Ambode: A postscript
Published October 12, 2018
Ayo Olukotun THE PUNCH
“Just when many thought Ambode had grasped the handle to the APC second term ticket came the great turbulence, eventually tipping the fragile mug and content in a ghastly crash”
—Louis Odion, The Nation, October 10, 2018.
Dripping with drama, pathos and human interest, the failure of the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, to secure a second term ticket continues to excite animated discussion and takeaways about the volatility of power in a turbulent democracy. As a columnist of The Nation Newspaper, Louis Odion, quoted in the opening paragraph informs, the sudden turnaround, in what was presumed to be a home stretch for Ambode’s second term endorsement by his party, triggered shock waves that echo still around the nation and beyond.
For outsiders like this columnist, who presumed that the idea was to chastise Ambode, and then give him the nod to run, his overwhelming rejection at the September 29 party primary, as well as the emergence of the relatively anonymous Babajide Sanwo-Olu supplemented the factor of dramatic upset.
Human interest? Can you beat the scene, where the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, overcome with emotion, reportedly burst into tears, when the Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, who had partnered closely Ambode over the LAKE rice project, sprawled full length before Tinubu, to intercede for Ambode in the following words: “It is not in the culture of Hausa people to prostrate. What we normally do is to express respect to our elders. But today, I am going to break that protocol”?
Interestingly, there was far less drama and less convulsion on the eve of the 2011 elections, when Babatunde Fashola, at the time governor of Lagos State, faced a similar ordeal, which he weathered, when he was eventually allowed to do a second term. Lagos, let us not forget, is a rapidly evolving megalopolis, and Nigeria’s economic capital. It is both a national and global player, and its governor like the Mayor of London, is a transnational actor in the global market-place. In development studies, governance of the city, if we ignore the downside of sprawling shanty towns, is cited as an illustration of how effective and visionary leadership at the subnational level can mitigate or countervail political decay at the centre. That being so, its politics, far from being a provincial affair, can and indeed generates national and international ripples.
On the home front, the Lagos State Government, with its enormous wealth, is a perfect illustration of Chinua Achebe’s culinary metaphor of the “juicy morsel”, which no one having tasted will easily spit out of the mouth. Predictably therefore, much of the hullabaloo is not about competing governance ideas, but about who obtains access to the vast honey pot.
This may imply that Lagos, in terms of its capacity to provide grist for the politics of patronage, is a replica of the Federal Government in the sense of being a site of feuds and contentions related to who should hold the key to its enormous treasure house. Also, the fact that Lagos is effectively a one-party state suggests that virtually every contradiction and fissure in Lagos State politics are transferred to the hegemonic party that has ruled it since 1999. These factors are deepened by the larger-than-life stature of Tinubu, who sits at the top of, and controls the bounties of Lagos, either directly or through proxies.
This is the context in which what should have been a family affair of sorts within the APC escalated to the national and international arena, with the party chieftains in Lagos, surprised that so many, including the Presidency had taken active interest in what it regarded as a little domestic palaver. For the reasons stated, as well as the pre-eminent location of the Nigerian media in the Lagos area, the dispute over Ambode’s second term evoked widespread interest and publicity, triggering different interpretations.
True, and as the public was later to learn, Ambode had stepped on several toes within the party and had carried himself about as one whose governance record, admittedly satisfactory, puts him above the fray and excuses him from the nitty gritty of mending the fractious interest groups that jostle for power and resources. So, the APC had a problem of explaining to the public, why a governor who clearly merits a second term on the grounds of performance is being repudiated. The demands of legitimacy are such that a fit must be established, at least somewhat between performance and the reward system, in order to prevent a backlash of rejection at the polls. It was necessary therefore that the APC justify the strange and unprecedented de-stooling of a fairly effective incumbent not just to its members, but to the wider public.
To be sure and on balance, there appears to have been warrant for the humbling of Ambode in one form or another, if only because of a certain arrogance of power which had crept in. For example, this columnist had lamented the irascible removal of Venerable Femi Taiwo, then Chaplain of the state-owned Christ the Light Church, because of an alleged affront to Ambode’s wife (Ambode, off key note in a melodious verse, The PUNCH, Friday, June 2, 2017). It was later to be known that the overbearing and intolerant posture displayed by asking Taiwo to vacate his official premises within 24 hours, was becoming symptomatic of Ambode’s dealings with other constituencies.
Illustrative of that tendency was his reported keeping a sitting governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, waiting in his office for several hours before coming out to acknowledge him. That notwithstanding, it cannot be said that the politics, publicity and resonance of dropping the governor were effectively managed as they continue to raise questions.
Despite that it is seen by some as the triumph of party democracy, the dog fight that attended the exercise, which reached its climax in a bitter world press conference called by Ambode to lampoon Sanwo-Olu, could have been avoided if certain precautions were taken.
Conceivably, Ambode could have been persuaded to drop his second term ambition by side payments, such as supporting him subsequently for a federal ministerial position to incentivise his compliance. In older democracies, this is the playbook for easing out controversial political personnel without rocking the party to its foundations.
It would also have been more natural if some party leaders had alluded publicly to Ambode’s disconnect from the leading lights of the party, so as to make it look less like he was being publicly abased. What made the event totally surprising is that only a few months back, party bigwigs, who waxed eloquent, with respect to Ambode’s qualification for a second term, publicly deserted him. In other words, Ambode nearly won a moral victory over the party because the party at large and the public were not prepared adequately for the shock treatment. Although in some respects justifiable, the party did not spend time to justify its action to its internal and external publics.
Nerves are calmer now, but the party should please not take us through these rituals of abasement too often, if only to avoid the nuances of the Yoruba wise crack that the rod with which the senior wife was chased out is awaiting the junior wife.
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