Ambode: The return of an outcast?

LANRE ADEWOLE periscopes the departure of Osinowo and the likely return of Ambode, from political wilderness.

It could not have been in the political imaginations of any of the state’s top actors, but the sudden death of Senator Bayo Osinowo, representing Lagos East senatorial district at the Nigerian senate, has suddenly revived politics of nomination in Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is still battling with factional contest of supremacy and a delicate litigation over constitutionality of congresses that ended in duplicity of party executive members, from state to unit level.

Expectedly, all eyes again are on the strongman of the state politics, former governor and national leader of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu, for a pick to represent the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) whenever the bye-election would hold, to have Osinowo’s replacement in the senate and despite the reported plans and preparations of other political parties in the state, to participate in the expected bye-election, the ruling party’s coming nomination is attracting the most of interest, considering the widespread assumption it would likely retain the seat.

Before Osinowo’s sudden death, two of the three senators, representing the state, were from Ogun State, while the third, Senator Oluremi Tinubu of Lagos Central, is the only indigene by marriage. Osinowo was from the Ijebu Division of Ogun State and at his death, he was taken home for burial. Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, known as Yayi, representing Lagos West, the largest senatorial district in the state, is not only from Ogun State, but even attempted to succeed former Ogun governor, Ibikunle Amosun, before an unfavourable permutation sent him back to Lagos and back to the senate representing Lagos State.

At Osinowo’s passing, prominent Lagos citizens like former Vice National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, had decried the low participation of the state’s natives in its affairs, either at state or national level. This alleged marginalisation, has become one of the issues shaping the growing campaign for the replacement of Osinowo and suddenly becoming an issue that could cause a shock defeat for the ruling party if the nominee doesn’t meet the yearning of the indigenes.

Of the original 20 local governments in the state, only five, make up the senatorial district in focus; Epe, Ibeju/Lekki, Ikorodu, Kosofe and Somolu, with an estimate population of about 1,903,481. There are a number of LCDAs under the same district, but are now being counted as operating under their original five parents LGs, since the Development Areas became a subject of litigation at the Federal High Court in Abuja, over the conduct of mid-2018 congresses of the ruling party which led to the duplicity of state, local government, ward and unit party officials.

Today, the two factional chairmen of the party in the state, Alhaji Tunde Balogun and Mr. Fouad Oki are talking tough since a change of leadership was effected at the national level and the promised reconciliation of disaffected party members, nationwide. While the APC is widely expected to coast home to easy victory in the coming bye-election, the process of throwing up a candidate is being largely viewed as the deciding factor for its success or otherwise in the said poll.

Even before Osinowo’s grave could be properly closed, names of potential replacement had already surfaced online and on the social media, with one of those touted to replace him, Hon. Abike Dabiri, having to publicly dissociate herself from the permutations. Dabiri, from Ikorodu, was in the House of Representatives, before her current appointment as the CEO of the Diasporan Agency. She called such permutations as wicked and inhuman, when the deceased senator had not even been properly mourned. That mindset is also believed to be keeping others, being worked into the replacement permutations, like Osinowo’s predecessor, Senator Gbenga Ashafa and former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, from publicly speaking on their rumoured interests, in the seat.

Ashafa, a known ally of Tinubu, was forced out in 2015 when he refused to step down for Pepperito as Osinowo was popularly known in Lagos politics, as demanded by their political leader, Tinubu. The relationship between Ashafa and Tinubu cannot be correctly gauged now, since the former senator has been relatively quiet on the political scene. His chances of getting Tinubu’s endorsement can’t also be adequately measured.

A political ally however told Sunday Tribune the former senator has the best chance among the names being touted, because of his sustained political structures in the five local governments, making up the senatorial district. Without the approval of the party’s godfather, he is still expected to lose the nomination the way he did in 2019.

Apart from Ashafa and Dabiri, another big name being touted for the seat is the immediate governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode. The Epe-born accountant is the first democratically-elected single-term governor in the history of the state, losing his second term party nomination to the incumbent, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, after falling out with Tinubu, who railroaded him into the position in the first place, in 2015.

Ambode has been licking his political wound quietly since his ouster and failure to clinch the ministerial nomination for the state. Considering the bad blood that defined his last days in office with anything Tinubu, political watchers believe they can’t be called political soul-mates, limiting the likelihood of the former governor getting rewarded with the senatorial ticket.

A party chieftain told Sunday Tribune that though Ambode is still hugely popular in his native Epe, it is doubtful if he would want to sit down with the Tinubu political family again, for any form of “business” in the light of how he was treated in the build-up to 2019 poll.

“I doubt if Akin (Ambode) will ever sit with those people (Tinubu political clan) again, though he is still very popular in Epe, very popular” the source noted.

When reminded that the former governor’s name, appeared in the register of the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) which recently banned political groupings in the state, the APC stalwart disclosed that many of those listed as signatories to the communique, weren’t at the meeting, but had their names infused due to their old membership.

“Was Fashola at the meeting? Was his name not listed as a signatory to the dissolution? Akin too, wasn’t there. They just used their names to give weight to the decision. You know, both were hosts as governors, so now that they are out of office, their old membership is still being used. When Fashola was governor, he hardly attended the meeting, but would make the Marina House available to them and their allowance, as the host” the party insider explained.

He however noted that if Ambode decides to run for the seat, his chances are as good as Ashafa not showing interest.

 

Is Epe marginalised?

Despite maintaining a low profile, Ambode is reportedly being worked into the equation as a way of compensating his governorship loss, since he didn’t rock the party in vendetta when he had the opportunity to so do, during the poll and he, a sitting governor, without anything to lose. The main challenge before him, would be whether Epe, which has produced the deputy governor in the person of Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, another Lagosian with deep Ogun roots, will be given the advantage ahead of Kosofe, which just lost it, to the death of Osinowo. Ashafa too, is of Kosofe, the local government with the highest population among the five, making up the district. Dabiri’s Ikorodu has the second largest population figure of the five, followed by Somolu, Epe and Ibeju-Lekki, in that order.

Of the five local governments, only Epe hasn’t produced a senator for the zone, which possibly explains the higher interest in the area with the likes of Chief Lanre Razak who ran against Osinowo and former Speaker, House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji also being worked into the equation.

A source however disclosed to Sunday Tribune that a shock candidate may emerge in Tokunbo Wahab, the current Special Adviser on Education to Sanwo-Olu. Wahab, a lawyer and the state official credited with the on-going Lagos online classes, contested against Ambode for the party ticket in 2014 when the former governor beat the incumbent deputy to a close second. Information available to Sunday Tribune suggests that while other aspirants are being widely mentioned in the media, the groundwork that would deliver to Wahab, may be quietly coalescing.

 

Why APC may fall

The toughest battle before the ruling party goes beyond the personality chosen as its candidate or the favoured zone and local government. It is the constitutional issue of whether it should continue to conduct national affairs in the controversial 37 LCDAs, created to widen the local base of the state. Following their declaration as inchoate by the Supreme Court on December 20, 2004, the ruling political class in the state, has been working around conveniences to administer them and it had experienced little or no problem, until the faction led by Oki pulled out of the ruling clique, to challenge the status quo, particularly as it relates to alleged imposition of candidates by the state godfather.

In the ensuing battle for the control of the party, the Oki faction had limited itself to the 20 constitutionally-recognized local governments and 245 wards, in the conduct of its parallel congresses, while the faction loyal to Tinubu, conducted its’, in the 57 LGs and LCDAs and 377 wards.

The now-sacked Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) decided to recognise the Tinubu faction which produced Balogun as the chairman, compelling the Oki group to berth in court in Abuja.

Oki told Sunday Tribune the mainstream group would be shooting itself in the foot, conducting the nomination primary in more than the original five local governments making up the senatorial zone. He believed the Mai Mala Buni-led national caretaker committee would want to avoid the pitfall of starting with elections in Lagos on a wrong footing, adding that except the Tinubu faction wants to be deeper in illegality, it must limit itself to the constitutionally-recognised Local government areas.

Doing that has a lot of implications. One, once such a reversal is conducted, the mainstream group would be accepting that its conduct of 2018 congresses in all the LGs and LCDAs is illegal and unconstitutional. Once that is established, the faction supporting the state’s strongman, may well be bidding relevance goodbye, because it will automatically confer legitimacy on the Oki faction, which is reportedly preparing to table its terms of case withdrawal, before the Buni committee.

If 2018 parallel congresses are ruled in favour of the Oki group, arising from the limitation of the bye-election nomination to the original five local governments, nearly all elected political office holders in the state, starting with the governor, will be in jeopardy.

But the Tunde Balogun-led State Working Committee has been sounding confident, assuring its members and supporters that the congresses which produced the executive and upon which the primary elections for Governor, Deputy, members of House of Assembly and National Assembly were premised, were constitution-compliant.

According to him, “We are legitimate and our congresses met all necessary pre-requisite (National APC, INEC and other security apparatus were with us). We wish to debunk all frivolous claims by the other purported faction. Our people should entertain no fear whatsoever. LGA and Ward Chairmen should assure our members that there is no cause for alarm in Lagos APC. Brief your LGA exco and tell the Ward Chairmen to also talk to their ward exco.

“Let us assure all our members in the state and advise them to be careful not to attend any meeting called by any other group or sign any document from them.”

While the Oki faction is yet to speak on nominating a parallel candidate for the bye-election, it is clear about its demand to the Abuja leadership; conduct fresh congresses in Lagos and dissolve the parallel state working committees, a demand roundly rejected by the other faction.

While the ruling party factions are at it, other political parties are reportedly working to create an upset by fusing into a one-off alliance on the platform of the leading opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The ruling party may be the huge favourite for the seat, but it may end up running against and defeat itself.

 

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