The governor of Lagos, Nigeria’s wealthiest state, is like the president of some countries. Fondly called Eko, the state of aquatic splendour, Lagos stands as the fifth largest economy in Africa and it may be rightly described as the doorway to the heart of Nigeria’s commerce. Nigeria’s place as Africa’s biggest economy is closely tied to the all-important position that Lagos holds in the scheme of things. Though one of Nigeria’s smallest states in terms of land mass, Lagos accounts for 26.7 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and more than 50 per cent of its non-oil GDP. It is instructive that since the return to democracy in 1999, Lagos has been governed or administered by only one political party, which, through the inventiveness of the successive governors it has produced, from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to the incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has helped to unlock and sustain the socio-economic prosperity of Lagos State and is yet not resting on its laurels.
Given the importance of Lagos in Nigeria’s economic mix, a former governor of the state, Babatunde Fashola, could not have been more correct when he argued that Lagos is too important to be committed into the hands of someone without a track record of service in public office to experiment with. Fashola, who spoke during a town hall meeting in Lagos in December 2014 as part of electioneering ahead of the 2015 general elections, made the point to stress his belief that Lagos would be safer in the hands of the then governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, who had worked in government for 27 years, than if handed over to his strongest contender, Jimi Agbaje, who was at the time the governorship candidate of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party. At the time, Agbaje, a pharmacist-turned-politician, was taking his second shot at the Lagos seat of power in the space of eight years, having begun the run in 2007 on the platform of the Democratic People’s Alliance. Though, Agbaje arguably put up the most impressive campaign on the platform of the DPA in 2007, it was not enough to defeat the ruling party. He returned to the ballot in 2015 on the platform of the PDP but again failed to win. Even in 2019 when he made his third attempt at becoming Lagos governor, before finally resting or suspending the ambition, his efforts didn’t just measure up. Indeed, the election cycles between 2003 and 2011 were the most auspicious times the PDP could have captured Lagos State, since the PDP was the government at the centre and held the almighty ‘federal might.’ But still, the opposition party suffered repeated defeats.
In 2018, while speaking with PDP members in Lagos, the serial presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had given a hint of how much the PDP coveted to rule Lagos, given its important place. Atiku apologised to the PDP members for his failure to have captured the state for the party in 2003 when, as Nigeria’s vice-president, he had the chance to do so.
From Dapo Sarumi to the late Funsho Williams to Musiliu Obanikoro to Shamsideen Adegboye to Agbaje, the PDP, which is the major opposition party in Lagos since 1999, has been unable to pull off the magic of capturing Lagos or displacing the ruling party which began as Alliance for Democracy, changed to Action Congress, then to Action Congress of Nigeria, before its latest metamorphosis into the current All Progressives Congress.
Like Atiku hinted, the PDP’s brightest chances to have broken or truncated the hegemony of the ruling party in Lagos were during the times when the PDP held sway at the presidency. Records show that Agbaje, of all the governorship candidates fielded by the PDP over a 20-year period between 1999 and 2019, came closest to clinching victory. That was in 2015 when Agbaje garnered 659,788 or 44.64 per cent of total valid votes, but still, he lost to Ambode, who got the upper hand by polling 811,994 or 54.94 per cent of total valid votes.
In 2007, Obanikoro of the PDP had polled 383,956 or 32.98 per cent of total valid votes to be defeated with a whooping margin of 215,334 votes by Fashola, who polled 599,300 or 51.48 per cent of the votes.
In 2011, the victory margin widened for the ruling party as Fashola polled 1,509,113 or 81.08 per cent of votes while the PDP candidate, Adegboye, got 300,450 or just 16.13 per cent of total valid votes.
In 2019, with Agbaje again on the ballot paper, the chances of the PDP improved slightly but did not measure up despite Agbaje’s experience as a third-time contestant in the electioneering trenches. The PDP candidate polled only 206,141 or paltry 21.09 per cent of votes to be roundly defeated by first-timer APC candidate, Sanwo-Olu, who polled 739,445 or 76.65 per cent of votes to win by a landslide.
A mere look at the pattern of voting over the years may just be enough to safely conclude that the APC will easily coast to victory again in 2023 and retain power in Lagos State. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, Sanwo-Olu’s performance in 2023, his second outing at the poll, may follow Fashola’s pattern, who, in his second term, dominated the poll and beat Adegboye, a first-timer, hands down.
Like Adegboye in 2011, the governorship candidate of the PDP for 2023, Olajide Adediran, aka Jandor, is taking his first shot at the governorship seat.
He shares in common with Agbaje the fact that he had a political sojourn in the ruling party before he got aggrieved and defected to the opposition PDP to pursue his governorship ambition. Like Agbaje, who left the AC for DPA in 2007 when it became clear that the AC had settled for Fashola as its governorship candidate, Jandor, an erstwhile APC stalwart, left the ruling party in January 2022 alongside his supporters under the aegis of Lagos4Lagos to join the opposition party to pursue his governorship ambition. However, in October 2022, the Lagos4Lagos movement suffered a setback as 5,000 members of the movement reportedly abandoned Jandor and returned to the APC, their original party.
Added to that, Jandor irked a former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP and the party’s leader in Lagos, Chief Bode George, when he chose Nollywood actress Funke Akindele, aka Jenifa, as his running mate, instead of Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, who would later leave the PDP to become governorship candidate of Labour Party.
While Jandor keeps saying he is confident of winning the governorship election or sending Sanwo-Olu packing from office in 2023, the incumbent governor finds the contemplation laughable. The governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, likes to describe Jandor’s ambition as mere wishful thinking.
Analysts say it will take nothing short of magic for Jandor to achieve what Agbaje serially failed to do over a course of 12 years even when the times were more auspicious for the PDP to have won in Lagos. It is even more doubtful if any of the 14 other opposition parties, some of which have historically come behind the PDP during successive election cycles, can do what the PDP has not been able to achieve.
That Sanwo-Olu and his team may not be losing sleep over Jandor or considering him much of a threat could be gleaned from a recent statement by Akosile, who, while dismissing Jandor’s chances, described the PDP governorship candidate as an “apprentice candidate and politician.”
Akosile, who was reacting to boasts by Jandor that he would defeat Sanwo-Olu and his ‘godfathers’ during next year’s election, boasted that the reality of defeat would dawn on Jandor in 2023.
He said, “Simply put, it (Jandor’s comment) is wishful thinking as far as I am concerned and that statement is an insult on the Lagos electorate. Don’t forget he is a politician, but an apprentice candidate and politician.
“He will understand the game and learn better after the 2023 elections. He (Jandor) is in (political) training school and I wouldn’t want to take issue with him because I understand he is still learning the ropes.
“He is an apprentice candidate and when he is mature we can talk extensively about his chances of defeating Sanwo-Olu. But I believe he will learn during next year’s elections and graduate and if not, he will have to wait till the next election cycle in 2027.”
The APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, also mocked the PDP governorship candidate, telling supporters of the ruling party that mentioning the name of Jandor’s running mate, Akindele, in his hearing amounted to an insult.
At the centre, things seem to be falling apart for the PDP. Its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, is having a running battle with five PDP governors that should rather be supporting him but seem to be working against him. The battle between Atiku and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who is one of the governors working against Atiku’s presidential ambition, may negatively impact Jandor’s chances in Lagos. Wike, a stalwart of the PDP, had recently overlooked Jandor, who is his party’s governorship candidate in Lagos, to endorse Sanwo-Olu for second term.
Though Jandor said Wike’s endorsement counted for nothing and he would win nonetheless, before the PDP candidate is indeed an uphill, if not an impossible, task. And if Jandor and the PDP are faced with such not-so-bright prospects at the poll next year, the fate of other opposition parties, such as the Labour Party, Social Democratic Party, Allied Peoples Movement, All Peoples Party, Accord, Action Alliance, African Action Congress, African Democratic Congress and Action Democratic Party, etc, can be easily guessed.
Dan Aibangbe, a media and public relations consultant, writes from Lagos
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