Agbaje vs Sanwo-Olu: Between an Old ‘Trooper’ and a New Infantry ‘Intake’

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Last week, Jimi Agbaje and Babajide Sanwo-Olu both emerged as the governorship candidates of the PDP and and APC respectively in Lagos. Samuel Ajayi looks at factors that may determine their fates and asks if Agbaje can get one over Tinubu’s political hold on Lagos for once

The Old Trooper Rolls the
Boots Again…
Jimi Agbaje is back again where he stopped four years ago. At the governorship primary election of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Agbaje had polled 1,100 votes to defeat Deji Doherty who polled 742 votes. And the chairman of the primary election panel, Victor Oyofo, did not waste time in announcing him as the party’s flag-bearer for the governorship election slated for next year.

Agbaje would be slugging it out, once again, with Babajide Sanwo-Olu who emerged as the governorship candidate of the All Progressive Congress, APC, albeit in controversial circumstances. Sanwo-Olu is the managing director of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation, LSDPC, before he was practically foisted on APC in Lagos as the National Leader of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, declared that Ambode would not be coming back.

In fact, speaking after casting his vote at his Alausa polling centre, the former governor of Lagos State practically sealed Ambode’s fate when he said he was a good administrator but “not a good party man.” Before then, entreaties upon entreaties had been made to Tinubu to rescind his decision and support Ambode but he stood his ground and Ambode was roundly defeated at the governorship primary election held across the state on Tuesday October 2nd, 2018.

Sources told THISDAY that Agbaje was not really interested in contesting again but when he saw the possible self-implosion apparently coming to the APC over the management of the Ambode saga, he decided to throw his hat into the ring again and his party duly obliged him its ticket.

Not a few believe this is going to be another interesting contest between Agbaje and Sanwo-Olu just as it was between him and Ambode in 2015. Then, Ambode polled 811,884 votes to defeat Agbaje who polled 659,788. The difference between the two was mere 158,206 votes. The differential was “mere” because of the much assumed belief that the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, was practically dead in Lagos. In fact, many had thought that the fratricidal war in the Lagos State chapter of the party was enough to seriously affect in the election of that 2015. To many, PDP would not only be defeated, it would be disgraced.

2015 Jonathan Factor…
In 2015, the anti-Buhari sentiment among the Igbo residents in Lagos was very high. In fact, it gave the APC establishment in the state a lot of concern. The Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, even threw caution into the winds and threatened any Igbo who voted for PDP with a throw into the lagoon. The Oba was to later recant but the damage had been done. The permutation was simple. Igbos considered (and still consider, though) Jonathan as one of their own. The thinking was that if Lagos was delivered to him, it would help him in retaining the presidency. And due to their love for Jonathan, Agbaje became their adopted political son.

It is no brainer to know that pro-PDP sentiment of the Igbo community in Lagos remains strong just as it was in 2015. The thinking of an average Igbo young person is that the ruling APC seems to be fighting a war against them and this perhaps explains the upsurge in the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, movement led by their mercurial leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
Will Igbos in Lagos do encore for Agbaje again in 2019? It remains to be seen.

The Mighty Tinubu Factor…
Hate or love him, Tinubu has a stranglehold on the politics of Lagos State. He seems to understand the essence of Nigerian politics like the back of his hand. He also understands the meaning of patronage and the fact that practically almost every Nigerian who goes into politics does so for personal reasons. He usually uses that as bait to buy loyalty. With this at the back of his mind, he knows that for you to be relevant, you have to have access to a lot of cash and be also let such trickle down to the last party member in the lowest rung of the political ladder.

“Tinubu has been able to build loyalty with this mentality in mind,” a politician in Lagos and member of the APC told THISDAY yesterday. The guy, a security consultant who does not want his name in print, said anyone who comes close to the man his followers love to call Ashiwaju (the leader) has never regretted knowing him.
“He brought most of them up and made them somebody and he also makes it mandatory that they do same to those below them. It is a creed that members of his political family understands and use as a manual.”

As it is, Sanwo-Olu does not have any political structure. In fact, ninety per cent of those who were made to cast their votes for him last week did not know him as at three months ago. He was just another ‘Lagosian’ who happened to have gotten political appointment under the present government. But all that changed the moment Tinubu stepped in. Sanwo-Olu became a household name within weeks. And he went ahead to win the primary election. Even when the Ambode camp cried blue murder, fact remained that were the election to be conducted ten times, Sanwo-Olu would always win.

Lagos for ‘Lagosians’ Alone…
While there have been utmost maturity about it, there is no state where the indigene/settle debate is as pronounced as it is in Lagos. Those whose great grandparents and grandparents were ‘Lagosians’ believe they have been outsmarted in the scheme of things as far as politics of the state is concerned. It is a general saying in political circles in Lagos that Tinubu is from Osun State. And to underline the dynamism and lack of morality in politics, those who defended Ambode when it was said he was from Ondo State three years ago actually used same peculiarity to campaign against him in the build up to the governorship primary election.

In the same vein, words have been going round that even the new APC candidate, Sanwo-Olu, is from Ijebu division of Ogun State. There are those who believe such argument is very pedestrian as these non-indigenes have contributed immensely to the development of Lagos in the last 100 years. But such argument does not hold water with those who hold, and rightly so, that real indigenes of Lagos have not really benefitted from the state politically.
Will Agbaje benefit from this sentiment and get protest votes from those who are even card carrying members of APC? This remains to be seen.

Breaking Tinubu’s Stranglehold…
Even some of his loyalists and admirers believe the former Lagos State governor seems to be overreaching himself with the way he practically behaves as if he is the sole administrator of the state. He decides who gets what and who does not. In fact, one of his admirers told this reporter that no matter how popular an aspirant is, if he does not get Tinubu’s blessing, he is wasting his time. His nomination of Sanwo-Olu and ensuring he seamlessly picked the party was another indication of his enormous political influence.

“Tinubu at times overdoes it. But he may not know. However, it takes the grace of God for someone who has achieved what he has achieved in politics not to play God at times. That is why I don’t blame him at times. And there are those who use his name to do certain things that he does not send them,” a journalist who is very close to the APC leader stated.
Not a few believe this has to be broken one way or the other. But again, this remains to be seen as countdown to the governorship election begins and candidates outdo themselves in trying to woo over voters.
For now, Agbaje is back in familiar turf. Will Sanwo-Olu lose some sleep? Time till tell.