Before the 25 February presidential and National Assembly elections, the consensus of Lagosians was that Baba Jide Sanwo-Olu, the incumbent governor of Lagos, will be the shoo-in winner of the governorship election.
This generally held view of Lagosians was not without reasons. Familiarity leads to comfort. Mr Sanwo-Olu rowed the boat of the state without rocking it in any significant manner. Humans are wary of the unknown. The governor is the latest CEO of a political hegemony, wrought by the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, which has governed Lagos since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
Lagos is one of the better-run states in the country, so why change its leadership, some have argued?
Though many people would also say that the Tinubu hegemony has not been able to solve some of the challenges faced by a mega-city the size of Lagos. Despite the state’s financial muscle as the commercial capital of the country, it has under-delivered in traffic management, flood control, and the provision of potable water, just to name a few.
But the primary reason many thought Mr Sanwo-Olu would be re-elected easily was the strength of the opposition. Hammered by repeated defeats at the poll, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) now suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome following its unsuccessful attempts to excite the majority of voters in Lagos. At least in the last three elections, the party seemed to have surrendered the election to the ruling APC even before the contest. So, many, even if they are not particularly chuffed by Mr Sanwo-Olu, shrugged their shoulders and accepted his re-election as a done deal.
Though to be fair to the PDP, its governorship candidate, Abdul-Azeez Adediran, popularly called Jandor, put up a spirited campaign early in the race. In fact, at some points, he was more visible than any other contestant in the race.
Despite Mr Adediran’s earlier energetic campaign, however, he was generally not considered a threat to the governor’s re-election. Mr Sanwo-Olu was so relaxed that he paid more attention to the election of his political godfather, Mr Tinubu, than campaigning for his own re-election.
The campaign of the candidate of the Labour Party, at this point, was without lustre. Despite the growing popularity of the party’s presidential candidate among young Lagosians, the campaign of its governorship candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, was missing like a pin in the sand on a beach. If the APC did not consider Jandor a threat, Mr Rhodes-Vivour didn’t even exist in their reckoning.
Then the 25 February election happened.
Against the prediction of many analysts, Labour Party won the presidential election in Lagos. This was not the first time an opposition party would win the presidential election in the state. However, the other times the opposition – the PDP – won the election, there was often little or nothing at stake for Mr Tinubu’s political hegemony. In fact, during the 2011 election, it was widely believed that he reached a deal with then-President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP won with a landslide.
But this time, the political godfather of the Lagos hegemony was on the ballot and the ruling elite in the city thought it was impossible for the ruling party to lose the state. They thought wrong.
The result also catapulted the profile of Mr Rhodes-Vivour from the third favourite candidate to the main contender for Mr Sanwo-Olu’s job.
After Labour Party’s narrow win on 25 February, the ruling party in Lagos was slapped out of their complacency. The governor has since started the campaign in a manner Lagosians have not seen him do previously. But will that be enough? What are the factors that may determine how Lagosians will vote on Saturday?
Ethnicity, voter suppression and intimidation
After the presidential election, elements of the ruling party ethnicised their campaign, with perhaps the hope of spurring more ethnically Yoruba voters to vote for Mr Sanwo-Olu. Though the LP candidate is a Yoruba whose father is originally from Lagos, the APC questioned his ethnicity because his mother is Igbo and he is married to an Igbo. He was also questioned for his inability to speak Yoruba. APC supporters also ran with the narrative of an Igbo takeover of Lagos. The head of the Lagos park services, Musiliu Akinsanya, also known as MC Oluomo, was seen in a video threatening Igbo voters to stay away from polling units if they are not going to vote for the candidates of the ruling party in the House of Assembly and governorship elections.
In fact, after the presidential election, there were flashes of disturbances after reported attacks on Igbo in parts of Lagos Island. The governor and other leading APC members had to issue statements to douse the tension.
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If the ethnic Yoruba voters are mustered enough to come out to vote for these reasons, and if Igbos and other non-Yorubas from Southern Nigeria, are sufficiently intimidated to stay at home, then the incumbent should win the election.
Traditionally, Lagosians show little interest in how they are governed and the process of electing their representatives. Voter turnout in the city is traditionally below the national average. But the EndSAR protests and the Obedient movement, which was birthed out of it, have given birth to a generation of politically conscious youths and this group if sufficiently convinced to come out to vote could be the albatross of the ruling party.
Obidient and the Obi factor
It is clear that the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, has endeared himself to young voters in the city. The result of the presidential election in the state makes that obvious. If the Labour Party can excite this group enough to come out on Saturday, the party may just be able to pull another surprise on Saturday.
But Mr Rhodes-Vivour lacks the charisma of Mr Obi and a lot of those who voted for Mr Obi on 25 February will stay away on Saturday. If a large chunk of those who voted for Mr Obi stay away on Saturday, the ruling party will definitely prevail.
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