Photo: Premium Times
By Omololu Ogunmade, Gboyega Akinsanmi and Segun James
President Muhammadu Buhari last night met with the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu, and the party’s former National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, over the brewing succession crisis in Lagos State.
Tinubu and his political machine, the Mandate Movement, are opposing Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s second term bid, throwing up the Managing Director of Lagos State Development and Property Corporation, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, as his main challenger.
Despite the intervention of Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Governor Abiola Ajimobi, former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, and the party’s National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, the opposition to Ambode’s aspiration was sustained with Tinubu insisting that the governor must test his popularity at the primary.
Last Thursday, Ambode took up the gauntlet and decided to face the primary, reactivating his campaign machinery with the recruitments of agents across the 20 local governments and 37 local development councils in the state.
Faced with an imminent showdown, the state’s highest political advisory group, Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC), chaired by Tinubu, which had compelled the primary contest, last Friday asked Ambode to stand down for Sanwo-Olu, its preferred candidate.
The governor refused and defiantly responded with a world press conference on Sunday, questioning the competence of the national leader’s preferred aspirant and warned of the dire consequences of the brewing crisis for the president’s electoral fortune in the state in the impending 2019 general elections.
THISDAY gathered that although the presidency was worried about the face-off and would have preferred that Ambode was given a right of first refusal, its attitude was to await the outcome of today’s primary having failed to persuade Tinubu to back down.
However, it was learnt, the presidency had moved to get the National Secretariat of the party to ensure that the process, which was in the hands of the State Executive Committee, populated by the Mandate Movement element, was neutralised to ensure a level playing field.
The thinking in the presidency, THISDAY learnt, was that with the direct primary system adopted by the state, Ambode stood a fighting chance if the process was transparent.
Consequently, Oshiomhole was directed to not only constitute a credible electoral panel, but to also personally supervise the primary.
Tinubu’s media adviser, Mr. Tunde Rahman, confirmed the meeting with Buhari last night.
“Asiwaju Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande were invited by President Buhari and it turned out to be a good and productive meeting. Asiwaju was quite pleased to have conferred with the President who has always shown himself to be a committed party member and a true democrat,” he said in a statement to THISDAY.
He added, “Just like the president, he is looking forward to a good and credible primary that is peaceful and free of rancour. As previously stated, Asiwaju plans to vote in this primary and his position regarding the relative merits of the candidates remains unchanged.”
The outcome of yesterday’s was hazy last night but it was learnt that Tinubu seized the opportunity to explain his position to Buhari, who, THISDAY gathered had been made to perceive that the party’s national leader has been unnecessarily recalcitrant over the presidency’s move to provide succour for Ambode.
Presidency sources told THISDAY that Tinubu appealed for Buhari’s understanding and asked him to trust his judgement on the matter. A reliable source told THISDAY last night that both Tinubu and Akande discreetly arrived the State House at 5 pm for the meeting that was carefully designed not to generate media attention.
What was discussed at the meeting was officially unknown but it was believed that the president must have handed a note of caution to both leaders to handle the matter meticulously in a way that it will not have a backlash effect that can cause APC Lagos State.
Ambode’s last Sunday’s conversation with the world press where he described Sanwo-olu as a fraudster and mental illness patient who is not fit to govern Lagos State, was sufficient prove that he might have decided to rock the boat, a prospect presidency officials felt was capable of sinking the party in the state.
“We don’t want to go too far; we don’t want to talk about all the things that we know; but what we want is for our leadership to have a rethink because the truth is this, I will not stand here on the mandate of Lagosians and allow our great party APC to put in somebody that the opposition will easily take out because of lack of credibility,” Ambode had said.
Who is Fit to Govern Lagos?
Lagos Governor Declares Second Term Bid, Says ‘I’m Not Tired’
This statement, presidency officials believe, is too loaded to be waved off. “Clearly Ambode has minimum capacity to do maximum damage,” a source said last night.
Finally, Primary Holds Today, Ambode Demands Credible Process
Meanwhile, after two postponements, the primary holds today with Ambode squaring up to Sanwo-Olu, the third aspirant, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, also one time Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, having stepped down for the latter.The political atmosphere remained tense yesterday with the governor’s camp remaining upbeat and telling THISDAY that it was ready for today’s battle.
“If the process is transparent, we shall win,” a top aide of Ambode said last night.
Ambode had set this tone when asked the NWC “to ensure that the process is credible to avoid the APC going into the 2019 general elections divided.”
He said this while receiving the State Primary Election Panel constituted by the NWC to monitor the governorship primary election at the State House, Alausa yesterday, and expressed confidence in the selection of the panel’s members.
The electoral panel, which was chaired by former Cross Rivers Governor, Mr. Clement Ebri, comprises Alhaji Ahmed Mahmud Gumel (Secretary), Mr. Nze Chidi Duru, Chief Clever Egbeji, Senator Clever Ikisikpo and Amb. Jerry Ugokwe, among others.
While addressing the members of the panel at the Government House yesterday, Ambode urged the panel to use its prerogative to decide the best time for the primary and make a public announcement on the time, date and venues of the exercise to enable members of the party partake in the process.
He observed that he had gone through the same process with 12 other aspirants to emerge as governorship candidate of the APC in 2014, saying that it was not out of place to have other aspirants contest for the same ticket this time.
However, Ambode observed that the eventual process of choosing who flies the APC flag in the state must be fair to all concerned.
He said, “All I seek is credible primaries, transparent primaries and level playing ground that we will all be proud of at the end of the day for the outcome.
“There were issues that we have raised and that we are also trying to correct. The bottom line is this, we are a family. We must not go into the 2019 elections divided because this is the very first time that the APC is controlling the centre and also Lagos State. That is what I want us to continue.
“The issues that I raised have been put in form of a letter which I would pass to their chairman. I believe the committee will look into it judiciously. I welcome the stakeholders meeting which will allow you feel the pulse of what is going on in the state.”
Ambode tasked the panel to conduct a credible and transparent process to do all within its powers to ensure a level playing field for all aspirants in the contest, saying it was only in such situation that democracy, which the party upholds, would be entrenched.
He said it was important that the election when conducted is seen to be free, fair and credible to all aspirants concerned, expressing confidence in the selection of the panel’s members.
The governor added that he had no doubt that the panel would live up to expectation and deliver a credible process, which according to him, will go a long way to determine the future of Nigeria and the greatness of Lagos in particular.
Speaking during the visit, Ebri, former Cross Rivers Governor, said the panel deemed it fit to pay a courtesy visit to the governor as the number one citizen in the state and to also intimate him on the process for the conduct of the primaries.
As the number one citizen of Lagos, he said: “We felt obliged to come and see you particularly when you are contesting for the office of Lagos State Governor for which we all believe you have done so well. We are the panel that has been constituted to conduct primaries. We are seven members and there are indications that there would be one or two additions due to the work load here.
“We have come to intimate you that this exercise is going to take place in the next few hours. I like to apologise for the delay, it had to be postponed as a result of logistics in Lagos, Imo and some other States because of the pressure and work load from the secretariat and other developments that have taken place.”
Ebri said his team was ready for the task ahead and would do everything possible to ensure that the process is seen to be free, fair and credible. Lagos is more like a decider and like they say, when Lagos sneezes the rest of the country catches cold.
The panel eventually met with stakeholders at the party’s secretariat in Ikeja where it was decided that the voting shall not involve the use of ballot papers and that members shall vote by queuing behind the posters of the aspirant of their choice.
Agbakoba’s Group Deploys 550 Third Force Monitors, Observers
In a related development, the Alliance for New Democratic Lagos, a forum of 31 political parties led by former President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, has equally urged the GAC and Tinubu “to allow popular democratic process take precedence in determining Ambode’s second term aspiration.”
In a statement by the State Publicity Secretary, Dr Segun Obe, yesterday, the forum said it had already accredited about 550 independent monitors and observers to cover the state’s governorship primary elections today to ensure free, fair and credible primary elections for both Ambode and Sanwo-Olu
The forum cautioned the GAC and Tinubu not to obstruct democracy, but allow popular democratic process take precedence in determining Ambode’s second term aspiration rather than asking him to withdraw from his 2019 re-election bid
The forum said, “The leaders and stalwarts of 31 political parties rallied by People’s Trust (PT) and led by former NBA President, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba decided to wade into the matter in the interest of democracy and the Lagos electorate.
It insisted that rather than compel Ambode to step down for Sanwo-Olu, the GAC as democrats should allow the primary elections of the party to take place to determine the acceptance or otherwise of the second term bid of Ambode.
Oki’s Faction Seeks Buhari’s Intervention in Lagos APC Crisis
Even though the preparation for the primary election has been perfected, factional Lagos State APC Chairman, Mr. Fouad Oki, yesterday sought the intervention of Buhari, Osinbajo and Oshiomhole in the chapter’s crisis.
Oki made the call in an open letter to the APC National Chairman on the governorship primary election scheduled to hold in 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 245 wards across the state today, warning that it might culminate in intractable crisis without the decisive intervention of Buhari, Osinbajo and Oshiomhole.
In the letter he titled, “Before It Is too Late, Let us Avoid Intractable Crisis,” Oki explained the purpose of the letter, which according to him, was to the APC national chairman, the president and vice president to look into the crisis that had engulfed the party irredeemably in Lagos State.
Oki said, “I am writing this to you on behalf of the teeming members of the Party in Lagos State before it is too late. I am writing to you as a fellow member of our great Party, of which you are also a member and the arrow head.
“When family members are in conflict is it not the responsibility of family members, especially the elders or those who care deeply about the well being of the entire family, to make every attempt to solve the problem? Is it not far better to honestly address these deep conflicts since we share an identity, a progressive family?
“I am addressing those in power. I am not writing this letter out of hatred, but out of love because there is so much bitterness and generalized resentment permeating the political environment in Lagos State.”