Babatunde-Fashola

The recent attacks against BRF by various groups have elicited both sympathy and scorn from Nigerians. Some have said that the attacks were baseless and only designed to disenfranchise him from consideration as a top aide of President Muhammadu Buhari. Others have insisted that the attacks had merit as BRF had skeletons in his closet and might have questions to answer.

The immediate past governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) is not your average ‘Joe’. The gangly 52-year old lawyer with a steely mien was governor for eight years and received critical acclaim for his performance while in office.

However, recently that acclaim has begun to unravel in a most profound way.

Fashola did not become governor strictly on the merit of any performance in the public sector, because he only served for a few years as Chief of Staff to former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He was thereafter practically installed as Governor by his boss, who blew away a crowded field of aspirants on his behalf. So deep was the angst of the other aspirants like Hakeem Gbajabiamila, Aro Lambo, Jimi Agbaje, etc. that many were sure that the PDP would cash in and the destroy the Action Congress (AC) in Lagos. That did not happen and the AC in Lagos under the leadership of Tinubu went from strength to strength until it first morphed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and then the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the rest is history.

Fashola’s reputation continued to grow under the cover of Tinubu’s protection and political statecraft but the strain of an errant protégé was beginning to unravel culminating in the “True Face of Lagos” saga that tested Fashola’s real ambition to supplant his mentor. Eventually, Fashola got a second term ticket and won convincingly, crushing the PDP in what remains one of its most humiliating defeats in history.

In his second term BRF, as he is popularly called, felt it was time for him to make a clear stake for his mentor’s political empire. Egged on by some young turks and sheer hubris, he began his onslaught against the Jagaban Borgu’s political structure. With the weight of his office as Governor, he began to chip away at Tinubu’s political structure in a most insidious way. In the process of this assault, he began to alienate the AC/APC political base and wittingly/unwittingly created an inroad for a resurgent PDP under the leadership of the deadly trio of Bode George, Musliu Obanikoro and Seye Ogunlewe.

During the APC’s first convention in Abuja, it was rumoured that Fashola, with the help of some South-West renegades, attempted to supplant Tinubu’s choices for the national party positions. However, he apparently lost out in that naive maneuver cementing his reputation as a “baby” politician without the deft political touch of his mentor.

The pig and the port

Fashola has the gift of the garb and used it to cement his reputation as a performer in Lagos and Nigeria. He speaks ex-tempore in Yoruba and English in such a manner that you are usually swayed by his logic and message. He deployed the gift effectively for his party – the APC during the recent 2015 elections. He was a serious thorn in the flesh of the PDP and President Jonathan as people listened and believed when he spoke. He was thus seen as one of the promoters of Akinwunmi Ambode for governor of Lagos State.

However, the truth is that BRF did not get there willingly.

First, his body language suggested that he did not support his party’s choice to give the governorship slot to a Christian from the Lagos East senatorial zone.

He was reported to have preferred Obafemi Hamzat, his Commissioner for Works, who is the son of Olatunji Hamzat, a powerful APC Chieftain and a traditional ruler in Ogun State. He was in fact seen as one of the frontrunners for the governorship slot until he committed political hara-kiri by granting an interview to the Nigerian Tribune newspaper where he stated that Tinubu only had “one vote”.

BRF, however, repeatedly denied supporting any aspirant, instead he was heard to say that he supported a healthy contest, as it would strengthen the party and democracy while generating excitement and activity for the electorate.

However, one clear thing was that Akinwunmi Ambode was not his favoured candidate and some say he was entitled to that choice against the apparent preference of Asiwaju. After all, he was a governor for eight years who was entitled to anointing his successor, just like his predecessor had done. He refused to be cowed by the various entreaties of his mentor to adopt the Ambode project, instead he chose to deploy his considerable financial arsenal behind his “real candidate”, Supo Shasore, his former Attorney General and friend who he had propped up with juicy appointments. The line was drawn for an epic battle that was to take place at the battlefield venue of the primaries called Onikan Stadium.

Arrayed on one side was Asiwaju, and his vast network of loyal field soldiers and captains, and on the other side was his political son BRF and some young turks and an imaginary army bent on confronting and defeating the party leader.

The result was predictable. BRF was crushed in a most heinous way by a political machine that had been honed and tested over time. Ambode scored 3,735 votes and Supo Shasore scored 121 votes. Long before the final counting had started, Shasore slunk out of the stadium with an air of defeat swirling around him.

BRF apparently sensing that the game was up reluctantly signed-up and began to deploy his support for Akinwunmi Ambode’s quest to be governor. However, there were still unfounded rumours of him hobnobbing with the enemies to snooker his mentor. It was rumoured that he was even plotting an unholy alliance with the opposition to give a last minute checkmate to Asiwaju’s machine. This was however dismissed by political watchers as unlikely given that Lagos PDP was too desperate and would likely renege on any sinister plot no matter how profitable.

On April 11, 2015 history was made and Akinwunmi Ambode, a civil servant with 27 years experience in the local and state government administration was elected governor of Lagos State.

Let’s get piggy

People love the underdog or should I say the “underpig”? The recent attacks against BRF by various groups have elicited both sympathy and scorn from Nigerians. Some have said that the attacks were baseless and only designed to disenfranchise him from consideration as a top aide of President Muhammadu Buhari. Others have insisted that the attacks had merit as BRF had skeletons in his closet and might have questions to answer.

BRF was clearly irritated by those attacks and issued his now infamous press statement castigating the “dirty wrestling pigs” and “mud merchants”. Rather than silence the attacks, it invigorated a legion of enemies who opened up a fully volley of attacks on him. The mud began to fly and the APC faithful even chose to stay away from his recent book launch to avoid being stained. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode apparently chose to ignore the unfounded whispers that he and Asiwaju were behind the attacks against BRF. Instead, he concentrated on fulfilling the promises he made to Lagosians but apparently still did BRF a favour by yanking the revealing procurement website that BRF himself had created in his avowed quest for transparency before he left office. Tinubu followed suit with a terse statement condemning the attacks on BRF and warned the mud merchants to leave his political son alone. He blamed the opposition PDP for being behind the attacks.

The Lagos APC also followed with a tacit support statement for the former governor.

That timely statement from Tinubu appeared to have doused the raging attacks and also served to checkmate serial mud merchants like Femi Fani-Kayode and Gani Adams who were attempting to cash in on the controversy.

It would appear BRF himself has learnt his lesson and steered clear from making any controversial statements recently. Hopefully, unfolding events will show that old animosities have now been forgiven and possibly forgotten.

I think it’s time to bury the “dirty pig” and wash our “muddy hands” so that BRF can begin to enjoy a brighter rewarding future.

But time will tell whether he truly deserves that rewarding future.

Halima Atobatele, a social affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos Island.