The absence of former governors Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State at the commissioning of major projects by incumbent Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on Wednesday has continued to generate concerns among party stalwarts and political watchers.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday joined Mr Ambode to commission the projects in Lagos. They included the reconstructed Lagos International Airport, Oshodi Transport Interchange, 820 mass transit buses, ultramodern 170-bed Obstetrics and Gynaecology Specialist Hospital, in Lagos.
The projects, analysts said, are considered strategic to the legacies of Mr Ambode as he prepares to handover power to the governor-elect, Babajide Sanwo-olu, on May 29.
Although numerous government officials and party faithful atended the ceremony, the two prominent personalities in the politics of the state were conspicuously absent.
Mr Tinubu governed the state for eight years between 1999 and 2007 while Mr Fashola suceeded him and governed for another eight years between 2007 until 2015.
While Mr Tinubu is the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and a powerful force in the state chapter of the party, Mr Fashola is the minister in charge of Works, Power and Housing.
A sweet-sour relationship
Although all parties have tried to mend fences and reconcile after numerous interventions from party stalwarts, the relationship between Messrs Fashola, Tinubu and Ambode has largely been defined by suspicion and disagreements since the incumbent governor came to power. The disaffection reached its crescendo in the days leading to the last guber primaries of the party in the state.
While Mr Tinubu dumped Mr Ambode and supported Mr Sanwo-Olu as the party’s flagbearer, Mr Fashola’s choice of candidate was largely hidden even though party insiders said he was also not in support of Mr Ambode’s candidature.
Mr Fashola’s disagreement with Mr Ambode, however, began long before the party primaries. The duo had a disagreement shortly after Mr Ambode assumed power in 2015 and it took the intervention of party chiefs to address the concern. Over the years, they have also disagreed on execution of key projects in the state.
With Mr Sanwo-Olu’s emergence as APC flagbearer and his eventual victory at the polls, Mr Ambode had to eat the humble pie and dance to the tune of the party and its power brokers, including Mr Tinubu’s Mandate group, led by James Odumbaku. The group had stood against Mr Ambode’s candidature in the days leading to the party primaries, ostensibly with the support of Mr Tinubu.
Since the last election, sources within the party said Mr Ambode has had to play safe in his relationship with the power brokers, maintaining silence even in cases where he had contrary opinions about how things should be done. Earlier, he had survived impeachment threats from the House of Assembly following the intervention of party bigwigs, including Mr Tinubu.
The impeachment threat followed his inability to present the state budget before the House at scheduled periods.
Last Wednesday, Mr Buhari visited Lagos to commision some of the projects executed by Mr Ambode. While a number of party supporters eulogised the governor for birthing and completing a number of those projects, many Nigerians across social media pilloried the governor for commissioning some of the projects while they were yet to be completed.
For instance, commuters who ply the Oshodi axis said the Oshodi Transport Interchange and a section of the Airport Road were still being worked upon after the president commisioned it on Wednesday.
“I wonder why Ambode was in a rush to invite Mr President to commission uncompleted project, could it be he wants to score cheap point in anticipation of a political appointment in the incoming cabinet and why was Tinubu absent at the event?” Ikechukwu Umeokafor wrote on Twitter.
On his part, another social media commentator, David Dike, said: “Why would Tinubu tell Ambode not to inaugurate his own projects but leave for the incoming government to complete and launch? What did he really do wrong? They should cut him some slack jor.”
But closely related to the concerns raised over the state of the projects is the composition of people present at the event.
Present at the commisioning were Governors Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State; Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo state; Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state; Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state, among other party bigwigs.
Mr Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Obafemi Hamzat, were also visibly present.
But Messrs Tinubu and Fashola’s absence has triggered concerns among political watchers, raising question on the means by which the projects were commisioned.
Tunde Rahman, Mr Tinubu’s Spokesperson, had on Thursday said that the APC leader was absent at the event because he was out of the country.
“Tinubu missed the event, because he is currently out of the country,” Mr Rahman told Daily Independent in an interview. “Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is not in town. He is currently out of the country. That was why he was not present at the occasion, not otherwise.”
But party insiders alleged that Mr Tinubu’s absence at the event must have stemmed from a disagreement over Mr Ambode’s decision to commision the projects before leaving office, which Mr Tinubu was not favourably disposed to. PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify this claim as efforts to reach the governor’s media aide were unsuccessful Sunday evening.
Similarly, a source also said that the reason for Mr Fashola’s absence was also not far from the disagreement, as it remains unclear whether he was briefed or properly invited for the commisioning.
But in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES Sunday afternoon, Hakeem Bello, Mr Fashola’s spokesperson, said there is no big deal about the minister’s absence at the event.
“I don’t consider it a very major issue,” Mr Bello said. “The president was basically the chief guest of honour on that occasion and he has a number of ministers with him and so I don’t see why the absence of one minister who could otherwise be busy with other state engagements at that point in time should be a point of discourse,” he added.
He however promised to find out if there is any major reason why the minister stayed away from the occassion and get back to our correspondent afterwards. He was yet to do so at the time of this report.