•APC leader under pressure to appease certain tendencies in party
•Stakeholders fear serious backlash if right balance is not struck
•Focus now is on governance, not politics –Omotosho
There appears to be air of uncertainty in the political camp of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State that is likely to cause some dilemma for Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu ahead of the 2023 election. This unease compelled the Lagos State Head of Service, Mr Hakeem Muri-Okunola, to make a bold move to douse raging tension within the ruling party on February 8, 2022. Being the eye of the storm in the current wrangling and scheming within the APC, Muri-Okunola in a statement he personally signed denied reports linking him with alleged moves to square up with his boss, Governor Babajide Sanwo- Olu, for governorship of the state come 2023.
“I, hereby, dissociate myself from all publications and innuendoes conveying such plots. I reiterate my support for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu,” he wrote in the statement obtained by Saturday Telegraph. The lawyer turned technocrat blamed some yet-tobe identified persons within and outside the state for speculation, saying that the move is aimed at dividing the rank and file of the party and capable of planting ‘a seed of discord between Governor Sanwo-Olu and me.”
Muri-Okunola’s denial of any political ambition came a week after a similar one made by a powerful caucus called Governance Advisory Council who also in a statement debunked claims of endorsing another candidate against the incumbent, maintaining that it has not settled for anyone as replacement for Sanwo-Olu. In a statement signed by its leader, Prince Tajudeen Olusi, GAC who washed its hands off any suggestion that it was endorsing another candidate for the party blamed the tension on social media message orchestrated by those whom he referred to as merchants of hate and discord.
“GAC has not settled for any person to replace Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu as governor. Therefore, it is absolutely false and preposterous for anyone to suggest so,” the statement reads in part just as Olusi added that the council has not discussed the issue (governorship ticket) at any of its past meetings.
The tension that has been generated within the APC in Lagos State is primarily caused by seeming lull in political activities and speculations on whether the incumbent will be allowed to take another shot at the office or if he also will go the way of his immediate predecessor in office, Akinwunmi Ambode, who was shoved aside by top party leaders.
Unlike other governors who eye a return to office, Sanwo-Olu has not commenced any activity to suggest staging a comeback in 2023 thus somewhat lending credence to speculations that he might only spend just a term of office, being the agreement he allegedly reached with some leaders of the APC prior to his emergence in 2019. Speaking with Saturday Telegraph, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho said that it was not yet time for politics, and that Governor Sanwo-Olu is still busy with governance. Omotosho stressed that second term was not a priority for Sanwo-Olu at the moment, adding that he had barely spent two and a half years in office.
“Talking about second term should not be a priority to the Governor now, when he has not spent two and a half years in office. “Look at all the big projects that we have ahead of us that would make life easy for the people of Lagos State; he has been all over the place, in the United States of America, and Turkey trying to get things for the two rail projects; the blue and red lines.
“The tracks are almost ready and he has been able to secure the trains from the USA and Turkey. Even the Bible says that there is time for everything, a time to die, and a time sleep. This is the time for governance and not for politics. “When the time for politics comes, we will play it. Look at all the big housing projects that we want to deliver for Lagosians. He has just delivered Opebi Link Bridge to Iya Alaro in Ojota.
We should be talking about all those things, not about second term,” he said. The commissioner, who said that it was obvious that Governor Sanwo-Olu has done well in office, added that Massey Street Hospital, which is under construction, would be the biggest in Africa, and that the state government had been focusing on several roads projects, including the Lekki-Epe Road that he said was built 49 years ago.
“I can tell you for sure that Governor Sanwo-Olu is interested in a second term of office but what he is waiting for is the go ahead from some leaders of the party to be able to set out fully and properly,” a chieftain of the party who pleaded not to be named told one of our correspondents in Lagos on Thursday.
It is believed that the ‘right quarters’ being alluded to is the National Leader of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu, whose nod is considered critical with regards to the direction the party should move ahead of the forthcoming General Elections. Specifically, it is being rumoured that Sanwo-Olu had a pact with the leadership of the party in the state led by Tinubu for a single term of office to complete the tenure of the Christians in the state with a view to paving the way for a Muslim faithful to succeed him.
Efforts to get Tinubu’s media aide, Mr. Tunde Rahman, to speak on the matter also proved abortive as his phone rang repeatedly without any response but sources within the party maintain that owing to some other compelling reasons and factors the ‘right quarters’ in the party may decide to stick to the agreement allegedly reached with Sanwo-Olu.
However, the State Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr. Seye Oladejo, in a chat with one of our correspondents dismissed any claim of a single term for Sanwo-Olu as untrue. He also dismissed claims of any cracks within the party, maintaining that the defection of Olajide Adediran has not in any way eroded its potency to always reassert its dominance in the political life of the state. “The so-called defection of Adediran) remains a non-event and of no political consequence.
We have members in all the nooks and crannies of the state who are galvanised to deliver for the party at all times. “There is absolutely nothing to worry about. Our goodwill among electorates and the widely commendable performance of our elected and appointed officials will go a long way to guarantee our victory,” Oladejo said. Sources within the party added that the choice of Sanwo-Olu for a second term may not be an easy and straight forward decision for the Bola Tinubu led APC in the state to make considering the numerous prevailing political dynamics that would require that the leadership of the party maintain the right balance in terms of managing the interests of the various tendencies and blocs within its fold.
Compared to the situation in the past where the directive of the leadership of the party had been obeyed without any whimper of opposition, sources affirm that the environment has since changed with younger elements demanding to have greater say in the affairs of the party. These elements are demanding more openness and inclusiveness as well as democratisation of decision making in the APC and the emergence of these elements composed mainly of those who see themselves as having been shut out of relevance or who have one or two grievances against the party has considerably reordered the trajectory and calculations within the party.
“No one can deny the existence of powerful counter power bloc in Lagos APC anymore. It exists and that is the reality that is confronting our party as we speak. It reared its head in the last general election because it threw up the duo of Sanwo-Olu and (Obafemi) Hamzat, who eventually became the deputy governor to pacify the other side,” a chieftain told our correspondent. The chieftain who is the chairman of a parallel faction of the party however maintained that his group would settle for the governorship and nothing more this time and that it would exert the right amount of pressure to force the hands of the leadership of the party.
Though, he refused to state if his faction is the one pushing the Muri-Okunola option, the source however added that his group is working round the clock to “change the order of things in the party next year.” Added to that is the religious dimension that the build to the poll is assuming as prominent Muslims in the state are rooting for one of their own to mount the saddle next year after both Ambode and Sanwo- Olu have taken their turns, a development said to have been rejected by Christians who argued that the two have only spent just eight years in power compared to Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola who both spent 16 years.
Besides, the cry of marginalisation by indigenes of the state has assumed a level that Tinubu cannot discountenance and 2023 remains the only year for him to “right perceived political wrongs and injustices meted to the aborigines,” a call sources say Tinubu and the party’s leadership seem very disposed to. As at the time of filing this report, it is however not ascertained where Tinubu stands in all these but sources told Saturday Telegraph that it would be difficult for him to dump Sanwo-Olu for another candidate.
Those who hold such opinion are of the view that the cost of either dropping the governor or retaining him seems enormous but that what would be required is that the party’s leaders must find the right equilibrium with a view to striking the right balance akin to what took place in 2019. “The political cost of shoving Sanwo-Olu aside would be enormous coming after the same scenario occurred in 2019 when Ambode who was seen as a performer was shoved aside. Everyone could see the backlash in terms of low voter turnout as well as low vote cast by the electorate,” a source who is a member of the state executive committee of the party said.
“If the same scenario repeats itself, I doubt if the APC can survive it should the PDP field a viable, strong, acceptable candidate next year. Again, if Tinubu retains Sanwo-Olu against the rising opposition from critical stakeholders in the state, it will be a hard knock for him to crack if the party must continue to control the state.”