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Former Lagos governor Ambode feels the wrath of the kingmaker

By Eromo Egbejule
Posted on Thursday, 29 August 2019 18:05

Lagos governor Akinwuni Ambode visits the site of a collapsed building in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, Nigeria 13 March 2019. REUTERS/Alexis Akwagyiram

In the space of six months, Akinwunmi Ambode has gone from being governor of Nigeria's most thriving state economy to being hunted down by the country's anti-corruption commission.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) searched Ambode’s two houses in Lagos on 20 August as part of on-going investigations into N9.9bn ($27.3m) discovered in three bank accounts linked to him.

  • On 6 August A Lagos court granted an ex parte application to freeze the accounts in the course of the investigations.
  • Despite having lost the support of his political godfather, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State clearly has not lost the support of his grassroots constituency – yet. According to social media videos, a group of supporters in his Epe hometown heckled the EFCC operatives until they left.
  • The EFCC has since claimed that its visit was part of investigations and not a raid, as many newspapers described it.

Fear of Tinubu is the beginning of wisdom

Ambode’s spectacular fall from grace came after falling out of the good graces of Bola Tinubu, the perennial kingmaker of Lagos politics and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC). And, as any resident of Lagos knows, fear of Tinubu, who the Financial Times once compared to Machiavelli and Svengali, is the beginning of wisdom.

  • The APC leader has anointed the last three governors of the state since serving two terms from 1999-2007. He is used to getting his way in the state.
  • Ahead of the primaries for the 2019 governorship elections, he refused to back Ambode for a second term, preferring to yank his machinery out from under the incumbent and back a greenhorn, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
  • Sanwo-Olu, a loyal member of the machinery since 1999, went on to beat Ambode and then take the main elections. Except in the case of an unlikely reversal of fortune, he is expected to retain his seat for the 2023 polls.

Ahead of the primaries, Ambode addressed a press conference revealing dirt about his successor, a move that showed he preferred to fight till the end. It was a limp move that had no impact and, soon enough, the ex-governor swallowed his pride and joined his party’s campaign trail.

It was rumoured in some quarters that Ambode would get a ministerial nod in the manner of his successor Babatunde Fashola, who also fell out with Tinubu, but less dramatically. However, Fashola retained his portfolio in the works and housing ministry, proving Tinubu’s sustained might on the national scene and signalling the beginning of the end for Ambode.

Ambode’s EFCC woes began weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari announced the new cabinet in July 2019, and just as he was settling down into a quiet life after the perks of public life and immunity.

Why this is important: Tinubu has ruled Lagos with a strong hand since 1999, outmuscling opposition from serving presidents and disgruntled protégés, most of whom have now returned full circle to lap up crumbs falling off the folds of his flowing agbada.

The bottom line: The lesson to Ambode is proof of Tinubu’s steady influence. Unless the underdog is somehow saved or manages to pull off an unlikely upset with a masterful expose of the sleaze and secrets of the Tinubu empire, his lonely roll down the slope of disgrace, seems settled.

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