Ambode vs the Party: A misconceived relationship

Written by on October 16, 2018

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, as been the most talked about politician in Nigeria today. He is the foremost politician in the South-West, if not in the country as a whole. He is as much revered by his followers and supporters as he is loathed by his detractors, mainly political opponents and the elite.

For his loyal followers, Tinubu is a mentor; a political benefactor; and an unparalleled leader. I have seen Tinubu up close in the political arena. He is as much in the field of political battle as any of his loyal followers are. He spares nothing at rescuing the deserving.

However, his detractors are quick to translate mentorship into godfatherism. So vicious is their attack on Tinubu that no false accusation is considered out of bounds. A few years ago, an anonymous piece, titled Tinubu is Lagos, made the rounds, insinuating that Tinubu owns virtually every major structure and space in Lagos, including choice hotels and even the Lekki tollgates. For example, I have tried to no avail to convince friends that Tinubu does not own Oriental Hotel on Victoria Island and former Renaissance (now De Rembrandt) Hotel in Ikeja.

More recently, the Peoples Democratic Party called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate him, while also listing various allegations against the APC-led Federal Government of missing trillions of naira from various sources.

Keen political observers have come to understand that these allegations often reach a crescendo during the election season as part of the usual negative campaign aimed at discrediting political opponents. Now that we have entered another election season, the attacks are once again on the ascendancy. The PDP needs to deflect attention away from the economic mess into which its 16-year rule had plunged the nation and for which many of its high profile members have been indicted or are being investigated.

The vitriolic attack on Tinubu for Ambode’s travails in Lagos during the recently concluded governorship primary must be understood against the above backgrounds. Without a doubt, quite a number of party members bought into the false accusations against Tinubu, attributing Ambode’s travails to the latter’s refusal to bow to the demands of the godfather. This interpretation is particularly widespread among the elite, many of whom voted for Ambode to spite Tinubu.

Yet, the truth is that Ambode chose to go solo, by sidetracking the party behind his candidature. By the party, of course, is meant party members, including party leaders, its elected officials, political appointees as well as the party constitution and manifesto, highlighting its policies, programmes, and projects.

Ambode also sidelined the House of Assembly and the Mandate Group, which is the engine of the APC structure in Lagos. The group worked hard for his election as well as the election of party members to the House of Assembly and the LGAs. Ambode ignored it, by setting up competing groups, namely, the Ambode Mandate Support Group and the Akinwunmi Ambode Campaign Organisation.

One of the LGAs in which Ambode sought to destroy the existing party machine, by setting up his own, is the thickly populated Alimosho LGA. Many residents in Alimosho are either poor or belong to the struggling working class of artisans, drivers, cleaners, and so-called “area boys”, most of whose fortunes are tied to the fortunes of the party.

By sidelining the policies by which many party members access their livelihood, Ambode threw thousands out of job. A good example is the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, involving Private Sector Participants. Ambode scrapped it, knowing full well that waste disposal in Lagos was a party affair, which gave employment to thousands of party members, including waste managers, drivers, cleaners, and allied workers throughout the state.

Unfortunately for Ambode, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, the foreign company he brought in as a replacement, could not cope with the job, because, as it was later discovered, it lacked the requisite experience.

Similarly, drainage and city transport were managed by the party under PSP arrangements. Ambode scrapped these policies as well, by contracting out the drainage system and bringing public transport directly under government control. Accordingly, he invested over N30 billion Paris Club refunds on bus terminals and the procurement of thousands of high occupancy vehicles to be managed by the government.

In an LGA like Alimosho, where residents were directly affected by Ambode’s policies, the mainstream Mandate Group rallied support to oust him. In Alimosho Ward C2 alone, Babajide Sanwo-Olu had 16,724 votes, whereas Ambode could muster only three votes!

Compare these results with those of Ibeju and Lekki, where the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of Ambode, 29,500 to 10 in Ibeju and 17,100 to two in Lekki. A number of elite residents in these communities told me that they voted not so much for Ambode as against Tinubu. “He should get his hands off Lagos affairs”, one of them insisted.

The truth is that Tinubu was not the issue. Were Tinubu not in the picture at all, Ambode still would have been ousted by the party. Tinubu came into the picture only because he is the leader of the party. A respectable leader that he is, he bowed to the wishes of party members.

It would appear that neither Ambode nor the elite fully understand the significance and role of political parties in a democracy. The Nigerian constitution and the Electoral Act are quite clear that nobody runs for political office in Nigeria unless they are nominated by a political party. That’s why a governorship candidate must run on a party platform, which includes its manifesto, detailing its policies, programmes, and projects. Courtesy demands that a serving governor reverts to the party should major changes be necessary. Ambode chose not to do that. And he paid dearly for it.

Those who have argued against the linkage between the party and waste management, for example, should look over to the United States, where the Republican Party controls the military-industrial complex in that country. Alternatively, they could look at the Democratic Party’s linkage with social protection programmes, including Social Welfare, Social Security, and healthcare.

Tinubu’s peculiar gift as a politician is his keen understanding of the role of a political party in a democracy and of how to keep oiling the party machinery as Republicans and Democrats do in the US. Tinubu’s feat is possible because he has toed only one single ideological line of progressivism. This has allowed him to fully establish a working party machinery at least at his base.

An interesting irony about the Lagos governorship primary that has escaped serious discussion is the direct primary by which all card-carrying members of the party voted for aspirants of their choice. This is a marked departure from the imposition of candidates of which Tinubu had been accused.

The open primary, which threw up Sanwo-Olu as the party’s candidate is a desirable departure from the era of imposition. True, Tinubu indicated his preference for Sanwo-Olu in the primary, but at least 72,901 party members were free to disagree with him by voting for Ambode. That was democracy at work.

There are two important lessons from Ambode’s travails. First, as Professor Ayo Olukotun argued last Friday, the party leadership should have stepped in much earlier to make some in-house arrangements that would have prevented the publicity and dog-fight that attended Ambode’s struggles

Second, governors and other elected officials as well as political appointees should be mindful of their dual responsibility, one to their political party and the other to their constituencies. Like Ambode, many Nigerian governors tend to do what they like rather than what their parties and constituencies need and like.

Noble 107.1 FM Ibadan

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