Eromosele Ebhomele, Jamiu Yisa & Simon Ateba
As the 2015 elections draw near, the struggle for the soul of Lagos gets fiercer. Here are the gladiators
A week before his eventual declaration of intent to contest for the seat of Governor in Lagos State in the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, stormed the office of the state chapter of All Progressives Congress, APC, the party under which he has led the House for about 10 years. After dropping a fee of N5.5 million for the nomination form, it was time to speak with journalists, who had all along noted his confidence. Then one of them asked him what would happen if after this level of confidence he does not get the party’s ticket. Ikuforiji, who must have found that question amusing, smiled and said: “I bind that in Jesus’ name.”
Of course. Every other aspirant for the governorship position in the state currently occupied by Babatunde Fashola, would react the same way even though it is a win-or-lose situation. The speaker’s level of confidence is not unique. All the other aspirants for the topmost seat in the governance of Lagos share the same confidence, but they also know that not all of them would end up becoming the candidate.
As the new date for the governorship primaries of the APC shifts to 2 December from 15 November when it was supposed to hold, as earlier announced by the party, there could be more entrants into the race.
In the APC, those already slugging it out among themselves to become the party’s torchbearer in the state include Ikuforiji who, last week at a crowded hall in Ikeja, publicly declared his interest in the seat; Akinwunmi Ambode, a former accountant-general of the state who had declared at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos two days before Ikuforiji; Obafemi Hamzat, the current commissioner for works in the state; Leke Pitan, a former commissioner for health and also education, who is yet to make a formal declaration but who had long begun campaigns; Ganiyu Solomon, a serving senator, who was the first to publicly declare his interest when he opened his campaign office in Ikeja, and Tola Kasali, a former chairman of Ibeju-Lekki council and two-term commissioner in Lagos State. The latter had run for the post in 2007, but was persuaded to step down for Raji Fashola.
Major contenders for the governorship position on the side of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, include Musiliu Obanikoro, who recently resigned his position as Nigeria’s minister of state for defence ; Jimi Agbaje, a pharmacist, businessman and member of the Afenifere Renewal Group; Ade Dosunmu, a former public servant who had also contested against Fashola in 2011; Deji Doherty, a businessman; Babatunde Gbadamosi, a consultant, and Dominic Adegbola, a medical practitioner.
Not many know that this man, who would have been Speaker of the state House of Assembly for consecutive 10 years by the time he hands over in 2015, became the Speaker of the House after just two years of becoming a lawmaker and chairman of the House Committee on the Environment. Since then, Ikuforiji has remained a major factor in the growth and development of Lagos State. Ikuforiji succeeded in carving a niche for himself as the Speaker who gave a facelift to the structures in the Assembly. Today, the House holds its plenary sessions in a chamber described as the best in Africa by Aminu Tambuwal, the speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, when it was commissioned.
While declaring his governorship ambition last week, Ikuforiji maintained that he would continue from where Fashola would hand over the baton. Apart from sustaining policies on ground, he said he would upgrade the hospitals in the state to world class standard within his first 18 months as governor and would make sure government officials, including him, no longer go to other countries for medical tourism. Programmes lined up by him include exploring the capacity of Lagos to produce 99 megawatts of electricity, creating employment opportunities for residents of the state, and expanding the transport system of the state as well as encouraging the use of bicycle for transport.
“My core vision is to consolidate and enlarge the enviable legacy of good governance, sterling leadership and unmatched excellence for which Lagos State has come to be known; and to ensure that the greatest good generated in the state is shareable among all Lagosians…I will work hard to make Lagos the African Alpha City, one that will link the African economy to the world economy, thus, Lagos will constitute the heartbeat of the continent in the 21st Century,” Ikuforiji said.
As beautiful as his programmes are however, Ikuforiji still has more to do than just rely on his party. Currently, Christians in the state are agitating for a Christian governor, since Muslims have been in the saddle since 1999. He also has a lot of work to do to disabuse the minds of Nigerians concerning the case he recently won against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. This is because Nigerians are prone to believing that anyone being tried by the anti-graft agency is guilty, even before the court finds him guilty or innocent. In Ikuforiji’s case, he was acquitted by the court.
Concerning the clamour for religion, Ikuforiji has always maintained that though a Muslim, he remains partly a Christian because his wife, Mayowa, is not just a Christian but a church leader. He recently disclosed that he married Mayowa in a church and that since then, he had remained a son to the Anglican family.
It was when he suddenly got interested in the governorship race that many residents of Lagos began to take interest in him. That was when many knew that he was part of the financial re-engineering done by the Bola Tinubu administration in the state.
It is widely known that the administration was seriously starved of funds for years by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo federal administration after Tinubu created more council areas . Obasanjo wanted Tinubu to cancel the idea. When Tinubu insisted the councils, later known as development areas, would live, Obasanjo turned off the tap of Federal money to local councils in the state.Hardship set in. Ambode was behind the table as the accountant-general of the state, handling finances accruing to the state from other sources and churning out strategies for the government to move on. Those who support him believe his prudence during that period would be an added advantage to his administration if he eventually becomes the governor.
“I am putting myself forward because I believe I have the qualities required to continue the giant strides, which our great party, APC, has achieved in Lagos in recent years. Lagos is my state and you are my people. I shall work to serve you. I shall never do less. Here and now, I dedicate myself to this task. I shall not flinch nor lose focus,” Ambode told the crowd at Onikan stadium.
“We will work to create opportunities for all and offer selfless service. As we proceed we will leave no one behind. What our great party stands for is change, positive change. We will create wealth,” Ambode assured during his declaration, promising that there would be no discrimination among the tribes and religions represented in the state in his administration if elected.
Ambode’s added advantage is that he is a Christian.
But the controversy that trailed Ambode’s actual state of origin, after Oba Rilwan Akiolu endorsed him publicly as replacement for Fashola, has not completely faded. Oba Akiolu had, even before many others entered the race, declared at the public function, the launching of Ambode’s biography, that traditional rulers in the state had endorsed Ambode. He also made indirect reference to Hamzat when he said Lagos would not accommodate a person whose father is the traditional ruler of Ewekoro to govern it. Ewekoro is in Ogun State.
The controversy over Ambode’s origin also led to the allegation that he is an indigene of Ondo State, but he has defended himself. At the venue of his declaration, he told the crowd that he is a Lagosian. There had also been reports linking him with some families in Epe.
The graduate of Political Science from the University of Lagos was first elected to the Lagos State House of Assembly under the defunct Democratic Party of Nigeria, DPN, in 1998 during the regime of the late military dictator, General Sani Abacha. But just as he was about being sworn into office, Abacha died. This did not deter him. He remained tied to the grassroots of Mushin and other parts of the state.
He thinks he should move over to the Lagos House in 2015.
Announcing his interest in the race recently while opening his campaign secretariat in Ikeja , he said his aspiration to become governor of Lagos State was long-standing. “I have the experience and I am convinced that I will take the state further from where it is now,” he said.
Given his streak of achievements since his days at the local government through the House of Representatives to the Senate, especially in the area of empowerment, mostly done through the GOS Foundation, an initiative conceived to help lift the underprivileged in the society, Solomon has maintained that bond with those he represents.
Despite these, he is still considered by top party members as stubborn; one who would not bow to any pressure and one who could take advantage of his political weight against the powers that be. This fear of some stakeholders in APC is what could count against him. Moreover, he is finding it difficult to convince the people that he has roots in the Lagos East, the zone expected to produce the next governor.
A gentleman and effective professional, Hamzat heads the Ministry of Works that has been rated as one of the best performing ministries in the state. He is an engineer with a doctorate degree in System Processing Engineering and over two decades experience with reputable global firms and brands like Compaq Computer Services, Merrill Lynch Inc., Morgan Stanley Inc. and CitiBank, and is a brilliant man brought from the United States of America by Bola Tinubu to Nigeria to serve the people of Lagos.
He is also well positioned because of the enormous resources at his disposal and considered a frontline aspirant for the position because he is believed to have the support of Governor Fashola and, to some extent, he enjoys Tinubu’s support.
His father, Oba Olatunji Hamzat, is a former political leader in the Mushin West senatorial district of Lagos and a formidable grassroots mobiliser. Hamzat Snr. is also the founder of the Justice Forum, an influential group within the ranks of the Lagos APC, a group instrumental to the emergence of Tinubu as governor in 1999.
Dr. Leke Pitan
Dr Leke Pitan, a former commissioner for health in the eight-year administration of Bola Tinubu, made the declaration to contest for the governorship position of the state at a media interaction recently, where he expressed confidence in the ability of his party, APC, to win all elective positions in the state during the next general elections.
The Epe-born politician said he joined the race because his party would need a candidate that residents of the state are familiar with and could trust for the party to emerge victorious in 2015 elections. “My coming into the race is not about personal ambition, but to keep the tempo of providing social services for the people, the foundation of which some of us worked with Asiwaju Tinubu to lay in 1999 and which the incumbent Governor Babatunde Fashola has creditably built on,” he stressed.
According to Pitan, the leadership of his party is conscious of the fact that it must present to the people an acceptable candidate, particularly somebody like him they have had an encounter with in the past through some of the people-oriented programmes he implemented while in office. He was Chief Medical Director of Mayowa Hospital, Lagos, between 1985 and 1999.
Pitan is also a winner of the National Merit Awards of the Nigerian Medical Association and the General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria.
Describing himself as a tested and trusted loyalist, he said he was asked by the party members and leaders to offer himself for the governorship position. But it is believed he does not have the financial clout to like most other aspirants to clinch the ticket.
Once a chairman of Ibeju-Lekki council, he became a two term commissioner in Lagos State, first under Tinubu in 2003 as commissioner for rural development before he was moved to the Ministry of Health. He boasts of being a former chairman, whose achievements are yet unmatched.
Kasali later resigned from Tinubu’s cabinet to contest for the governorship ticket in 2007, but was persuaded to step down for Fashola. He later became director-general of the BRF (Babatunde Raji Fashola) Campaign Organisation and later, commissioner for special duties. He is also believed to be a grassroots politician.
He is a major contender for the seat. Not long ago, Agbaje joined the PDP. He is believed to have the backing of the presidency to vie on the platform of the party. Agbaje, the managing director of JayKay Pharmacy Ltd., is not new in the politics of Lagos State.
In 2007, he contested against Fashola on the platform of Democratic People’s Alliance, DPA, and his high-profile campaign strategy for the elections was perhaps the most attractive and thus, contributed largely to his popularity before and after the elections. His articulation at the several debates in the run-up to the 2011 elections also put him as one of the favourites in the election. He eventually came third at the polls.
As Agbaje joins the 2015 race through the PDP, he stands at an advantage due to his popularity and the love he enjoys from a segment of the people. He however has top members of the party to contend with. Within some caucuses in the PDP, he is already being seen as an interloper and one who has come to reap from the sacrifice of others. He however stands a lot of chance as the party is shopping for a candidate who can win an election, a person as Chief Bode George put it recently, who does not have ‘tons of albatross’. And political pundits believe that Agbaje, with no controversy around him, he can deliver the state if he is backed with the hefty war chest of the PDP.
Adedeji Doherty, a businessman of repute has contested for the governorship of the state three times. The former acting national vice-chairman (South-West) of the PDP, threw his hat in the gubernatorial ring in 2003, 2007 and 2011, but lost in the primaries. He remains optimistic that he would get the PDP ticket at the party’s primaries this time around.
Doherty has also served the PDP as the South-West Organising Secretary. It was learnt that he stands a good chance to clinch the party’s ticket ahead of many other aspirants, based on his political clout, his knowledge of the workings of governance and his role in harmonising the PDP in the state. But this is only if the PDP unites and discards the love for ‘self’.
Babatunde Olalere Gbadamosi is an entrepreneur, tax and property consultant and a known social commentator. His foray into politics began in 2011 when he entered the race as a gubernatorial aspirant of the PDP in Lagos State but was beaten by Dr. Ade Dosunmu, who got the ticket. The 2015 elections will present Gbadamosi yet another chance to try his luck. He is considered to be one of the top three aspirants for the PDP ticket.
The 65-year-old medical practitioner is not in a hurry to give up his ambition of becoming governor of Lagos State. Adegbola contested the 2011 elections on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, but came a distant sixth in the election won by Fashola. Before the elections, he was the national chairman of Action Party of Nigeria, APN, but moved to APGA to realise his ambition of becoming governor. He recently joined PDP in a bid to seek a bigger platform on which to realise his ambition.
The former director general/chief executive officer of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, joined politics before the 2011 elections and emerged as torch bearer of PDP in the elections. But his candidacy ran into some sort of hitch.
Shortly after he emerged candidate in the PDP primaries, a Federal High Court in Lagos, acting on a suit filed by one Oluowo Adeyeri, restrained him from parading himself as governorship candidate pending the determination of the suit. Adeyeri, who was a delegate at the PDP Congress in Lagos State, where Dosunmu emerged as the gubernatorial candidate of the party, had instituted the action, insisting that Dosunmu did not meet the constitutional requirements for him to be eligible to contest as the PDP candidate.
The PDP at the national level however intervened in the matter and insisted on Dosunmu as its candidate. At the election, Dosunmu lost by a wide margin to Fashola.
There is no way the politics of Lagos would be discussed without Obanikoro, who recently dropped his ministerial position for an interest in the governorship election in Lagos. He served as a senator between 2003 and 2007, abandoned the Alliance for Democracy for the PDP, from where he contested against Governor Fashola . Koro ran a formidable campaign, but he was unable to match the Action Congress electoral machine.
He lost and was later appointed Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana.
Before this, Obanikoro had, upon return to Nigeria from the United States of America in 1989, begun his political career and was appointed as Caretaker Committee chairman of Surulere Local Government under the defunct National Republican Convention, from where he became the state deputy chairman of the party. He has also served in various capacities. For example, he was appointed state commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture in 1999 and served for four years before he was elected senator on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy.
Recently, engaged the government of Fashola on various issues as he prepares for the 2015 election. Though a grassroots person, the PDP does not seem settled enough to feature him as the party’s torchbearer.
Last week, he appeared to be the object of a press conference by a leader of the party in the state, Chief Bode George, who debunked the notion that Obanikoro resigned his ministerial position, because Obanikoro enjoyed the assurances of President Jonathan that he would be picked as the party’s candidate in Lagos.
He told reporters that President Jonathan has said that whoever will emerge as the candidate of the party will be the decision of the people.
“If anyone says the president asked him to resign as Minister so that he will get the PDP ticket in Lagos, that is the greatest lie. That is blatant lie,” George said. He also advised aspirants of the party with questionable character to stay off the track of seeking the PDP ticket, adding that the PDP will field only the best.
“Whoever will emerge as the candidate of the PDP for a state like Lagos must reflect the future we are looking at. I am telling you that any aspirant with a questionable character should stay off. He also said the PDP would not support any candidate with ‘tons of albatross’.