Once addressed by his colleagues as Nigeria’s ‘Governor-General’, Akinwunmi Ambode, the Lagos State Governor, has however been enmeshed in political battle of his life that not only cost him a returned ticket for second term in office but currently threatens to sweep him out of office before May 29, 2019.
Days after the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, refuted news of the planned impeachment of the State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, Daily Trust on Sunday can authoritatively reveal that the plot to remove the Governor is still very much alive.
The decision to still keep the Governor’s impeachment plot alive despite the Speaker’s assurances, was basically aimed at whipping him into submission anytime he is suspected to be working in contravention of the “party’s interest.”
“There has been intervention of prominent people within and outside the state. There have also been meetings of stakeholders, one of which I attended and from where it was agreed that while our lawmakers may soft-pedal with the impeachment proceeding for now, it should not be totally kept off the table. We cannot be too certain of what may happen when the election draws closer,” a highly-placed chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state who preferred anonymity told Daily Trust on Sunday.
Similarly, a principal officer within the State House of Assembly said whereas there are still those among the lawmakers who felt the Governor should be left to complete the remainder of his tenure, those who insisted that the impeachment option should be left open are in majority. “They are enjoying the support of our principal officers and party bigwigs. To that extent, nobody can say all is well,” the lawmaker said.
Interestingly, the skepticism of the lawmakers and the party chieftains are known to those in Governor Ambode’s camp. The newspaper on Sunday gathered from one of the Governor’s aides that they are not unaware of the mistrust and plots, but that they are worried that in spite of Ambode’s commitment to support the election of his rival Babajide Sanwo-Olu who later became the party’s gubernatorial candidate, there are those who simply want the Governor pushed out of office.
Ambode’s travails began immediately it became clearer that his quest for a second term ticket under the platform of the APC does not enjoy the support of his political godfather and National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The crisis of confidence later erupted between him and Tinubu on one hand, as well as against the party leadership on the other.
At the end, Ambode’s hope of earning a second term ticket was dashed as a former two-term commissioner in the state, Sanwo-Olu, propped by Tinubu and other party chieftains, won the gubernatorial primary. Although Ambode has since conceded victory and announced his intention to work for Sanwo-Olu, many are still questioning the audacity that led him to challenge Tinubu, the revered political leader, in the first instance.
For political pundits, the current cat and mouse game between the Governor and the State House of Assembly is just the latest in the series of political brickbats he might have to contend with as the countdown to his vacation of governorship seat begins. Even the impeachment rebuttal issued by the State Assembly Speaker was laced with innuendos that suggested that the governor’s travails are nowhere easing off.
“We are not embarking on any impeachment process against the governor now. Whether or not there would be an impeachment is based on his actions,” the Speaker initially said. But he went on to add, “Even at that, impeachment is constitutional. So many Speakers, Senate Presidents, Presidents and others have been impeached all over the world. So, nobody can threaten us if it happens because we are representatives of the people. We don’t need the wailers to guide us in performing our duties. It is not out of place for us to do our job.”
With such statement, the Speaker has indeed not ruled out outrightly the possible removal of the Governor. Whereas the speculations about the Governor’s impeachment have been on and off for sometimes, the audacious move by the legislators at a proceeding few days ago, disowning the operation of the newly introduced waste management outfit, Visionscape, while asking the sacked Private Sector Participants (PSP) to take over appeared to have triggered an alarm bell that the impeachment speculation is gradually becoming a reality.
At the proceeding, Gbolahan Yishawu, the Chairman, House Committee on Budget and Economic Planning, had moved a motion of urgent matter of public importance over heaps of refuse scattered all over the state.
“Some refuse are being taken to Epe and Ikorodu but these places are a bit far now. We used to dump the refuse in Olusosun, but the place was gutted by fire. We can give the place to private companies. The sanitary landfill in Epe is not being utilised and the transfer loading stations too are not working effectively with the turnaround time of collecting the refuse not being utilised. It is not all the PSP operators that are working. Maybe we can recall the PSP Operators and reopen Olusosun and the landfill sites should be operated properly,” Yishawu alleged at the proceeding.
Other legislators who participated in the debate had similarly toed Yishawu’s footpath and at the end, the House had summoned the Commissioner for the Environment, Mr Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti, to appear before it.
But days before the House sitting, a chieftain of the APC who has been privy to the developments had confided in Daily Trust on Sunday how the House had lined up a number of impeachable offences against the Governor and that controversy surrounding the introduction of the Visionscape is one of them.
“The plot to impeach the Governor was earlier hatched at a time it was expected that the Governor will not accept his loss of the gubernatorial primary ticket and perhaps defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any other party at the time.
“The Governor’s concessionary speech disarmed many but there were other forces who kept insisting that the Governor could no longer be trusted and that since he has shown his readiness to confront the party’s hierarchy, his sudden concession after initial contestation was just a diversionary attempt as it was clear that he has other motive which may become more manifest as the 2019 general elections draw nearer,” the party chieftain said.
The source added that the fears of those pushing for Ambode’s removal were predicated on two things. First, that the Governor, having lost out in his return bid, may choose not to fund the party as expected when the gubernatorial election draws nearer, thereby preparing the party for a disgrace in the general elections.
The second allegation against the Governor was that he may have reached out to a prominent gubernatorial candidate of an opposition party with a promise of financial support so as to give the candidate an edge during the gubernatorial contest.
“In politics, one of the golden rules is that you do not create a room for your power brokers to doubt you. The moment they can trace any act of insubordination to you, you can be sure they will come after you and do everything possible to pull you down, including using your subordinates and aides to rubbish you. That for me typifies the experience of Governor Ambode,” Raji Cardoso, a Lagos-based civil rights activist and social affairs commentator said .
Cardoso’s observation is apt in many respects. Sanwo-Olu, the Governor’s rival in the bitter contest for the party’s gubernatorial ticket and eventual candidate of the APC, was until recently, the Managing Director of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC) under Ambode. Aside Sanwo-Olu, a coterie of Commissioners, Special Advisers and other appointees who saw the turbulence signal early enough and were not prepared to go into political oblivion with the Governor suddenly went mute on their repeated campaigns for his re-election.
Of interest to many was the case of the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Kehinde Bamigbetan, who is a well known political protégé of Tinubu. A journalist of many years experience, Bamigbetan served as the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Tinubu during his second term as the Lagos State Governor between 2003 and 2007. And in what many attributed to Tinubu’s influence, Bamigbetan went on to serve as a two-term Chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA).
After Ambode’s emergence as Governor in 2015, Bamigbetan, still with Tinubu’s influence became the Special Adviser to Governor Ambode on Communities and Communication. And at the last cabinet reshuffle by the Governor in January 2018, Bamigbetan became the Commissioner for Information and Strategy. By virtue of his commissionership role, Bamigbetan was naturally co-opted into the Ambode’s re-election campaign team, coordinating its publicity and media relations.
On October 1, 2018, when hundreds of Ambode support groups mobilized in protest against what they perceived as a deliberate ploy to sideline Ambode in the gubernatorial primary scheduled for October 2, Bamigbetan was among the leading lights who assembled the protesters at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, Ojota, Lagos. But less than 24 hours after participating in the protest, Bamigbetan recorded a landslide victory for Sanwo-Olu at the gubernatorial primary conducted at his area of residence in Ejigbo on October 2.
Perhaps, the biggest shock to the Governor’s camp during the gubernatorial primary was that of Ambode’s Deputy, Dr Idiat Adebule. A lecturer at the Lagos State University, before her appointment as the Secretary to the State Government during the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola, SAN, Adebule surprised many when on the day of gubernatorial primary, she declared unalloyed support for Sanwo-Olu – her boss main challenger.
“The party has chosen a man and it is that man that I will support and follow. I have no doubt that anybody who emerges today as the candidate of the party will have my support. I have no doubt as exhibited by my people today that they are standing with the party’s position on this primary and with that position I stand.
“I stand and I choose to stay with my party at this time, my party has spoken and I have no doubt to state that on the position of the party I stand, It is a very clear election as you can see, people are voting in line with the dictates of the party. We have voted for the person who the leaders of the party have chosen. It is an overwhelming experience as you can see it and we will continue to support the party and abide by its rules,” Adebule said at Ward A and D, Iba LCDA, where she participated in the governorship primary.
Eleswhere, such open insubordination and rebellion would have had dire consequences. But observers say Ambode, with no firm grip on the political structure and having realized that any punishment on any of his aides will be interpreted as a direct attack on Tinubu, “he has no other choice but to soak in the embarrassment.”
“Who appointed the Governor, the Commissioners and other aides? Even in previous appointments. It will be a political suicide if the Governor should sack any of his aides because the person disagrees with him. He has no other choice but to soak in the embarrassment,” a former Special Adviser and APC chieftain who preferred anonymity said.
But at a time his loyalists’ camp was being depleted, Ambode received support from an unusual quarter – the Fouad Oki-led faction of the Lagos APC. Oki, earlier suspected to be working with Tinubu’s political dissidents like the party’s former Legal Adviser, Muiz Banire, SAN, was among the first to raise an alarm about possible denial of Ambode second term ticket. And of late, groups linked to him have been active on social media, mobilizing support against alleged moves by the House of Assembly to impeach the Governor.
Attempts by Daily Trust on Sunday to have Oki’s reaction proved abortive as he neither picked his call nor replied text messages sent to his phone line. However, in a previous media publication, Oki was quoted as saying that he was in tune with any effort that would make the Governor’s impeachment impossible. Earlier in the week, a group that identifies itself as Save Lagos Group (SLG), being coordinated by Adeniyi Sulaiman had threatened to picket the assembly if it carries on with the alleged impeachment moves.
“The Speaker of the House has said there is no impeachment move against the Governor. All we have had so far is the media-make up. Whatever that has so far happened is a family affair. And as a member of the family, issues are being handled,” Abiodun Salami, the Assistant Publicity Secretary, Lagos APC said.
Perhaps it was in reality of the turbulence ahead that the Governor has also been extending peaceful overtures to aggrieved forces. In fact, barely 24-hours after Speaker Obasa refuted the claims of impeachment, Governor Ambode himself used the occasion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s commissioning of the Nigeria/Benin border post at Seme to reiterate his loyalty to the party.
“I have just accompanied Mr. President to the Nigerian-Benin Border Post… But again, just to also use this opportunity to let Lagosians know that we are heavily committed to the re-election of Mr. President and you can see that his continuous visit to Lagos reiterates the fact that he is actually a lover of Lagos State and I am committed to ensuring his re-election.
“We are going to campaign heavily for him. I am also committed to ensuring that the APC wins the governorship election come 2019. We support the candidacy of Babajide Sanwo-Olu and we would make sure that APC retains Lagos State and the centre,” Governor Ambode said.
Similarly, the Governor, through the Ministry of Environment has also reached out to some of the PSP operators, seeking a new way of engagement that will make both the Visionscape and PSP operators work together. Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that about 400 PSP operators have already met with the State Government representatives in the last few days.
At the closing ceremony of the18th National Women Conference of the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO) held in Lagos, the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, a very close associate of Ambode said the Lagos State Governor has assured him that he “accepted the will of the people; he bears no grudge and has moved on”. What perhaps Bagudu did not add was whether or not, the forces against the Governor, will let him be.