As amiable Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State began to round up his tenancy at Lagos House in the later months of 2014, and a search for a suitable successor by stakeholders was in full gear, as in many states in Nigeria, the name Akinwunmi Ambode started propping up on computers and Goggle search. Not long afterwards, the name became a dominant political subject matter among Lagos residents.
It didn’t matter too much that politically the name did not immediately ring a bell in sensitive political circles in the Centre of Excellence. All that political actors, political observers and the ever-inquisitive journalists heard and knew was that Akinwunmi Ambode was a respected professional accountant who was outstanding in his profession, respected by his colleagues, rose to become the Accountant-General of Lagos State, a political participant in his own right and a devoted and dedicated loyalist to the political tendency of the former governor of the state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
The news that the oracle of Lagos politics, Tinubu, preferred Ambode as a suitable replacement to the departing Fashola spread like harmattan fire. There must be something about Ambode, a friend told me in the heat of the 2014 campaigns, that attracts him to the politically sagacious Tinubu, among other contenders for the position of the Number One Citizen of Lagos State.
Tinubu himself was a damn good governor during his eight years in office. It was during his tenure that structural and institutional changes took place in the state. So, like Fashola, this new choice by the Oracle, will surely deliver. It was the popular assumption. On the election day, despite a stout and spirited campaign and well-appointed political strategies by the Jimi Agbaje Campaign Organisation, Akinwunmi Ambode eventually won. Since May 29 2015, Ambode has been the Chief Servant of the most cosmopolitan state in the country. And the verdict among many Lagos residents, including serious-minded political observers, is that the young man has been piloting the affairs of Lagos State with dedication, foresight and profit.
Lagosians easily fall for any governor that provides critical infrastructure and allows the environment for businesses to thrive and grow. Ambode, in my view, has done comparatively well in this area and in so many others, although there are some complaints about increasing potholes on Lagos inner roads – from Ikeja to Surulere and to the Apapa axis. And the stubborn rains of this year have not helped matters, at all. In the eyes and perception of close watchers of the politics of development in Lagos state, Governor Ambode is on course, and his focus has the right targets.
Then the news began to circulate – first as rumour, and later developed as a disturbing reality. And what was it? The story began to circulate that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Head Master of Lagos politics since 1999, had hinted to close associates and through a calculated body language, that his protégé and current governor of the state will not get his endorsement, this time around, for a second term in office. There was confusion. There was understandable anxiety and curiosity about what could have happened? Did Ambode fall out of line? Did he cross the oracle’s red line? Did he disobey the orders of the political godfather? Or did their political interests clash, in any way? There were so many questions, but answers were few. No one knew exactly what was going on. Anxiety mounted and we began to hear the name of the new choice, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, a former commissioner of establishment in the state. So, what is really happening?
A flurry of interventions commenced: sympathies for the embattled governor began to build up, even from Abuja. President Muhammadu Buhari had audience with Ambode in Aso Rock Villa in an effort, I suppose, to settle what many believed was a minor family feud that Mr. President could easily handle or, at least, put under control. Tinubu remained adamant and diplomatically encouraged his new choice, Sanwo-Olu, and the fifty-seven local government chairmen, and, in fact, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state to continue mobilising in favour of his new choice.
Meanwhile, Ambode had shown interest for a second term in office and had, in fact, bought the nomination forms for participation in the contest. He was tacitly advised to discontinue his bid to be re-elected, and to dismantle his Campaign Organisation because the party in the state had decided to field Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Not a finger was pointed at the exact reason or reasons why a sitting governor and party loyalist had been earmarked for this degree of harassment and humiliation. Governor Ambode has not, as I write this, risen in his own defence.
The continuing interventions and pleas for a rethink by Tinubu to support the re-election bid of this silent achiever and a calculating new breed politician seem not to be yielding fruits. Instead, Tinubu and his foot soldiers are consolidating their hold on party machinery in an effort to sufficiently isolate Ambode and his growing band of loyalists and sympathisers.
From Port Harcourt, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, publicly advised Ambode to call off the Tinubu bluff and seek re-election, if necessary, on a new political platform. Some APC governors are discreetly sympathetic to Ambode and have advised that the party in the state should revisit its handling of the delicate matter, before it spills over. And they readily point fingers at the recent governorship election in Osun State where, the contradictions in the politics of that state, considered an APC stronghold, have made it vulnerable and easy to snatch by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Can Tinubu and those who act for him possibly change their minds and allow Governor Ambode to complete two terms in office, as his predecessors did, or are they still bent on humiliating one of their loyal political actors out of office? These questions may remain unanswered for now, but there is a danger in destroying a man who, to the best of public knowledge, has not offended the oath of office he swore to uphold when he assumed office nor betrayed the social forces that created room for him to emerge as the flag-bearer of his party in 2014.
If Asiwaju Tinubu continues to insist that his instincts and preferences must determine who governs Lagos State and in what direction the party will go, he may, one day, have to contend with a huge rebellion within his own camp that could possibly and devastatingly destroy his political empire, smash the myth with which he has surrounded himself all these years, and deny him a suitable place in our political history. It is my hope and prayer that the curious myth about Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not dismantled or demystified by an avoidable political miscalculation in Lagos State.
Let me chip in this sweet coda, a small diversion, if I may. If Tinubu loses his well merited respect in Lagos State, that will not be a small tragedy. I hope he knows that his national politics has suffered seriously since his regrettable choice to closely associate with those elements who are pathologically opposed to the core political values of Southwest. The Southwest, which was our national mouthpiece and flagship for a Sovereign National Conference, Restructuring, True Federalism and Fiscal Federalism, Devolution of Power to the States, etc, during the infamous Babangida/Abacha era, suddenly became dumb and embarrassingly silent for a region and people known for its/their sound political foresight, from the Awolowo days.
The man I sometimes prefer to refer to as Senator Bola Tinubu must accept and appreciate that loyalists and disciples like Akinwunmi Ambode do not deserve rough tackles nor humiliation that they do not, in fact, deserve. In the eyes of many, Ambode is carrying a heavy burden for his loyalty to a principal whom he loves, cherishes and respects.
-Esinulo, a Journalist, writes from Lagos.