The story that the Lagos State House of Assembly rejected 17 commissioner-nominees out of 39 names sent by Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State governor, looked every inch like fake news initially, but it turned out to be true. It was indeed breaking news! If it was in my sleep that I received the news, I would have described it as a bad dream.
Although 22 commissioner-nominees were confirmed, the trending story was the number rejected. I struggled to understand what exactly was going on because a house divided against itself can not stand. Is Lagos losing its innocence?
To the best of my knowledge, this would be the first time that a list of possible commissioners would be thrown back at any governor of Lagos State since 1999. If you do the math, 17 out of 39 is 43.6 per cent – a significant number.
Why did the lawmakers reject a whopping 17 commissioner-nominees? Couldn’t the House Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, and Mr. Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, speak on the matter one-on-one and resolve the “grey areas,” or is there something that they are not telling us? Obasa who is representing Agege 1 Constituency was re-elected for the sixth term during the March 18 election and returned as a third time speaker.
It means he fully understands the politics of engagement in the coastal state in terms of context and nuance. Lagos is a powerful brand and clearly the centre of enterprise growth in the country. The implication is that the state must continue to lead from the front in view of its strategic importance.
In an earlier article, I stated that Lagos State has a GDP of over N45 trillion and a massive retail market that encourages manufacturing sector activities. The World Economic Forum says about 24 million people live in Lagos, and close to 2,000 people from across Nigeria arrive in Lagos every day in search of economic opportunities.
Apparently, Obasa and his colleagues were satisfied with the work of the screening committee headed by the House Chief Whip, Fatai Mojeed. What is playing out is that the lawmakers are clearly not on the same page with Sanwo-Olu and rejecting as many as 17 nominees is their own way of expressing their feelings and sending a strong message to him.
You may not believe this, but the state House of Assembly has 40 members out of which 38 are members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), while the Labour Party (LP) has two members. It is evident that all is not well in the APC House in Lagos State.
The political optics are not good for APC – both at the state and national levels. This is a matter that should worry the APC members. Was rejecting 17 nominees from the governor a smart decision?
From the standpoint of acting as a check on the executive, you cannot fault the House of Assembly; the lawmakers provided proper oversight through the screening process and the confirmation that followed.
No one – and that includes me – expects the House of Assembly to be a rubber stamp or an appendage of the executive, but that is not what is at issue here. To be fair, the rejection of the nominees didn’t sound like a political gobbledygook, but it looked like the playbook of engagement in Lagos APC politics was being re-written. The lawmakers were serious about their position, and they had drawn the first blood.
Rejecting 17 nominees did not speak well of the governor who, by the way, is in his second term, neither did it enhance the reputation of the state in any way. It was another way of saying Sanwo-Olu did not do his “homework” well. Are the lawmakers also saying the governor did not consult widely? That is highly unlikely.
When Sanwo-Olu proclaimed the House for the commencement of legislative duties, I don’t know whether he saw this strong push back coming from the lawmakers – most of whom he knows one-on-one and by name.
If the governor had any hint, I am sure he would have stopped it. Politicians always have interests but when those interests no longer align, they wash their dirty linen openly in the public. Politicians fight for positions and their own interests. Most of the time, these interests are selfish.
Legislators at the subnational and national levels know how to take care of themselves by working hand-in-hand with the executive – in spite of the so-called separation of powers. Politicians are experts in negotiation, lobbying and horse-trading. There are always expectations to be met, but trade-offs and missed opportunities can be expensive.
Were the commissioner-nominees rejected because they were not qualified, or was this just a case of political grandstanding? Are there other political under-currents which have not been made public?
Whatever it is, there have been mixed reactions since the matter became public knowledge. We should not be surprised that religion, region, tribe and ethnicity will always be factors in our politics. It is about protection of territories and sectional interests.
Managing Nigeria’s diversity is always a hard nut to crack. The first national anthem composed by Ms. Lilian Jean Williams, a British woman, reminds us that we should stand together in “brotherhood” although tribe and tongue may differ, but it is hardly the case.
The Lagos Muslim Community, as reported by the Nation newspaper, staged a protest over what they described as alleged “marginalisation” of the list of commissioner-nominees because the list was heavily in favour of another religion.
Some lawmakers, according to the newspaper report, expressed their dissatisfaction over the list because it did not reflect their expectations and those of their constituents. The issue of not having “APC technocrats” was raised by Nureni Akinsanya, representing Mushin Constituency. He also complained that the list did not come with the local government areas of the nominees.
These are valid points and we should not be surprised that they are coming up. What is however surprising is that APC members who are in the majority in the House of Assembly are struggling to keep their house together by displaying poor housekeeping manners openly.
Even if the list of commissioners-nominees did not tick all the boxes, there are better ways of going about it. In a cosmopolitan city like Lagos, the different organs of government are required to work together – as it has always been – for the overall benefit of Lagosians. If Lagos State were to be a country, it would rank as the 5th largest economy in Africa.
On the list are returning commissioners who distinguished themselves during Sanwo-Olu’s first term in office. Did the lawmakers suddenly realise that they are no longer good enough for an encore?
Professor Akin Abayomi (Health), Gbenga Omotoso (Information and Strategy), Sam Egube (Economic Planning) and Mrs. Folashade Adefisayo (Education) served previously as commissioners, and they were among those rejected by the screening committee.
It can be argued that there are others who can also serve in their stead, and serve well. Yes, that is a plausible argument, but I am sure Mr. Governor had his reasons for bringing them back. The solution is about managing our diversity by taking care of all “interests” through stakeholder engagement and management.
Sanwo-Olu may be down in this round but he is certainly not out; there are actually no winners and losers. The way forward is for the governor to re-engage with the lawmakers and review his list carefully reflecting on what needs to change. It is a bridge he can still cross because there’s so much work to be done.
The leadership of APC in Lagos and Abuja, Sanwo-Olu and his cabinet, and the House of Assembly form an important tripod in the administration of Lagos State. They should and must work together harmoniously for a greater Lagos, the nation’s vibrant commercial capital.
-Braimah is a global public relations and marketing strategist. He is also the publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://ntm.ng) and Lagos Post (https://lagospost.ng), and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.