Lagos2019: Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Tinubu man who wants Ambode’s job

Jide Sanwo-Olu (Photo Credit: PageOne)
Jide Sanwo-Olu (Photo Credit: PageOne)

A picture is worth a thousand words is a hackneyed phrase. Some people hate clichés because they are boring and devoid of the excitement that uncertainties bring. But there is nothing that describes the internal power struggle within the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos better than the above cliché.

On Tuesday news broke that a three-time commissioner in Lagos and the boss of the Lagos State Property Development Corporation, LSDPC, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has obtained the governorship nomination form signifying he was willing to take over the job of incumbent, Akinwunmi Ambode, who had announced his intention to seek re-election 24 hours earlier.

Immediately after Mr Sanwo-Olu’s announcement, there was a frenzy in the media. Several analysts claimed the de facto political godfather of the state, Bola Tinubu, has decided to do away with Mr Ambode, after battling hard to enthrone him less than four years ago.

Like it is often the case, many of the reports were laced with rumours, and quotes from all-knowing anonymous sources who swore they were at the meetings where Mr Ambode’s fate was sealed. Despite the general election being five months away, some of the sources proudly announced Mr Sanwo-Olu as Mr Ambode’s successor, as a matter of fact.

Perhaps the anonymous commentators would not have spoken with much confidence, if they had not seen one of the pictures that accompanied the news of Mr Sanwo-Olu’s declaration to take over the job of his boss.

In the particular picture, Mr Sanwo-Olu is seen holding the party’s governorship nomination form and was flanked by three other men. Among the men was James Odunmbaku, popularly known as Baba Eto. Mr Odunmbaku, a septuagenarian and former deputy leader of the APC in the state, is commonly known as the right-hand man of Mr Tinubu.

Mr Odunmbaku often speaks the voice of Mr Tinubu when the latter is not talking and his appearance in the photo was interpreted by many as the godfather’s endorsement of Mr Sanwo-Olu candidacy.

Interestingly, four years ago, it was Mr Odunmbaku, who first declared support for Mr Ambode, before Mr Tinubu did so publicly, weeks later. Apparently, the same strategy is being repeated.

Mr Sanwo-Olu’s name may not ring loud among Lagosians outside politics but he has been a longtime protégé of Mr Tinubu.

The 53-year-old took his political baby steps as an aide to Mr Tinubu’s deputy, Femi Pedro, during Mr Tinubu’s first term as governor. He was later appointed Mr Tinubu’s special adviser on corporate matters before being named the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry. He has since held down two other cabinet positions in the state – Commissioner for Budget and Planning and Commissioner for Establishments and Training.

But before politics he has cut his teeth in the corporate world. Between 1994 and 1997, he worked at the defunct Lead Merchant Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa, where he was the head, foreign money market and First Inland Bank, Plc (now First City Monument Bank).

He left banking and moved into the construction and property development sector where he worked with Baywatch Group Limited and First Class Group Limited.

Mr Sanwo-Olu holds degrees from the University of Lagos. The London Business School and the Lagos Business School.

Downplaying the role of Mr Tinubu in his quest for what would be a historic feat of defeating an incumbent governor at the primary stage of the election, Mr Sanwo-Olu believed he has what it takes to emerge victorious.

On Wednesday, in Abuja, where he had gone to submit his nomination and expression of interest form at his party’s national secretariat, he played up his credential as being worthy enough to upset the apple cart.

“Why am I in the race? I’m sure I am 53 years old but more importantly, in the last almost 30 years, I had spent 16 years out of it in the private sector and 11 in the public service. Of course, I have been three-time commissioner. I have been two-time special adviser, I have been director in the biggest corporations in the state. I have served over three governors,” he told reporters.

“So, I have wide range of experience and I have a dream to obviously contribute a lot more. As a Lagosian and ‘son of the soil’, I will just be able to let our people get to where they know that governance is all about people, it is about what we expect, it is about what will go back to them, improve the course of life, course of security and there are lot of other things we are going to be rolling out.

“But why especially is to give my number of years’ experience, the pedigree from the private sector and from the public sector. I think it is appropriate for me now when people of not-too-young are with us and put that aspiration in place,” he added.

But in Lagos, professional and political credentials are not often enough. At least, since 2007, Mr Tinubu’s blessing has proven to be the most important factor in choosing the governorship candidate of the APC who then becomes the governor.


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