Obanikoro’s defeat, loss for APC

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: oiyanda@yahoo.com Twitter: @mightyng

Olumide-IyandaImmediate past Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro, was on Monday, December 8 shown in very clear terms what many knew all along. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) needs more than Korobucci and ‘latrine infrastructure’ to stand a chance of wresting Lagos State from the All Progressives Congress (APC) come 2015. And the self-proclaimed biggest party in Africa has found what it needs in latter-day convert, Joseph Olujimi Kolawole Agbaje, a pharmacist and former Lagos coordinator of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG).

Obanikoro’s defeat at the governorship primary election held on that day in the Oregun area of the state, is not just a loss to the man who has made the uncomfortable transition from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to becoming his party’s governorship reject. It is also a setback for former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, whose anointed candidate, Akinwunmi Ambode, emerged the APC flag bearer a few days earlier.

The point must be made that APC still stands head and shoulders above PDP in Lagos politics, but the emergence of Jimi Agbaje is an extra mountain Ambode has to climb if he is to succeed Babatunde Fashola come May 29, 2015. Although the exercise that threw him up as governorship candidate was marred by violence and protest, the former Afenifere national treasurer is widely regarded as a polished politician. And while Obanikoro is not known to have done much outside politics for most of his adult life, his conqueror at the PDP primary combines politics with an envy-inducing record of achievements in the private sector.

Perhaps, Obanikoro has played too much politics for his own good. A former caretaker committee chairman of Surulere Local Government and later chairman, Lagos Island Local Government, Obanikoro was appointed Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture by then Governor Tinubu in 1999. He served for four years before he was elected senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD). He soon dumped the party and pitched his tent with the PDP, with eyes on the governorship seat.

Obanikoro was arrested along with other aspirants in 2006 when Engr. Funsho Williams, who was also seeking to become PDP candidate for the governorship election, was murdered. They were all later released for non-involvement. Williams’ widow, Hilda, contested the 2007 primaries but lost to Obanikoro in controversial circumstances. The governorship election was eventually won by Fashola of the then Action Congress (AC). Agbaje, who was Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA) candidate, came third with behind-the-scenes support from aggrieved AC and PDP members. Obanikoro owes his loss in that election in large part to Bode George, a man in whom he was well displeased.

The late President Umaru Yar’Adua made Obanikoro High Commissioner to Ghana in 2008. President Goodluck Jonathan later appointed him Minister of State for Defence. Like Adeseye Ogunlewe before him, Obanikoro used his position at the federal level to flex muscles against the Lagos State Government. His decision to engage a more popular and admired Fashola in needless battles did not go down well with many Lagosians. While Obanikoro demonstrated his bitterness at everybody but himself for losing the 2007 election, Agbaje went back to his Jaykay Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company Ltd business and involvement with movements like Afenifere and Save Nigeria Group (SNG).

Agbaje abandoned AC (one of the parent parties of today’s APC) for DPA, after failing to get the former’s ticket to get the 2007 election. His achievements in the private sector and the articulate campaign he ran endeared him to many. He raised the bar by running a well-organised, ethical and focused campaign. A fall-out of his participation is an increase in the number of otherwise passive citizens who have since shown more interest in the electoral process. The slogan ‘JayKay is Ok’ was a singsong back in 2007. The question, after he lost seven years ago, was: when would he return to take another shot at Alausa’s top seat. Unlike Obanikoro, he is regarded as a professional in politics, not a professional politician.

Reports that Bode George was wooing Agbaje to come over to PDP began circulating in 2013. The lid was finally blown open when the man announced in July this year that he had pitched tent with the party at the centre. The announcement was no music to APC, especially its godfather, Tinubu. With Fashola’s government losing popularity over decisions like restriction on okada movement, Lagos State University (LASU) fee hike, relocation of some destitute Igbo to Anambra and Lekki toll gate fee, the return of Agbaje was not okay with the Lion of Bourdillon. APC is better off with an Obanikoro as opponent. Few are bothered that Agbaje is Bode George’s “boy”.

While APC is still the strongest party in Lagos, it would have preferred a candidate it can beat hands down without breaking sweat. Agbaje may not be that kind of candidate. The neutrals like him and, like Fashola, he can hold his own articulately against anybody in a debate. APC’s initial reaction when he formally joined PDP was an emergency meeting held in London with Tinubu and other chieftains in attendance.

A Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN), West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists (FPCPharm) and Merit Award Winner (MAW), Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (Lagos State), Agbaje is a consummate professional in the mould of Fashola. He has held various professional appointments which include National Chairman, Nigerian Association of General Practice Pharmacists (1990 – 1993); Chairman, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Lagos Chapter (1994 – 1997); Chairman, 1994 National Conference Planning committee of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, and National Secretary Nigerian Association of General Practice (1987 – 1990). He was a member, Lagos State Task Force on Fake and Adulterated Drugs (1989 – 1993), Member, Essential Drug Formulary and Essential Drugs List (1986 – 1993); and Member, Lagos State Hospitals Management Board (1994 – 1997). He was appointed National Treasurer of Afenifere in 2000.

PDP needs not worry about Obanikoro. Aso Rock can always use coercive diplomacy to whip him into line. JayKay is okay for the party. It is now left to Lagosians to decide if he is okay for them come 2015.