By Sola Oteniya
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu appears to me as the latest and finest jester to emerge on the country’s political firmament. Lagos is very strategic being the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. Years back, I read even intellectuals stylishly referring to it as the macrocosm of Nigeria.
In saner climes, whoever is entrusted with a public mandate to govern the state should be a person with impeccable credentials; upright with enviable records of excellence, integrity and infectious selflessness. But having followed Gov. Sanwo-Olu’s leadership of this complex state keenly for about two years now, I am under the compunction to believe the alleged allusion to his mental instability and criminal inclinations by his predecessor, ex-Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode might likely be true.
Ambode had amplified in 2018 on Sanwo-Olu’s past mental rehabilitation at Gbagada General Hospital and his criminal records of being napped for spending counterfeit US Dollars in a nightclub in the United States. The former governor proclaimed loudly that based on Sanwo-Olu’s doubtful history, it was a potential disaster for Lagosians to support such a character to become the political leader of the state or assume the job he was being propelled to do.
As I know of some Nigerian politicians, especially at partisan times, Sanwo-Olu profusely denied all the allegations. However, actions speak louder than words. As governor now, Sanwo-Olu strikes me more as an unstable character, barren of finesse to govern and thus, confirming through actions, his unflattering past mental health crisis and unresolved criminal records previously labelled against him.
He neither prepared for the hectic mission nor had any clear vision, devoid of ideas on how to offer rewarding service to the state. As expected, Sanwo-Olu emerged in Government House Alausa, dazed and confused like a fowl poached out of its shelter into the open fields in the dead of the night.
I am not surprised at the happenings in Lagos/Lekki to be specific. After all, Mr Ambode cautioned all of us before now, but we wouldn’t listen. As usual, we reduced everything to politics and ignored him. Most Nigerians are tilted to darkness and I was not surprised when Lagosians voted Sanwo-Olu as Governor in 2019.
I do not doubt that the people of Lagos goofed terribly in the choice of Sanwo-Olu. I have come to know; the strength of a leader is measured mainly by his sagacious outings in times of public crisis. Sanwo-Olu, however, has shown to be devoid of this leadership dexterity or traits.
The Lekki Toll Gate #EndSARS protests incident assails my mind strongly. It has attracted national outrage because the governor abdicated his responsibility as the Chief Security Officer of the state with his poor handling of the protests by its manifest signs of turning into violence and bloodbath.
To my utmost surprise, Gov. Sanwo-Olu’s belated announcement of a 24-hour curfew, its stealthy extension to 9 pm same day without considering the traffic gridlock and mobility peculiarities of Lagos was his first display of incompetence to manage the crisis. His order to security agents to fortify Lagos to forestall further breakdown of public law and order by hoodlums, miscreants and criminals who hijacked the otherwise peaceful protests had no feedback mechanism. It means, the Governor may have abandoned the state willy-nilly to subordinates.
With the alleged Lekki shootings by soldiers, Sanwo-Olu is completely lost in giving the accurate account of the incident. It shocked me that the Governor was easily caught in the web of self-denials and contradictions. He is parroting so much on the incident, but discernibly in doublespeak.
By Sanwo-Olu’s various narrations on the incident at different times, it is suicidal for me or any other person to vouch for his accounts of the Lekki incident. The Governor has deepened my conjectures on whether he requested the Nigerian Army into Lagos or never consented it; 30, 70, 12 persons, seven or “only” two or one protesters was killed from the incident.
And the number of persons hospitalized who sustained injuries, supposedly shot by soldiers, Police bullets or wounded from the chaotic stampede is also a mystery of scientific complexity. If a State Governor has disappointed me in recent times, it is Mr Sanwo-Olu. Despite his exalted office, he preferred to follow the herds of social media merchants and the fake news reeled out on the incident, running his mouth incoherently and inconsistently like an accident victim.
I am astounded to hear Sanwo-Olu inconsistencies and incongruent accounts of a single incident on security in his state. The Governor celebrated self- contradictory statements. At first Sanwo -Olu claimed he tried to call Mr President when Lagos was being violently pulled down by #EndSARS protesters or hoodlums as they were later truly nicknamed.
At this point, the violence of the #EndSARS protesters had peaked evident in the torching of several police stations; gruesome murder of policemen; unlawful and coercive release of suspects in police custody. Massive weapons were also carted away by the hoodlums. But to my amazement again, Sanwo-Olu claimed days later that he didn’t know where the soldiers came to Lekki. People with criminal instincts are also cheap liars.
It compelled me to ponder why the Governor was attempting to call Mr President but was physically disrupted by the enraged protestors. But shockingly too, Sanwo-Olu said; “For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting governor controls the rules of engagement of the military…” I started wondering whether Mr President sat in Abuja and intuitively knew there was a problem of frightening magnitude in Lagos and decided to deploy soldiers without Sanwo-Olu’s consent.
And when pressurized, the Governor countered himself by saying he invited soldiers but didn’t ask them to shoot. In another aftermath rendition of the Lekki incident, Sanwo-Olu told Nigerians in a state-wide broadcast the next day that no one died from the Lekki incident; buttressing it by his visit to the scene immediately and then claiming there were no bloodstains at the spot.
Sanwo-Olu later rebuffed himself as he told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview that only “Two dead bodies, that is what we have seen from all the morgues, that’s what we have seen going to hospitals, that’s what we have seen as a record…. I have been to the ground, there is no scratch of blood anywhere there.”
The same Governor again reenergized his rehearsal of self-contradictions. He tweeted on the second day of the incident that, “Information reaching us now is that a life was lost at Reddington Hospital due to blunt force trauma to the head. Three of the injured protesters have been discharged, while some are in the hospital. There is no record of any fatalities.”
The Governor’s contradictory reversal of himself indicated clear disparities with what transpired at Lekki Toll Gate. His rigmarole began after his political godfather, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the Jagaban later visited him. Some sources claim Tinubu flew into France in the wake of the protests but was reportedly forced back home by irate IPOB members resident in that country to face the fire he ignited in Nigeria.
It sounds more to me like the Jagaban was at Lekki that night as a talisman and no one sighted him. Therefore, the Jagaban was angry with Sanwo-Olu’s repeated claims that no one died or just one person neither were there any bloodstains at the spot. The Governor realized the anger of his boss and had to rejig his tales, and started vibrating the inanities or cooking the stories of the death toll or should I believe he initially forgot? He then, unconscionably pinned soldiers to the shooting at Lekki obviously as an afterthought.
But as the Nigerian Army has repeatedly articulated, it was never involved in the #EndSARS protests initially, but the “decision to call in the Military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed;” and at no time did soldiers open fire on protesting civilians.
The fate of Lagos today is the paroxysms of poor leadership by an inexperienced, deceptive, mentally and psychologically unstable leader like Sanwo-Olu. This is the macabre dance from Lagos and Nigerians must watch with keen interest. Having voiced this far, can the Judicial Panel constituted by Sanwo-Olu to probe the Lekki incident still be trusted to do justice or be fair to all parties?
The answer is certainly NO! The Governor can’t be a judge in his case. Sanwo-Olu’s antecedents on this matter justify an already pre-determined bias or judgement. Let the Federal Government constitute a neutral Judicial Panel to conduct the probe of Lekki incident.
Oteniya PhD wrote from University of Lagos.