together. Are these not verifiable facts? And what is wrong in setting standards and aiming high?
So, by writing and glorifying the small successes of the last 19 years, Ajayi is inadvertently celebrating mediocrity and closing his senses to a bigger and better picture that Agbaje represents. Or was he expecting applause from Lagosians for writing about the paltry achievements of nearly two decades?
Going forward, let us not be in unnecessary hurry to disparage people and pass judgment to protect a decadent system. Like every election, this one too, is a referendum on the incumbent and wielders of power in Lagos in the last 19 years. So, let the campaigns begin, but let it focus on issues and not on candidate Agbaje who knows what the real issues are in modern governance.
-Jimi Agbaje’s Strategic Media Team