The Governor of Lagos State is like a president of a mini-Nigeria because of the state’s visibility in national politics, and of course, because of its vast economic potential. I have four different behind-the-scene narratives on the making of the Governor of Lagos State which illustrate the possibility of the intervention of an unseen hand in the choice of the occupant. At the same time, these stories provide clarification on the limitations of man to fulfill his aspiration. In essence, depending on what you want to believe, God himself often shows interest in who becomes the governor of the state.
In 1991, when both the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) zoned the governorship slot to Lagos East, Yomi Edu (SDP) and Michael Otedola (NRC), both from Epe, emerged as the two major contestants.
Dr. Frederick Fasegun Machado from Lagos Island was chosen as Edu’s deputy. So, the Edu/Machado ticket confronted NRC’s Otedola/Ojikutu ticket in the final electoral showdown for the Lagos governorship seat. Dr. Machado, now deceased, was my uncle. Because of the antecedents of the progressives in Lagos State and the South-west, the SDP saw the elections as mere formality. It never gave the NRC or Otedola any chance at all. My uncle, as the deputy-governor to-be had already informed me that I would be his special assistant. Thank GOD I did not resign my position in Daily Times because the NRC beat the SDP silly in the election. No thanks to Alhaji Jakande who directed all his group members to vote for the SDP in all the elections but the governorship. Needless to say that Otedola’s victory was against all predictions and expectations because Lagos had always been the stronghold of the progressives. Till date, the Otedola scenario remains an isolated case. GOD at work or mere co-incidence?
The second story concerns Major Gen. Joseph Olutayo Agbola who was my very good friend. We were like one family. When Sani Abacha took over from Ernest Shonekan in November 1993, the military decided to appoint only Colonels as military governors. At that time, Joseph Olutayo Agbola was a Col. in the Operations Department of the Nigerian Army. He was very hardworking, diligent, amiable, pleasant and well loved in the army. So, it never came as a surprise when he was listed as one of those to be appointed as military governors.
Shockingly, a few hours to his being announced as the military governor of Lagos State, Agbola’s name was dropped for Col. Olagunsoye Oyinlola who was immediately recalled from his peacekeeping assignment in Somalia. It was a very painful substitution that attracted sympathizers to the 1004 residence of the Agbolas. Major Gen. Joseph Olutayo Agbola who rose to the position of the Military Secretary of the Nigerian Army later died in the Sept. 17, 2006 plane crash in Calabar which claimed the lives of other 12 top military officers.
The third story happened in 1999. Wahab Dosunmu and Funsho Williams were major contenders for the Lagos governor’s seat. Dosunmu was a NADECO chieftain who returned from exile to contest the governorship election on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Funsho Williams was never in exile. He was Commissioner for Works under two military administrations in Lagos State. All along, he had been building and consolidating his political structure which he called “Network Alliance”.
On the other hand, Wahab Dosunmu was forging on, undeterred by the fact that Funsho Williams had been on ground long before him. He was to form an alliance with Musiliu Obanikoro’s group called “Atayese” at a time Koro was a household name in Lagos Island because of his achievements when he was Chairman of Lagos Island Local Government. Though the City Hall fire incident almost dented his image, Koro was still able to sustain his relevance. But this alliance was not to be because of the unexpected arrival of Bola Tinubu.
Bola Tinubu returned from exile with heroic fanfare and carnival-like triumphalism. Then things changed. All political configurations and calculations became disrupted. Alliances collapsed and allegiances were switched. Senator Abraham Adesanya, Ayo Adebanjo, Olu Falae, Chief Ajayi Lanihun who were AD’s top chieftains at the national level, believed Tinubu was a better brand to market than Dosunmu and Funsho Williams. Correspondingly, all AD kingmakers at the state level also wanted Tinubu except Chief Ganiyu Dawodu who vehemently opposed Tinubu’s candidature. But he was overwhelmed by other party elders like Baba Ajisebutu, Baba Taiwo, Busura Alebiosu, Olatunji Hamzat and Baba Suarau. Tinubu’s dramatic emergence from the blues and his eventual victory was nothing but the manifestation of the unseen hand. Dosunmu and Williams who started the race to the Round House earlier than Tinubu ended up applauding Tinubu to the throne of power.
The fourth story happened in my presence. Hakeem Gbajabiamila was a commissioner in the Tinubu administration in the same government that Tunde Fashola was the Chief of Staff. Hakeem was in the Ministry of Physical Planning and later Housing. When Tinubu was about to end his tenure in 2007, many of his aides including Hakeem Gbajabiamila, wanted to succeed him. But Fashola never showed any interest. Instead, he was busy equipping his Law firm with the latest law books, preparing to go into practice with his SAN title.
Exploiting his closeness to ‘Bola Tinubu, Hakeem paraded himself and behaved like Tinubu’s heir apparent among the pack that wanted to take over from Tinubu. A particular incident happened in Tinubu’s office that showed that GOD’s ways are different from man’s. Fashola as the Chief of Staff, was a member of Prof. Mabogunje’s MDG Committee with Hakeem also serving on the same committee. The committee was an initiative of both the Federal and state governments. There was a meeting of the committee that took place in Fashola’s office without Hakeem in attendance. While BRF was briefing Tinubu on the outcome of the meeting, Hakeem came into the office fuming with rage and accusing BRF of not informing him about the meeting. He blasted him, hollered at him and gave him a thorough dressing down in the presence of Tinubu and the rest of us. That action rattled Tinubu who reconsidered his choice of Hakeem (if he ever had a plan like that) as his possible successor without further hesitation. How and why Tinubu later settled for Fashola who was involved in the Gbajabiamila drama could only be explained by fate. Fashola became governor and Hakeem became nothing. What an irony!
At present, only few aspirants have openly declared their gubernatorial aspiration. They include Senator Ganiyu Solomon (Lagos West), Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji (Lagos East), Former Accountant-General of the state. Mr. Akin Ambode (Lagos East) and Mr. Femi Hamzat (Ewekoro, Ogun State). Those who are being remoured but have not declared openly are Senator Gbenga Ashafa (Lagos East), Hakeem Alobo (Lagos East) Leke Pitan (Lagos East), Muiz Banire (Lagos West). They maybe more but this is the list for now. The number of aspirants from Lagos East is more because there is high expectation that the APC will zone the governorship ticket to Lagos East which had it last in 1991.
As at now, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is yet to officially make any statement on its zoning arrangement. The only odd person on the list is Femi Hamzat. He is a Prince from Ewekoro in Ogun State. His father, Olatunji Hamzat, a former commissioner in Jakande’s government, is the Oba of Ewekoro. How he intends to scale through the indigene hurdle – normally determined by patrilineal relationship – despite his obvious relationship with the Kabiyesi of Ewekoro is a mystery to me. As a Lagosian, I know that we have always been very liberal when it comes to appointments but I have not seen any situation where a non-indigene was made the governor of the state except during military era. In a democratic setting, one can only become the governor of a state through election not appointment. I am aware that all sorts of funny things are happening behind the scene in anticipation of what the party will do on zoning. Expectedly, Epe has become a business centre for emergency historians who are helping aspirants to trace the migratory adventures of their family lineages. Politicians and their voodoo enterprise!
The speculation in town is that Femi Hamzat enjoys the backing of Fashola. This may be understandable. One, Hamzat is Fashola’s Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure and two is that Fashola as a stakeholder, may be exercising his legitimate right as the incumbent to support a loyal and conscientious member of his cabinet. While I do not intend to deny him (BRF) the right to give his support to whoever he desires, I will only admonish him to tread softly. There is no need to create fresh tension between him and Tinubu. As the symbolic leader of the progressives and a major financier of the APC, Tinubu should be given the privilege of having a major input in who becomes the APC candidate, and in fact, who becomes the next governor of the State. For now, it will be a great honour to Tinubu if Lagos State becomes his operational base and political stronghold. The plan of APC to become a major rallying point for all progressives nationwide can only be realized if Lagos regains the high political tempo witnessed under Tinubu. As at now, the Lagos under Fashola has lost its political steam. The entire environment is not business friendly for those who live on politics. Those who feed and live on political entertainment are moving to Osun and Ekiti where there is market for their business.
Agreed that Lagos needs a cerebral and charismatic leader like BRF as its governor, the politics of Lagos transcends the ebullience of enigma and genteel personage. That Lagos has BRF as governor is good for the progressives, but if we have a BRF that also has the political aggression of a Tinubu or an Aregbesola, Lagos would conveniently play its role as the melting pot of progressive politics. What Aregbesola is doing in Osun was what Tinubu used to do in Lagos. Aregbesola has turned Osun to a high tension zone forcing the opposition to retreat or risk political electrocution. He is not doing this because he has the security agencies on his side. The truth is that the opposition cannot compete at the high altitude he operates his political machine and overwhelm the entire state. With the massive developments going on in the state – roads, hospitals, schools, transportation, industries, housing, agriculture – the opposition does not seem to have any answer to the conundrum that Aregbesola is firing from left, right and centre. This is how and what Lagos should be but unfortunately, it is not.
The problem with Fashola is that his commitment to his legal constituency has restrained him from being sensational, dramatic and exhibitionist in his behaviour. There is a limit to which a SAN must dance to the songs of Iya Kalokalo and her orchestra but an Aregbesola can afford to dance till day break. Even when Fashola dances, he does so with measured caution and dignified steppings. This does not make him a stuffed shirt. He is only being obedient to the culture of dignity which the legal profession promotes.
When politicians construct aspirations and flounce around the political space to compete for the template of glory only in the realm of the temporal, supernatural entities intervene by setting up their favourites in power leaving others with nothing to show for their perspiration. The mass of politicians that crowds the celestial altar for anointing is sorted by an unseen hand that lifts some to the throne of grace and dumps others in the pit of shame. Our ambitions are mere wishes that we throw into the incorporeal space for execution. The role of man is limited to his diligence and vigilance to know when he has finally been set up.
This does not mean man does not have a say in what he becomes. Of course, he does but GOD will always have His way and the final say. The one that may eventually become the governor may not even be among the present aspirants. I have come to accept the fact that power is a set-up by GOD. He knows when and who to put in power. And HE knows those who will never get it no matter how desperately they want it.