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Lagos politics, Justice Forum and Oba Hamzat’s demise

By Seye Olumide
15 May 2019   |   3:06 am
The death of Oba Olatunji Hamzat, a traditional ruler of Afowowa Sogade in Ogun State and father of the deputy governor-elect of Lagos State, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, is generating some issues among members of the Lagos chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), especially from the foundation members of the party. One of the concerns surrounding…

Oba Mufutau Hamzat

The death of Oba Olatunji Hamzat, a traditional ruler of Afowowa Sogade in Ogun State and father of the deputy governor-elect of Lagos State, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, is generating some issues among members of the Lagos chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), especially from the foundation members of the party.

One of the concerns surrounding the late monarch’s demise is what fate awaits Justice Forum (JF) and whether the politics of Mushin, Kosofe and Epe would remain the same. Until his death, the monarch was a rallying point in the political equation and a factor to reckon with.

Apart from being a traditional ruler in Ogun State and a member of Lagos State’s Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC), the late monarch was among the founder of the Justice Forum, along with Prince Tajudeen Olusi, who currently holds sway in Lagos Central Senatorial District and Alhaji Busura Alebiosu, a strong pillar of APC in Lagos East Senatorial District among others.

But his death is indeed causing jitters among members of Justice Forum, which appeared to have been struggling to survive the onslaught from Mandate Group (MG), owned and controlled by the National Leader of APC and former governor of Lagos, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in the last seven years.

It was alleged that there are subtle underground schemes by loyalists of Mandate Group to kill and put Justice Forum under, but for Oba Hamzat’s political influence. Now that he is dead, can Olusi and Alebiosu, the remaining stalwarts but also old and frail continue to hold the forth.

Apart from members of the Justice Forum, who are already afraid of the likely fate that awaits them in the ruling party, the deputy governor-elect, who would be inaugurated alongside his principal and governor-elect, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on May 29 will not only miss his father’s presence, he will also not be able to drink from the fountain of his political knowledge and deep understanding of the dynamics of the state’s politics, when their administration takes off in two weeks time.

The deputy governor-elect and former Commissioner for Works under Babatunde Fashola would have been exceedingly delighted to have his late father grace his inauguration on May 29. This would put paid to the controversies that aborted his gubernatorial ambition in 2015 due to Lagos APC’s internal bickering between the current Minister of Power, Works and Housing, the National Leader of the party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Oba of Lagos, Rilwanu Akiolu, a development that paved the way for Mr. Akiwunmi Ambode to emerge as governor.

The late octogenarian became prominent in Lagos politics during the Second Republic under the platform of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

Oba Hamzat left the banking industry to join UPN under former Governor Lateef Jakande. He was persuaded to serve as a ward executive in old Mushin Local Government Area by Alhaji Rafiu Ishola Solomon, an influential politician in Mushin and also a contemporary of Jakande.

Oba Hamzat contested for Lagos State House of Assembly Speakership. He was, however, defeated by Oladosu Oshinowo during the election of principal officers. But following his exit from the Assembly, Alhaji Jakande appointed him as Commissioner for Transport.

His ministry pioneered the introduction of the light rail in Lagos, a project the government approved and was later launched by former President Shehu Shagari. Unfortunately, Lagos light rail project was the first casualty of the military government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari after the 1983 coup.

No sooner had the former Military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) started the transition to civil rule under the short-lived Third Republic than Oba Hamzat, who had been a staunch political ally of Jakande since the UPN days, left the former governor to form People Resolved Irrevocably to Maximise the Resources of the State for Excellence (PRIMROSE) along with the likes of Basorun Olorunfunmi, Kola Oseni, Tinubu, Henry Ajomale and others to support the governorship ambition of Chief Dapo Sarumi while Jakande and his group supported Femi Agbalajobi under the platform of defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). It was a development that later affected the chances of SDP to produce the governor and which gave opportunity for late Governor Michael Otedola of National Republican Convention (NRC) to emerge governor.

Oba Hamzat and his loyalists were said to have parted ways with Jakande under the guise that no single individual could continue to dictate the tune of events tagged “no more baba sope’.

The late Ogun monarch was also privy to the nomination of Tinubu as the senatorial candidate for SDP in those days having developed close relationship with the national leader under PRIMROSE (People Resolved Irrevocably to Maximise the Resources of the State for Excellence). But the Third Republic was short-lived when Babangida annulled the June 12, 1993 Presidential election result acclaimed to have been won by late Chief MKO Abiola.

When the Fourth Republic started in 1999, Oba Hamzat, having realised the impossibility of working along with Jakande under the same political platform moved along with Tinubu and others, with the PRIMROSE group still intact, to Alliance for Democracy (AD). They eventually used the platform to hijack the governorship ticket for Tinubu, having successfully wrestled the party’s structure from Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, who was then supporting late Eng. Funso Williams.

This, however, was one of the factors that led to the crisis in Lagos chapter of Afenifere. Leaders of the Yoruba socio-cultural group supported Tinubu on the premise that Williams was too closely associated with the military government. They, however, fell apart with Tinubu and his allies, with Hamzat among them. They opposed the national leader, who having won the 1999 governorship election, deliberately turned against Dawodu.

Oba Hamzat however, quickly realised that if Tinubu could deal with Dawodu, he could also turn against him and his group in the party. He them formed Justice Forum along with his colleagues while the national leader and former governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, formed Mandate Group.

The two groups were, however, working to achieve similar goals when AD transformed to Action Congress (AC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and later APC, but the rivalry between the two never quite ended.

Part of the reasons Oba Hamzat remained politically influential even until his death was his ability to hold Mushin politics intact and his popularity across Lagos East, especially in the Epe division where his son, Obafemi, harnessed as base to aspire for the party’s governorship ticket in 2015. It was also alleged that Oba Hamzat introduced the former National Legal Adviser of APC, Dr. Muiz Banire, to Mushin politics and also to Tinubu.

To prove his loyalty and as a committed party stalwart, the late monarch endured humiliation and insult but remained calm.

Despite being vilified by Oba Akiolu, who said during a public function ahead of Lagos APC governorship primary in 2015 that he would not close his eyes and allow the son of a foreign king to govern Lagos, he held his peace and encouraged the deputy governor-elect not to leave the party or display any act of disloyalty to the leaders.

A source within the party commended Obafemi for obeying his late father even when the situation was tough within the party.

Despite being the preferred choice of Fashola to succeed him in 2015, the national leader chose to support Ambode. But the deputy governor-elect, acting on his father’s advice, remained loyal to the party. When he was asked to drop his 2019 governorship ambition, having obtained the nomination form to be deputy to Sanwo-Olu, he gladly accepted the party’s decision based on his father’s instruction.

No doubt, Hamzat would miss his father’s presence on May 29 when he would be inaugurated along with his principal, Sanwo-Olu.

Chief Olusi, in his condolence message, described the late monarch as a close friend and strong political force in the state. He said they both revolutionise the politics of Lagos under Jakande in the Second Republic.

On the rivalry between Mandate Group and Justice Forum, Olusi said, “Let me correct the impression that we hold grudges against anyone. The leader of Mandate Group, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, is my son and he used to give me my respect.

Every member of Mandate Group was part of the Justice Forum before and, as a matter of fact, we are the one that donated them to work with Tinubu under AD and they formed Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organisation (BATCO), which was later renamed Mandate Group. It was true that myself, Oba Hamzat and the rest were not happy initially when they formed Mandate Group, but the issue has since been resolved even before the death of the monarch.”

In another condolence message, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a chieftain of Afenifere commended Oba Hamzat’s input in Lagos politics and also described him as a rare political gem, and someone whose exit would leave a great vacuum in Lagos politics, especially now that his son would be sworn in as deputy governor of Lagos.

Adebanjo, however, said he disagreed with the late monarch for failing to prevail on Tinubu to respect the legacy of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo when the problems of Afenifere started.