Tension as Sanwo-Olu, Rhodes-Vivour, Adediran battle for Lagos governorship seat

The Lagos State governorship election holds on Saturday, March 18, with the incumbent Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), AbdulAzeez Adediran of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of the Labour Party (LP) the leading contenders for the seat. The ICIR’s Temitayo Odunlami examines the tension-soaked build-up to the election and the chances of the three front-seat candidates.


THE stakes have gone higher in the electoral race to the Lagos State governor’s office at Alausa, Ikeja. The governorship election holds on Saturday, March 18, and it is a no-brainer that it will be contested among Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of the Labour Party (LP). Other candidates do not stand even a scintilla of a fighting chance.

The APC is a bigger version of the ‘progressives’ camp that has held the state in its grip since 1999. Since the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, governed the state from 1999 to 2007, he has not only ensured that the party he leads controls the state, he has been directly involved in picking who would be governor.

Until now, Tinubu had had it relatively easy to control the governorship election, even when former president Olusegun Obasanjo vowed his “do-or-die” politicking in the 2003 and 2007 elections. The Alliance for Democracy (AD), and later the Action Congress (AC) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), with Tinubu as a leader, had always conveniently dumped the PDP in the governorship elections in what were purely two-way races. Other parties were inconspicuous. But the sudden emergence of the LP seems to be altering the configuration for Saturday’s election.

How the AD (AC, ACN, APC) dominated PDP in previous elections in Lagos

In the 1999 governorship election, Tinubu, contesting on the AD platform, defeated Dapo Sarumi of the PDP, polling 841,732 votes to Sarumi’s 184,900.

The PDP, with Obasanjo pushing for the party to completely take over the South-West, put up a stronger showing in the 2003 governorship election in Lagos State. The party’s Funso Williams garnered 740,506 votes, but could not do enough to unseat Tinubu, who polled 911,613 votes to return. Lagos State was the only one the PDP was unable to snatch from the AD in the South-West, a development that would begin to unravel Tinubu as an emerging political strategist to watch.

Lagos Election Trend (1999 - 2019)
Lagos Election Trend (1999 – 2019)

Before the 2007 governorship election in the state, Tinubu had departed the AD to form the AC. It was on this new platform that he picked his Chief of Staff, Babatunde Fashola, to run for governorship to succeed him. Fashola won the election with 599,300, edging PDP’s Musiliu Obanikoro, who got 383,956 votes.

By 2011, the AC had metamorphosed into the ACN, on which platform Fashola ran for a return to office. He won convincingly, polling 1,509,113 votes against PDP’s Ade Dosunmu’s 300,450 votes.

Again, the ACN would assume another political identity after merging with the Congress for Political Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the APC.

It was on the APC ticket that Akinwunmi Ambode, another Tinubu nominee, contested the 2015 governorship election. Ambode won the election with 811,994 votes to succeed Fashola, beating Jimi Agbaje of the PDP, who had 659,788 votes.

APC leaders in Lagos state would not give Ambode a second term opportunity for the 2019 governorship election, and in his stead, they picked Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who emerged winner with 739,445 votes, defeating Agbaje, who contested for the second consecutive time on the PDP name and got 206,141 votes.

2023 Lagos governorship election and the LP factor

The tables may have turned. The governorship election in Lagos state on March 18 is expected to be fundamentally different from the two-horse race it had been since 1999. From the blues, Rhodes-Vivour has jumped into the mix, thanks to the frontline showing of the LP in Lagos state in the presidential election of February 25.

Before that election, PDP’s Adediran, popularly called Jandor, was naturally expected to be the one to give Sanwo-Olu a run for his money in the governorship election on Saturday. But the result that the LP flaunted in the presidential election would seem to have rewritten that expectation, as the influence of the presidential candidate of the LP, Peter Obi, among the huge Igbo population in  state loomed large.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu
Sanwo-Olu: can he shrug off the Rhodes-Vivour, Adediran threats on Saturday?

In the election, Obi scored 582,454 to lead in the state, while APC’s Tinubu polled 572,606 to follow closely. Atiku gathered 75,750 votes to trail a distant third.

Factors that will determine voting pattern    

For Sanwo-Olu and Rhodes-Vivour, the voting pattern is well cut out for them. As it happened for Obi in the presidential election, the ethnicity question will subsist in Saturday’s governorship election for the LP candidate in Lagos state. The Igbo’s have gained in confidence arising from the presidential election result and cannot but be thinking it is not impossible to position the LP, which they have now widely adopted as their choice political party, in Alausa.

Many Igbo engaged in businesses worth millions and billions of naira in the state cannot but be imagining now what advantages a Rhodes-Vivour as governor can confer on them.

A major complaint of business people, small and big, in the state is the multiple taxes that both local and state governments in Lagos impose on them, as well as the numerous illegal dues touts force them to pay. Many dealers and traders are hoping that a change of the old political order in the state would bring some relief.

“Yes, I am an Igbo man. But besides that is the suffering I go through in the hands of touts and government tax agents in the market. I pray for a change of government.

“The LP governorship candidate is a young man. I am sure he will change many wrong things in Lagos State,” a spare parts trader at the Ladipo market, Mushin, Uche Sunday, told The ICIR.

Rhodes-Vivour may, however, not receive the kind of blanket Igbo support that Obi got in the state. Apart from the fact that some Igbo elements are disinclined to invest the level of energy they put into the Obi campaign into the governorship version for Rhodes-Vivour, some Igbo groups have pledged their support for Sanwo-Olu in the election on Saturday.

On Thursday, March 2, the leadership of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos state addressed journalists to express their support for the APC candidate.

At the briefing, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the state, Sunday Ossai, said the organisation would be working to ensure Sanwo-Olu’s victory “because the governor represents everything Ndigbo needs to prosper and execute their businesses and professional calling”.

Also, the Women Leader of the body, Jane Okoro, told Sanwo-Olu at the event that it would be mobilising its entire women structure across the state to support his re-election.

Another group of Igbo citizens in the state, which called itself Concerned Ndigbo, also addressed the press on Monday, March 6, to declare its members’ support for Sanwo-Olu in the election. The co-ordinator of the organization, Chibunna Ubawuike, together with its patron, Ikechukwu Ijede, and secretary, Ozoemena Nliam, said the group would be supporting Sanwo-Olu because his administration “has not been discriminatory” in his performance in Lagos State.

“Sanwo-Olu has made tremendous and integrated development, as well as performance in various sectors, while turning Lagos into a construction site with massive infrastructural gains, which had brought about investments, while building a cordial relationship with the Igbos, hence the need to vote for him,” Ubawuike said.

Much earlier, in December 2022, a coalition of Igbo groups in Lagos state under the umbrella of G50 had pledged their support for Sanwo-Olu.

The group said it had already inaugurated a campaign council it tagged the ‘Ndigbo Integrated Campaign Council for Babajide Sanwo-Olu Committee (NICCBS)’ for the purpose.

The coalition’s coordinator, Festus Uchenna, told newsmen at a briefing on December 26, “G50 comprises all Igbo in Lagos, men and women, market people and artisans. We have the two factions of the Ohaneze Ndigbo in Lagos here. What is happening here is a consolidation of all the Igbo living in Lagos to consolidate and give Sanwo-Olu our bloc vote.”

Sunday, the Ladipo spare parts merchant, however, pooh-poohed this flurry of support for Sanwo-Olu, saying it was mere “drama.”

To him, “Don’t mind them. On Saturday, many of them will vote for Obi’s candidate in the Lagos governorship election.”

Rhodes-Vivour is not unlikely to be negatively affected by a strong split in Christian votes in the state, which worked extensively for Obi in the presidential election. With Sanwo-Olu and his wife also Christians, the votes from that religion would be split along individual preferences, rather than on any religious sentiment for a particular candidate. This, it is believed, would substantially slash into the votes that Obi garnered on February 25.

The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) in Lagos state, which boasts a large followership in the state, and whose members mostly voted for Obi in the presidential election, has anyway publicly declared its support for Sanwo-Olu.

Leaders of the PFN met in Ikeja, the state capital, on Friday, March 3, to endorse the incumbent for a second term.

The PFN chairman in the state,  Enyinnaya Okwuonu, told journalists after the meeting that “though the Fellowship would not want to be partisan, and without prejudice to other contestants, Sanwo-Olu deserves a second term to complete the good works he has started in Lagos.”

Also, the Lagos PFN’s secretary, Mahmood Akindejoye, urged all Christians to be united in supporting Sanwo-Olu for a second-term bid.

The LP candidate may be getting a large number of his votes from young voters, who are still angry about what they condemned as Sanwo-Olu’s role in the October 2020 #EndSARS protest in Lagos.

During the protest at the Lekki tollgate, where youths had massed to demonstrate their anger at police brutality, soldiers had been called in. The soldiers resorted to shooting the helpless protesters, and there were casualties.

Although the Federal and Lagos state governments maintain there was no fatality or few, the youths and human rights organisations have insisted the soldiers did kill some protesters.

The irate youths continue to hold Sanwo-Olu responsible as inviting soldiers to mow the protesters. They are also angry with Tinubu, who is unarguably the godfather of Lagos politics, and who they allege pulls the state’s financial strings. Moreover, the youths charge that Tinubu, it is, who encourages the exploitation of commercial vehicle drivers by a notorious motor park unionist, Musiliu Akinsanya, widely known as MC Oluomo. Commercial vehicle drivers are compelled to pass the burden of tolls that Oluomo’s enforcers impose on them to commuters, resulting in high transport fares.

Consequent upon that tragedy, youths in the state mobilised massively to obtain their voter cards focused on one goal: oust the APC. They expressed their unalloyed support for Obi, and gave it practical vent in the presidential election. It is widely held that votes by the youths assisted Obi in collecting huge votes even in local governments like Somolu, Alimoso and Ikeja, where there are not so many Igbo residents and were hitherto known to be Tinubu’s political strongholds.

If the youths come out to vote on Saturday, March 11 at the governorship election in large numbers as they did on February 25, Rhodes-Vivour should be expecting a significant number of votes from that quarter. But whether that number, plus the support he would be getting from other sympathisers, would be massive enough to offset whatever votes Sanwo-Olu would be throwing at him, can only be known after voting.

What chances has PDP governorship candidate with the Igbo votes LP swing?

The normally Number 2 constant in the governorship election calculus in Lagos State appears to be losing that grip. Going by recent developments, the PDP could just be battling for inconsequential relevance in the governorship election on Saturday.

The reason is obvious. From 1999, the Lagos PDP has been relying mostly on Igbo bloc votes to ruffle the ruling party. However, with the Igbo shifting their support to the LP in the 2023 elections, the PDP fish has suddenly found itself abandoned by the water.

The PDP’s degeneration in the state was evident in the measly number of votes Atiku Abubakar scooped in the presidential election, with Obi and Tinubu condemning him to an also-ran.

The cause of the PDP’s governorship candidate, Adediran, is not helped by his rejection by the party’s leading lights in the state, Olabode George and Kofoworola Akerele-Bucknor, who was Tinubu’s deputy for a while when he was the state governor. The two PDP chiefs had expressed their support for Rhodes-Vivour, as they pursue their frenetic desire to upend Tinubu in the battle to control the state.

Bode George
Bode George: shifts support from PDP candidate to Rhodes-Vivour

Adediran, in an interview on Wednesday, March 15 on Arise TV, monitored by Ripples Nigeria, lampooned George for supporting the LP candidate for the election.

He said George had become angry with him because he decided to pick his own preference, actress Funke Akindele as his running mate, rather than Rhodes-Vivour, who George had picked for him. Rhodes-Vivour had defected to the LP after Adediran overlooked him for the deputy governorship candidature.

“I was able to clinch the ticket without the support of godfatherism. And after, Bode George sold Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour to me, but I refused as I left APC because of godfatherism. I cannot condone that in PDP,” he said.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour
Rhodes-Vivour: hopeful of unseating Sanwo-Olu

Admitting his lonesome plight towards the election, the PDP governorship candidate said, “What is happening is that I am fighting without any godfathers. Chief Bode George is always sabotaging the efforts of PDP candidates in every election cycle.”

Compounding Adediran’s situation is the defection, this week, of a key member of the PDP in the state, Ade Dosunmu, to the APC to support Sanwo-Olu’s reelection bid.

Dosunmu, the PDP governorship candidate in the 2011 election, crossed to the APC along with the chairman of the Elders Committee of the LP in Lagos State, Sunbo Onitiri, as well as with the chairmen of 12 other political parties in the state, who also said they would be supporting Sanwo-Olu.

Can an alliance nick it for Rhodes-Vivour?

As disclosed by Adediran, there have been talks between him and Obi on a possible alliance between the PDP and the LP, with the suggestion from the latter that he steps down for Rhodes-Vivour.

The PDP candidate, however, promptly dismissed such a thought, fearing that a pending court case against Rhodes-Vivour could eventually turn out against him and ultimately render the whole alliance unworthy.






     

     

    Adediran said during the interview, “I told Obi that I don’t have a problem with an alliance. But I told them we need to put our best foot forward. Analyse us. Rhodes-Vivour has a Supreme Court case, which might work against us, and we cannot go into this election because of these cases.”

    Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran
    Adediran: rules out accord possibility with Labour Party to confront Sanwo-Olu

    If Adediran was referring to himself as the “best foot forward”, it would be hard for Obi to accede to his suggestion, given the height the LP believes it has climbed in Lagos politics.

    “The LP is now the beautiful bride in Lagos politics, not the PDP. If any of the two will be stepping down for the other, it has to be the PDP. The LP would be politically naive to give in to the PDP,” a political scientist and researcher, Kelvin Adewale, said.

    But then, the election is still more than 24 hours away, and within even an hour, anything can happen in politics. Can the two opposition parties agree to put aside their ego as they dream to unseat Sanwo-Olu? Time is ticking.

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