Ambode’s Re-election Déjà vu

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Although the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, is largely believed to have secured sufficient public approval in the last three years in terms of delivery of good governance, certain forces within and outside his political network are alleged to be working against his second term bid. Akinwale Akintunde gives an insight into some of the intrigues likely to militate against his re-election bid

The last six months have been challenging for Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. His challenge is not really due to the backlash of a new waste disposal regime, which was introduced in 2017. It is also not about the 2018 Land Use Charge Act, which caused a momentary storm in the state.

Even though the corollaries of the two regimes had elicited public wrath, Ambode’s job was not really on the line. Despite strategic reforms his regime had introduced and massive infrastructure projects it had implemented within three years, Ambode was recently caught in the web of high wire political intrigues.

For different reasons, therefore, certain political actors have been plotting against his re-election, a development that is already redefining the politics of succession in the state. That, perhaps, might be the reason the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has not publicly endorsed him in spite of the streaks of endorsements streaming in.

Ambode’s travails became open last weekend. In a conversation with THISDAY, factional Chairman of Lagos APC, Mr. Fouad Oki, revealed that Ambode’s re-election had long been under threat. He fingered the Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, in the plot “to stop Ambode from seeking re-election in February 2019.”

However, according to Oki, Aregbesola is not hatching the plot alone. Among others, Oki claimed that he was working with the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa and Chairman of the House Committee on Lands, Hon. Bayo Oshinowo, to thwart Ambode’s return to Lagos House.

Oki was unequivocal about Aregbesola’s subtle plot against Ambode’s second term plan. He alleged that Aregbesola “has been meeting political groups in the state just to stop Ambode. His allies have problems with Ambode. As a result, they have made up their mind on what the result of the primaries will be. If they have issues with him, they should not situate it within the party process.”

Behind the Plot
With his sterling record of performance, what could have gone wrong between Ambode and Tinubu? What roles are Aregbesola and his allies playing in Ambode’s travails? Where has Ambode offended them? Different political leaders, who spoke in confidence with THISDAY, explained what might have pitted Tinubu’s allies against Ambode.

Evident in Oki’s revelation, Tinubu did not originally have issues with Ambode. Rather, according to a key leader in Oshodi, Aregbesola and his associates are not really at home with Ambode. He acknowledged that their grouse with Ambode started before the 2017 local government elections and became full-blown during the recent constitution of the LGA/LCDA executive council.
Before the council elections, for instance, the party leader explained that Ambode promoted the candidature of some party faithful, who supported his election in 2015. However, he explained, Aregbesola and allies opposed Ambode’s support for those candidates and eventually edged them out of the contest.

Since his candidates could not secure tickets, the leader noted that Ambode nominated them “to be secretaries of some LGAs and LCDAs.” At the initial stage, he said Tinubu, Ambode and the APC State Executive Committee (SEC), then under the chairmanship of Otunba Oladele Ajomale, agreed on a list of nominees for different positions in all the 20 LGAs and the 37 LCDAs.

After the whole process, he said all the council chairmen agreed “to abide by the list of nominees the SEC compiled to accommodate all interests in Lagos APC. They all signed to implement the proposal of the SEC, which was designed to address deep-seated grievances that resulted from the outcome of the primaries. Except in a few cases, council chairmen never implemented it.

“Rather, they threw away the resolution of the SEC and inaugurated their own Executive Councils. After he was briefed by different groups, Tinubu eventually summoned a peace meeting. It was resolved at the meeting that all interests should maintain status quo. That was how Ambode was schemed out entirely.”
After Aregbesola gained control of most LGAs and LCDAs, another leader in Lagos Island alleged that the Ambode-Aregbesola friction became worse. He explained how Aregbesola’s allies reported the governor to Bourdilon, the home of Tinubu. He said they accused Ambode of building his political groups across the state “to undermine Tinubu’s leadership. They allegedly twisted the facts presented to our leader.”
Across the state, he explained that Ambode “has a support group with members in all LGAs and LCDAs. He set up the support group before he got party nomination. And its members have been canvassing support for Ambode’s re-election. Sadly, the activities of the support group were reported to Tinubu.”

At the end of the meeting, according to him, the matter was resolved in favour of Aregbesola’s allies the second time. He said Tinubu directed Ambode “to collapse his support group into the Mandate Group, a support group of grass-roots leaders that Aregbesola founded before 2003 to rival the Justice Forum, another political group that helped Tinubu win the 1999 governorship election and led by Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat, now a king in Ogun State.

Besides the problem with Ambode’s support group, a party faithful from Kosofe provided an entirely different perspective to the plot against the governor. He said, “These people are complaining about Ambode’s policy decisions, especially his waste management reforms. Most members of the Mandate Group are waste collection operators (WCOs). The new waste policy edged them out of reckoning entirely.
“That indeed explained why the policy did not succeed and its eventual reversal to the old regime that only served parochial interests. They perceived it as an attack on their survival. But Ambode introduced the policy in order to manage over 13,000 metric tonnes of wastes generated in Lagos metropolis daily.”

He equally cited Ambode’s decision “to dismiss some members of the State Executive Council as another allegation they brought against him.” He said Aregbesola and his allies were not particularly disappointed at the manner the governor dismissed Mr. Ganiyu Johnson as the Commissioner for Works & Infrastructure.
However, the leader added, “Ambode did not dismiss any cabinet member on his own. He allowed them to leave after due consultation. Some left due to poor performance. Others quit because of their insubordination. The case of Johnson was not different. He was allegedly insubordinate. He claimed that he spent millions to support Ambode’s campaign. He even demanded a return of what he allegedly spent.”

Beyond the Plot
Aregbesola’s allies are not working against Ambode alone, according to an APC chieftain in Alimosho, they “are working against all political figures that are not members of the Mandate Group.” He claimed that the Oki faction pulled out of Lagos APC due to what he described as Aregbesola’s undue domination.”

He added that the Oki faction pulled out due to injustice and unfairness, which he said had been “a cause for concern for most party faithful especially, those who could not go with Oki or defect to another political party. We are all political disciples of Tinubu. We often work in his interest. But it is wrong to hand over the APC structure in the state to Aregbesola alone.”

The chieftain further explained that there are four main political groups that are loyal to Tinubu in the state. The groups are the Justice Forum (JF), which have been in place before 1999; Mandate Group, which Aregbesola set up to rival the JF; Crusader, which Ajomale established to broaden Tinubu’s support base in Ejigbo, Isolo and Oshodi as well as Ideal Group, which Senator Ganiyu Solomon established to consolidate Tinubu’s support base across the state but domiciled in Mushin.

Although there were many other such groups in the state at the time, the four are the main groups visible to the public.
Immediately after the 2007 election, according to the chieftain, it was agreed that there should not be different political groups in Lagos ACN. He said an agreement was also signed “to stop all support groups. Tinubu was privy to it. While other leaders collapsed their groups in honour of the agreement and deference to Tinubu, Aregbesola did not honour the agreement.

“In the House of Assembly and all local councils, Obasa and Oshinowo have been compelling all elected and appointed officers to join the Mandate Group. This is an outright breach of the agreement we are signatories to. They always attribute their decision to Tinubu. But we all know it is not true. Most of us did not like this development. But we can no longer keep quiet.”

The alleged breach of this agreement was evident in the just concluded ward and local government congresses. The former lawmaker noted that the process was a charade. In some places, there was no congress in almost all parts of the state. Where there was congress, there was violence, which claimed lives in some parts.

“In Kosofe, for instance, it was a case of violence. The congress could not hold. In Agboyi-Ketu, there was no congress. In Alimosho, former Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefilure was schemed out of the process. In Epe, they doctored Ambode’s list. There is no local council, where there is no issue just because Aregbesola and Oshinowo want to control the APC structure in Lagos,” the source pointed out.

Beyond the plot against Ambode, the former lawmaker claimed that Aregbesola “is nursing a senatorial aspiration in Lagos West, a position currently being occupied by Senator Solomon Olamilekan. Oshinowo has been working underneath to edge out Senator Gbenga Ashafa from returning to the Senate next year. He has been moving round Ikorodu and Epe, seeking support. But we are all waiting for them.”
According to him, there is no trust again across the party. A lot of party chieftains are dissatisfied with the way Tinubu has allowed Aregbesola and his allies to exclude key leaders that have been instrumental to the success of his party since 1999. Oki and his supporters left before Aregbesola and Oshinowo. Others leaders, who have not left, are not happy, because they have been excluded.

Hope in the Horizon?
For some party leaders, the Ambode-Aregbesola feud is similar to what his immediate predecessor, Babatunde Fashola (SAN) encountered between 2009 and 2011. Before Fashola finally secured re-election, Tinubu’s allies came together under the aegis of the True Face of Lagos (TFL) to truncate his re-election bid.

One APC leader noted that Ambode “has not experienced one tenth of what Fashola went through in the hands of those claiming to be more Tinubu than others. They would have impeached him had it been the court did not stop the State House of Assembly. They almost pushed Fashola out of the defunct ACN.”

Specifically, another former lawmaker explained that the reason the TFL could not impeach Fashola then was because the party stalwarts “stood with Fashola. At the end, Tinubu allowed reason to prevail. He eventually endorsed Fashola for second term in 2011.
Thus, Ambode’s travail is not too different from what happened to Fashola.

“Ambode has not done anything wrong except that he has been a patriot to a fault. With his rising profile, there is the fear that Ambode might edge them out of favour. He has been committed to implementing the APC manifesto. He has been patriotic to Tinubu more than any of them. He has been executing people-oriented projects. These people are working against Ambode in their own interest.”
This notwithstanding, other insider sources have claimed that the rift is even deeper than this and that Tinubu and Ambode have personal scores to settle, which also borders greatly on politics of ambition. While that is being downplayed, stakeholders are striving hard to close the gap in collective interests.

Thus, two developments have already indicated hope in the horizon. First, in a report by his media aide, Mr. Sola Fasure, Aregbesola debunked all the allegations, which Oki and other party chieftains have brought against him. He alleged that Oki only had a mission “to destroy Lagos APC. The APC factional leader is just making frantic effort to cause internal rift within the party.”
Aregbesola also claimed that Oki just wanted “to cause conflict where there is no reason for one. The allegation against Aregbesola is totally ridiculous. It is true Aregbesola is a leader in Lagos politics. But he will not work against Ambode’s interest. As a party faithful, we will not allow them to destroy the party.”

The other development is that Aregbesola had promptly paid an unscheduled visit to the national leader at his Bourdillon residence. But Aregbesola’s visit might not be unconnected with the alleged plot against Ambode’s re-election. Subsequently, Aregbesola also visited Ambode at the State House on June 9. The outcome of the meeting, THISDAY learnt, indeed shows there is hope in the horizon for Ambode.