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Bola Tinubu’s protégés and a brewing storm over 2019

By Sunny Ogefere and Seye Olumide
23 March 2017   |   4:32 am
When Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode resorted to the public to vent his frustrations over the inability to secure approval from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, for some projects in Lagos, not many were fooled.

Ambode’s, Fashola’s outbursts bare the nuances of Lagos 2019 guber tussle
When Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode resorted to the public to vent his frustrations over the inability to secure approval from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, for some projects in Lagos, not many were fooled.

It is obvious that the affinity between him and his predecessor in office, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) who incidentally heads the federal ministry in question, has not only gone sour but has gone beyond hiding.

The duo has been on pretence-spree in the past two years and actually strived to let the Nigerian public especially Lagosians believe that all has been well with them.

But the lie that is grounded in the animosity generated in the wake of the 2015 governorship race for the state, is giving way to the fact that the division in the political family of their progenitor and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has come to the fore as the gladiators scheme over who occupies Lagos State Government House, Alausa in 2019.

It is not the first time that Lagos state government would be quarreling with the Federal Government or any of its agencies over projects that have to do with the state neither is it unusual.

For instance, it was normal for governor Tinubu of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to openly clash with President Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Under Fashola of Action Congress (AC)/APC, Lagos collaborated with Umoru Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan PDP-led presidency to accomplish the magnificent Ikoyi-Lekki Link Bridge among other projects in spite of their political incompatibility.

Thus when an APC-controlled state begins to spat over projects with a federal agency equally supervised by the same party, then something is amiss. This still underscored by the fact that the heads of the organisations in question are from the same state and that the minister handed over to Ambode as governor.

Sources asserted that the crisis is path of the battle for supremacy over 2019 governorship race in the state and not necessarily over projects or services designed to better the lot of Lagosians.

Fashola admitted this much when he said that Ambode’s tantrums should be seen beyond the letterings, insinuating that there is more to it than perhaps what the two are telling the public.

He contended for instance, that Ambode’s charges came just after one week of their speaking with him on the issues. And was quick to let the world know that it was the first time they were talking to each other on telephone since May 2015 when Ambode took over from him.

His words: “The motive behind these public accusations must therefore be scrutinized coming barely a week after the Governor spoke with the Honourable Minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN on the outstanding requests of the State for several minutes and the Minister took time to explain the situation of things to the Governor. (The first telephone conversation the Governor has had with the Minister since May 29, 2015).

“If there is any lack of co-operation it is on the part of the State Government that has refused to acknowledge not to talk of approving the Ministry’s request for land of the National Housing Programme in Lagos.

In fact, the construction of the Lagos Airport Road, which was the basis for taking their grudges to the public, has remained a bone of contention between Lagos and the government at the centre throughout the 16 years the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controlled the federal government.

In 2007, when Fashola was seeking reelection as governor his campaign harped specifically on the construction of the Airport Road, arguing that if the PDP, government had conceded the right to construct the road, Lagos would have done the road without delay.

On many occasions, Tinubu spoke of the same road during campaigns in Lagos, vilifying erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for not conceding the right to reconstruct the road to Lagos State.

Ambode’s controversial exit from service
However, many are not hoodwinked that the road suddenly became contentious for the two – Fashola and Ambode – who not only belonged to the same party but also come from the same state and should be seen to be fighting for the same interest.

Beyond the recent altercations, sources traced the ill feelings to the assumed controversial exit of Ambode, then accountant general of the state, from service in 2012 while Fashola was the governor.

The crisis predated the dummy being sold to the public, as it was alleged that Ambode was pressured by Fashola about 2012 to either resign or be prepared to be shown the way out over some purported financial impropriety.

In particular, Fashola was said to have been uncomfortable with the manner his accountant general (Ambode) handled the withheld Lagos councils funds that the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua released to the state after several years of seizure by the administration of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

Sources claimed that Ambode deferred to former governor, Tinubu as against Fashola over the management of the councils funds. The argument is that Tinubu was in power during the period Obasanjo seized the funds.

Besides, Ambode was instrumental to successful management of the finances of Lagos during the period Tinubu’s administration was denied the funds. That was the period Lagos invented aggressive means of internally generated revenue (IGR) to run the councils and also pay council workers.

Fashola reportedly got irked by the supposed disloyal act and decided to show the accountant general the way out but some influential persons within the party prevailed on him.

Said a source: “Instead of allowing Fashola to disgrace Ambode out of office, he was given the option to ease him (Ambode) out, not knowing it was part of a game plan to prepare Ambode to take over in 2015.

“Fashola unknowingly bought into the scheme by easing Ambode out of service and even gave him a commendation letter for meritorious service; which became part of the defence of Ambode during the 2015 gubernatorial election when the opposition claimed that he was not fit to rule Lagos having been sacked for alleged fraudulent acts. The commendation letter issued to Ambode by the minister was tendered as evidence that he retired voluntarily from service.”

2015 governorship ticket crisis
Also a source of dispute between the two is the intrigues and buildup to the APC governorship primaries in 2014.

There were different versions of how Fashola did not want Ambode to succeed him as well as his efforts to use the office of the governor to block Ambode despite Tinubu’s favourable disposition to the incumbent governor.

Such was the report of how the Lagos APC, in one of its meetings before the primary, to deliberate on several issues, including who succeeded Fashola in 2015, ran into a deadlock over the ambitions of Ambode and the former commissioner for Works, Mr. Obafemi Hamzat.

With Fashola backing Hamzat, the lobbying and struggle was subtle but threatened the unity of the party as it almost brought Fashola in direct confrontation with Tinubu. Observers wondered whether the minister had the guts to move against his mentor, but eventually Hamzat lost out in the battle.

Some asserted that Fashola did not rest on his oars, claiming that in his determination to ensure that Ambode didn’t make it to the Alausa seat of government, he propped up another aspirant, the then commissioner for Justice, Supo Shasore but lost again.

A major factor that worked against Fashola was his inability to have a grip on the APC’s structure in the state, which Tinubu controlled firmly.

Fashola’s commitment to Ambode’s campaign
Having won the party’s primary held at the Onikan Stadium on December 5, Ambode faced the second hurdle of raising sufficient fund as well as combating the popularity of Mr. Jimi Agbaje, the PDP candidate at the general elections. Alongside these challenges, was the issue of non-indigene residents in Lagos who tilted towards the opposition party.

It was speculated widely then that but for the intervention of some bigwigs within the party, Fashola as governor had tactfully denied Ambode the needed fund for the campaigns.

Manifestation of the crisis
Shortly after the governorship election was conducted and won, the misunderstanding between him and Fashola started getting to the public. This manifested in the several allegations of corruption and insinuations that Fashola mismanaged the state’s finances before exiting office.

That was when it became rife that Ambode might possibly probe Fashola over some financial dealings. Later, it was hinted that the governor and his immediate predecessor are not on talking terms and that Ambode planned to terminate all the contracts awarded by Fashoa.

About six months after leaving office, the media particularly the online portals were assailed with negative reports about one financial misdemeanor or the other committed by Fashola as governor. The general impression was that APC was divided in Lagos.

Analysts maintained that the development raised posers as to whether Ambode was deliberating working on a script to rubbish his predecessor or perhaps the travails were a continuation of the perceived ‘cold war’ between Fashola and their mentor, Tinubu.

Thus Fashola, whose administration at a point in time was presented as the image of good governance in Nigeria, suddenly found his public persona plummeting to the extent that he had to raise the alarm that some people had been paid to censure him over phantom charges.

The identity of the ‘faceless paid-masters’ is still in the dark till date but subsequently, it was apparent that some aggrieved members of the APC worked against his attempt to move up the political ladder and this was manifest when President Muhammadu Buhari was shopping for cabinet members.

Allegations against Fashola
Not a few fingered Tinubu and Ambode in this respect. Fashola was accused of spending N78 million to design a personal website.

Other allegations included spending N1.2 billion on the construction of pedestrian bridges along Eti-Osa – Lekki – Epe Expressway; N17 million awarded for the provision of wall signage in three magistrate courts; N3.46 billion spent for the construction of a beach resort in Ilase; N61 million disbursed for the procurement of Range Rover SUV and two Toyota Hilux vans as the official vehicles of the Chief Judge of the state; spending of N85 million for the repair and replacement of street signs and N330 million for the development of the residence of Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the immediate past deputy governor; among others.

However, Fashola asserted that those asking the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate him were paid huge sums of money to do so, and claimed that the N78mllion contract approved for the website, was not only meant for website development, but also mobile application development and other things.

He dismissed the allegations of extra marital paternity, saying that he did not father any child outside wedlock but only adopted three children who were orphaned by the Dana Airline crash of 2012, in accordance with the provisions of the law.

Ambode’s alleged vengeance mission
On the other hand, some Lagosians have alleged that Ambode’s government has since May 29 2015, been on a vendetta mission to mortify his successor. For instance, a source within the party claimed the governor has been busy running a “government of vengeance and vendetta” since he took over power.

It is argued that Ambode and some other elements within the party are still nursing grudges against the minister over what transpired before the emergence of the governor.
According to the source, “If you take a critical look, the incumbent has practically revoked all the contracts awarded by his predecessor and he is trying to replace some of the things Fashola did while in office. For instance, there is nothing bad if the governor allows the ‘red coloured’ Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) initiated by Fashola to survive alongside the new ‘blue coloured’ Lagbus he introduced recently. What we are seeing now is the governor’s attempt to kill the red Lagbus for the blue ones to exist.”

Furthermore, he accused the governor of intentionally removing the people Fashola empowered through the Lagos State Sweeping initiative and replacing them with his cronies; “this was the major aim of the new Lagos Environmental law otherwise there was nothing that stops the government from accommodating those old service providers along with the new set of contractors. He cannot send some people out of business to engage others.”

He claimed that the agenda is to cut off all the known Fashola’s loyalists, beneficiaries as well as erase anything that would act as the minister’s mementos in Lagos.

Also, observers averred that there is a discontent among Ambode’s cabinet members especially aides carried over from Tinubu and Fashola’s tenures who are not happy with his governance style. In particular, he has been accused of being self-centred and wanting everything to revolve around him.

According to them, some are already fretting, insisting that the recent removal of some commissioners from the cabinet was not disparate from the phobia for those considered as Fashola’s loyalist.

Some political analysts however draw a correlation between the altercations and the expansionist tendencies of the ruling cabal in Abuja. Their argument is that having had their way in the governorship election in Kogi and Ondo states, there is nothing wrong in taking a shot at the fertile ground of Lagos.

“The intriguing tussle over who controls Alausa is meant for those in the Villa to further clip the so called wings of Tinubu in the South West, and their moves ahead of 2019 governorship election is playing up in the fight between Fashola and Ambode,” a source volunteered.

Nonetheless, the source disclosed that Ambode and his team are determined to ensure that the Abuja crowd is not given a foothold in Lagos; hence the decision to take on them headlong.

This trend has been on in Nigerian politics: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, founder of the Action Group and Chief Ladoke Akintola; former President of the senate and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim and then Governor of Ebonyi State, Mr. Sam Egwu; Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State and his predecessor, Senator Rabiu Kwakwanso; former governor of Enugu State, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani and his predecessor, Dr. Jim Nwobodo; former national chairman of PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and erstwhile governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako; minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and his successor as governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike, etc.

Apart from the fact that it may eventually bring a setback to Lagos in terms of development, it portrays them as not serious leaders, who are prepared to sacrifice the peoples’ interest for their personal political gains.

If at the end of the day, the Lagos Airport Road is left undone, history will count it for them for letting the favourable opportunity go by without doing the needful because of personal differences.

Former Minority Leader of the Senate, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora described the development as “a factor of misunderstanding, misplaced priorities and egoistic tendencies on the part of our political leaders,” which cost the nation necessary development at the end of the day.

While he noted that such crisis is not peculiar to Yoruba political representatives, he said history has shown that most public officers from same state always found it difficult to share similar visions on what is best for the state and the country.

“It is baffling that in most cases we see public officers engage each other destructively instead of constructively on issues between the state and the centre. It shows the egoistic tendencies and selfish motives of our representatives in governance,” he stated denying it is peculiar to the Yoruba.

Also, a former lawmaker who represented Lagos East Federal constituency, Mr. Lanre Odubote said the brawls between Fashola and Ambode is just a refusal of some Yoruba to accept the political leadership of Tinubu, “otherwise I don’t see any need for the altercations. It is not necessary.”

National publicity secretary of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said the face off between the governor and the minister goes further to show that Nigeria needs restructuring for true federalism “otherwise there is no need for Lagos to be going cap in hand begging the Federal Government before it could embark on any developmental project in the state.

“The state governor is saying is the federal government should give it the go ahead and it would construct the road. This is where the need to restructure this nation comes in. Nigeria is ripe for reformation.”

The spokesman of Lagos PDP, Mr. Taofik Gani said the dispute confirms that the APC government is not ready to take responsibility for anything.

According to him, if Ambode is serious about his claims, he should outline them in details and make it public.

“The PDP has always said that Fashola is merely a propagandist who doesn’t have interest in developing Lagos. I cannot understand why he should constitute a stumbling block because he feels that someone wanted to outshine his performance,” he added.