Lingering Political Battle for the Soul of Lagos

Segun James writes that the last appears not to have been heard about the recent face-off between Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon Mudashiru Obasa.

When the Governor of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, administered oath of office on the state commissioners last Tuesday, it was amid pomp and pageantry.

Seated in the audience was the deputy governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, leaders of the powerful Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC), the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon Mudashiru Obasa, top government functionaries and the representative of President Bola Tinubu and Minister of Solid Mineral, Mr. Dele Alake, whose son was also being sworn in as a commissioner.

If the Governor was agitated and uncomfortable by unfolding events in the polity in the last few weeks, he never betrayed it.

However, indications of it began surfacing when in his speech he denied that there was ever any rift between him and Obasa, and between the executive and the legislative arms.

To many observers of the politics of Lagos, this unprovoked speech is the clearest pointer to the crisis within. According to them, except there was something wrong, the Governor did not need to say anything. Besides, the presence of Alake was telling and strategic. He was there to ensure nothing changed from what was agreed upon.

That was the situation when the Deputy Governor was announced as the Commissioner for Works, a most strategic portfolio. Also, an elated Obasa was seen grinning from ear to ear as his candidate, Dr. Tajudeen Afolabi, was sworn-in as Commissioner for Civic Engagement and Political Education. To most observers, this was a classical case of the voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau.

There had to be a dark side to politics where even the obvious becomes mysterious. Following a face-off between Governor Sanwo-Olu and Speaker Obasa over the cabinet list that was rejected, the powerful GAC of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, which was set up by Asiwaju Bola  Tinubu to nip any brooding problem in the bud, had brokered a truce between the Governor and the Speaker under which the Governor was requested to re-present his cabinet nominees.

However, as a condition, the Speaker vehemently rejected five out of the original nominees presented thereby forcing the Governor to bring new names as replacement. The Governor did as requested. If this move meant an end to hostilities between him and the Speaker, he was mistaking. Obasa soon showed his hand as a consummate politician once again as the Governor had a rude shock when two of the  nominees were again rejected. Humiliation to the new political leader of the state.

After the intervention of the GAC, the House received a new list of cabinet nominees sent by the Governor. At the plenary, the Speaker urged the screening committee led by Hon. Fatai Mojeed to ensure a thorough screening process and report to the House on Thursday, September 6, barely two days away.

Before the Speaker’s comment, the Clerk of the House, Mr. Olalekan Onafeko, had read a letter from the Governor listing the names represented. In the letter, Sanwo-Olu said some of the names were re-presented while new names were added.

Titled: ‘Forwarding of Official List of Nominees for Appointment as Commissioners and Special Advisers’, the letter thanked the Speaker and members of the House for their diligence and commitment in relation to the recent screening and confirmation of 22 nominees.

“Your rigorous assessment of these nominees in adherence to your constitutional obligations demonstrates your dedication to ensuring a competent and effective council,” Sanwo-Olu said.

The Governor said after careful consideration of the 17 names that were rejected, “I have decided to represent a list of nominees which include a balanced selection of previously presented and new individuals. This list represents a broad political spectrum and diverse backgrounds reflective of the rich diversity of our lovely state,” he added in the letter.

Sanwo-Olu expressed confidence that the new nominees would bring fresh ideas that would help the growth and progress of Lagos. He urged the House to screen the nominees for clearance.

But when the House sat on Thursday, two of the nominees were rejected. They confirmed 15 out of the second batch of 18 nominees sent by the Governor. The confirmation happened after Hon. Mojeed Fatai, Chief Whip and chairman of the screening committee, had laid a report of the exercise before the House.

At the sitting presided over by Obasa, the lawmakers rejected Mr. Olalere Odusote, Mr. Samuel Egube. However, the House resolved to step down the confirmation of Mr. Tolani Sule Akibu for another day.

Obasa commended the committee saying the members did a thorough job screening the nominees. His position was supported by the lawmakers present at the plenary. If the Governor was humiliated before, he was this time humbled. The two nominees rejected were members of his star-studded team.

The most insidious thing about politics is its tendency to polarize. One crisis can be tackled by being quickly niped in the bud with a reasonable hope of success. But once it has spread, such hope is much less likely to be effective in the short term. This is the situation now in Lagos. The hope of peace is over between Sanwo-Olu and Obasa. The daggers are now drawn.

Anger on the issues is not directed at the Governor alone, but also aimed at the nominees whom the legislators accused of undermining them as elected representatives of the people. Olalere Odusote who was the immediate past Commissioner for Energy was accused of being arrogant and ineffective and has contributed nothing to the development system. It was said that the only thing that kept him in the cabinet was because he was a personal friend of the Governor and that he did not deserve a second coming as a cabinet member.

Mr. Sam Egube, as Commissioner for Economic and Budget Planning, was very innovative. In planning the state budget, he goes into communities and local government areas to meet the people directly and ask what they want the government to do for them and their communities.

This, surprisingly is where his problems stemmed from. In doing these, Ebube never carried the political class in such communities along nor did he invite the elected representatives of the people both at the state, local government or ward level. They see his actions as an affront and the government’s effort to undermine them.

As one of the ‘star boys’ in the Governor’s cabinet, his name was one of the rejected nominees that were resubmitted for consideration. But when the legislators met again to consider the list, they vehemently rejected him.

Like many places, Lagos remains deeply divided on the question of religion and ethnicity. In recent times, matters relating to religion has gained momentum, hence it was used as one of the reasons for rejecting the initial 17 nominees by the Assembly.

If they were not such rivals, Sanwo-Olu and Obasa could be twinned. Their strengths make a good fit. The political class in the state saw it as a combination that was good for the polity in the wake of Asiwaju Tinubu moving to Abuja as president. Yet, it was this that has set the state on fire and has polarized the polity.

In the rough and tumble politics of Lagos, no tradition is better honoured than the electoral give aways. Over the years, Tinubu had used the carrot and stick approach to effectively control politics in the state. He had ensured that his anointed are in power while visible projects on water, land, food and other necessities that Lagosians hold dear are doled out to the people. The result has been an effective hold on power. But now that Tinubu has climbed the political ladder to the presidency, Lagos is in crisis.

By Nigeria’s modest standard, Lagos is a success story. For the past 24 years, the state has been growing despite the inconsistencies in the national polity and economic system. However, the political rift rocking the state has never been experienced before.

The rivalry between Sanwo-Olu and Obasa for the political soul of the state did not start today. Both had always been poles apart since the Governor assumed office, even though there was an initial rapprochement.

It is known that more than half of all political couplings fail. Like many marriages ingrid in politics, they are often fraught with irreconcilable cultural and financial differences.

However, the rivalry took a bitter turn following the election of President Tinubu. Following the decision of the President to hand over the political control of the state to Sanwo-Olu, the Speaker saw his dreams to contest the governorship election in 2027 gradually ebbing away.

After he was persuaded by Tinubu not to contest the Lagos West senate position vacated by Senator Yayi Olamilekan, Obasa has been working on an intriguing idea: to contest the governorship of the state.

He decided to refocus his ambition on 2027 when Sanwo-Olu’s two-term tenure would have expired. But all efforts to champion the move were said to have been frustrated by the Governor who later attempted to frustrate his return as Speaker.

But with the latest move by the Speaker, the battle line may have been drawn. But who is going to win? Who will be the next politician to bite the political dust? That’s the question as the warriors move into the trenches.

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