By Abraham Ajewole
In what appears to be a power tussle between the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and some political and religious gladiators on the proposed members of the State Executive Council, the Lagos State House of Assembly (LSHA), in an unprecedented move on Wednesday failed to confirm 17 out of the 39 nominees submitted by the Governor for the position of commissioners and Special Advisers in his cabinet.
Governor Sanwo-Olu last month presented 39 cabinet nominees to the Lagos State House of Assembly for screening and confirmation. There were 20 members of the immediate past State Executive Council in the list and many thought that they would scale the hurdles but only 10 out of them were confirmed and 10 rejected. The Lagos Assembly also confirmed 12 out of 19 new names on the cabinet list while seven were not confirmed.
The outcome of the screening exercise by the Lagos Assembly shocked and infuriated many Lagosians who saw the Legislature’s action as political repression and recklessness in a State like Lagos, which has enjoyed political stability since the birth of the fourth republic. They are particularly irked by the dangerous political precedent being set, where about 40 per cent of nominees presented by a Governor as his cabinet members would be rejected by the State Assembly. The result of the exercise was a clear signal that there is a political war between Governor Sanwo-Olu and the Lagos State House of Assembly led by Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa. Many residents who are shocked by the development believe that only the powers that be at the centre can resolve the issue.
The reason why many people were bothered about the outcome of the screening exercise was that the 22 nominees cleared by the Lagos State House of Assembly were majorly politicians and those who have a strong political base in the State, either as children of prominent politicians or former public office holders. Also, the manner in which Mr Obasa conducted the plenary session where nominees were either approved or rejected leaves much to be desired.
A look at the names of nominees announced by Obasa during the Assembly plenary after a special committee headed by Hon. Mojeed Fatai briefed the House on the outcome of the screening exercise, showed that those not confirmed were ‘technocrats’ who may not have strong political ties to godfathers or power brokers in the State.
Those not confirmed are the immediate past Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso as well as nine of his former colleagues – Folashade Adefisayo (Education), Olalere Odusote (Energy), Bolaji Dada (Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation), Akin Abayomi (Health), Sam Egube (Budget and Economic Planning), former Special Advisers to the Governor, Engr Aramide Adeyoye (Works and Infrastructure), Solape Hammond (SDG and Innovation), Rotimi Fashola (Agriculture) and Mosopefoluwa George (Public-Private Partnership, PPP).
Also not confirmed by the Lagos Assembly are Mr Yomi Oluyomi, Mrs Folashade Ambrose, Ms Barakat Bakare, Mr Olalekan Fatodu, Mr Seun Osiyemi, Mr Rotimi Ogunwuyi and Dr Olumide Oluyinka.
Those confirmed by the Lagos Assembly to return to the cabinet are former Commissioners for Agriculture, Abisola Olusanya and his counterpart in Housing, Moruf Fatai. Others are former Special Advisers to the Governor, Tokunbo Wahab (Education), Tunbosun Alake (Innovation and Technology), Gbenga Oyerinde (Central Business District), Toke Benson-Awoyinka (Housing), Bolaji Roberts (Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs), Abiola Olowu (Commerce and Industry) Afolabi Ayantayo (Parastatals Monitoring Office) and Mobolaji Ogunlende (Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations).
New nominees cleared by the Lagos State House of Assembly are former Lagos State Solicitor-General, Lawal Pedro; former Member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dayo Alebiosu-Bush (SAN), General Manager of Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), Dr Dolapo Fasawe; former Member of LSHA, Hon. Ibrahim Layode; the immediate past Senior Special Assistant to Governor Sanwo-Olu on Health and daughter of a Governance Advisory Council member, Dr Oreoluwa Finnih-Awokoya, and ex-Organising Secretary (Youth) of Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Idris Aregbe.
Bola Olumegbon, Adekunle Olayinka, Jide Babatunde, Jamiu Alli-Balogun, Rotimi Ogunwuyi and Olakunle Rotimi Akodu were also confirmed.
Many schools of thought are of the view that a lot of factors contributed to the decision of the Lagos State House of Assembly, among which are lawmakers’ political war with Governor Sanwo-Olu, religious sentiments, political differences among power brokers, contributions of the nominees to APC performance in the last general elections, the inability of some of the past cabinet members to relate with their superiors, politicians and civil servants, and giving prominence to technocrats ahead of politicians.
Some political watchers have argued that the alleged sour relationship between Governor Sanwo-Olu and Obasa may have started over the contest for the speakership of the 10th Assembly in Lagos State. They maintain that it would be a major reason why over 40 per cent of the nominees were not confirmed by the Assembly. They argued that Obasa is displaying open animosity towards Governor Sanwo-Olu for his role in the emergence of Hon Abiodun Tobun in the race for the speakership position, allegedly to replace Obasa. They said Sanwo-Olu’s decision didn’t go well with Obasa and some returning and new lawmakers, who wanted the Speaker to return.
The party leaders eventually waded into the matter and Obasa was re-elected for a third term. Obasa on his part has tactfully punished Tobun by excluding him from the list of principal officers of the Assembly despite the fact that he is one of the ranking lawmakers in the Assembly.
Some political analysts are of the view that the Assembly’s decision not to confirm 17 nominees, who seem to be the Governor’s star performers, especially in the first term, was a revenge attack on Governor Sanwo-Olu.
Religious difference is another reason why some of the nominees were not confirmed. Sixteen out of the 17 nominees not confirmed by the Lagos State House of Assembly were Christians, which painted a picture of a result of the outcry by the Muslim Community that there were more Christians than Muslims among the nominees. The list, which has 39 names is made up of 23 Christians and 12 Muslims.
It would be recalled that there was an outcry by the Muslim Community shortly after Governor Sanwo-Olu released the list of the nominees last month and Islamic leaders in Lagos State organised a press conference a few days ago to reject the list on account of poor representation of Muslims. They also embarked on a protest to the Lagos State House of Assembly to express their grievances on the cabinet list.
Lagos Assembly members also used political weapons to deny some nominees the opportunity of serving in Sanwo-Olu’s cabinet. The 17 people disqualified are technocrats. Some of them played crucial roles in governance by the virtues of their office during the first term of the Sanwo-Olu administration. Lagos lawmakers may have clearly exhibited their disdain for technocrats in political offices based on the rejection of the 17 nominees. These people were also not approved by the political gladiators in different local governments and caucuses. They are simply political orphans, especially those who served and worked closely with Governor Sanwo-Olu during his first term to achieve a great deal of development for the State in line with the Governor’s THEMES developmental agenda.
There is no doubt that politicians should be given an avenue to occupy public office having worked tirelessly to contribute to their party’s success during general elections, but what many people are concerned about is should politics be placed above competence. The circumstances surrounding the refusal of the Lagos Assembly to confirm over 40 per cent of nominees, because they are technocrats and not politicians or those that are not tied to the apron of a political leader, is a concern for many Lagosians, who see the actions of the lawmakers as a setback to the continuity of the giant strides recorded by some of the former cabinet members.
It is clear that many of the technocrats that are not confirmed by the Lagos Assembly, especially the immediate past members of the State Executive Council were some of the key players during the first term of the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration. Some of the technocrats who served as either Commissioners or Special Advisers to Governor Sanwo-Olu contributed immensely to the success of the administration which earned the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) victory during the governorship election for the party to retain Lagos State after losing the presidential poll and some National Assembly seats in the previous elections.
Many Lagosians turned their back on the APC during the last presidential and National Assembly elections, which made the party’s presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, lose his home state for the first time in the last three general elections. Based on the performance of Sanwo-Olu’s administration in key sectors such as education, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, health and foreign direct investments, which can be attributed to the technocrats at the helms of affairs, Governor Sanwo-Olu, the APC governorship candidate was re-elected. He defeated his opponents by wide margins. APC during the gubernatorial poll won 19 out of the 20 local governments in Lagos State as against 11 councils won during the presidential poll.
Therefore, it is of great concern to many Lagosians that the technocrats who used their wealth of experience, knowledge and competence to contribute to the success of the six-pillar THEMES developmental agenda of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, were pushed aside by politicians for selfish reasons.
Prof. Akin Abayomi, the immediate past Commissioner for Health is a professor who specialises in internal medicine, haematology, environmental health, Biosecurity and biobanking. He was at the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic period and did remarkably well to curb the spread of the deadly virus. As the Deputy Incident Commander, he worked closely with the Incident commander, Sanwo-Olu to protect the lives of millions of Nigerians, and not only Lagosians because Lagos, which was the epicentre. Lagos State public health has also witnessed great transformation courtesy of Prof. Abayomi’s contribution to the sector. Many Lagosians wonder why such a brilliant professor and seasoned health practitioner would be denied confirmation because he is a technocrat without a political root.
Former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, another nominee not confirmed by the Lagos Assembly is one of the best journalists and media managers Nigeria has produced in the last two decades. Omotoso remains the longest-serving newspaper Editor in Nigeria with laudable track records at The Guardian, The Comet and The Nation newspapers, where he resigned as an Editor after his appointment as Commissioner. Omotoso is one of the think tanks and closest commissioners to Governor Sanwo-Olu and without any iota of doubt, he managed the information arm of the government very well during his tenure in office. Therefore, why should Omotoso, a versatile media manager, who is a role model to serving and upcoming journalists be made a sacrificial lamb on the altar of politics?
It is worrisome that the immediate past Special Adviser to Governor Sanwo-Olu on Works and Infrastructure, Engr. Aramide Adeyoye was not confirmed. Many people wondered why a brilliant engineer, an Amazon and trail brazer, who worked for over 30 years with the foremost construction company in Nigeria – Julius Berger Nigeria PLC and rose to the position of a Project Co-ordinator/Management Staff in the company’s region west division of operation before joining Lagos State Government in 2019 as the first female Special Adviser, Works and Infrastructure, be denied the opportunity to return to the state cabinet just because she is not in the good books of some political leaders in the State. Should competence be sacrificed for politics in the case of Adeyoye, who was the main driver of some of the completed and ongoing laudable roads, bridges and other infrastructural projects embarked upon by Governor Sanwo-Olu in different parts of the State, including the Fourth Mainland Bridge, which is scheduled for flag off before the end of the year?
Lagos today is the investor’s choice and destination for business and the state in the last four years has attracted foreign direct business worth billions of dollars. Lagos according to data provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) attracted 67.82 per cent ($3.61bn) of the total investments in Nigeria in the Year 2022. The success of the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration in attracting foreign investment is teamwork but three of the nominees that the Lagos Assembly failed to confirm played crucial roles in attracting investors to Lagos State.
They are Sam Egube, the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning; Mrs Solape Hammond, Special Adviser to the Governor on SDG and Innovation and Mr. Mosopefoluwa George, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Public-Private Partnership (PPP). The three of them used their expertise, knowledge and skills to contribute positively to the economy of Lagos State. So, why should some politicians gang up to stop these three investment gurus from continuing in office and use their contacts to attract more foreign direct investments to the Centre of Excellence to boost the economy of Lagos State?
Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, the immediate past Commissioner for Education, is an educationist of high repute, who has used her wealth of experience to improve the education sector, especially primary and secondary education in Lagos State. Why should Adefisayo be thrown out by the Lagos Assembly despite her contribution to the successes recorded by the APC administration in the education sector in the last four years? Engr. Olalere Odusote, the immediate past Commissioner for Energy, is the brain behind the Lagos Electricity Market plan of the Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s government, which seeks to provide a cheaper and cleaner alternative to inadequate grid power and speed up industrialisation of the state. He worked tirelessly to bring about the blueprint that birthed the energy bill signed by former President Muhammadu Buhari. Why should such a man who set Lagos template for other states to follow be denied the opportunity to complete what he started? If performance was the yardstick, there is no way many of the nominees dropped will be rejected.
As Lagosians watch with keen interest what will be the outcome of the battle of supremacy among political gladiators in the State and the political drama between the executive and legislature over the cabinet list, there are many questions begging for answers. Should professionalism and competence be jettisoned for politics? Why are politicians bent on ensuring that the majority of the cabinet members should be politicians and not technocrats? Is the decision of the lawmakers not an affront to Governor Sanwo-Olu? Is the Lagos State House of Assembly fighting a proxy war? Does the refusal of the Lagos Assembly not to confirm 17 nominees have anything to do with the battle for political structure ahead of the 2027 elections? What will be the next step of Governor Sanwo-Olu? Will any of the 17 nominees not confirmed be renominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Lagos Assembly? Will the circumstances surrounding the confirmation of the nominees not create a crack within APC at local government and state levels? Will the Governance Advisory Council (GAC), the apex leadership body in Lagos APC resolve the issue? Only time will tell.
Ajewole writes from Lagos