Akinwunmi Ambode, governor of Lagos state, has been thrown under the bus. He will not serve a second term in office not because the people of Lagos state rejected him in an election but because his godfather, Bola Tinubu, pulled the plug on his re-election bid. When somebody dies, Christians often say, quoting Job 1: 21, that “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away”. Well, in Lagos state politics, Tinubu gives and Tinubu takes away! He is the god of Lagos state politics, the lord of the Lagos Manor!
Ambode, Tinubu and Sanwoolu
In 2007, before leaving office as governor of the state, Tinubu gifted the governorship to his protégé, Babatunde Fashola. Eight years later, in 2015, Fashola didn’t know his place. He too wanted to be a godfather by making one of his own protégés governor of the state against the diktat of his own godfather. But, forgive the colloquialism, godfather pass godfather! Fashola lost out, and another Tinubu bag-carrier, Ambode, became governor. Now, however, Tinubu has decided that Ambode is not good enough for a second term, and has imposed another ward of his, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, as the governorship candidate of All Progressive Congress (APC) in next year’s election.
Parties based on personal or family power
The politics of APC in Lagos state is redolent of the medieval era, when parties were based on personal or family power. The APC has entrenched a personalised style of politics, in which the leader of patronage, Tinubu, decides who gets what. Other leaders and members of the party are either vassals or serfs, obliged to genuflect before the absolute leader. Recently, Ambode made a public ridicule of himself when, at an event, he left his place next to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo saying, “Your excellency, I want to stand next to my boss”, and dashing across slavishly to stand beside Tinubu. Such toe-curling grovelling is how serfs relate to their lords. The new lackey, Sanwo-Olu, has already vowed that he would “never ignore the fatherly advice” of Tinubu, meaning he would not be his own man as governor.
Tinubu talks eloquently about democracy and progressive politics, but he is not a democrat and not a real progressive. There is nothing democratic about a leader who arrogates to himself the power to determine the political fates of others. And nothing is progressive in a politics based on self-interested calculations. For strategic reasons, probably linked to his future presidential ambitions, Tinubu supports Buhari’s re-election bid, even endorsing him to run unchallenged in the party, with all the potential rivals either silenced or shooed away, despite Buhari’s poor performance and the fact that he would be 80 years old in the final year of his second term, if re-elected. Yet, the same Tinubu had no qualms in brazenly thwarting the second-term ambition of a young man who has performed well as governor. That’s not progressive politics; it’s retrograde and self-serving.
I shed no tears for Ambode. He was a beneficiary of Tinubu’s patrimonialism, and now a victim of it. But I care deeply about democratic values. Ambode’s treatment bore much similarity to the dark politics of the Soviet era. The party decided that Ambode must go through a primary to seek nomination for his re-election bid. Fair enough. But, then, a few days before the primary, the so-called Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC), the party’s politburo, met in Tinubu’s house, with Osinbajo in attendance, and endorsed Sanwo-Olu as the party’s candidate for the governorship election. The council’s spokesman said: “GAC has endorsed Babajide Sanwo-Olu as its preferred candidate ahead of the primary”. Ahead of the primary? Well, that’s exactly what the Soviet or Chinese politburo would have done: endorse a candidate behind-the-scenes and expect the obsequious party members, who have been conditioned to be servile, to simply rubber-stamp the decision.
Where was the level-playing field? Where was the fairness? What was the purpose of a primary in which the party machine, whose word was law, had publicly endorsed one of the candidates? It was a charade. The APC National Working Committee saw through it, but it would rather sacrifice Ambode than antagonise Tinubu, whose support Buhari needs in Lagos and some of the other South-West states in next year’s presidential election.
Similarities between Lagos state APC and the Chinese Communist Party
There are striking similarities between Lagos state APC and the Chinese Communist Party. China’s state capitalism is characterised by the omnipresence of the Communist Party in the Chinese economy. And virtually every Chinese civil servant is a card-carrying member of the Communist party. Similarly, the governance of Lagos state is characterised by the omnipresence of the APC, with the party’s leaders having their fingers in every pie. In a recent article, a commentator, Kayode Ogundamisi, who knows the ins and outs of the politics of Lagos APC, described what he called the “mafioso nature of the APC in Lagos”. He said that “Lagos state civil service is an extension of the party structure”, adding that “hardly would you find a Lagos state civil servant who is not a card-carrying member of the party” and that “Lagos APC has political leaders who depend on state resources”. That’s more like a communist party than a modern progressive party!
Indeed, who are the “progressives” in Nigeria today? In the days of Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano and Ahmadu Bello, the progressives were clearly distinguishable from the conservatives and feudalists. Conservatism is an ideology of entrenched privilege, feudalism and static social order, while progressivism seeks to liberate the human mind and improve the human condition. But the so-called progressives in Nigeria today enjoy entrenched privilege, they behave like feudalists or aristocrats and keep people down as plebs and serfs. What’s more, they feed on state resources, accumulate stupendous wealth and acquire political power and control. Their progressivism is not about liberating minds and enhancing people’s social progress, as Awolowo’s was, but about enriching themselves and their cronies. It is progress for the few, not the many!
Think of it. Despite the economic achievement of Lagos state, the fifth largest economy in Africa, with a GDP of $136bn, why is poverty and inequality so widespread in the supposedly progressive state? Why are two out of three people in the state living in slums, according to the World Bank? As the Financial Times put it in a recent special report on Lagos state, “Nigerian’s millionaires and billionaires share a city with people living in indescribable squalor”. The British prime minister Harold Macmillan said in the 1920s that, “the central aim of domestic policy must be to tackle unemployment and poverty”. That’s how governments are judged in the West and how any government should be judged.
But governance is also about political freedom, about the right democratic and political cultures. But Tinubu’s politics is autocratic, which is why his political influence has waned significantly in the South West. His attempts to impose governors in South-West states, such as Ondo and Ekiti, and even Kogi state, backfired spectacularly with people of those states resisting his interference. APC recently lost in the Osun state governorship election not only because of the poor performance of his acolyte, the outgoing governor, Rauf Aregbesola, but also because the people resented Tinubu’s interference. It took an unprincipled alliance with Iyiola Omisore, who the APC had accused of a multitude of sins, for the party to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Feudalism or patrimonialism is incompatible with cosmopolitanism
The risk of a backlash is even greater in Lagos state. Lagos is a cosmopolitan state. And feudalism or patrimonialism is incompatible with cosmopolitanism. People in cosmopolitan states, such as London and New York, don’t want to be told what to do. For instance, in 2000, the Labour Party decided that Ken Livingstone was too radical for the party, and anointed, through a closed process, Frank Dobson as the party’s mayoral candidate. Livingstone ran as an Independent candidate and beat Dobson hands down. Londoners hated the unfairness and being taken for granted. The same Londoners later elected Boris Johnson, a Conservative, as mayor, and Sadiq Khan, a Moslem. That’s the maverick nature of cosmopolitan cities. Even in Lagos state, Michael Otedola, of the “conservative” National Republican Party (NRC), defeated the candidate of the “progressive” Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992 to become governor. And, in 2015, Ambode beat the PDP candidate Jimi Agbaje, who is running again next year, by a slim margin of just over 100, 000!
Truth is, as I said, cosmopolitanism is completely at odds with feudalism or patrimonialism. David Held, a former professor at the London School of Economics, and an authority on cosmopolitanism, lists the following as its principles: equal worth and dignity, active agency, personal responsibility and accountability, consent, reflexive deliberation and collective decision-making, inclusiveness and subsidiarity and the amelioration of urgent need. Held describes them as “the principles of democratic public life”.
Sadly, these are not the values that APC in Lagos state, under the feudal grip of Tinubu, is offering the people. But they are running a big risk. Nothing says that APC will rule Lagos for ever. The spirit of cosmopolitanism might just trigger a change of guards. And that won’t be a disaster. After all, as I wrote elsewhere, there is no difference between APC and PDP. Tell me, how is PDP’s Agbaje less a progressive than APC’s Sanwo-Olu? The parties are mere interchangeable vehicles for gaining power. But, at some point, the feudal hold on Lagos politics must stop!