As the storm gathers in the days leading to the 2023 elections in Lagos State, Freelanews takes on a meteorological lens to view the direction of the storm. One man who has earned the record of being a Storm Rider is the 15th Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, a man now fondly referred to as Mr. Sellable for possessing high street credibility and enjoying the warm political embrace by his party. We went to town with our lens on, it would seem the horizon is clear for Sanwo-Olu’s bird of ambition to fly. Barring any last minute head wind, Freelanews’ findings suggest the sky looks good.
Lagos State has often been described as lucky by most political analysts from every part of the nation.
Consistent with its slogan “The Centre of Excellence”, the state has enjoyed excellent leadership over the years. From the legendary Baba Jakande to the millennial governors, high performance is a norm, much so that every new administration has been burdened with the need to fit into the big shoes of their predecessors. Whereas few roads, bridges, school and hospital buildings here and there would cut as exceptional leadership in other states and earn you a godfather status, in Lagos, it may still cost you your seat if quality, continuity and dream-concierge doesn’t file along.
This entrenched culture of excellent performance over the years has built the politics of the state. Beyond orientating it towards the people, it has deconstructed every aspect of its make-up into a performance checklist for appraising a leader for future relevance, starting with a second-term ticket. It goes that beyond endearing the people with laudable projects, your performance must align with the interests of robust political structures, often constituted by proven politicians and private sector juggernauts alike. There is also a figurative big picture of Lagos that most Lagosians hold up to sight whenever it comes to judging a governor’s performance. As it turns out, Lagos being the most populated cosmopolitan city in Africa is home to the very best of us – dreamers, hustlers, hard workers, self-achievers, builders, leaders, travelers and inquirers. Therefore, nothing runs aloof without a prying public eye and political participation of majority of the people either through the ballot or through their wallets!
Lagos politics is made up of four players – The Passive Deciders (business men with deep pocket who are not active politicians but fund promoters of their interests), The Active Deciders (career politicians with strong grassroots support), Active Promoters (card-carrying members who do the political legwork) and the Passive Promoters (non-partisan citizens who horn support for their candidates within their circles of influence). There is practically no silent inactive resident in Lagos, everyone is involved one way or the other.
The strong political structures (the king makers) are made up of The Passive Deciders and the Active Deciders. This set anoints the candidacy of aspiring Lagos governorship aspirants in small group meetings. Their decision is then handed down to Active Promoters, who go on to ensure the candidate’s victory at the polls. The success of the first three categories is still very dependent on how they manage the conviction of the Passive Promoters. The Last Mile Tools for winning the support of majority of this last group are selective consultation with influencers, branding, political and marketing communications and a dose of propaganda. In the build up to elections, you will see these weapons deployed in full capacity.
History has it that after the half-term mark for a siting Lagos governor, their political future gets a blank canvass and a checklist is drawn up. Since performance is a common decimal, the process and style become the focal considerations; are the Passive Deciders happy? What about the Active Deciders? Once these two groups are game, the system will determine the scheme for aligning the Active and the Passive Promoters. In the case of an ex-governor, his results from this set was an overwhelming disapproval, it therefore wasn’t shocking that there was a sharp turn of events from support to attacks after an overwhelming acceptance of his declaration in September 11, 2018 by notable party stalwart. The political structures quickly activated the Last Mile Tools against him. For a governor who had recorded high level of infrastructural development, his message of solicitations was lost among the amplified narrative that he botched the Lagos Master Plan!
Babajide Sanwo-Olu is past the half-mark with 2023 just around the corner and Lagosians are watching with keen interest for what his political fate holds. Are we headed for a repeat of 2019 or has the astute banker deposited enough into the expectation accounts of the Lagos Political Four? So, before the Last Mile Tools are activated, either for or against his possible bid for a second term ticket, Freelanews takes a look at his administration’s efforts at realising his dream for Lagos while sailing the stormy waters of Lagos politics.
Empathy, communications and association with the people
Until he became governor and the people got the chance of experiencing the person of Sanwo-Olu, he was only defined by the words of the political class, mostly his party chieftains. And that reputation was purely ambiguous. A set extolled his virtues and capabilities, but the other painted the picture of a junky, gutless errand boy that the cabal wanted to force on the people. Many Lagosians were apprehensive of him and what would become the experience of Lagos for the next four years. If there is any litmus test Sanwo-Olu has passed, it is the sanity check! In fact, the governor, through his frequent association with the masses, has demonstrated high level emotional intelligence, power of articulation and depth of understanding. Give it to Sanwo-Olu, he has never struck as clueless or classless. Even though he has exposed himself to a lot of public inquisition, Sanwo-Olu always provided robust responses, demonstrating a deep understanding of the economy, governance, the people’s expectations and desires.
This is something Lagosians would want to continue to enjoy.
The public has come to relate with a man they fondly call Mr. Sellable, as as a listening leader. His quarterly briefings, active use of the social media for both feedback and orientation, the several town halls and livestreamed Lagos events, prompt responses to concerns and requests of random citizens have taken away the elitist image the people have of the office of the governor of Lagos state.
The EndSARS protest was a major show of the stuff Sanwo-Olu is made of.
Despite the political turmoil, he went all out to associate with the youth, managed the fallouts and followed through with his promise to offer his shoulders, through prompt visits to victims on their hospital beds, settling bills, constituting the first and perhaps the only genuine panel of inquiry, etc.
It was a tough call for those who understands the inner workings of federal and state politics, but the conscientious governor never faltered nor fail.
Planning and strategy
When Sanwo-Olu filtered into the polity in the build up to the Lagos Gubernatorial Election of 2019, Tayo Ayinde and a few other party stalwarts that were the first to speak about him emphasized his excellent planning and strategic thinking abilities. He was accredited for a lot of excellent policies that boosted the state’s IGR and the brilliant Lagos Security Trust Fund that solved the funding problem and elevated the security operations and apparatus of the state. It was also noted that he led the publication of the Lagos State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (LASEEDS). Well, over two years down the line, he has proven his prowess.
Take for instance, the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund. Within the last two years of this administration, this organisation had greatly impacted the economy and social security of the state. It is a strategic way of addressing unemployment, women and youth empowerment and insecurity. Over 11,000 businesses have been funded to the tune of 7billion, over 5,400 have been trained and placed in jobs, workspaces insured for startup businesses in tech, created 97,000 jobs and added 47,000 new tax payers.
Administration and continuity
Babajide Sanwo-Olu has no doubt fulfilled one of his campaign promises by fully filling his cabinet and setting up the structure to immediately run this progress agenda within the first few weeks in office. He quickly restored the Lagos waste management system and the mounting trash vanished across the state. He resuscitated the Lagos State Public Works Corporation, invested in equipment and allocated required funds. Within the last two years, thousands of Lagos roads have been restored, upgraded and under construction by this state-owned company at the expense of greedy contractors.
Despite the corrosive campaign experience with his predecessor, Sanwo-Olu spent the first two years of his term completing his numerous projects, according him full credit and not minding the public backslash that would follow. To him, every good Lagos dream deserves to be realised regardless of the name tag on it. That is the character of the man Lagosians would want to keep.
The biggest problem any government around the world has faced in the last 100 years is the COVID-19 pandemic. How it was handled has caused several world leaders to lose their seats. From presidents to governors, to even city mayors, COVID-19 pandemic management was all the people needed to judge them. If that is what the administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu would be evaluated by, he will eternally remain relevant in the Nigerian political sphere; he did excellently well!
Recently, the Word Health Organization rated Nigeria 4th in the world in handling of the pandemic. Without equivocation, that credit almost completely goes to Babajide Sanwo-Olu . We all know Lagos is the heart of the nation as over 12% of the nation reside in Lagos. More so, it is Nigeria’s number one gateway to the world and its inhabitants are the most traveled and tightly settled. If Lagos had gotten it wrong, the entire country would have been in a total mess.
The initial projections for Lagos by world health authorities was several millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths. But it came at a wrong time, when an astute strategic planner who understands crisis management is at the helms of affairs.
First, Governor Sanwo-Olu was the Incident Commander who put himself at the frontline of the the fight against the pandemic. He also practically commanded the implementation of a well-articulated stemming plan. His government was the first to swing into action and locked down the state. He activated all the state apparatus – media, security, public health, emergency management, etc. He worked with the private sector to pull together resources and encourage the acceptance of the lockdown protocol. His years of experience in the private sector came handy and he quickly worked with major players to set up isolation centres. The government within few weeks upgraded facilities to create Infectious Disease Centres, helped with logistical problems of health workers and enforced movement restrictions across the state. He quickly mobilised the equipping of all government buildings, including thousands of Lagos schools with prevention and testing facilities.
The education ministry partnered state media companies to air educational materials, to make up for educational losses caused by the lockdown and all primary and secondary students benefited.
Most importantly, his perspicacity in the formation of his cabinet came to positive light in the face of the pandemic, when his choice of the commissioner for health became pivotal to the fight; a professor who intelligently and actively managed the pandemic and turned down the hand of the curve. Prof. Akin Abayomi, who recently got an award as the most responsive COVID-19 State Government of the Year at the Nigerian Healthcare Excellence Award 2021, was just a timely round peg in round hole. The perfection of this administration at this time saved thousands of lives and possible economic collapse that shocked even the developed nations of the world and global public health experts.
Sanwo-Olu has impacted all major areas of development that will be too voluminous to list – built and upgraded over 1,071 schools, launched the Lagos Health Insurance Scheme (costs only N40,000 a year for a family to get from primary to tertiary health care), completed several housing projects, fixed traffic bottlenecks, added hundreds of public buses, etc. How Sanwo-Olu raised the finances for the Lagos Redline Rail project in the midst of a pandemic and economic slow down has been a wonder to the book makers and economists. Again, he is forging ahead with gusto to commence work on the 4th Mainland Bridge. These are some of the projects Sanwo-Olu fittingly described in his State of the State Address titled, “Glimpse of a Greater Lagos” in the month of May.
But when it comes to taking another shot at the Lagos House, the political blocks will commence the anointing process per their own judgement.
To polity watchers like Freelanews, we do not expect any shocking upturn on his path to securing four more years for him to implement some of the plans that COVID-19 and the other disruptions might have hindered. Some recent media reports and analysts are predicting that Dr. Obafemi Hamzat may be stringing up key political ropes to snatch the party’s ticket come 2023, but students of history know that if Asiwaju is good at reading anything, he is good at reading the direction of the tides. Today, the tides are in favour of Sanwo-Olu by all parameters. Besides, the relationship between Sanwo-Olu and his deputy is an exemplary working example for other state governors to study.
According to a chieftain of the APC, who would rather remain anonymous, the deputy governor is always a party to all critical decisions in government. He enjoys the governor’s absolute confidence. He described any insinuation of a division between them as a beer parlour conversation that does not mirror the reality on ground by any inch.
Even the suggestion that Tayo Ayinde may be plotting to unseat is Boss has also been dismissed as untrue by forces within the APC. But we also understand that the former security aide to Tinubu is a man of profound intelligence having spent many years with the State Security Services, and would store away any ambition that can further destabilise the state’s party structure in a build-up to an all-important 2023 presidential election that is expected to reward the party’s national leader, after about 20 years of building and investing into what is now the ruling party. “Take it from me, Asiwaju needs stability in his home base to realise his own Presidential ambition. He is too smart a politician to instigate a political insurrection at home and go to a national war to win the Presidential crown”, a chieftain of the party stated confidently.
Freelanews believes that as Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu battles his presidential ambition, he has placed his political machinery in the able hands of Babajide Sanwo-Olu who is oiling it well.
While trying not to give life to a ridiculous story being circulated in the media against the governor, a dig revealed that it was actually planted by a prominent member of the National Assembly who recently lost out in the just conducted local government council elections in the state. He was said to have sponsored the story for two reasons; to create an atmosphere of distrust within Sanwo-Olu’s cabinet and Asiwaju’s political enclave. Secondly, the said member of the National Assembly is said to have been complaining that he does not have the desired access to the governor and the needful business patronage he needs to raise funds for the governorship ambition in his home state.
A source in the know hinted that the governor’s disposition towards him may not be unconnected with the way he turned against former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode at the last minute despite taking contracts running into millions of naira.
The wise, they say, count the cost before building. For 2023, the wisdom remains energy conserved in-house is critical for a lift-off to Aso Rock, given that the North is ever united.
If Babajide Sanwo-Olu shows interest in a second term, maybe he should be allowed based on his current performance rating and popularity with the people while the party pull out all its arsenal in the battle for a Tinubu presidency.
Time, they say, will tell!