The Curious Case of Musiliu Obanikoro vs Bode George
Much of the rhetoric from Musiliu Obanikoro’s camp before the governorship primaries, was an end to godfatherism in Lagos state. The former Minister of State for Defence said Lagos needed to be delivered from the ‘bondage’ of Bola Tinubu, who was governor from 1999 to 2007, and who put forward his protégé, Babatunde Fashola, to succeed him.
This was clearly designed to tap into the feeling of discontent, to the extent it exists, about Tinubu’s continued interest in and influence over events in the state. It was central to the Obanikoro message, and he was already running a governorship campaign.
However, it is now clear that he was concerned about the wrong godfather. Since defecting to the PDP from the AD in 2004, Olabode George has been his nemesis, and this shows no signs of changing. The result is a Lagos PDP that has moved from one crisis to another over the last decade, torn between two camps, and looks less likely than ever to give the APC a run for its money.
Lagos is one of few states that has never been in the control of Nigeria’s ruling party at any stage since 1999. It is therefore ironic that just as it seems the opposition movement to the PDP at national level is gaining ominous momentum, the PDP’s own attempts to win Nigeria’s most prosperous state are in utter disarray.
The immediate cause of this latest crisis is the governorship primary conducted on December 8th. Musiliu Obanikoro lost to Jimi Agbaje, the candidate backed by Bode George, in very controversial circumstances. Only 806 delegates were accredited and 848 ballot papers issued, but the votes cast somehow came to 863. Even though the margin of Agbaje’s victory is more than the 57-vote discrepancy, it has fuelled a sense of injustice in the Obanikoro camp, who have resorted to smearing Jimi Agbaje all over the city, relentlessly linking him to Bode George.
A court ruling issued yesterday has also stopped Agbaje from parading himself as the governorship candidate of the PDP, and a fresh primary may have to be conducted, even though the deadline for submission of the list of candidates contesting for various offices, ends today, December 18th.
This has echoes of the Lagos PDP governorship primaries in 2007. In that contest, Obanikoro was up against Hilda Williams, the widow of Funsho Williams, who was killed in July 2006. He was the projected flagbearer of the PDP, and his death caused shockwaves. Bode George backed Hilda, and she won the primaries. However, Obanikoro protested that it was rigged, and got the ticket. As it happened, he won the battle but lost the war. Many supporters of the late Funsho Williams and his wife moved to the AC, and he lost to Fashola by a wide margin, with Obanikoro alleging that Bode George worked against his candidacy.
After the 2007 elections, as Tinubu tightened his grip on Lagos, the bickering continued in the PDP camp, as they were reduced to quarrelling over federal appointments, deepening the rifts between both camps. The Bode George camp produced the governorship candidate for 2011, Ade Dosunmu, but he hardly stood a chance against a rampant Fashola who was at the height of his popularity.
With his time as Ambassador to Ghana having come to an end, Obanikoro returned as Minister of State for Defence and began to flex muscles once more, but he still had to contend with Bode George, now out of jail after serving time at KiriKiri prisons for contract inflation while with the Nigerian Ports Authority. Even in jail, George exerted enormous influence over Lagos PDP, and if Obanikoro underestimated him for whatever reason, he must have been in for quite a surprise.
The sum total of the foregoing is that the chances for the PDP in Lagos look bleak for yet another election cycle. Whichever camp comes out on top, the support from the other camp is likely to be tepid at best.
Whether or not these cracks can be mended sufficiently in the coming weeks is anyone’s guess, but at this moment, the political firmament in Lagos PDP appears too small to accommodate both men. This is a situation that will please the APC.