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Politics of absenteeism at Buhari’s project commissioning in Lagos

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Buhari’s commissioning Oshodi transport project in Lagos. Photo/twitter/akinwunmiambode

The long list of VIP absentees is intimidating as President Muhammadu Buhari came visiting Lagos, the acclaimed Centre of Excellence, last week to commission both finished and unfinished projects such as the reconstruction of Lagos International Airport, Oshodi Transport Interchange, 820 mass transit buses, ultramodern 170-bed Obstetrics and Gynaecology specialist hospital executed by the outgoing Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode.

Many Lagosians have continued to wonder the manner of politics being played in their city when, of all people, the self-styled national leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), former governor and acclaimed political godfather of the state, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, was absent at the auspicious occasion.

Another former number one citizen of the state and triple-headed Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, was also absent from commissioning the road that leads to Nigeria’s foremost gateway, Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA). It is a road, which in his eight years as governor of the state and now four years as Minister for Works he left in utter dilapidation. If anyone else should be absent from such momentous event it should never be Fashola from whom Ambode lifted a heavy burden and the shame of a nation.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was also among the absentees whose political root is deeply planted in Lagos. His political c areer took off in Lagos where he served as Tinubu’s Chief of Staff before becoming the megaphone of APC that catapulted him to the national level as minister when the party won election in 2015.

As the information mouthpiece of the Buhari administration, being absent at a major Lagos event as the commissioning of a federal project executed by a state could only be seen as an unfriendly kind of politics. Where else would Mohammed trumpet the much-touted centre aligning with states to deliver on Buhari’s Next Level proposition?

Or could his absence be explained on the basis of the failure Mohammed recorded in not being able to get Ambode to fix the National Theatre complex in Lagos as the two had agreed at the start of the Buhari administration? The National Museum’s rebuilding was another agreement point between Ambode and Mohammed that never materialised. Whatever hurdles stalled it, Ambode quickly moved on to start reconstruction of the JK Randle Cultural Centre opposite the National Museum at Onikan. Does Mohammed see this move as a slight to his person?

In fact, Ambode’s cabinet was almost split down the middle among absentee appointees of government and those present at the commissioning. Deputy Governor Idiat Adegbule was absent; so also was Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Tunji Bello, two faithful allies of Tinubu. Adegbule was vocal about her betrayal of her boss during the primaries that produced Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu as successor that terminated Ambode’s quest for a second term bid.

Other commissioners who stayed away from the event included Commissioners for Home Affairs, Abdulakeem Abdullateef, Information, Kehinde Bamigbetan, Wealth Creation, Mrs. Uzamat Akinbule-Yusuf, Youth and Social Development, Agboola Dabiri, and Housing, Gbolahan Lawal.

With these key appointees of government absent from a major event that pulled the president all the way from Abuja one can only hazard a guess that since Ambode’s second term ticket denial, all has not been well with the Ambode administration. What it also means is that the power brokers in the state cannot wait to see the final exit of Ambode from Government House, Alausa.

From the outliers, there were other prominent APC figures with their apron strings tied to Tinubu and who have close links with the state that were also absent. Former governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, though not a Lagosian, he started out his political career in Lagos where he was Commissioner for Works. It was from Lagos he was installed as governor of Osun State where he served for eight years. He was absent; so also was his successor, Adegboyega Oyetola, who stayed away. Although Oyetola’s case at the Court of Appeal could be explained as cause of absence from attending a ceremony that obviously glorified his outgoing colleague while he is fighting the political battle of his life, having just started tasting power as governor.

Of course, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo might be excused for not being part of the party; he needed to preside over Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting last Wednesday while his boss was away in Lagos.

It is curious why these individuals chose to stay away from the big event on a day the man they had all plotted to humble politically had his day in the sun. Was it to further humiliate him as he gets set to leave office next month? What is at the root of the political bitterness directed at Mr. Ambode? Is there more to it than meets the eye?

However, a closer look at events shows that in choosing to humiliate Ambode, Tinubu and his henchmen inadvertently heaped insult on Mr. President. Some argue that the absentee action smacked of the Abeokuta campaign debacle where Mr. President was pelted with ‘pure’ water sachets while canvasing for votes from Ogun electorate.

Many have also pointed out that by choosing to stay away from the commissioning for whatever reason, Tinubu failed to rise above petty politicking that smacks of bitterness and assert his claim to statesmanship. And by so doing, he failed to rise to the national leader tag he so wears admirably.

Others have also insinuated that by staying away, Tinubu had succeeded in hitting back at Buhari who also failed to attend his 11th colloquium held last month in Abuja. However, this view holds little water, as the chief recipient of the commissioning was not Buhari but Ambode, and by extension Tinubu, whose political godson was supposedly being given his last parade of honour in office.

However, the other five governors of the Southwest region rallied Ambode to cancel out whatever embarrassing lapse the absentees would have caused. Governors Ibikule Amosun of Ogun, Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo States were on hand to receive the president and celebrate Ambode for his achievements, possibly console him on his lost bid for a second term in office, and wish him goodbye. Coincidentally, these five governors are united in their unique quest to assert their own political relevance away from the stranglehold of Tinubu’s grip on the Southwest geo-political region.

THERE are also other posers on the absence of Tinubu and Fashola during the commissioning that has continued to baffle Lagosians and political observers. In the first instance, supporters of the national leader tried to sell a dummy that the presence of Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, in Lagos to attend the commissioning would pave way for him to visit Tinubu and also apologise to him (Tinubu) on the current ordeal he (Akeredolu) is going through in the party especially the decision to suspend him. But that couldn’t have been possible since spokesperson of Tinubu, Tunde Rahman, had explained that his principal was out of town.

A party source told The Guardian that Akeredolu and Amosun’s presence at the commissioning was to identify with Ambode, who is currently undergoing the same ordeal as they in the party because of the powerful influence the national leader currently wields in the National Working Committee (NWC), led by Adams Oshiomhole.

From facts available, the three embattled governors, Ambode, Amosun and Akeredolu needed to display their unflinching loyalty to Buhari to guarantee their future protection in the party from the current onslaught of Tinubu and Oshiomhole, who are out to silence perceived and known oppositions within APC. It is therefore assumed that beyond the commissioning there was more political undertone to the event.

The presence of Governor Kayode Fayemi at the event also goes beyond the fact of honouring the president with his presence. It would be recalled that the Ekiti State governor got his nomination ticket in the governorship primary at the instance of Tinubu but their relationship has not been that cordial ever since. He may also have attended the event to identify with Ambode, who is a victim of Tinubu’s power-play and influence in APC.

On Osun governor, Oyetola, a source explained, “He doesn’t want to play to the gallery by coming when his two principals Tinubu, and his immediate past predecessor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola deliberately stayed away from the event. If Oyetola had come for the commissioning it would have meant disloyalty to Tinubu and Aregbesola.”

Apart from the fact that Ambode might have decided to take the glory of his achievements by getting the projects commissioned before his exit on May 29. It would be recalled that the issue of the reconstruction of the International Airport Road has been volatile and substantially politicised dating back to 2007 when Tinubu used the project to campaign for Fashola. At the time, Tinubu had accused erstwhile Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government of deliberately denying Lagos State the right to reconstruct the federal road.

The reconstruction of the road was also politicised in 2011 when Fashola, while seeking a second term ticket, blackmailed the former PDP-led government of erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan just as he (Fashola) promised then to reconstruct the road. But nothing was done till he finished his second term and now also four years as works minister.

The issue came up again during the 2015 election campaign when APC promised that as soon as it took control at the federal level, the road would be one of its first priorities. Unfortunately, nothing was done about the road until the media took APC to task on it.

The reconstruction of the road lingered on until 2017, exactly two years after APC came to power and it suddenly became an issue between Ambode and his immediate predecessor, Fashola, who is the serving Minister of Works. The incumbent governor, in a published statement, accused Fashola of deliberately using his position at the federal level to hinder his administration from reconstructing the road, which, of course, generated a sharp reaction from the minister. Although it was obvious as at 2017 that the entire structure of Lagos APC including Tinubu were behind the governor against Fashola until the reconstruction work started.

However, the tide of politics in Lagos APC turned against Ambode towards the end of last year when he was denied second term ticket in October despite the alleged intervention of the presidency and the northern oligarch on his behalf.

The Guardian learnt that Ambode thought it wise to claim credit for his works before leaving office to avoid a similar fate he visited on Fashola when he denied him credit for some of his (Fashola’s) achievements while in office as governor. The Guardian also learnt that Ambode’s rush to commission Oshodi Interchange project was part of the gradual plan to transform Oshodi, which began during Tinubu’s era as governor. It was Fashola who took the bold step to evacuate and rid Oshodi of its market nuisance and the excesses of hoodlums.

A source within the party explained that Buhari couldn’t have abandoned Ambode in his present ordeal with Lagos APC following the governor’s contributions to his re-election funding.

According to the source, “What Ambode did for Buhari is just like what the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, did in 2015. As a matter of fact, Lagos may end up having two ministerial slots in the next Federal Executive Council (FEC) and it is obvious the incumbent governor will get one.”


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