• Will APC play the dark horse joker again?
By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor
AS the drumbeat of the 2015 general elections reaches a crescendo, the race for the most coveted governorship seat in the country gets intense and fiercer. Curiously, the conspiracy of silence among the ruling party bigwigs is unnerving.
Various names as likely successor to Governor Babatunde Fashola have been thrown up but delay by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to switch on pre-election activities is causing many party stalwarts sleepless nights.
Among those nursing the ambition to be the next occupant of Lagos House, Alausa next year are Commissioner for Works, Obafemi Hamzat; former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Supo Sasore; immediate past Commissioner for Finance, Tokunbo Abiru; his successor, Ayo Gbeleyi; and the Commissioner for Sports and Youth Development, Waheed Enitan Oshodi.
These are the shortlisted five of technocrats perceived to have the capacity to carry on the Fashola legacy, but against the possibility of facing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP), who will likely field politically experienced candidates, the APC is tinkering with its options.
The obvious options are two serving Senators, Ganiyu Solomon and Gbenga Ashafa, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, and former Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Muiz Banire.
Political watchers in the state are, however, second-guessing where the next governor would emerge from out of the three senatorial districts in the state.
The calculations are pretty straight: Lagos West have had it for two terms of eight years with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu from 1999 to 2007; Lagos Central followed with incumbent governor mounting the saddle; which then makes it politically expedient that Lagos East takes its turn from 2015.
This is why contenders from this zone are upbeat about their chances in the race to pick the party’s slot. But what may throw spanner in the works is the strong but subtle agitation by several political and interest groups for a Christian governor in 2015.
This, according to inside sources, is the reason for the party’s vacillation on the post-Fashola project, alongside APC’s fixation on pushing out the PDP from power at the centre. The religious dimension to the dramatis personae of Lagos 2015 project is a growing concern the party cannot wish away.
APC is already being touted as a Muslim party, a tag the national publicity secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, is latching on to, to allege that the party is planning to impose an Islamic agenda in the country like the Egypt Muslim Brotherhood.
The consequence of this agitation is that by the time the governorship slot goes to Lagos East, it should be a Christian ticket, if the party is thinking correctly.
“The Christian community is beginning to feel disenfranchised and there is a serious search for a Christian ticket from Lagos East, which will knock off the ambitions of many front-liners like Ashafa, Ikuforiji, Hamzat, GOS and Banire,” a party chieftain, who doesn’t want to be named, noted.
Until Senator Oluremi Tinubu last year openly debunked being in the running for Fashola’s seat, rumour mills had gone agog with the story that the penetrative campaign for a Christian governor may not be unconnected with the move to push Tinubu’s wife forward.
Close aides of the national leader say it was never the plan for her to run, as the move would have hit a brick wall since she is representing Lagos Central at the Senate, the same zone the incumbent governor is from.
“Even the Senate thing didn’t just happen like that. It took a lot of work for Asiwaju to agree to the ticket. You know how women have a way of getting what they want no matter how difficult. Asiwaju just succumbed.
“The lull in the build-up to who clinches the party ticket is leaving everyone guessing who Asiwaju is going to throw up again like he did in 2007 with Fashola. All I can say is that there are lots of candidates waiting to get into the ring. They are only studying the situation before declaring their interest.”
Members of the Tinubu inner caucus revealed to The Guardian that after the five names of possible successors drawn up by Fashola leaked to the public last year, Tinubu drew up his own list of technocrats as a counter balance and arrived at the following: Dr. Leke Pitan, former Commissioner of Health; Prince Gbolahan Lawal, Commissioner of Agriculture and Cooperatives; and the immediate past Accountant-General of the state, Mr. Akin Ambode.
Tokunbo Abiru, who was recently appointed an Executive Director in First Bank, was dropped from consideration, as there are chances he could succeed the current managing director of the bank, Bisi Onasanya, and ensure the MD position remains in the southwest.
Religious consideration notwithstanding, there is a dark horse being primed in Fashola’s inner circle as a last minute joker should the leading contenders be forced to drop their bid and the surprise package, which is being discussed in hush tones, is the Chief of Staff to the governor, Mr. Mikhail Olanrewaju Babalola.
The list of strong contenders the party is presently working on has now been narrowed to two – Obafemi Hamzat and Leke Pitan, who are both from Epe, Lagos East Senatorial District. Of the two, Hamzat is well positioned because of the enormous resources at his disposal and volume of contracts that had passed through his ministry in the last three years.
Also, Hamzat’s father, Oba Olatunji Hamzat, is a well-known formidable grassroots mobilizer and colossus in Lagos politics. His father did Asiwaju a huge favour by stepping down in the running for Senate during the SDP days in 1992. Hamzat senior is also the founder of the Justice Forum, an influential group within the ranks of the Lagos APC.
But the decision by Oba Hamzat to become a traditional ruler in Ogun State is working against his son, Obafemi. The indigeneship issue is what traditional rulers in Lagos are holding against party leaders and the major hurdle to cross is convincing Lagosians to vote an Ogun prince into office as governor.
Pitan is waiting in the wings to benefit from this contradiction. The template for the actualization of his ticket is the resurgence of groups and factions within the APC. Suddenly, groups, which were before now banned in the old Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), have been revved back to life to project and counter balance the interests of aspirants.
Dominant among these groups are Justice Forum, Mandate Group, and Mega Group. As it stands, Mandate Group leads with a 70 percent membership in the defunct ACN, followed by Justice Forum with 25 percent and Mega with five percent. Within the Mandate faction, Leke Pitan is the main element, and he is aided by his senatorial constituency.
But the man who holds the key in the Mandate Group is Asiwaju as he has the last say. For the other groups, Tinubu still has to convince its leaders on major decisions before some consensus are reached.
Those in the know in party politics of Lagos State attest to this fact and leaders of the other groups are seriously mobilizing members and shopping for new ones ahead of the APC’s national membership registration in all wards and local government areas of the country to enhance their bargaining power in the party.
This was how an influential party leader sums up the dicey chase to clinching the APC ticket: “Nothing is given yet. Anything can still happen. The agitations for Christian governor is strong but it depends on how much noise the Christians are able to make. The noise has died down, but if the noise persists, the leaders of the party would be forced to rethink on their position. It may then switch from Hamzat to Pitan or Ambode. For now, Hamzat is on the frontline.”