The close results recorded at the presidential election conducted in Lagos last Saturday have sent a clear message to both the ruling All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, suggesting perhaps that there’s no clear front runner, writes SAMUEL OGUNDIPE…
The gubernatorial election in Lagos State is among the most closely watched in the country.
The race pits Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, a renowned accountant and retired civil servant, against Mr. Jimi Agbaje, a career pharmacist. As with other specific races across the country this season, the race in Lagos has its own peculiarities that are expected to play deciding roles in its outcome. Critical issues from unemployment to social welfare are widely expected to shape the opinion of voters ahead of the crucial elections, but the presidential election result has added another biting dimension: the growing political relevance of Ndigbo.
Prior to last Saturday’s elections, in which their unprecedented support for President Jonathan reduced Buhari’s votes margin to a paltry 160,000 in a state dominated by progressive-minded electorate, the significance of the Igbo electorate was widely discussed in the media, but a few anticipated it’ll be so steeply one-sided.
By the time the polls closed across the state, five PDP lawmakers had been elected to the Federal House of Representatives, including the first-two politicians of Igbo origin who were elected to the lower chamber in the historic contest. But since after that election, some prominent Igbo leaders in Lagos were said to have met with the APC National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to pledge their allegiance.
Another sentiment that is expected to shape the outcome of the Lagos guber election next Saturday is the we-want-a-change mantra of APC that PDP believes it could exploit in order to turn APC slogan into a double-edged sword. “If you want a change at the centre because we’ve been controlling it since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, then you also should concede Lagos to us because you’ve been in charge for same amount of time,” some PDP leaders seem to be saying.
Will the Sentiments Resonate with Lagosians?
But will these sentiments resonate with Lagosians as they choose their new state chief executive next week? Big question!
Let’s look at the generic case of Solomon Inodim. Mr. Inodim, 47, is a motor vehicle tyre dealer, a community agitator and an avowed enemy of partisan politics —“just call me a Lagosian,” he quipped at the WESTERN POST Thursday. He said he likes Mr. Ambode’s impressive résumé and agility but that’s not to say he’s not fascinated by Agbaje’s refined personality.
“Ambode’s background shows he’d spent his early years playing leadership roles,” he says, “but Jimi Agbaje is saying everybody loves him and I’ve not seen anyone come out to counter this.”
When a former senator and pro-democracy campaigner named Bola Ahmed Tinubu was elected governor 16 years ago, he achieved it with the support from voters like Inodim. In the subsequent three governorship elections since then, he said he’d voted for Mr. Tinubu’s party.
But as the APC slogs through an increasingly tough election battle, the party is spending lots of time answering criticisms from voters like Mr. Inodim that it is not oblivious to the demands of Igbo. Mr. Inodim especially detested a controversial decision by Governor Tunde Fashola to “deport” many Igbo back to their land, where they were allegedly dumped under a notorious bridge at Onitsha. But the largely social issue was given a political bent by former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi who was out to play politics and which some Igbo politicians in Lagos are still trying to cash in on.
“I am a Lagosian, yes I am a Lagosian,” Inodim told WP. “I am not saying I want to flush out the Igbo blood in me, but I don’t want to be made an outcast in a state I’ve put so much into since I attained the age of maturity.
“I have voted for Asiwaju’s (Tinubu) party no matter what,” he said. “This year, most of us are very confused.”
So it seems for the APC. 16 years of governing Lagos with soaring popularity, the result of the presidential election has left many players of the party to return to recalibrate its strategies or it stands conceding the nation’s commercial center to the opposition.
“The result shocked us,” said a party chieftain in the state. “The margin was just unexpectedly low, but we’re on top of the situation.”
The PDP expresses optimism about securing a comfortable chunk of Igbo votes to complement what Agbaje’s appealing personality could draw from the Yoruba electorate.
“With the result we saw last Saturday, I think we’re in a better shape than before,” says Engr. S.O. Ekanem, Chairman of the South-South caucus of the PDP. “We’re aggressively increasing our targets now that we know where we stand, we will triumph in Lagos.”
An APC insider said the APC is not as worried as the PDP would have them believe.
The source alleged the close margin of victory during the presidential election was the result of President Jonathan’s dollar rain on Igbo voters in the state.
“I’m sure you remember the president virtually relocated to Lagos in the final weeks of his campaign during which he rained dollars on the residents and political jobbers in the state, yet he still failed to defeat Buhari,” he said.
“The PDP will not fool itself into thinking they’ll win governorship elections in Lagos, I think they’re smarter than that.”
Analysts Expect the Battle to be Tough
The state battle is expected to be tough as analysts believe both parties will do their best to clinch victory in the state.
“I think the PDP has a chance of making a bigger impact if the president comes around to campaign vigorously for Mr. Jimi Agbaje, this would put the PDP in a better shape as an opposition party,” said political analyst and legal practitioner, Victor Okhai. “The president now has a trending goodwill; he could come to Lagos to let the voters know that they need a good opposition and giving Lagos to Agbaje will even some things out even at the national level.”
But Mr. Bruce Ugiomoh, a public communications expert, disagrees: “The APC will retain Lagos,” he said.
“Election is not about substituting one (party) for the other based on sheer goodwill, it’s mostly based on performance,” he argues. “The APC has a stellar performance record in Lagos and you cannot say that of the PDP at the center, the residents are well abreast of issues, this will work in Ambode’s favour.”