The dynamics of the political landscape in Lagos State is one that has sets itself apart from others in Nigeria.
Like their counterparts in other states, many Lagos politicians know the direction in which the pendulum of power swings and, like a bee sensing the presence of honey, they follow suit to achieve their personal aspirations.
This, perhaps, explains why it has become the usual practice for prominent politicians, even those acclaimed to be founding members of their respective parties, to defect to the party holding the sway.
Since 1999, the political life of Lagos has been said to have revolved around one man – the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is considered to be a power broker.
He has demonstrated his influence on political decisions within and beyond Lagos after his eight-year tenure as the governor of Nigeria’s commercial capital with an estimated population of over 22 million people.
Expectedly, he made enemies with the leaders in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
But with the recent speculations that the APC may have zoned its 2023 presidential ticket to the South-West and Tinubu allegedly interested in occupying the highest office in the country, some politicians who had been seen as his adversaries have either retraced their steps back into his fold or are gradually doing so to avoid slipping into political oblivion.
Among those who have hitherto been strong critics of Tinubu is a former Minister of Works, Adeseye Ogunlewe.
Ogunlewe’s running dispute with the former governor had led to clashes in 2004 between officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority and those of the Federal Ministry of Works over the alleged attempts by agents of the state government to smear the image of the Federal Government by erecting billboards with a derogatory inscription on deplorable federal roads.
The former member of the Alliance for Democracy had also been reported to have accused the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, where Tinubu was a major decision maker , of allegedly winning elections in Lagos through propaganda.
It was widely argued that Ogunlewe’s political influence in the PDP began to dwindle when he was removed as a minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in a manner that was linked to his (Ogunlewe) disagreement with a former National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George.
In the buildup to the 2019 general elections, the former works minister had said that the PDP stood a real chance of defeating the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari.
But after spending four years in the opposition, which also lost the 2019 presidential election, he dumped the PDP for the ruling APC in June, citing the crisis in the former ruling party as a reason.
While explaining the rationale behind his defection, the Igbogbo-born politician seemed to be waving goodbye to his associates in the PDP when he stated that he had moved to the “next level” along with his son, Moyosore, who contested the Lagos House of Assembly seat for Kosofe I in the 2015 and 2019 elections but lost to the APC.
Ogunlewe had said, “I have no regrets leaving a party without a chairman, and as I speak to you, I feel at home in the APC. I have left the PDP, and I am now in the APC.
“I have moved to the next level. I am now in the fold of the progressives where I truly belong. I have no regrets dumping the PDP. I feel at home in the APC; it is a better party with good plans for Nigerians.”
The State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr Taofik Sani, told Saturday PUNCH in an interview that Ogunlewe’s departure was not only disappointing but showed a lack of commitment to the party in tough times.
Sani also noted that it was frivolous for anybody to leave a political party because of the rift in the party.
He said, “You cannot be jumping ship. If anybody is leaving any political party, he should just say that he is leaving; he doesn’t have to criticise the party because it will show that he has been very hypocritical being in that party for the number of years. For Senator Ogunlewe, the Lagos State PDP is disappointed; we know that we should have somebody like him in our party because whatever be the case, he has contributed to the party.
“He is a grass roots politician but the manner in which he has left the party has eroded all those qualities of his. He had, in fact, showed to us that he had, probably, not been so committed to the party. He was just in the party because he was privileged to be a minister. To be a federal minister of works for that number of years and then you leave that party that gave you that privilege means that that person is not reliable.”
Ogunlewe’s defection brings to mind the case of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, an estranged political godson of the strongman of Lagos.
Like Ogunlewe, Obanikoro was a stalwart of the PDP and a major voice for the party.
The former Minister of State for Defence was also an ardent critic of the APC strongman. His unsuccessful campaign to become the governor of Lagos State on the platform of the opposition party had kept him at loggerheads with Tinubu, who controls the party structure in the state.
After the defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP by President Buhari, the former minister and two of his sons were reported to have come under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for alleged money laundering. He had been accused of allegedly receiving N4.7bn from the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, in 2014.
But in 2017, Obanikoro reconciled with his erstwhile adversary and claimed that the move was not aimed at protecting his political interest but to serve a “personal and Lagos interest.” In 2018, the former PDP chief, his wife and children were reported to have recovered three properties worth about N500m from the EFCC.
He was also said to have been converted to a prosecution witness in a N2.2bn case of alleged fraud against a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose.
Following his father’s path, Obanikoro’s son, Babajide, who had vied for the chairmanship of Ikoyi/Obalende Local Council Development Area twice but lost, dumped the PDP for the APC.
Fourteen months later, Babajide contested the House of Representatives seat for Eti Osa Federal Constituency on the platform of the APC and won.
Speaking on the development, the state chapter of the PDP told Saturday PUNCH that it was not in doubt that Obanikoro left the party to reduce the heat from the ruling party in the state as his former party was no longer in power to have his interest protected.
Sani explained, “Obanikoro contested the senatorial seat for Lagos East under the APC but he was not lucky enough. So, I guess he was compensated with the House of Representatives (seat) that his son has now. So, he (Obanikoro) has gone (left the PDP) for good. In the case of Senator Obanikoro and others like that, it is obvious that they went (left the PDP) because of the so-called fight against corruption, which, of course, we know that it is just vendetta.
“Eventually, you will find out that what Obanikoro was supposed to be prosecuted for will be dismissed. We have seen it happen to a former Governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje and some other persons.”
The PDP spokesman also admitted that it was not unusual for opposition members, whose commitment was in doubt, to be cowed by Tinubu’s political influence.
Sani added, “There is no doubt about it (Tinubu’s influence) and I will not because of partisanship begin to criticise stupidly; if I were in the shoes of Bola Tinubu today, I will use all that I have to get all whom I want politically into my fold. This is what the APC is doing, and this is what the PDP is regretting now.
“For the number of years that the PDP was there (in power), we were very democratic, so liberal; we didn’t want to force anybody. But that was itself not a good game plan. What we need to do is that you (sic) must continue to expand your coast. So, if he (Tinubu) also has to use the EFCC or the powers of the government to also coarse, why not? What he is doing is carrot and stick (approach) and I cannot criticise such an idea.”
But the State Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr Joe Igbokwe, told our correspondent in an interview that it was a known fact that members of the opposition parties had been struggling to remain relevant in the state for over a decade.
Igbokwe said, “I have been in different forums with him (Ogunlewe); he said that he cannot use his life fighting a war he knows that he cannot win. That is just it. There is no meeting point between light and darkness. They have seen the leadership quality of the national leader and they believe in him.
“He (Obanikoro) was with us in the AD (Alliance for Democracy); he was a commissioner in Lagos. From a commissioner, he went to Abuja to be a senator; from there, he joined the PDP. He fought to get back to political relevance in Lagos for years and he didn’t succeed. And I think within the scope of his conscience, he felt that he wronged the national leader and he came back. Coming back to the APC has not stopped his case with the EFCC.
But in the light of Tinubu’s influence in state and national affairs, the APC spokesman said it was a misconception to see the former governor as a dictator rather than a trusted and visionary leader.
Igbokwo stated, “I don’t think that he (Tinubu) is a dictator that just sits down and tells people to do this or that. There is what is called GAC (Governors Advisory Council) in Lagos. These are the people that decide; I think they are about 21 or 22 (in number). It is just that Asiwaju sits as the chairman when they sit.
“He is somebody who spends his time bringing other people up, raising the bar for other people. How many people can pay the price of throwing your gates open 24 hours in a day and sleeping for about two hours in a day?”
However, political analysts have said it is a common practice for Nigerian politicians to resign their membership of one political party for another due to the fear of prosecution, the desire to have a soft landing in pending corruption cases and the need to remain relevant.
They noted that it was an obnoxious practice that had continued to slow down the gains of democracy in Nigeria.
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, a professor of Political Science at the University of Lagos, Derin Ologbenla, said, “Here, in Nigeria, most of the political parties do not have an ideology. Their ideology is ‘I chop, you chop’ and it is a shameful kind of principle. Most of these politicians are not patriotic. What they are looking for is an avenue to make money and because of that, loyalty to a particular party is not on their agenda.”
The professor added, “The Labour Party and Conservative Party in Britain have solid ideologies and principles by which they participate in the political process. Here in Nigeria, we have no historical memory of the political party, no principle, no patriotism (and) no ideology. Our political parties are just stakeholders’ gatherings; by the time you put these together, you can see that there is no saving grace unless we have people who are willing to make the necessary sacrifice.”
Similarly, the National President, Committee for the Development of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwummadu, agreed with the professor when he said that the manner in which the unending crisscrossing of political parties by many politicians prevailed in Nigeria defeated the ideal purpose for the creation of such parties.
Ugwummadu, who is also a lawyer, added, “You have very strong political actors across the world; the distinction is the purpose for which they exist and the extent of their capacity and sagacity to drive development for the benefit of the people. There are people in developed climes who are completely committed to the development of their party essentially to ensure that the ideals which they subscribed to do not get eroded along the line.
“But the reverse is the case in the third-world where major political actors are merchants of the power game and they do that with a view to continually perpetuate themselves (and) their children.”
It has yet to be known whether other political ‘dissidents’ in the main opposition party may soon be forced to return to the Lagos kingmaker.
Written by Alexander Okere