Like dew in the sun, Governor Ambode’s second term ambition still hangs in the balance amidst increasing support for his most likely successor, Jide Sanwo-Olu, writes Olaseni Durojaiye
For the first time in the political history of Lagos State a democratically elected governor may not return to office for a constitutionally guaranteed second term in office, and that is putting it mildly. If this happens, as the political events daily unfolding in the state portend, he will be slipping into the history books.
All past democratically elected governors of the state enjoyed the honour. The only exception, Sir Michael Otedola didn’t have the benefit of re-contesting due to the General Sanni Abacha palace coup.
The first elected governor of the state, Alhaji Lateef Jakande got the automatic ticket of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and was re-elected in 1983 before the military junta struck and cut short his second term in office.
Upon the return of democratic rule in 1999, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu secured the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) after he edged out the late Funsho Williams and went on to win a re-election.
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola enjoyed same. But the chances of Governor Ambode continuing the trend are disappearing by the day.
Instead, Babajide Sanwoolu, a former Commissioner for Establishment and Managing Director, Lagos State Development and Property Company (LSDPC), appears the new Sherriff coming off the block, to town.
Several moves, including from the presidency, to intervene and get the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to agree to support the governor’s second term bid have so far hit the rocks.
Multiple sources in the know of happenings in the Lagos political circles insisted that the matter is foreclosed. One source suggested last week that except for a political tsunami, the type never seen before happens; Sanwoolu remains the party’s choice for the governorship elections in the state come next year.
But how did Governor Ambode get himself into this sorry state? Findings indicated he shot himself in the foot on account of his leadership style, unpopular policies and “brazen ignorance of the laws of power in a complex political setting.”
According to a political party chieftain, the journey to his present state started long before now.
Governor Ambode’s tinkering with the existing waste management arrangement in the state was one of the major policies that pitted him against a cross section of people in the state. The governor had scrapped the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and the Private Sector Partnership (PSP) waste management initiative and replaced the two with a company, Visionscape, managed largely by foreigners.
Scrapping LAWMA, considered one of Tinubu, his political benefactor’s legacies, reportedly set him on a collision cause with his political godfather. Tinubu had excised LAWMA from the old local government structure in the state. But the opposition to the introduction of Visionscape was most strident among the operators of the PSP, many of whom are considered party members and mobilisers at the grassroots level.
Lagosians initially hailed the introduction of Visionscape, having been sold on its profile as a world class waste Management Company. Even when the PSP operators started to kick, many ignored them and maintained that it was glaring that the PSP operators lacked efficient modern waste management capacity, the type that is mega city compliant.
But the music soon changed. Few months after Visionscape commenced operations, mountain of refuse began in pile up in urban centres. By the time many suburbs of the state were filled with filth capable of causing environmental and health hazards, it became obvious that the company lacked capacity to efficiently manage waste management in the centre of excellence even as it became obvious in whatever measure, that the PSP operators were adding value after all.
While the former staffers of LAWMA were thrown into unemployment, the PSP operators rued their economic losses and instituted a legal suit to challenge government’s action. On the political front, politicians have continued to complain endlessly to political leaders while at the same time resolved to ambush Governor Ambode, when another election year approaches.
One source familiar with the issue told THISDAY that “Governor Ambode got it wrong with the way he scrapped LAWMA and the PSP arrangement that he met on ground. Besides that Tinubu created LAWMA out of the old local government set up the employees of the agency are sources of votes for our party during election,” the source disclosed.
Continuing, the source said “The same thing with how he handled the PSP arrangement. Every political party empowers its members one way or the other, the PSP arrangement was a subtle empowerment model for many party loyalists; especially a cadre of our leaders at the grassroots.
Like it or not, it helps to keep them committed to the party. More so, many of them have electoral values; they are influencers in their own right and the party acknowledges them. Whatever his vision was, Ambode didn’t really think it through before embarking on such political suicide mission.”
The business community in the state was not left out of the anti-Ambode angst. They were alarmed by the increase in tenement rate payable in the state, another policy gaffe of the Ambode administration, although it was reversed. One source alleged that some business leaders, usually taciturn about taking on government, secretly provided funding for rights activists to challenge the proposed tenement rate regime in the courts.
Besides, the governor also drew the ire of many Lagosians with his handling of some projects initiated by his predecessor in office. Those who fly this reason for their disenchantment with him pointed at the Light rail project expected to connect parts of mainland Lagos to the Island and the Lekki corridor, the public housing project of the Fashola administration among others.
“Governor Ambode practically abandoned the LAGOS Homes projects. Everywhere you go you could see that work has either stopped completely or going on at snail speed, be it Ilubirin, in Lagos Island, Iponri in Surulere and other locations.
The same thing applies to the light rail project. You could tell that he was not committed to the projects; so where is the continuity that successive administration in Lagos is noted for?” the source who is an APC chieftain lamented.
Meanwhile, Governor Ambode’s imminent loss is looking more like Sanwoolu’s gain. Described as a brilliant mind, even if unknown to many people outside of the Lagos political space; like Babatunde Fashola and Governor Ambode, before they were headhunted by Tinubu and thrust into political klieg lights as governors of the state of aquatic splendour.
Factors that favoured his emergence include religious consideration and his understanding of the inner workings of the Lagos project on account of his long years in the state’s corridor of power even though he is from the Lagos Central Senatorial district, which produced former governor Fashola.
According to a party source, the permutations is that paired with Hamzat, who is from Lagos West Senatorial District, the two will prove unassailable for candidates from other political party, especially the PDP which is rumoured to be toying with the idea of fielding oil magnate Femi Otedola or Jimi Agbaje, who lost to Ambode the last time.
Beside his avowed competence, the religious considerations also favour him. One source said it was why he was chosen ahead of Femi Hamzat, who is Muslim, adding that his candidacy would give Christians among party faithful and the electorate in the state a sense of belonging.
The 53 years old Sanwoolu’s entry into the fray instantly changed the narrative. His aspiration is backed by the Mandate Movement, a political group within the APC that is reputed to be ‘fiercely loyal to Tinubu.’
Council chairmen in the state are said to belong to the group, which explained why the whole 57 of them under the aegis of Conference 57 immediately reportedly filed behind Sanwoolu, when the group endorsed him. The same council chairmen did the same thing for Ambode, when he was put forward by Tinubu in 2014.
Many in the APC fold see him as the right choice. This is partly because he has been a member of the administration in Lagos since 2003, when he was first appointed as Special Adviser on Corporate Matter to then Deputy Governor Femi Pedro.
An APC chieftain in the state described him as a bridge between the public and private sector, having put in over a decade in the private sector before joining public service
“Sanwoolu has been part of the administration in Lagos State. He was acting Commissioner for Budget and Planning, and later Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, then Commissioner for Establishment, Training and Pension. He is the type of candidate that our party needs right now. He is well aware of the developmental plans in the state and to me that is continuity. I can tell you that he is able to bring together all the groups in the party,” the highly placed source gushed.
True to type, PSP operators have pledged their support for his aspiration. The operator declared their support for him at a press Conference addressed by the body’s Vice Chairman, David Oriyomi. Their support is coming on the heels of hints that the private sector is already tacitly showing receptive signals to his governorship bid.