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The Road to change runs through Lagos

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Governor Akinwumi Ambode and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu

In May 1967, just 7 years after independence, Lagos then the Federal Capital Territory was designated as a state, under the leadership of Military Head of State General Aguiyi Ironsi. Gen. Ironsi tapped Brigadier General Mobolaji Johnson to be its first Governor.

Brig. Johnson is credited with designing the blueprint for modern-day Lagos and building major infrastructure projects such as the reclamation of the Bar Beach shoreline, the building of the three major bridges connecting the island to Lagos mainland. He also built the network of roads linking different parts of Lagos and linking Nigeria to neighbouring Benin, Togo and Ghana.

He set the bar for what leadership in Lagos should look like. From its tax system to its traffic management system, Governors and military administrators alike have followed his lead, surpassing the other states in delivering on governance and progressive policies, many times against the headwinds of the federal bureaucracy. These leaders haven’t all been exceptional at the onset, but Lagosians have demanded more than the bare minimum, which exceeds other states and thus their leaders have been forced to step their game up.

In the democratic dispensation, Lagosians have shown their ability to think independently, often voting split tickets in the state and federal elections. As campaign season officially comes down the homestretch, the country finds itself at yet another crossroads, pondering whether its best days are behind it or ahead of it. Whether a candidate from an upstart party can challenge one from the 2 major parties, it beckons on Lagos to provide leadership.

The state, which was the largest of the swing states that propelled President Buhari to an improbable victory in 2015, is now faced with the same test once again. While there is understandably a lot of focus on the presidential race, the down-ballot races in Lagos are equally as exciting and might lay a blueprint for what change probably should look like in Nigeria.

In the gubernatorial race, the state is faced with the threat of becoming a one-party state, beholden to every whim of party chieftain Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The sitting Governor Akinwumi Ambode was shockingly ousted in the party primaries by Babajide Sanwo-Olu, after allegedly falling out of favour with Tinubu. Sanwo-Olu will face off against returning candidate Jimi Agbaje, who is hoping to finally break the one-party monopoly in the state.

In another test of Tinubu’s clout, 35-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and fierce anti-GMO advocate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour is hoping to unseat one-term incumbent senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola; who himself narrowly escaped being primaried, in the Lagos West senatorial race.

Rhodes-Vivour; who is running under PDP, is part of a crop of young brilliant and inspiring candidates hoping to change the face of governance across the country. Not to be outdone, the house of representatives got in on the action, as an entertainer, executive and self-described jack and master of all trades Olubankole Wellington better known as Banky W, declared his candidacy to represent the most affluent area of the state – Eti-Osa under the banner of the newly formed Modern Democratic Party.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this piece was originally going to be about the cowardice of the Nigerian entertainment industry, which to my surprise hasn’t had the courage to come out to endorse candidates, opting instead to champion safe causes like PVC registration. But the announcement by Banky W; who has been one of the more vocal champions of the voter registration drive, stopped me dead in my tracks and happily so. His courage to back his inspirational talk with action, and his humility to start by running for the house of reps, despite having near-universal recognition and building one of the most successful music recording companies is instructive.

It is noteworthy to note that despite Lagos State’s better-than-average performance over the years, it still has a lot of work to do and this piece is not intended to gloss over the real struggles its 21+ million citizens face every day, from crippling traffic to crumbling infrastructure, stagnant wages and high taxes. Rather, it is intended to highlight the leadership role that Lagos has played in showing what is possible when we have the courage to think independently and the resolve to hold leaders accountable.

What is playing out in Lagos in many ways is a microcosm for what is happening in the country. With just over 2 months before the general elections, the slate is set. The two front-runners offer a return to a fictional time in the past, one where the government waged a war against indiscipline and the other where Nigeria was working. While the undercards are betting that Nigerians will choose instead of imagining a more hopeful future. If you’re like me and can’t wait for the election returns to come in, watch the Lagos results closely as it might be a good predictor of the general election outcome.


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