Obanikoro’s ‘defection’ and internal politics of Lagos APC
Since it became known that former Minister of State for Defence and a prominent member of the Lagos chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, was planning a defection to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), speculations have continued to surround the plan.
The former Minister, who is a member of a prominent Lagos family, had served in several elective and appointive positions under defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), which later transmuted to APC and the PDP. He was elected a senator for Lagos Central, on the AD platform in 2003 but defected with the mandate to the PDP after some irreconcilable differences with the leader of the party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was on his second term as the governor of the state.
Rather than seek a return to the upper chamber in 2007, he merged as the governorship candidate of the PDP in 2007, thereby putting himself in direct confrontation with his former leader who was bent on installing a successor in Babatunde Fashola, his Chief of Staff (COS).
The ensuing battle for the Lagos top seat was a fierce one because the PDP, which could not win Lagos in the almost clean sweep of the states in the Southwest geo-political zone four years earlier, was determined this time around. While the former Minister had the backing of the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo and its federal might, the well-oiled political machinery of Tinubu ensured Fashola’s victory in the contest.
Since then, Obanikoro had remained a very active member of opposition in the politics of Lagos and this role was buoyed by the positions he held at the federal level and his unrelenting efforts to occupy the seat of the governor, until recently when events indicated a possible return to his first political base.
The rumoured defection however took a different dimension during the 22nd Town Hall Meeting of Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of his former political boss where it was reported that he announced his intention. But in a quick reaction on his twitter handle, the former minister denied the report, saying he was misrepresented.
Tweeting his response on @MObanikoro few hours after the news broke out, he wrote, “My attendance has been insinuated wrongly in the media but all such speculations remain firmly in the realm of rumours and imaginations.”
Reacting to this denial, some top members of the APC immediately accused Obanikoro of being economical with the truth about his ongoing arrangement to cross over to their platform. From the story told, the former Minister was alleged to have claimed during the town hall meeting, that life is a journey and he was happy to be back in the gathering of the APC.
He was further reported to have said that Lagos Island is the beginning of everything and that his presence at the meeting, which was held at the Lagos City Hall where he served as chairman under the defunct AD, meant that he was there (in the APC) to stay. The comment was translated to have cleared the controversy surrounding his defection.
At the event, the state’s chairman of the APC, Henry Ajomale was said to have reacted to Obanikoro’s return moves by saying that the former Minister and other defectors will be officially welcomed with the ceremonial presentation of APC’s flags to them.
Although Ajomale, who was tactful in his choice of words, congratulated those who have the intention of joining APC, saying, “They have not joined us yet but I am hoping that they will join us very soon because I am yet to give them the party’s flag. But I am sure very soon they will be part us. He (Obanikoro) is not the only one coming; I know many of them that are joining us.”
One of the leaders of the party in Lagos Island, Prince Tajudeen Olusi, also expressed satisfaction with the development saying, “I want to use this medium to welcome Hon. Lukmon Ajose and Senator Obanikoro to APC. They went to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and he has accepted them. They are now welcome back to the party. I warned them not to go but they went and I am happy that they are back in my lifetime. I welcome them back.”
In the same vein, Senator Tinubu urged the former minister to contribute to the growth of the ruling party, as she also formally welcome him back to the APC fold. She said, “What I can decode from all he has said is that ‘I am back home and I am back to stay.’ We are going to take you (Obanikoro) up on that; that you are here to stay to build the party and we all will welcome you.“ It would be recalled that Obanikoro left the country not long after the PDP lost the 2015 presidential elections and the EFCC thereafter linked his name and that of his wife and children with corruption, a development that led him to undertake to return N480 million to the Federal Government.
While still carrying the burden of the anti-graft commission, Obanikoro suddenly developed relationship with some APC members, which later culminated in his surprised visit to the Ikoyi home of Tinubu, few months ago, but there are speculations that he may be doing the bidding of some estranged followers of the Lagos lord who want to reduce his influence in 2019.
Another speculation was that Obanikoro was deliberately wooed back to the APC to stop the governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who is alleged to be nursing ambition of returning to Lagos, after completing his two terms as governor next year in Osun, for the Lagos West senatorial district while yet another speculation has it that the return of the former Minister was a strategy to have a soft landing in his case with the EFCC.
Buttressing their arguments, those who said his return was to reduce Tinubu’s influence claimed that the likes of former governors of Lagos and Ekiti States, Fashola and Kayode Fayemi as well as the National Legal Adviser of the APC, Muiz Banire, were planning to use him (Obanikoro) for the 2019 governorship election to checkmate Tinubu and the incumbent governor, Akinwunmi Ambode.
A source from the party told The Guardian, “Top members of APC from Abuja that rallied around Obanikoro during his recent mother’s burial ceremony were principally Tinubu’s foes. It might be politically unwise to dismiss this because politics is about strategizing. In term of political radicalism, Obanikoro has all it takes to withstand the machinery of the former governor of Lagos.”
But a lawmaker on the platform of the APC, who wished to be anonymous, dismissed such insinuation as mere political jokes and impossibility stressing, “that Obanikoro could be used by any group of politicians to checkmate Tinubu in Lagos is beyond a dream. The Jagaban is still in control of the politics of the state, more importantly Ambode remains his loyalist any day.”
The lawmaker wondered what position or influence those who left the party and later returned before Obanikoro are within the APC family today. To him the entire story is not about coming back to play any significant role but to save his head and his political career.
He asked, “Where will Obanikoro go? He is more or less an outcast in the Lagos PDP today. And like his colleagues in the PDP, he is also looking for safety and political shelter otherwise what significant impact, have the likes of Femi Pedro, Tinubu’s former Deputy Governor; Dr. Abayomi Finnih, Yomi Seriki and others made since their return to the fold after they strayed?”
He also dismissed the talks that the former Minister would be considered for the Lagos West senatorial district, saying, “things are not done like that. In the first instance, it is not the APC that needs Obanikoro for relevance but the reverse. The way Lagos politics is today, the ruling party has no strong opposition.”
But digging further on what might be the political fortune of Obanikoro in the whole development, another source in the party explained that the former Minister is trying to weigh and consider the implications of his defection adding, “that must have prompted him to deny the story that he defected on his twitter. The fact is, he met with Oba of Lagos, Rilwanu Akiolu, Chief Bisi Akande and some other prominent personalities across the country through whom he was able to appeal to Tinubu. That was what informed his presence during the recent presentation of Eyo staff to the National Leader at his residence in Ikoyi where Ambode and other functionaries of the state were present.”
The Guardian however learn that some key members of the Lagos APC are not favourably disposed to Obanikoro’s return because of the “negative things” he has done to the party in the past. A source who apparently felt threatened said, “If the former minister is admitted into the APC fold today, he would have a high and intimidating profile to all as a former Council Chairman, Minister, Ambassador, Senator and with his political influence across the country.”