The alleged rift between Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State and his political godfather and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, over the latter’s refusal to support the governor’s second term bid, has brought the issue of political godfatherism to the fore, JESUSEGUN ALAGBE writes
A scene played out on Monday at the launch of a book written by the Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Mr. Jim Ovia.
At the unveiling of the book, ‘Africa Arise and Shine,’ which had many dignitaries, including Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in attendance, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State was initially seen standing between the author and the Chairman on the occasion, Dr. Christopher Kolade.
According to a video clip from the event, while the paparazzi were busy taking photographs of the dignitaries on the podium, Ambode was seen feeling unsettled as he was standing a bit far from Tinubu, his political godfather.
Not minding how the audience would react, the governor jogged past Osinbajo and Ovia and squeezed himself between Tinubu and another dignitary on the podium.
Expectedly, the scene evoked a mix of bewilderment, laughter and applause from those on the podium and several other guests at the venue.
Earlier before this moment, Ambode – who was invited to speak immediately after Tinubu – had caused the guests to burst into laughter when he jokingly described how powerful the APC leader was in the party.
After acknowledging the dignitaries, the governor said he was not competent to speak after Tinubu had spoken.
“Actually, I didn’t prepare to come and say anything and who am I to come and speak after the Jagaban (Tinubu) has spoken?” he asked, causing the guests to laugh.
Notably, that was the first time the governor and his political godfather were seen together in the public after several reports of an alleged rift between the duo over the former’s second-term bid.
Tinubu was alleged to have refused to back Ambode’s second-term ambition and instead endorsed Babajide Sanwo-Olu, a former commissioner in the state, for the 2019 governorship election.
Sanwo-Olu, who formally declared his intention to vie for the Lagos State governorship ticket on the APC platform, had also purchased his expression of interest and nomination forms.
He was said to have the endorsement of the Mandate Movement, a political group led by Tinubu. The chairmen of the 57 councils in the state except the two from Epe where Ambode hails from were said to have also declared support for him.
Even though it was claimed that some leaders of the party pleaded with Tinubu to endorse Ambode for a second-term, the APC national leader was said to have ignored the pleas, insisting that the governor should be ready to face the party’s primary against Sanwo-Olu and other contestants.
In a last-minute effort to ensure he secured Tinubu’s backing for his second-term ambition, Ambode was said to have had a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The meeting was said to have followed an appeal by governors on the APC platform for the President to intervene and ‘save’ Ambode.
Nevertheless, no matter the eventual outcome, political observers said the alleged Tinubu-Ambode rift had again brought to the fore the dangers of political godfatherism in the country.
A political scientist and economist in Lagos, Mr. Sunkanmi Babatunde, wondered how one man could be allowed to dictate the affairs of “a mega-state” like Lagos.
He said, “From what filtered into our ears, Tinubu is not happy with Ambode because the governor is not subservient. There are claims that Ambode disrupted the state’s political structure by clipping the wings of some so-called owners of the state.
“There are claims he blocked some sources through which state funds usually flowed to these people’s pockets and they are not happy about it.
“While I’m not advocating Ambode’s return because I can’t say he has performed excellently and I don’t think he hasn’t also enriched himself with state funds, however, the rift between him and his political godfather showed how some individuals have taken hostage the lives of about 20 million people due to their selfishness.”
Babatunde argued that where democracy was working, Ambode’s second-term ambition ought not to have been dependent on the endorsement of the APC national leader.
He added, “The people should be the judge of who gets their votes and who doesn’t, not an individual or some power blocs whose judgment is clouded with greed and power.
“No matter how their rift ends, I really wish the electorate would make a bold statement in the next elections. Enough of this dictatorship in Lagos State and even in Nigeria as a whole!
“Where has political godfatherism landed us? In poverty, misery, poor infrastructure, among other negative indices. Indeed, we should all rise up and fight against political godfatherism, which is the same thing as dictatorship.”
On Thursday, the Socialist Party of Nigeria had also frowned on the style of political leadership in Lagos, describing it as a “dictatorship.”
The party stated that neither Ambode nor Tinubu deserved the public’s sympathy, adding that the disagreement between them should be used as an opportunity to “free Lagos from self-succession in power and installation of cronies as governors.”
“Neither Sanwo-Olu nor Ambode represents a future that will make Lagos work for its people, given the fact that they both represent the wishes and aspirations of big business and the moneybags.
“The struggle between the Mandate Movement is about business and profit interests of the contending forces of the ruling elite in Lagos,” the party’s Chairman, Rufus Olusesan, said via a statement.
Trying to take advantage of the alleged rift between Tinubu and Ambode, the Peoples Democratic Party in the state had during the week offered the governor its platform to contest next year’s gubernatorial election should he be rejected by the APC.
And then on Thursday, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, advised Ambode to resist godfatherism in Lagos State.