Epic Battle For The Soul Of Lagos - by Omolola Ajekigbe

The presidential election held on March 28 has come and gone, with many heaving a huge sigh of relief as a result of the feared unrest being averted by the timely concession of defeat by President Goodluck Jonathan. But it is not yet Uhuru. 

The governorship election in a majority of the states of the federation comes up this Saturday. Lagos in particular is on the radar, and understandably so because it is the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, the hub which generates a substantial proportion of the revenue of the country. Lagos being the most populous city in Nigeria, the second fastest-growing city in Africa and the seventh fastest-growing city in the world, with a population of about 20 million people has earned all the attention it receives as the microcosm of Nigeria, and so when Lagos sneezes, the rest of the country catches the flu!

It is no longer news that two main candidates are vying to be at the helm of affairs in Lagos for the next four years. Jimi Agbaje of the Peoples Democratic Party and Akinwunmi Ambode of the All Progressives Congress. These governorship hopefuls are poised to slug it out on Saturday. But beyond the governorship candidates, the titanic battle for the heart of Lagos rages between their supporters and godfathers who are leaving no stone unturned in ensuring victory for their respective candidates. From accusations and counter-accusations between the two main political parties to arguments between friends and foes alike who support different candidates to tweet fights and Facebook disagreements even among people who are strangers to one another, it is obvious that this particular election in Lagos State has assumed the dimension of a make-or-break affair for many people, particularly with the PDP losing at the centre two weeks ago.

The political landscape in Lagos was further heated up within the week by the statement credited to the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, threatening the Igbo population in Lagos with death by drowning if they do not vote for his preferred candidate, the APC’s Akinwunmi Ambode. A threat which appears to have emanated from the voting pattern of the Igbo in the last round of elections that saw a majority of them vote for President Goodluck Jonathan, as well as the PDP candidates of Igbo origin winning three federal constituencies in the state. The statement has expectedly created fresh tension and a war of words between the APC and the PDP supporters in the state, and even though the palace sought to clarify the monarch’s statement, many Lagosians are not convinced seeing that the audio and video recordings of the incident have gone viral. It is highly unimaginable that a traditional ruler who is supposed to be non-partisan and a father to all his subjects would make such an unfortunate statement and it will be interesting to see if the utterances of the Oba could make a significant dent in the chances of Ambode and by extension the APC at the polls.

As much as the latest imbroglio caused by the “hate speech” of Oba Akiolu appears to have given the opposition party’s candidate some sort of advantage over his political opponent at this crucial stage of the electioneering, particularly among many Igbo voters who have vowed to vote for him out of defiance of the Oba’s threat, it is an election that is too close to call judging from the close figures recorded between the two parties during the presidential election. This is coupled with the fact that both men already have their die-hard supporters and loyalists who will vote for them regardless of any new development at this eleventh hour.

Beyond the two candidates, the battle for the soul of Lagos is like a game of chess between two controversial godfathers. The Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State who is gradually assuming a legendary status in Nigerian politics, and Chief Bode George, a former military governor of Ondo State. Both men are committed to ensuring that their protege emerges winner for many reasons, part of which is an ego trip, as the winning godfather will most likely call the shots in Lagos for the next four years!

It is also interesting to note that neither candidate is devoid of controversy. It has been alleged that Ambode was unceremoniously relieved of his duties as the Accountant-General of Lagos State, and even though this has been denied by both Ambode and his former boss, Governor Babatunde Fashola, some insiders in the civil service swear it is true! On the other hand, Agbaje has also been constantly badgered about being the stooge of George, especially considering the controversial circumstances that led to his emergence as the PDP torch-bearer.

I have been asked by a couple of people who I am rooting for between these two candidates, and my answer has always been the same — “I am not particularly thrilled by any of them being at the helm of affairs in Lagos”, and so up till this moment, I still don’t have a candidate. However, come Saturday, Lagosians will be required to choose between the better of the two. Having the finances of Lagos in the continued control of Tinubu or a change of baton to the hands of George and his cronies. Time will tell which way the votes will swing.