By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, if you are under the age of 30, you may not readily understand what I have called the “Otedola mythology” in this heading. Let me, therefore, take little time to explain, or describe, the meaning. Otedola is a Yoruba name that translates into English as conspiracy turns to fortune. What was expected to be a negative development favoured someone, inadvertently. This was the case of Sir Michael Otedola, the father of billionaire oil baron, Femi, whose name is sometimes transmuted and translated, by his acolytes, as Otedollar – someone who prints US Dollar, because of his fabled wealth.
It was Femi, who is credited with dragging his father into politics. According to available information, Femi had a brainwave one day and suggested to his dad to go into politics and contest for the seat of Governor of Lagos State because he saw an opportunity for him given the state of affairs at the time.
Sir Michael Otedola, who was a revered elder of the National Republican Party, however, did not seem to have any chance of winning.
One, age was not on his side. He was born in 1926 and was 66 years old when he entered the race in 1991. By the standards of those days, he was considered too old – those clamouring that the young should take over the reins of power in Nigeria, under the ‘Not too young to Rule Platform – should take a view from the politics of that era which was meant to be for the younger generation with the tacit support of the older generation like Sir Michael. Two, he was never known to be an accomplished politician. Three, he was a man of modest means who could not afford the stupendous funding required. Four, he had two formidable youthful politicians, Dapo Sarumi and Femi Agbalajobi to contend with and there was no way he was going to defeat either of the two on any regular day.
But man proposes and God disposes. Agbalajobi and Sarumi both targeted the Social Democratic Party (SDP) ticket. Agbalajobi had the avuncular support of former Governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande who was like the Alpha and Omega of Lagos State at the time, but he was resisted. No one wanted an imposition and Jakande was challenged by Dapo Sarumi and his group of newbreed politicians. Both of them fought gallantly for the ticket and neither was ready to step down for the other. The stalemate became so rough that their party had to step in by disqualifying both of them. Another popular young politician, Yomi Edu was then drafted in to replace the implacable duo. They were livid, and they and their supporters decided to sabotage their party.
In the other party was Sir Michael Otedola who had won the National Republican Party ticket. As noted earlier, the bitterness and lack of cohesion in SDP was so bad that those who lost out in the party decided to join forces with the NRC candidate against their own man, Yomi Edu. As to be expected, a house divided against itself would naturally collapse. The underdog, Sir Michael Otedola thus gathered strength and momentum and the unthinkable soon happened. Sir Michael won the race to the shock of most onlookers. Sir Michael reigned from January 1992 to November 1993 when General Sani Abacha struck and truncated that democratic government. The rest is history.
History seems to have a knack of repeating itself and this tale was reawakened early this week by the intractable squabbles in the same Lagos State, this time by a party in power only as a result of a slender lead. There had been rumours that the political godfather in Lagos, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and his political godson, the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, were at loggerheads. Many had hoped that it was a joke or one of those usual beer parlour rumours. And if it was for real, they had hoped it would be resolved eventually in favour of Ambode, as it was in the case of Ambode’s erstwhile predecessor – Tinubu versus Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola when Fashola sought a second term in office. I wrote an article at that time advising both of them to join hands together or risk losing Lagos to their opponents because, according to me, their marriage was made and consummated in heaven. Somehow that ugly situation was reportedly amicably settled then. However, later events were to demonstrate that any resolution had merely been on the surface as Tinubu and Fashola now appear to be intractable foes. Their situation is akin to what the Yoruba’s will describe as “ara o ro okun ara o ro adie” (the hen perches on a rope but no reprieve for the hen or the rope).
It is therefore very strange that given the antecedents, and the subsequent events, the same situation has come reincarnated with bigger force. And it is very unfortunate. It is not immediately clear what brought about the current imbroglio which if not properly managed could spell doom and total disaster for the APC in Lagos, with a spiralling effect at the Federal level. Everyone was relieved when the hardworking and visionary Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, picked his form and seemed to have no challenger whatsoever in his party. Prior to that, the Governor had reached out to many stakeholders, including captains of industries from the State and elsewhere. One of such Lagosians was the billionaire businessman, Femi Otedola who coincidentally hails from Epe, the same town as Governor Ambode. Otedola apparently has his gaze concentrated on becoming Governor of Lagos State, like his dad, sometime in the future. Indeed, Otedola had mentioned privately to his inner circle of friends that he would like to contest in 2023. Why not run in 2019? Otedola said he had given his word to Governor Ambode not to run against him but, with a caveat, that if he fails to secure his party ticket he would run against any other APC candidate in 2019.
Anyway, back to Ambode, Tinubu and the 2019 APC ticket. Our relief and joy were however short-lived and dramatically and drastically cut short. The next day, two other giants of the APC stepped out of the wings to challenge Governor Ambode for the APC ticket. The first of the shockwaves that rippled through APC and Lagos State was the spectacular orchestrated declaration of Babajide Sanwo-olu, erstwhile Commissioner in the Tinubu and Fashola administrations before being appointed as Managing Director of Lagos State Property Development Corporation in May 2016 by Governor Ambode, the very man he seeks to unceremoniously unseat. Sanwo-olu is a well-known veritable disciple of Asiwaju. He would not dare to make this opening gambit, unless he had the consent of Asiwaju to go for it. This was what made people believe that there was truly a rift of monumental proportions. Almost simultaneously, a three-way split loomed in the APC as Dr. Obafemi Hamzat announced that he was also running for the prized position of Governor of Lagos State. Hamzat, a prodigious Information Technology talent was Commissioner of Science and Technology from the Tinubu administration in 2005 to the end of the first Fashola Administration in 2011. In 2011, he became Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure under Fashola, in his second term, a post he held until the end of Fashola’s tenure in 2015. Since Fashola moved to the Federal level as Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Hamzat has joined him as an Adviser. As to be expected Hamzat is a strong loyalist of Fashola who is widely known to be disaffected with Tinubu despite the appearances that they keep up in public.
It is rumoured that there is a clique of current Federal Government Ministers and APC Governors who are intent on challenging the supremacy of Asiwaju Tinubu in South-West Nigeria and are intent on taking him down a peg or two. They do not support the assertion that he is leader of the Yorubas. Hamzat’s announcement that he will be running as an APC candidate for Governor of Lagos State appears to support legend that Tinubu has major problems on his hands even as he seeks to topple and remove Ambode from the Lagos State Government House. Tinubu appears to be facing a battle on two flanks from Ambode and Hamzat which is causing consternation not only in the Tinubu camp, but also in the ranks of the APC stalwarts.
This unnecessary and unimagined debacle was what led to the hoopla this week when news broke that Otedola had accepted to fly the flag of PDP since it had become obvious that Tinubu has dumped his beloved godson and there was a double schism in the APC. The emergence of a colossal gladiator like Otedola raises the stakes in the Lagos political conundrum several notches higher. It is now not simply a case of inter-party feuding, but also one of strong intra-party contest that may break the otherwise seemingly unbreakable back of APC’s camel
I have spoken to Otedola who confirmed that he has reached agreement with several key members of Lagos PDP to offer him the PDP gubernatorial ticket and he has accepted in principle whilst awaiting the outcome of the APC primaries which will take place before the PDP primaries. However, he said he was not in a hurry to make any open declaration. He would keep his options open because there were conflicting reports of Ambode and Tinubu reconciling their differences, and he would not break his promise to his kinsman, Ambode as a matter of honour and integrity.
The news of Otedola’s interest in running against the apparently Tinubu anointed APC candidate, Babajide Sanwo-olu, ignited fire, and went viral everywhere. The APC National Secretariat was said to be critically worried and troubled by what raises the spectre of history repeating itself, if Otedola contests and wins the election as a result of APC fighting a corrosive war of attrition. Otedola has all the attributes that his father lacked which makes him a very formidable opposition. He is also well loved and respected in Lagos State. The populace know that he is wealthy enough not to dip his hand into the Treasury as most politicians are wont to do. He has also promised to recreate Lagos State into an international cosmopolitan city which will rival similar cities in the world. His vision is expansive. He does not see any reason why the Lagos landscape should not be filled with skyscrapers and other scenic attractions as other famous municipalities of the world.
That Otedola may well have his wish and contest on this occasion is becoming ominous. Activities from the Tinubu-Sanwo-olu camp appear unrelenting. As at the time of writing this article, Sanwo-olu is going on with his plans as scheduled. He has announced plans to have a mega rally tomorrow, Sunday, September 16, 2018. It is believed that all efforts to placate Tinubu may have failed abysmally, the reason for Sanwo-olu’s renewed confidence in going ahead with his campaign.
Governor Ambode is clearly in a big dilemma. It is not clear, and very doubtful, that he can win the APC ticket, on his own without serious intervention from Tinubu. Despite the overwhelming deluge of support from many political parties, it is not certain if the Governor would want to risk decamping to any other party, especially PDP, and if he would be able to win enough votes to retain his exalted position in any other party. Indeed, such a decision by Ambode would significantly play into the hands of PDP which needs APC to lose just a few hundred votes to lose the next election based on the outcome of the 2015 gubernatorial elections.
Lagos is currently in limbo and floating while awaiting the decision of the warriors and their godfathers and sponsors. The possibility of another Sir Michael Otedola scenario should not be discountenanced or totally ruled out. Otedola is not joking about his ambition at all. As he has indicated to me, he has his plans for an election well mapped out and he is ready to hit the ground running, whenever the coast becomes clearer, and it is evident that Ambode is totally out in the cold and has been hung out to dry. But even if Otedola decides to chicken out, there are big candidates hovering in the wings in the opposition party. They include former PDP candidate, Jimi Agbaje, who has tried but lost twice. He is a fine gentleman with the discipline and diligence to continue with the good works of the Ambode era, whilst charting his own course. There is also a member of the Council of Elders, Deji Doherty, a relatively young and popular businessman and hospitality giant who has wanted to be governor for some time now.
APC itself has Femi Hamzat, son of a great political family, eyeing the seat of Governor of Lagos. No one should write off any of these fine distinguished and hard-working men. They all come with fantastic resume. If the Governor is totally frustrated, the game may open up and become an all-comers affair.
The world is watching how this game would end. Good luck to Lagos and Lagosians.