Nigeria 2023: Obi and Atiku push to turn Lagos into swing state

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Nigeria 2023: The battleground states

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Wednesday, 25 January 2023 15:24
Former governor of Lagos state Bola Ahmed Tinubu (C) speaks to electoral officials before voting in governorship elections in Lagos, Nigeria. REUTERS/Joe Penney

Lagos represents the largest state in terms of votes... but historically has the lowest turnout. That is set to change as determined supporters of Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar work to build their ground game. Will Lagos Godfather Bola Tinubu weather the storm? And will the PDP's national crisis be replicated in Lagos? Part two in our series of battleground states in Nigeria.

This is part 3 of a 9-part series 

Nigeria’s commercial capital which has been overseen by former Governor Bola Tinubu directly and indirectly since 1999 is rarely thought of as a battleground state. But things are starting to change.

With seven million registered voters, Lagos has the largest voting strength in Nigeria. Ironically, it has had the lowest voter turnout in the last two Presidential elections.

“I think Lagos will be the biggest battleground in the south. I foresee violence and voter suppression,” says Professor David Aworawo, Head of the Department of History and Strategic Studies at the University of Lagos.

Melting pot blues

Although Lagos is historically a Yoruba majority state, its status as the former nation’s capital and Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan state means the state is a melting pot of cultures. Of the 20 local government areas, at least five – Surulere, Amuwo Odofin, Ojo, Oshodi/Isolo and Ajeromi/Ifelodun – have a large concentration of Igbo and Niger Delta indigenes that usually vote against the APC.

Frustrated by this development, the King of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, controversially pronounced in 2015 that all Igbo people that voted against the wishes of the Yoruba people in Lagos would drown in the lagoon.

Peter Obi, the South Eastern candidacy in which many Igbo are placing their trust, will be relying on the energy and clout of local politician Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour.

An architect by training, Rhodes-Vivou had been angling for the Deputy Governor candidacy of the PDP in Lagos. When he did not receive the call, he defected to Obi’s Labour Party.

Wike’s poison reaches Lagos

The reason Rhodes-Vivour did not get the call? The PDP crisis has split the party.

Fomented by jilted presidential hopeful Nyesom Wike who had to make way for the current PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, the crisis has spilled over into Lagos politics, too.

The former PDP national chairman, a Lagos grandee called Bode George, agrees with Wike’s position and had been promoting Rhodes-Vivour.

Wike, on visiting Lagos recently, endorsed the current APC Governor, Sanwo-Olu, an acolyte of Bola Tinubu.

Now, the PDP efforts will be spearheaded by gubernatorial candidate Abdul-Azeez Adediran, popularly known as ‘Jandor’ — who is a solid supporter of Atiku. Local groups are not yet enthused by his on-the-ground strength.

Tinubu leaves no vote unturned

Ahead of the 2023 poll, there are allegations of an attempt by the APC leadership in the state to exert its authority and dominance by suppressing votes in areas that could be planning to vote against the party. In the last two Presidential elections, the result has been very close.

In 2015, when the APC received 54.8% of the votes, the PDP got 43.8%. In 2019, the APC and the PDP polled 53.3% and 41.1% of the votes respectively.

This time around, Tinubu – the godfather of Lagos politics – will be on the ballot and is seeking to corner most of the votes.

To this end, his foot soldiers have been deployed across the state to ensure he wins by a landslide. Already, MC Oluomo, the transport union kingpin with a history of violence, has told his men in every motor park that they must ensure Tinubu wins.

Both Peter Obi and Atiku will be relying on the many inhabitants of Lagos that are not Yoruba. Votes will also come from the young and urban educated class that has not always voted for the APC.

Recently, the opposition accused the APC of colluding with some officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to frustrate the distribution of voter cards in areas where the APC is weak, an allegation that INEC is now investigating.

Pat Utomi, an Obi surrogate and professor at Lagos Business School, has spoken out at the troubles faced by Labour Party activists in the state.”Tearing up the posters of others and beating up citizens for wearing vests of other parties is far from civilised conduct and unbecoming of people who claimed to be progressives and enlightened.”

But the ruling APC is also relying on the recent arrival of a slew of infrastructure projects in the state to make a more positive argument.

The opening of both the Lekki Deepsea port and a light rail line through Lagos has shown that the government is not completely ignoring the economic capital of the nation.

The determination by the supporters of Obi and Atiku to upend the current order makes Lagos another battleground; but given the PDP’s travails, it is unlikely to swing away from the APC.

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