Once captured in a 2015 political documentary film by African Independent Television, AIT, as ‘The Lion of Bourdillon’, he is in many respects like the historical Lord of the Manor in Nigeria’s political turf. His elephantine influence combined with his leonine ferocity in determining who steers the rudders of power in Lagos State, South-West Nigeria and Nigeria has always put him in the middle of the hurricane with his political opponents. But as though he sees the opposition too diminutive to be worried about, the Jagaban Borgu, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State, has always laughed to scorn Mr. Jimi Agbaje’s recurrent media tirades against him and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC. Agbaje is the gubernatorial candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Lagos State.
Despite the mockery The Jagaban has made of Agbaje’s campaign rantings against him and his APC, the PDP candidate is still doggedly stuck to his guns employing every medium to prove a point that Lagos State has been enslaved since 1999 under the political and economic stranglehood of Tinubu. Agbaje stubbornly maintains that a state in what he sees as ‘bondage’ needs ‘freedom’ at all cost. And so, in the spirit of crusading, Agbaje adopted ‘Freedom’ as his campaign slogan ahead of the governorship election holding early in March this year. He claimed that his slogan reflects the spirit that motivated Nelson Mandela to embark on his long tortuous journey to free South Africa and her people from the bond of racial prejudice.
Agbaje’s ‘Freedom’ song came to a crescendo recently when he publicly challenged Tinubu during a breakfast program on Channels TV of using Alphabeta, a firm allegedly owned by him (Tinubu) to milk Lagosians dry through taxes and revenues. He vowed to free Lagos State from the clutches of personal enterprise. He boasted that he is out to free Lagosians from 20 years of patrimonialism where only one man decides who should govern Lagos at the expense of the choice of the people. He stressed that Lagos must be free from the era of nepotism and corruption. According to him, “The Freedom theme was not a coinage my team and I conjured up from nowhere, but it had come from gauging the mood of Lagos and realising that the citizens nurtured a deep hunger to be liberated from the severe vicissitudes and subhuman conditions inflicted on them by the ruling clique since 1999“.
“I take exception,“Agbaje fired on, “to the rule of one man in a metropolitan state like Lagos. The APC ruling party was foisting opaqueness in public spending. It has refused to open up its activities to the people of the state who were not getting value for taxes they paid. It is unfortunate that Lagos State under the control of the APC has refused to domesticate the Freedom of Information Act. Everything in government in Lagos State is shrouded in secrecy. The time has come to hand the fortune of the state over to the people“.
Stressing on alleged reckless waste of fund for personal aggrandizement, the PDP governorship candidate went on: “Seven trillion naira is what the state government has spent in the last 20 years and what have we got to show for it? The question is, are we getting value? The answer is, we are not getting value at all.”
Many who are very familiar with the politics of Lagos since 1999 know why Jimi Agbaje is directly blaming alleged decadence in Lagos on Asiwaju Bola Tinubu instead of Governor Akinwumi Ambode. But what may be baffling to them must be Agbeje’s temerity to frontally dare Tinubu over what he (Agbaje’s) believes has been the thriving reality of the current political and economic life of Lagos for 20 years. This surprise may arise from the fact that a lot of people within and outside Lagos have over the years concluded (if not accepted) that as the new political patriarch of Lagos State and South-Western Nigeria politics, Tinubu has shot himself up to a height where he wields the prerogative of choosing who becomes the next governor in Lagos State irrespective of existing political divides. Many in this school of thought know that those who had dared the Jagaban in the past soon realised they were no match for him.
If there is no reason whatsoever to be wary of Tinubu’s overwhelming influence, reliving how he was able to survive the torrential invasion of the PDP in the 2003 general elections and emerged as the only re-elected governor of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, is enough reason to dread him for his political astuteness. This feat pushed him into several collision course with the PDP-led government of Olusegun Obasanjo, including the seizure of Lagos State’s federal allocation for several months, a throttlehold he (Tinubu) was able to loose through shrewd economic and financial management wizardry, and ultimately a vindicating Supreme Court decision.
The fact cannot be disputed that the years that layed between 1999 and 2015 had offered The Jagaban the opportunity of building for himself a political fortress which seems to resist all forms of incursion both from within and without. Tinubu did not just arrive at this juncture of political influence by fluke. He laboured assiduously for it. Apart from his developmental strides in Lagos between 1999 and 2007 when he was the governor of the state, he is one politician who has for long won the affection of many Lagosians and Yorubas in general. Going back in history, Tinubu represents, in many respects, the Awoist progressive ideology which the Yorubas uphold and adore till date.
Leaving Exxon Mobil Nigeria where he worked as an accountant and treasurer for some years after leaving the United States of America, Tinubu ventured into active politics in 1992 where he was elected by his people to represent Lagos West in the Nigerian Senate under the short-lived diarchy created by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. With the disruptive annulment of the June 12,1993 Presidential Election and the consequent return to military rule under the late General Sani Abacha, Tinubu became a founding member of the then famous pro-democracy group, National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which for several years was on the neck of the military to return Nigeria to democracy. In the pursuit of this course, alongside the agitation for the actualisation of the annulled June 12 election, Tinubu suffered several arrests, humiliations and detentions. Eventually, in the heat of these events, he had to go on self-exile in the United States.
Tinubu returned from exile in 1998 to join in the run-up to the 1999 general elections which ushered in civil democratic rule. He contested for the governorship of Lagos State under the Alliance for Democracy, AD, a progressive party that was/is fashioned after Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group, AG, in pre-independence Nigeria and the First Republic and the United Party of Nigeria, UPN, in the Second Republic. Tinubu won the election and emerged the Governor of Lagos State.
His economic, political and social blueprint to resuscitate Lagos from the coma that a suppressive military rule caused her, were not only impressive but set a launchpad that would drive Lagos into a cosmopolitan envy of many. But while Tinubu was planning to augment his laudable achievements in an approaching second chance, his kinsman from Egbaland, then President Olusegun Obasanjo, was planning to truncate that ambition by helping his (Obasanjo’s) party, the PDP, to sweep the entire South West from the grips of Tinubu’s AD. Fortunately, Tinubu was the only Governor of the AD who could survive the PDP tsunami. Hence, he instantly earned the title of the ‘The Last Man Standing!’
With this feat, Tinubu’s political clout in both Lagos and the entire South West swelled in leaps and bounds. The people’s love and loyalty for him blossomed and the need to crown and bespangle him as ‘The Lord of the Lagos Manor’ became inevitable. They saw in him the undaunting political will of Obafemi Awolowo, the late sage who brought the Yoruba nation to political limelight. To many of them, if Alliance for Democracy had not retained power in Lagos, that would have been the loss of the pride of that common patrimony called Awoism.
Asiwaju Tinubu is not just in the breed of seasonal politicians in Nigeria, he is a Titan in politics. The type that will quit the scene and politics will lose all its flavour and fervour. This opinion may corroborate what a reliable source revealed recently that, “Tinubu seems to have understood everything about politics, not only in Lagos or South West, but across the entire nation. He also understands the value of patronage, which he has used to build an unquantifiable loyalty amongst the party faithful in Lagos.” According to him, “Tinubu has a huge army of loyalists across Lagos and this explains why it has been difficult for the opposition to break the jinx of overthrowing him and his party in the state. Tinubu builds people and also makes it mandatory for those he built to also build those under them, so the loyalty he enjoys trickles down to the grassroots. He has succeeded as a godfather in Lagos while the likes of Rabiu Kwakwanso and others in his shoes have failed.” “It will be a herculean task, if not impossible, for any party to uproot the APC from the governance of Lagos State“, the source concluded.
This towering political stature of the Jagaban has been demonstrated in the emergence of Babatunde Raji Fashola and Akinwumi Ambode, two of his political godsons, both of whom have governed Lagos State since 2007 till date. Except that they were brilliant technocrats with sound character, Fashola and Ambode were just men in political silhouette without any political structure and experience. It was their loyalty, intelligence, technocratic acumen, vibrancy, ability to interact positively, and administrative savviness that were packaged into a political brand and sold to Lagosians. Indisputably, but for the sprawling dominance of Tinubu’s political influence in Lagos, these two men would have remained just mere intelligentsia occupying the top rungs of the technocratic ladder.
Today, just like Fashola’s pre-2007 and Ambode’s pre-2015 elections, there is a new kid on the block for the APC governorship candidacy of Lagos State against 2019. His name is Babajide Sanwo-Olu. A former Special Adviser, Commissioner and immediate past Chief Executive Officer of the largest public company in Lagos, the Lagos State Property Development Corporation, Sanwo-Olu has emerged from a well-orchestrated primary as another Tinubu’s godson to square it up with PDP’s Jimi Agbaje in the gubernatorial election coming up in March. The emergence of Sanwo-Olu from a transparent Option A4 primary election followed the controversies that ensued between Governor Akinwumi Ambode and his political godfather, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who said that based grassroots feedbacks from Lagosians, he (Ambode) must quit the stage, as there would be no second term for him. Ambode, as an incumbent Governor, tried to fight back stoutly, but he found his master just too heavy a weight to contend with. Ambode later beat a retreat on his antagonising steps. Painfully and against his will, the incumbent Governor bowed out to pitch tent with his boss.
Now, the stage is set for Jimi Agbaje of the PDP and Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the APC, with the media awash with much vaunted words from both camps as to whether the former will wrest power from the latter or the latter will retain power till 2023. Agbaje, having Chief Olabode George, former Deputy National Chairman, South, of the PDP behind him, and Sanwo-Olu having Bola Tinubu behind him, as two political heavyweights from either side of the Lagos political terrain, the big question is, who will be the next Governor of Lagos State by May 29 this year?
Many analysts think that the Lagos governorship contest will be a case of no victor no vanquished as experiences of past elections between PDP and the ruling party have shown. But in elections there must be a winner and a loser at the end of the day no matter how keenly contested it turns out to be. Some other opinions hold that the Agbaje’s ‘Freedom’ campaign will go a long way to weaken APC’s political strength as it seems to deeply appeal to some sections of the electorate who have become nauseated over Tinubu’s stranglehold on state power for too long. This thinking may hold some water as Jimi Agbaje has come out tough recently pointing key areas in the APC government where Ambode and his “paymaster” have faultered and drew Lagos “backward”. Agbaje has pointed out that Lagos is in a sorry state under the APC government as it has become a cesspool of corruption and waste. He enumerated the issues of waste disposal mismanagement, overbearing traffic logjams, incessant flooding, insecurity, double taxation, impunity, lawlessness, godfatherism and abandoned projects. And above all, he has reiterated the use of Tinubu’s Alphabeta as an alleged conduit for corruption in Lagos State. Those who sympathise with Agbaje’s campaign to this end believe that all these problems are realities, and thus the message of Freedom will penetrate deeply and impinge positively on the outcome of the election in PDP’s favour.
Another view that is worth considering on the impending APC-PDP gubernatorial fight in Lagos, is the Igbo sentiment, which almost gave the PDP an edge over the APC in the 2015 elections. This opinion believes that the Tinubu-engineered administrations have been adopting and implementing policies that are anti-Igbo with respect to their commercial lives in the state. Four years ago, the Igbos adopted Jimi Agbaje as their candidate and they voted for him massively. It is therefore still expected that Agbaje will still win their sympathy in the 2019 election and will definitely vote massively for him. However, there are also contrary opinions that the Igbos might be divided on this arrangement this time as many of them feel that some of these policies that are unfavourable to their businesses became more harsher and strigent during the Ambode’s administration. To some of them, leaving the APC candidate to support the PDP candidate was only a punitive mission they inflicted on themselves. Against this backdrop, there is no certainty that the Igbos will again overwhelmingly throw their weight behind Agbaje at the expense of their business interests.
But then, opposing opinions from veteran political analysts have proven, that no matter how deeply Agbaje’s message of Freedom might have sunk in the minds of Lagosians, the fact remains that there is one Lion of Bourdillion whose roars always send all other animals in the jungle scampering for safety. This opinion maintains and reiterates that Babajide Sanwo-Olu is a candidate to beat come March 2019. Bola Tinubu’s political acuity in enthroning governors of Lagos State is not a magic wand; it is only just some stretch of intelligence and experience in the game that always pays off for him. That all the structures working for incumbent Governor Ambode’s aborted second term bid have suddenly turned around to pledge their unalloyed loyalty to Tinubu is a testament that the man is a master of the game.
Reacting to Agbaje’s crusade of Freedom recently, Tinubu said, sarcastically, “Those who need freedom should go and learn tailoring and vulcanising and we will do freedom for them later. They do not have the people. He (Agbaje) was in the contest for the first and second times. He is now in the contest for the third time. He will fail again.” The Jagaban is not a man who makes a boast and leaves it empty in the air. Those who know this will take him seriously that Agbaje will lose the election.
Tinubu used similar words for President Goodluck Jonathan and his PDP in the run-up to the 2015 general elections and the rest was history. He used such words again in the 2018 Ekiti State governorship election. Ayodele Fayose is yet to recover from the shock of that election. He invoked such words in the run-up to the Osun State 2018 gubernatorial race recently, and ensured that his words did not return to him void. When it seemed like the APC had only a thin chance to win the tightly contested election in Osun, as the declaration of a rerun in seven Wards suggested, the Jagaban moved from his Bourdillon palace in Ikoyi to Osun to negotiate a coalition with a former political arch-enemy, Iyiola Omisore, of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, whose collaboration in the cancelled areas would launch either the PDP or the APC to victory. At the end of his intervention, APC carried the day.
When it comes to the game of politics, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, believes is arguably larger than life. So are the people around him and even those far away from him. This is again now playing out in the run up to the 2019 general elections. Just yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari named him as the author and finisher of his re-election campaign when he declared that the Jagaban is “fully in charge” of his re-election. Before the, Tinubu’s men have been positioned in various strategic positions in the president’s campaign machinery.
As a political leader, the Asiwaju wears a cosmic aura in politiking in Nigeria. He is not Agbaje’s mate by any stretch of imagination and that is why Agbaje will lose woefully in Lagos.Tinubu holds that “the master plan of Lagos State was developed roughly some 20 years by a crop of dedicated and patriotic Lagosians, who put aside personal interests and rivalries to put their minds and best ideas together for the good of the state,” and he (Asiwaju) is the unrivaled supervisor of this Master Plan.
According to him, “I make no pretence that the Master Plan is perfect, it can always be fine-tuned. However, whenever a government departed from this Plan without compelling reasons, the state and the people have borne the improper departure. To ignore this blueprint for progress in order to replace it with ad-hoc schemes of a materially inferior quality contravenes the spirit of progressive governance and of our party. Such narrowness of perspective does not bring us closer to our appointed destination. It takes us farther from that destiny.”
Going by the above declaration by Bola Tinubu, it has become very evident why he ensured that Ambode, one of the godsons in whose hands he entrusted the power to reinforce the Master Plan, was ousted out of a second term bid. Ambode must have derailed. The philosophy here is, if Ambode, a groomed progressive could depart from the set goals of the Master Plan, what then can Agbaje render unto Lagos, as a non-progressive from the other breed, who is not only completely ignorant of the Lagos Master Stratagem, but also whose party Tinubu and his folks have always accused of plundering and frittering away the country’s wealth for 16 years. The idea thus is, the upkeep of a rich yam barn cannot be left to a goat.
For the Jagaban, it is a duty of a lifetime, that he must forestall, with grim fanaticism, anything that will take Lagos away from this Master Plan. This is what Tinubu really wants Jimi Agbaje to understand.
By Solomon Avwioroko (email@example.com)