The escalating battle to become Lagos State’s ‘godfather’


Published on Monday, 4 September 2023 Back to articles

Lagos State rivals – Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu (L) and State Assembly speaker Mubashiru Obasa (R)

Even before Babajide Sanwo-Olu (b.1965) settles into his second and final term as governor of Lagos State — the country’s most lucrative — the battle to succeed him as has already begun in earnest. The election of President Bola Tinubu — who had been the state’s undisputed political patriarch since 2007 — has complicated the contest. As Tinubu shifts his focus from local to national politics a vacuum has been created as to who will control Lagos future politics. 

Tinubu used Lagos as a launch pad to enter national politics and, now that he has achieved this, the state is no longer a priority. Traditionally, the governor would fill the political void left by Tinubu’s departure but this is unlikely to occur. As Lagos’ political godfather, Tinubu deliberately chose individuals who lacked a political base to challenge him. 

Sanwo-Olu has always relied on Tinubu for political relevance. Now that Tinubu has shifted his focus to national politics, Sanwo-Olu’s move to assert his authority as the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) new state leader is being challenged and could result in his removal unless he treads very carefully. 

His weakness was exposed when he was unable to win the state for Tinubu in the 2023 presidential election which was very narrowly lost to the Labour Party’s Peter Obi. Even though he cannot be held completely responsible it was previously unthinkable that another party could outperform it in a state that the APC has governed since 1999. Nonetheless, Sanwo-Olu should have recognised that the APC was in trouble and avoid the humiliation of losing to the opposition. 

Some party members have not forgiven him and believe that his lack of a political base contributed to the APC’s loss in 2023. Even though the APC eventually won the gubernatorial election — aided by massive suppression of votes and heavily ethnically tinged campaigns — some of those who embarrassed the APC must pay for their sins. 

The APC’s hardline faction in Lagos State — led by State Assembly speaker Mubashiru Obasa (b.1972) who has held the post since 2015 — wants Sanwo-Olu to be punished.  Obasa has a personal interest in doing so because the governor is his chief rival for the APC’s state party leadership. Unlike Sanwo-Olu, however, he has his own political base and is a politician with a strong track-record of winning elections. 

He has retained his post since 2015 despite opposition from other candidates and has been a member of the State Legislature since 2003 when Tinubu was still Lagos’ governor. This makes him the longest-serving legislator and one of the country’s most consistently elected politicians. Unlike Sanwo-Olu he can claim to have won multiple state elections which demonstrates his political acceptability. By contrast, Sanwo-Olu has only won two elections and this was primarily because Tinubu chose him to be Lagos State’s governor. 

Sanwo-Olu reportedly did not support Obasa’s bid for a third term as speaker which necessitated him having to approach Tinubu who endorsed him. He subsequently received the unanimous support of the State Assembly which comprises 38 APC members and two opposition Labour Party members. Sanwo-Olu wanted an alternative speaker but, after Obasa emerged, he claimed he had been impartial in the selection process. Even if this is true, Obasa will not forget that he did not receive the governor’s support and therefore no obligation to be loyal to the governor. 

This excerpt is taken from our Nigeria Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact for subscription details.

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