The Lagos State governorship election is perhaps generating as much buzz as the presidential election. This is understandable. As the country’s melting pot, there are as much issues available for discussion in the run up to the election as in the presidential election.
While the presidential election campaigns are characterised by attacks on personalities, mudslinging, bullying and threats, the campaigns for who becomes the next governor of Nigeria’s Centre of Excellence, has been largely issue-based so far.
In fact, the incumbent, Babatunde Fashola, was widely criticised and ridiculed for bringing up the issue of the age of the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Jimi Agbaje, during an All Progressives Congress, APC, campaign rally. This is an indication that Lagosians would not take kindly to mudsling and name-calling, the type that has unfortunately been on full display in the presidential campaigns.
There are 17 parties vying for the governorship seat in the February 28 poll but it’s realistically a straight fight between the two dominant parties – the PDP and the APC. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Fashola has raised the bar of governance in the state and it is generally agreed that the state has too much at stake and cannot afford to elect an incompetent governor who would likely to take the state back into the Dark Ages of governance.
Lagos is the commercial capital of the country and with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $90 billion; it contributes about 20 per cent of the country’s GDP or 60 per cent, assuming the oil revenue is removed. In fact Lagos’s GDP is greater than that of Kenya ($66 billion), Ghana ($62 billion) and Tanzania ($58.4 billion). As home to most Nigerians, an awful government in Lagos would have catastrophic impacts on the economy and other sectors.
To its chagrin and frustration, Lagosians have spurned the PDP like a bad-mannered wife since 1999. All efforts by the party to wrest the state from opposition parties such as the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, both of which had formed its administration, came to naught. In 2011, despite winning 66 per cent of the votes during the presidential election, the PDP still managed to lose the governorship election. However, due to a series of anti-populist policies embarked by the incumbent administration and the acceptability of its candidate, this election is perhaps the PDP’s best chance of winning the election.
The chief talking points in election would be the dichotomy of government interest between the highly populated and largely ghetto Mainland and the affluent Island; The influence of the acclaimed godfather of Lagos politics, Bola Tinubu, and the deportation of non-indigenes especially from the South-East.
The Fashola’s administration set fire on the electoral credit it accrued for clearing the hitherto chaotic Oshodi of miscreants and unruly street traders when it announced the widespread restriction of commercial motorcyclist known as Okada from major roads in the state. The subsequent high-handed enforcement of the law by the police and members of the state owned traffic management agency, LASTMA, turned many low-class Lagosians, who viewed the Fashola-led APC government as anti-poor, towards the PDP for succour. In fact, during a PDP organised political meeting, a member of the Okada union said his organisation was so irked by the decision to restrict their area of operation that have raised N750 million in support of the PDP’s campaign to win the election.
Though the government has vehemently denied this, the impression that it is driven by elitist ethos still persist in the minds of many Lagosians. And this worry is not exactly baseless. The government increased tuition in the state-owned university, LASU, from N25, 000.00 to between N180, 000.00 and N350, 000.00. It took weeks of protests by students and prolong strike by the university’s academic union for the governor to revert to the original fees. Some said the government reverted to the original fees to avoid the kind of defeat suffered by Kayode Fayemi, the immediate past APC governor of Ekiti state, who was believed to have been voted out for running a government considered elitist.
Although it is arguable that the Fashola administration has completely ignored the Mainland, it’s increasingly hard to convince Mainlanders who see the level of infrastructural developments on the Island that they are not being merely tolerated like a polygamist’s aging first wife.
Despite the governor’s apology, the deportation of non-indigene destitute from the state would definitely cost the APC some votes in the election. Many Igbos, the largest non-indigenous group in the state, have still not completely forgiven the government. It is believed that the government did not handle the issue properly. Besides, it allowed it to drag on for too long.
The matter was aggravated by a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, in his one of the controversial articles, described the Igbos as “collectively unlettered, uncouth, uncultured, unrestrained and crude in all their ways. They have no restraining factors because money and the acquisition of wealth is their sole objective and purpose in life.”
Ironically, Mr. Fani-Kayode is now the Director of Media for President Goodluck Jonathan campaign organisation. The Igbos remain some of Mr. Jonathan’s strong supporters.
The party’s governorship candidate, Akinwunmi Ambode’s campaign has been centered mostly on the need for continuity. This is not exactly a bad thing. However, Lagos is not a utopia. Some people say there are always better ways of doing things. Lagosians need to hear more of his own original ideas of solving the challenges of the state rather than preaching continuity. Mr Ambode also needs to convince the electorate living in the Mainland that he would pay more attention to that part of the state than the incumbent.
To the credit of the APC administration, however, it has effectively freed the state from the clutches of the Federal Government by increasing its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to N384.26 billion. The party has also built relatively strong institutions such as the state waste management agency, LAWMA, Its advert and signage agency, LASAA, LASTMA and many others that are working to bring the state at par to other mega cities in the world.
Lagos has also seen an unprecedented infrastructural development under the party such as the yet to be completed light rail project and the expansion of the Lagos – Badagry Express way to a 10-lane rail/motor way. All this might swing votes to the APC in the February election.
On the other hand, the PDP is wooing voters mostly in the Mainland by promising an all-inclusive development. The party is increasingly becoming the darling of traders, artisans and motorists who have been at the receiving end of some of the government’s less people- friendly policies. Also, in places like Badagry where the state government has had poor presence, voters are increasingly rooting for the PDP and Mr. Agbaje.
Unlike other states with disputed primary elections, the PDP in Lagos state handled the dispute between Mr. Agbaje and former Minister of state for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, reasonably well. Both men have been reconciled with Mr. Obanikoro campaigning for the flag bearer. This is very important. Perhaps, the only person that can claim something close to the kind of grassroots mobilisation prowess as Mr. Tinubu, the APC leader, is Mr. Obanikoro.
Koro, as his supporters fondly call him, has all the potential of becoming a kingmaker in the state. However, he is too neck deep into the campaign to seek votes for President Jonathan to be wholly dedicated to Mr. Agbaje’s campaign. But there might be a more involved push from Mr. Obanikoro towards the election of Mr. Agbaje after the February 14 presidential poll.
Again, this time around the PDP happens to have found a way around the management of campaign fund, which had been its biggest problem in previous elections. If there are any misunderstandings over the disbursement of fund within the party this time around, they are yet to manifest.
If debates win election then it’s a done deal for Mr. Agbaje who was miles ahead of other debaters in the recent gubernatorial debate organised by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) of Lagos West Diocese. The debate showed that Mr. Agbaje is smart, eloquent and with practical plans of how to govern the state. By promising an all-inclusive government, he has also endeared many non-indigenes to his message.
Lagosians are sophisticated people and this would certainly reflect in their choice of who governs them. Whoever emerges victorious between two leading candidates would probably win by the thinnest margin in the history of elections in the state.