By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
The dress rehearsal for the battles ahead over who occupies Lagos State’s coveted governorship seat come May 29, 2015 is now in full swing.
So far, nothing has been spared by top and lowly rated performers to devote greater attention to details in the run-in to the gubernatorial election, and this includes non-verbal signs of serious and media-hyped aspirants like the nuances of facial expressions and body language, political and social affiliations, social media ratings, attendance at public functions, and visibility in mainstream media.
For the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the choice of a party flag bearer has been benchmarked on one score: Ability of aspirants to trace their genealogy to Lagos East senatorial district.
This zoning arrangement, which is alien to the APC or the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), is a deft move by party leaders to take the governorship round the three senatorial districts. Lagos West have had it for two terms of eight years with APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu from 1999 to 2007 before the baton was handed over to the incumbent governor, Babatunde Fashola, from Lagos Central, who is on the last lap of his eight years in office.
The zoning clause may not count much for some aspirants in the APC, who only need some high-profile endorsements to validate their claims of hailing from any of the three major strongholds in Lagos East – Ikorodu, Ibeju-Lekki, or Epe.
Furthermore, it is not a strange phenomenon for politicians in the state to cross-carpet from one senatorial district to the other without qualms.
For instance, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji is currently representing Lagos West after his first term in the same capacity (office) representing Lagos East from 2007 to 2011.
But of great concern to Lagosians in the ongoing scheming and game of wits is the faint drumbeat from political gladiators, which is being given expression through religious ‘politricking’. It is the agitation for a Christian governor in 2015.
Waiting in the wings to benefit from this crusade (although not of his own making or that of his benefactor, who is a Moslem) is the state’s former Accountant-General, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, whose ‘dark horse’ entry into the race for Fashola’s successor got a massive lift with the recent endorsement by the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu.
This endorsement, which was viewed as too early by some political watchers, has elicited criticisms, which could end up as a distraction to the Ambode project.
However, Fashola unsurprisingly threw jabs at promoters of religious consideration for governorship campaign when he condemned the demand by some groups in the state that a Christian should be his successor in 2015, saying: “Do they really believe in God? It is only God that can insist.”
Ambode (middle) discussing with close associates
It is believed that Fashola expressed this sentiment while declaring open an inter-faith conference in Lagos, with the theme: ‘Peace, Religious Harmony and Good Governance: Issues and Challenges,’ because of his perceived leanings towards one of the aspirants and his Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Obafemi Kadiri Hamzat, a fellow Moslem.
According to Fashola: “People have said that they want one particular governor and I have asked myself two questions – the people who said that they want one particular governor or that there must be this other particular governor, are they still conscious that it is an election where a choice has to be made? If there are two democrats, they should expect that citizens must have a say in who is sworn-in as the governor of their state. Secondly, can you insist that you will be alive in the next one hour?”
The governor, who insisted that religion should not used to determine his successor, added: “Good governance means different things to people. For the majority, good governance is just food, the ability to get a job and provision of social amenities. For those people, the faith of the governor is never their problem.”
Currently, several Lagosians, aspirants inclusive, have made religion an issue in a cosmopolitan and pluralistic state like Lagos. Prominent among them is Senator Ganiyu Solomon, representing Lagos West at the National Assembly. For him, religion has never been an issue in Lagos politics and should be kept out of it.
“It is a very emotional and sensitive issue in view of what is going on in the country today. In this particular part of the country, we don’t discuss religion when it comes to governance. This is the first time some people are bringing it up and I can tell you that they are bringing it up because of their own selfish interests. I don’t want to go further,” he said.
An APC chieftain, Alhaji Ganiyu Oseni, while describing the attempts to infuse religion into politics as political shenanigans, tricks and manipulations said: “There is a clear cut difference between the church and the state. Can anybody go to Abia, Imo, Anambra, Rivers, Akwa Ibom or Cross River and say they want a Muslim candidate?
“Democracy is a government of the people by the people for the people. You can’t go to Zamfara, Katsina, Kano and Jigawa states and say you must have a Christian governor. I am very disturbed that people are bringing religion into politics. We may know the beginning of such issues, but nobody knows the end.
“Deep down in me, I don’t believe in imposition. The choice must be by the people. Lagos State is not a state of a particular religion, we have Muslims, Christians and other religious adherents in large number, but all we need is good leadership that will deliver dividends of democracy to the people.”
A Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, who is also eyeing his party’s governorship ticket, said the issue of religion is a weapon that aspirants, who, on their own, cannot win election, are employing to gain advantage that they don’t deserve. He declared: “If you examine all the aspirants, who are using religion today, none of them has the political weight to make any meaningful impact on their own. Is it Ambode with no political relevance or Jimi Agbaje, who doesn’t know which party to join less than eight months to the general elections? The beauty of Lagos is its religious neutrality and it is in our common interest to protect that.”
LAGOS HOUSE: Front view of the Governor’s Office, Alausa
To sample people’s opinions on the matter, The Guardian took the debate to the streets of Lagos and the following was the response:
The time is ripe for a Christian governor
– Akinnibi Damilola Shina
Religion would influence the next election because it has suddenly come to the notice of everybody that majority of those in the present cabinet in the state are Muslims. Sensitization is ongoing about this and we Christians are ready to ensure we determine our fate.
The media should focus more on serious issues
– Idris Olakunle Bello
I am perturbed and disappointed that the press failed to address key issues. Growth and development of the state should be greater imperatives than question of religion. The press should stop misleading the electorate. We are wiser than the falsity of the pen.
It is politically wise for parties to pick a Christian candidate
– Olawale Oladejo
Although religion shouldn’t be a yardstick to determine who governs, but many people are clamouring for a Christian governor and to win public sentiment any serious minded political party will choose a Christian candidate and with such scenario, I believe religion will influence the choice of the next governor.
Lagos is a pluralistic state
– Akinyele Akinrujomu
Religion cannot and will not play any meaningful role. As a Christian, I know that the bulk of the people troubling Nigeria today profess to be Christians. Leadership is a calling, anybody that is called, chosen or elected should be allowed to lead and add value to governance. Lagos is a civilized and pluralistic state. Religion should not be allowed to cause division and disaffection in 2015.
We say no to godfathers
– Abdulhakeem Olanrewaju
We have both Christians and Muslims in government presently, what have they done? Nothing. Both adherents of the two religions in politics do not fear what their end will be. My opinion is that Godfatherism should be out of politics. Let us vote in a new party entirely that will govern not under the influence of some people. That’s all.
Religion will largely determine 2015 election
– Charles Iwenofu
Religion is something that can never be removed from politics of the under-developing nations, unlike the rest of the developed world. Religious forces will largely determine 2015 election, at least by 60 percent, while credibility of candidates will make up the remaining 40 percent.
Lagosians will vote for personality not religion
– Oshiobugie Ronald
Religion can’t play any significant role in Nigerian politics at the state level, though it has a way of influencing at the federal level. Lagosians vote personality and not on religious basis.
Religion should not be allowed to divide us
– Jamiu Abdullahi
My advice to Lagosians is that politics and politicians should not be allowed to divide us. There is hardly a family where you won’t find Christians and Muslims and they have coexisted peacefully.
Religion may end up breaking Nigeria
– Adetolu Abdulrazaq
That is the beginning of our problems in Nigeria. And if we don’t take religion out of it, we will end up breaking the country.
Those campaigning with religion are enemies of Lagos
– Asuni Ademola
Religion has never been part of Lagos politics. Those who are calling for religion are jokers and enemies of Lagos. Bringing religion into politics is a very dangerous thing.
Muslim governors are better
– Chuks Michael
Religion has nothing to do with good governance. Though I am a Christian but I see more development from most Muslim governors. I am not trying to prove others wrong but we Christians still act like unbelievers.
Religion should decide for equity sake
– Chiemeka Lloyd Agu
Yes, religion has to decide who becomes the next Lagos State governor because to the best of my knowledge, Lagos needs a Christian person as the next governor in 2015 for equity.
History will repeat itself
– Paul Yabugbe
It has happened before in Lagos when the late Michael Otedola of the NRC beat Dapo Sarumi of the SDP though SDP dominated the House of Assembly.
Religion will play a factor
– Adedoyin Adeleke Samuel
It would definitely; because that is just our mentality in Nigeria. If God says yes, no one can say no.
The game is played by the Muslims
– Iheanyi Wisdom
A Christian will hardly rule Lagos. That is the truth, just like a Muslim will never rule Abia State. Never.
Religion will play a big role
– Innocent Ani
Religion will play a big role come 2015 in Lagos. If APC wants to give the PDP a chance, let it field a Muslim candidate.
It does not determine success
– Sunmola Temitope Shogbesan
Whether it is a Christian or Muslim that rules, it doesn’t guarantee any success. Only God can lead us right. I pray God should give us the person that would have the interest of the masses at heart.
Religion should not matter
– Anthony Agbo Nath
Religion shouldn’t matter but the person who is capable of bringing development to the people. However, I have observed that Muslims can’t exist without being in power.
This debate is a distraction
– Akeem Faruq
The introduction of religion into Lagos politics is a wicked strategy to create an opportunity for a weakling to become governor. Lagosians have never been known to vote for a governor based on religion. I don’t believe religion can play any meaningful impact in the Lagos governorship elections.
Religion is a non-issue
– Banjo Julius
It should not but it may. For me religion is no longer an issue, but finding a leader who is more concerned about the people he leads.
The voters are now wiser
– Harrison Aduluwa
If the people’s wishes speak, I think Nigerians are getting wiser. But come to think of it, the Southwest never allowed such until Rauf’s unity school plan played up religion as a factor.
Rigging, not religion will decide 2015
– Nwagwu Kelechi
Religion won’t, but multiple taxation will. And just as they have been doing in the past, assassination and rigging would also decide the election.
Politics is a game where nothing is impossible
– Jephtah Omavueya
Politics in Nigeria is like football where nothing is impossible.