Lagos, Jimi Agbaje And The Menace Of Bola Tinubu
By Kennedy Emetulu
For those worried about the supposed crisis in Lagos being presented as one between the Yoruba and the Igbo, they need not bother. We must by now be used to the politics of the All Peoples Congress (APC) in Lagos State. It is one based on contrived fear and divide and rule. For twenty years, the APC and its former emanations have sucked Lagos to the bone. Their simple formula for keeping power is to ethnicize politics by making the majority Yoruba population fear for their safety and wellbeing in every election season when in fact they are the ones perpetrating mayhem against everyone they know or suspect does not support their thieving and destructive agenda. Thus, the Igbo are just generic victims representing any non-Yoruba group in Lagos in these times. Sure, it is a retrogressive approach to politics, but it’s paid them handsomely and now they’re deploying it again and getting everyone to discuss it as if it’s indeed a crisis when in fact the real crisis is that they are deploying their thugs to stop people from freely exercising their democratic rights as Nigerians, just as we saw them openly do during the last Presidential and National Assembly election of Saturday, February 23 2019. Now they want people to think that is just a warm-up act for what they’d unleash during the Governorship election. They want those who do not support them to cower at home in fear on Saturday as they steal the vote again.
Of course, no one is really making a case that Lagos is ‘a no man’s land’ because that idea in itself is not factual or logical. No land occupied by humans is a no man’s land on earth. But it’s a convenient grouse by those who have an agenda to use the ethnic card to retain power. So, no, the sky is not falling. Once they’ve stolen the vote and returned themselves back to power, everything will go back to normal. But that is the question. Are Lagosians going to allow them to get away with it again this time?
For five electoral cycles, these people have played Lagosians like koso; they have done so while Lagos is dying and rotting away. As one of the world’s 37 megacities, Lagos has failed. Lagos is the worst livable city in Africa and in the world it is ranked 138, only marginally better by less than a point than Dhaka in Bangladesh and war-torn Damascus in Syria. This is what 20 years of the APC government and its former incarnations under the same people have brought us. Lagos, with internally generated revenue bigger than those of thirty-one states combined is the fifth richest political entity in Africa, if it were a country on its own. Yes, Lagos is richer than several countries investing in modern development all around today, but it is a dustbin of all that is bad in a city and in a state. I mean, is it not a scandal that in the 21st century, life expectancy rate in Lagos is just 49 years, one of the worst even in Nigeria?
Of course, those who claim some people are saying that Lagos is a ‘no man’s land’ know what the problem is. They know Lagos as it is today is owned by one man, they know one man has put Lagos in his pocket, one man named Yekini Amoda Ogunlere from Shangodele compound in Iragbiji in Osun State, but who goes by the name Bola Tinubu in Lagos. The man does not doubt his ownership of Lagos which is why when he’s about to retire to bed after attending to his many daily political criminal enterprises, he’d tell his minions milling around, “Eko fẹ lo sun” (Lagos is going to sleep). This man dares Lagosians all the time, but the question for Saturday is: Are Lagosians going to keep their chains beyond twenty years?
The standard definition of democracy is responsible freedom. The idea of a people entrusting others through the vote to govern them and handle their governmental affairs is, as the Great Obafemi Awolowo said, to have life more abundant. You can only have life more abundant when you and your loved ones are free and when you feel secure in your community and can aspire to be the best through your ability and the institutionalised encouragement of the state across the board. In every field of life, when people join together for a common purpose, they individually get the best from and for each other. Democracy is the best system known to man to deliver good governance because in a democracy, citizens look out for each other and hold leadership accountable. This was why we fought the military to have back our democracy. From the moment they intervened in our governance in January 1966, we never relented. Today, we are two decades into the Fourth Republic. Many patriots, many Lagosians paid the supreme price for us to be here. They did not die for us to be dumped in Bola Tinubu’s ‘One-Chance’ bus. Freedom is getting out of that bus and freedom is what Jimi Agbaje is bringing to Lagos with his intelligent campaign for the governorship of the state!
The good people of Lagos State must get out of that ‘One-Chance’ bus now because they have sat there for too long and watched as Lagos has become a democracy only in name. Those in charge of its affairs have turned it into an oligarchy controlled by one man and his family and that man’s insatiable greed for power and the wealth of Lagos, which is actually the wealth of the people of Lagos meant to make life more abundant for all. Bola Tinubu has been able to achieve this, first, by winning the trust of people who truly believe in development. However, after attaining power, he ditched these progressive people and surrounded himself with yes men who he’s made to depend on him for power and access to state wealth distributed through him.
As the lord of the APC in Lagos, Tinubu ensures that he controls the structure by choosing persons who are traditionally not politicians as governorship candidates of the party while he uses the structure to back them up as long as they remain in his good books. When he’s fed up with them, he withdraws the structure, chooses a new person to replace them and life goes on as usual. Whoever he chooses only remains in his good books if they do his bidding, the main one being to give him free access to the Lagos treasury even though he’s left office as governor now for more than a decade.
What we are witnessing today with Tinubu’s relationship with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode we also witnessed to an extent with Governor Babatunde Fashola. Their differences then were on two fronts. Fashola who was his Chief of Staff before being handpicked to be governor was becoming a politician in his own right and he wanted part of the ACN party structure to help with an independent campaign for second term. He also was feeling uncomfortable with the arrangement of Tinubu’s company, Alpha Beta, the tax consultants, having the monopoly of collecting revenue for the state government and taking the lion’s share. Tinubu always had the excuse that all the avenues he created for siphoning Lagos State money into his private pocket was for the benefit of his political family and any political party he’s promoting at any time because he needs the money to run and sustain the structures. Fashola saw an opportunity to challenge his absolute hold on power and was threatening to undo the Alpha Beta deal. In the end, they compromised and Fashola had his second term. Fashola was finally saved from Tinubu’s retribution by the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as the APC candidate. He and a few others who were getting uncomfortable with Tinubu’s grip of the South-West APC structures endeared themselves to Buhari and with the latter’s win in 2015, they created an alternative power base in Abuja. It was that power base Fashola was going to use once again this time to challenge Tinubu by originally proposing his minion, Obafemi Hamzat as APC governorship candidate. But again, they reached a compromise and Hamzat took the Deputy Governorship slot in the Tinubu machine that propped up Babajide Sanwo-Olu as their candidate.
Now, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is a lesson in political naivety. He was a pure civil servant chosen by Tinubu to, as usual, do his bidding. But in the course of being governor, the man constantly found himself between doing what is right for Lagos and what Tinubu wants. Expectedly, Tinubu’s crave for more and more Lagos money became an issue between both men. As the former Accountant-General of the state, Ambode understands finances and he knows that no state can survive with the kind of financial demands Tinubu and his minions are making on the state. His attempt to question a few of those demands got Tinubu’s ire and like a vengeful god, he struck! He seized the structure from Ambode and selected another man, Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the APC candidate for the governorship.
In pulling the rug under Ambode’s feet, Tinubu justified it by saying Ambode is a good governor, but not a good party man. Of course, in Tinubu’s world, Ambode is not a good party man because he was reluctant to award more contracts to party men and women who did not execute contracts they collected from the Fashola administration after being paid fully to complete them. He is not a good party man because he would not approve budgets atrociously padded by Tinubu’s foot soldiers in the Lagos State House of Assembly. He is not a good party man because he demurred at the idea of using Lagos State finances to fund Tinubu’s ambitions in other South-West states and, most crucially, he is not a good party man because he was opposed to Tinubu’s plan to work to make his son, Seyi Tinubu the successor to Ambode as governor.
Now, this is the point Tinubu elevated hubris to statesmanship. In Babajide Sanwo-Olu, he has gone for someone who will never resist him. He has gone for a fellow with unsure mental capacity who will always depend on him and who he will chuck out in 2023 to put his son there. He has gone for someone who has never dreamt of ever reaching that position and who would in misguided gratitude deliver Lagos Stare wholesale to Tinubu while he spends the next four years effectively running the state through his son as Sanwo-Olu happily bears the title of ‘Governor’. It’s easy to see where they’re taking Lagos if you follow the Sanwo-Olu campaign.
I followed his launch of “Project T.H.E.M.E”, which is basically his campaign manifesto for Lagos State. He says T.H.E.M.E is an acronym for Traffic Management & Transportation; Health & Environment; Education & Technology; Making Lagos a 21st century economy and Entertainment & Tourism. My first disappointment was with the acronymization. If you want to create a fancy acronym from the overriding theme of your programme, why, like a glorified illiterate, jumble sentences and phrases together to create it? The second disappointment was watching and listening to him expatiating on each. Every time he talks, he sounds like a programmed, but malfunctioning robot delivering drab promises by rote. His language, bearing, mannerisms and stilted performances are totally off-putting. I tried to imagine him as the Governor of Lagos State, but I couldn’t get over the fact that he actually is acting like a true puppet on stage each time he speaks with his handlers always with their hearts in their mouths, afraid he might just fall down and disintegrate into many pieces like some Humpty Dumpty. The most disappointing bit for me is that none of his programmes addresses the question of grassroots governance and participation. But I suppose I should have known. His lack of focus on the Local Governments is expected, considering his party and his godfather’s attitude to Local Governments in the past 20 years they’ve been in power in one incarnation or the other. It is no surprise that Lagos State has not signed up to the Local Government Autonomy Bill that has already been passed by the National Assembly. Basically, Sanwo-Olu is Tinubu’s stopgap measure before bringing in his son to take over in 2023. In his thinking, he owns Lagos and can do anything.
In truth, there is no great mystique to Tinubu’s hold on his party and, by extension, his hold on Lagos State. His hold is based on three pillars of salt. One is the fact that Tinubu is a protected thief. When the Nigerian instruments of anti-corruption are expressly not allowed to be deployed against a blatantly corrupt man like Tinubu, he is a protected thief. We all were aware how Nuhu Ribadu as the EFCC Chairman publicly declared him the most corrupt governor while in office. But in time, Tinubu suborned him. When Ribadu was in the political wilderness, having fallen out with the Umaru Yar’Adua government, Tinubu offered him the platform of ACN to contest for the presidency while at the same time betraying him. He shut Ribadu’s mouth forever and today, Ribadu, a shadow of his former self, is one of the estranged chieftains of the APC.
There is no clearer proof of Tinubu’s protected status in Nigeria than what we witnessed recently when in September last year the news was agog with the story of a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) written by no less a person than the immediate past Managing Director of Alpha Beta, Dapo Apara. In that petition, dated July 6, 2018, which he sent through his lawyers, Adetunji Shoyoye and Associates, Mr Apara accused the firm of engaging in a N100 billion fraud, tax evasion and money-laundering scheme. He said the company “has become an avenue for official corruption of government officials, a conduit pipe for massive money laundering scheme, tax evasion, among other vices.” In the words of the petition: “Over the years, the company is being protected and shielded by some powerful politicians and people in the society which made them to always boast of being untouchable, but our client, feeling the need not to keep quiet again and strengthened by his belief in the fact that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is keen on fighting corruption, which has been the bane of our country, is of the firm belief that it’s time to expose and open the can of worms called Alpha Beta Consulting….Our client is of the firm belief that it is time for the commission to step in and conduct a holistic investigation into the activities of Alpha Beta Consulting Limited and Alpha Beta LLP, with a view to uncovering the massive corruption, money laundering, tax evasion etc going on in the company”. Mr Apara further alleged that one of the entities being used by Alpha Beta Consulting to engage in money laundering is another company named Ocean Trust Limited. He expressed sadness at the fact that the anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria is being undermined by “people who are hell bent on continually giving Nigeria a bad name and bringing discredit to the nation. One of such is Alpha Beta Consulting Limited and Alpha Beta LLP.”
Basically, Mr Apara who at the time said he was facing death threats told the EFCC that he was “willing and able to provide information to substantiate the claims.” But about a month ago, eight months after the petition was submitted to the EFCC, Mr Apara who has now escaped abroad for fear of his life is saying the Commission still has not contacted him nor has he been asked to come and shed light on his allegations. He said his petition has been ignored by the EFCC, but that he’s available anytime to defend it. When a journalist spoke to Tony Orilade, the EFCC spokesperson about it, he said Mr Apara should “send a reminder” to the EFCC. Under Buhari, Tinubu is a saint because they both need each other in their perfidious crave for power and more power.
The second pillar of salt is Tinubu’s personalization of state governance and his wanton subornation of the institutions of state through influence in the appointment of his loyalists to every key position in the Lagos State public service. By putting his minions in positions of power, he ensures the state serves his personal purpose. For instance, in March last year, we all witnessed the extent to which Alpha Beta has compromised Lagos State when it was discovered that its name had been inserted in the new law backing the new Land Use Charge when it stated: “Alpha Beta or any other designated person(s) or corporate body, which has the responsibility of monitoring the revenues of the state through the collecting banks shall provide a report to the Accountant-General of the state.” The trick is obvious. This is to ensure that Tinubu’s company gets the legislative and legal protection to milk the state in perpetuity. Following public uproar, the rubber-stamping Lagos State House of Assembly admitted they inserted Alpha Beta in the 2018 Land Use Charge Law, but that this was done in error. One wonders how it was possible that they never spotted this error throughout the process of reading and rereading of the bill before it became law.
We have just seen Tinubu’s personalization of governance again with the recent appointment of Hakeem Muri-Okunola as Head of Service. Ambode did this to appease him, but the man is still not appeased. Tinubu’s wife is the Senator representing Lagos Central, his son-in-law is in the House of Representatives, his other family members are in the House of Assembly and in various key positions in the state public service and his daughter is the Iya Oloja. Tinubu has turned Lagos into a one-party state through intimidation of civil servants who know they will make no career progress except they belong to the APC. They take away market stalls from people who are not APC and who will not support the APC.
Anyone in doubt as to how much damage Tinubu and his minions have done to the Lagos State Civil Service need only to remember the now viral picture of Tinubu and Sanwo-Olu driving into the hallowed grounds of governance in Alausa with trucks of rice to bribe civil servants to vote for Sanwo-Olu on Saturday. The sight of civil servants massed together and jubilating at the sight of rice being thrown at them says enough about where the soul of governance has gone. Jimi Agbaje recognizes that one of the biggest victims of poor politics in the state for the past twenty years has been the public sector. The politicization of the service has led to a serious dip in professionalism and trust within the system. The public service has become a dumping ground for political appointees put there by political godfathers but without the necessary education and skills to be useful in the task of governance. That is why he’s promising a massive reform of the service and a professional repositioning to make the service fit for purpose. Jimi will establish the Lagos State Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies for the training and retraining of Lagos State civil servants and private sector leaders that would resource and direct his programmes around the education economy. These rice-celebrating people are victims of bad governance themselves and they need a total change in their mindset. Jimi would return prestige to the service. Already he’s said irrespective of what is agreed as the national minimum wage, he is making a commitment to pay Lagos public sector workers 5 percent higher than the national minimum wage. He’s also said he will introduce a Lagos weighting in the form of allowances paid public servants who work in Central Lagos and Ikeja. I believe these would be a good start in the business of repositioning the civil service that Tinubu has destroyed.
In Tinubu’s quest to be the only centre of political power, he’s also destroyed the Local Governments by taking away their power and money needed for development in those areas. That is why I said I am not surprised his candidate has nothing for Local Governments in his programme, while Jimi’s ‘The Big Idea’ programme tied around the education economy is to be run by the Local Governments. Obviously, Jimi is not looking to be an Emperor; he wants to build leaders from the grassroots! And it’s the smartest thing to do to get Lagos going because the reason Lagos inner city areas have become eyesores is because the Local Governments are no longer in a position to provide the services they should be providing as the people now in charge do nothing more than act as overseers of Tinubu’s thugs.
And talking about his thuggish enterprise, the third pillar of salt of Tinubu’s power, their elements are the street enforcers of Tinubu’s will. I mean, have we forgotten how he sent his thugs after Gani Fawehinmi for daring to question his Toronto certificate and the different ages he declared in official documents? Are his thugs not today the political lords of Lagos? We saw their bloody displays throughout what the APC called party conventions, congresses and primaries leading up to the elections we’re having now. We saw how in Lagos and elsewhere, they wrote their programmes in blood. Nothing epitomizes their impunity better than what we all witnessed live at the launch of the APC campaign in Ikeja. Right there on the grounds, with the Governor of Lagos State making a speech, thugs were having an intra-APC turf war and people were being killed while MC Oluomo was being stabbed by a mob! It was a scandalized nation that watched as Governor Ambode continued his speech without stopping! Why? Of course, he couldn’t stop and bring the full force of his office to bring the nonsense to an immediate halt with his putative control of the security forces on the ground. He couldn’t because he knew there could be repercussions against him from men who control these thugs. He knew they would never see it as him acting as the governor of the state to protect lives and property, they would see it as him attempting to sabotage the launch of the Sanwo-Olu campaign because he was not given the chance for a second term. So, the castrated governor just went on reading his speech while bodies were falling left, right and centre until he and the party bigwigs present were evacuated from the scene! This is what Lagos State has become under Tinubu. Those who Lagosians have legitimately entrusted with power to protect lives and property as governors cannot act because Tinubu has given ‘power’ to miscreants!
On the eve of the presidential election, Nigerians saw bullion vans drive into Tinubu’s abode at Bourdillon Road in Ikoyi. It was a shocked nation that heard Tinubu respond to journalists’ question about it. He boldly told the journalists that it was none of their business. Of course, as we know, Tinubu is a protected thief and it matters not how the world will look at us with such a flagrant act of thievery. That show was not only for the mass of people milling around his premises waiting for money for ‘mobilization’, it was a show also for the thugs! He was telling them to go cause mayhem and deliver for the APC because the money is here! And they did. I mean, in what other country would a politically exposed person roll in bullion vans into his yard in the full glare of the world? They’re not only mocking Nigerians, they’re pooping in our mouths and ordering us to grub it!
But it’s all in the hands of Lagosians now. If they want to continue to suffer under the rule of thugs, then Tinubu’s Man Friday, Babatunde Sanwo-Olu is their man this Saturday. Decent people from everywhere must really despair at the sight of young lives wasted on the altar of political ambition. I mean, we are running political campaigns in a democracy and one of the requirements is that candidates must freely sell your ideas to the people in public space, but how can you do that when someone weaponises young people’s minds violently against each other in a bid to stop political opponents from having visibility? Just look around Lagos, what do you see everywhere? You see giant posters of Babajide Sanwo-Olu everywhere, posters and posters everywhere, billboards and billboards everywhere! No inch of Lagos land is spared from Sanwo-Olu’s posters. This is the direct result of Tinubu’s cunning use of the same Local Government Chairmen he had disempowered. Now is the only time he allows them to have money to put up these posters and they are falling over themselves trying to outdo each other by plastering everywhere with the face of Sanwo-Olu, the latest in a line of Tinubu’s governorship stooges, in the erroneous belief that they can win the Lagos governorship election by photo-trick. They think dominating the place with posters and billboards they’ve erected with the people’s stolen money will put their candidate across the line. Well, it’s in the hands of Lagosians.
In truth, I actually have no problem with them blanketing the place with posters and billboards, but why use thugs to tear down other people’s billboards and attack those who are giving them advertising space? This is what I’ve noticed with how they’ve been treating the Jimi Agbaje Campaign! These guys work hard for the money they spend because it’s the ordinary people who chip in to fund their campaign in their own way by making these posters for them. But when they go to paste them in public spaces, they’re beaten up by thugs, the posters are torn to pieces and the political lords of the thugs go on to put pressure on people the Jimi Agbaje Campaign are paying to erect billboards for them, all in a bid to ensure Jimi Agbaje does not have visibility! But this is not a problem because no one can stop an idea whose time has come. Agbaje has better name recognition than the fellow they’re now propping up. In fact, I’m happy to note that the Agbaje Campaign is finding creative ways to reach the people and those who want to cause mayhem by pouring out their thugs on the streets will remain disappointed after Saturday.
The irony of all this is that it is Agbaje alone amongst all the contestants that actually has something in his programme to address the issue of thuggery. On the hustings, he keeps hammering on the need to address the underlying problems facilitating thuggery. According to him, more than 70 percent of Nigerians are made up of young people of thirty and under and if we do not handle the problem now, it will explode in our face soon. He says when we look at the unemployment figure of more than 20 million people most of those affected are invariably young people. The worst part of that statistics is that the Lagos State population of young and unemployed people is bigger than the national average for the simple reason that Lagos is the only megacity in Nigeria attracting citizens from everywhere coming to Lagos to chase their dreams. Agbaje believes those whose dreams have been killed by bad governance and bad social services end up being playthings in the hands of negatively ambitious politicians who arm them in the name of ‘empowerment’ and who send them out to commit all sorts of crimes against political opponents and their supporters with the assurance that they would be protected from the law because they are indeed in control of law enforcement.
Agbaje says it is the future and the future of these thugs and their children that these politicians are destroying. He says no thug wants his own children to be thugs. Thugs want the good things of life for themselves and their families and in most cases, they get involved in these things out of desperation occasioned by the harsh economic conditions. But it’s not a sustainable and happy life. Agbaje says if we want a Lagos that can compete with other megacities in the world, a Lagos where the people are free to unleash their energies for personal, communal and national development, we need to address the problem. It is in that regard his platform is providing them opportunities for transformation at the expense of the state. What he is guaranteeing is that he will not take away the source of livelihood of anyone, be they danfo drivers or agbero without providing them and their families better alternatives for a more meaningful life. Under his comprehensive security programme for Lagos, Agbaje identified the thuggery problem as one that needs a combination of a hard and soft approach, but he’s saying he’ll start with the soft approach because these thugs are humans who need to have an opportunity to turn a new leaf and be decent members of society. To this end, he’s proposing an amnesty programme for thugs and gangs, which would require they renounce their criminal ways and hand over their weapons. The state will provide them with opportunities for training in entrepreneurship and in skills that are useful for the education economy, which is the flagship programme of ‘The Big Idea’. They would be provided an immediate opportunity to work and earn decent wages to keep them off the criminal path.
People can see that Jimi is not afraid to confront the big elephant in the room. People know that even though Babajide Sanwo-Olu is today the candidate of the APC, Jimi is in actual fact not contesting against him because he’s just the latest tool in Tinubu’s arsenal to keep his vice grip on Lagos. So, yes, Jimi is contesting against Tinubu and he is committed to removing Tinubu’s vice grip on the throat of Lagosians. This is a man who cannot take one inch of another man’s land in his ancestral home of Iragbiji in Osun State without repercussions, but he is celebrated today as the biggest landlord in Africa! How did he get to acquire that status? By using state power and undue influence to deprive ordinary Lagosians of their due! What type of oppression is that? Lagosians must show him they’ve had enough! Jimi Agbaje’s FREEDOM CAMPAIGN is just the right tonic! Saturday must be LAGOS FREEDOM DAY!
O to gẹ!