The people of Epe have moved the fight to a spiritual level as they embark on combative prayers to dismantle the forces arrayed against the embattled governor
Ade Alade and Tunde Thomas
The storm raised by the troubling politicking over the All Progressives Congress (APC) party nomination for the Governorship of Lagos State in the 2019 polls continues to rage unabated, and unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
Before anyone, however, can hazard a guess on how the saga will likely end, it is prudent that he visits Epe, the hometown of the incumbent, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. The mood in Epe–a town gripped by tension––is fever pitch. The people’s sentiment is at boiling point. In rallying for its own, people of Epe town have gone ballistic spiritually to quell the tempest threatening to bring to a halt the upward trajectory of their rising son.
Gov. Ambode is presently battling an internal wrangling within his party that has resulted in the emergence of two other APC stalwarts, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Mr Obafemi Hamzat, who have both signified their interest in slugging it out with him at the party’s primary for the APC governorship ticket in Lagos State. The emergence of the duo followed a rumoured frosty relationship between Ambode and APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who hitherto was regarded as his political godfather and mentor.
While cloak-and-dagger maneuverings continue to play out in the party, the people of Epe have moved the fight to a spiritual level as they embark on combative prayers to dismantle the various forces arraying against the embattled governor.
While tension is rising in the political firmament of the centre of excellence, a group of APC elders called the Governor’s Advisory Council, GAC dominated mainly by Tinubu’s trusted allies, will today at a scheduled meeting in Ikeja take a final position on who the party will present to the public for support in the 2019 polls.
The body had met on Tuesday to consider pleas and various interventions from different groups and prominent individuals to consider Ambode for a second term. The meeting however ended without a definite answer to the embattled governor. One of the decisions taken at the Tuesday meeting was that the governor will not be allowed to sit in today’s meeting when the party elders will decide his fate. A notable source who attended the meeting told Saturday Sun that, “For us, we already know the direction things will go in today’s meeting because after the Tuesday’s parley, Asiwaju left us with a strongly coded rhetorical question, that is, ‘can you pack back into a bottle the beer you want to drink after spilling same on the floor?”
With this, today’s meeting may just be a mere ceremony to say a capital NO to the governor as majority of those who will attend the event are already bitter against Ambode and have not hidden their opposition to his style of governance and bid for a second term.
Saturday Sun visited Epe on September 18, 2018, and found a town that was to a large extent a cauldron of anger. Right from the park, various gatherings––of Okada riders, free readers at newsstands and traders––were engaged in animated discussions and heated debates that centred on Governor Ambode’s current political travails.
That was not surprising, given that the governor has proven himself as an illustrious son of the soil, having brought remarkable infrastructural development to Epe, a community that was hitherto an economic backwater.
Saturday Sun’s survey of suburbs like Noforija, Odomola, Ketu-Epe, and Odoragunshen turned up facts that indicated that the Ambode issue is close to the heart of many residents. The fervour devoted to the issue leaves no one in doubt that anyone in opposition to the governor is up against a whole town. The town roiled with solidarity for the governor. In the prevailing “We against Them” aura, a majority of the Epe folks envisaged themselves battling against Lagos forces trying to undo their son’s progress.
A major development has been a rare show of unity between Christians and Muslims, who set aside their religious differences and joined forces together in daily prayers of intercession and vigil for Gov. Ambode at the Saint Michael Anglican Church, which is the governor’s family place of worship.
The over 100-year-old church at Popo-Oba Street has assembled a 21-man prayer warrior team. In no time, the team has since been joined by a host of volunteers, both Christians (from other denominations) and some Muslims.
Findings by Saturday Sun showed that the team holds some of its prayer sessions for the governor on a large expanse of land opposite the church.
During a visit to the church, some of the volunteers were sighted sitting on white plastic chairs on the land across from the church. In their response to questions from Saturday Sun, they all spoke in unison about their commitment to the “Save Ambode Prayer” project.
The church’s support
A cleric of the church who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that intercessory prayers are being held for Gov. Ambode. He vowed that the daily vigil and prayer session would not stop until Ambode’s second term ticket is guaranteed by APC.
“It is true that this church is coordinating series of prayers for Gov. Ambode. What we are doing is not evil. We have no regret over it,” he declared.
Asked why the governor’s issue is dear to the church, the cleric fired back: “Gov. Ambode and his family are part and parcel of this church. Although Gov. Ambode himself is no longer a member of the Anglican Church, when he was young, he used to worship with us here with his parents. Up till today, the governor’s mother, Mama, is a regular worshipper with us. Mama is very close to us, and up till today, there is no programme or project we have in the church that Mama, the governor and other members of the family don’t join us in doing. Like every other family in this church, the Ambode family also observed its own yearly harvest and thanksgiving in the church.”
Continuing, he stated: “Even before Mama asked us to mobilize prayers to save the governor’s political career, on our own as a church we’ve already started the intercessory prayers. Although it is not every day or night that Mama is with us; whether she is here or not, our prayers and vigil for Ambode is every day.”
The cleric who denied the church’s involvement in partisan politics explained the basis of their support for the beleaguered governor. Said he: “Our support for Ambode, apart from his family’s connection to us, is due to his performance. Ambode has done marvelously well. If he has not done well, I would have said so. He has transformed Epe.”
He said further: “Before he assumed office in 2015, Epe was in darkness. Not only that, the town had no good roads, and other infrastructural facilities were lacking. I know what I’m saying. I have been working in Epe and its suburbs for a long time. There is no governor in the history of Lagos State that has transformed Epe the way Ambode has done. And from available reports, he has also done well in areas of infrastructural development of Lagos State. I think the man should be given a chance for second term.”
The cleric delivered a parting shot thus: “Let me, however, state this categorically. There are talks about some individuals and groups. There are those mentioning that one group called Mandate has sealed the fate of Ambode and that he is a goner. People should however know that with God nothing is impossible. It is only God that can give anybody a mandate. If God gives Ambode a divine mandate, not even one million Mandate Group can stop him. Let’s leave everything in the hand of God.”
Saturday Sun investigations reveal that the prayer group, as part of its activities usually go round the church seven times in the night–– an allusion to Joshua’s military maneuvering in the Bible––praying aloud that the God that pulled down the walls of Jericho should pull down all the walls of Jericho threatening Ambode’s second term ambition.
While leaving the church to move to another part of the town, Saturday Sun ran into a rally organized by artisans and Okada riders in support of Ambode.
The crowd was shouting in unison. Their rally cries: “Ambode for second term. It is Ambode and nobody else.”
The spokesman for the group, Adetayo Adedayo who also doubles as chairman of the cyclists riders group, explained the drive behind their action.
“Nobody is sponsoring us,” he affirmed. “Even Gov. Ambode is not aware of this rally. We are supporting him for a second term because he is from Epe. Everybody in Epe and environs support the governor 100 per cent for turning Epe and its suburbs into Small London.” For him, the governor has done a lot for Epe. “The people of Epe will not take kindly to any attempt to humiliate or deny him the second term ticket,” Adedayo declared.
He waxed philosophical. “Ambode is the Moses of our time. He is Epe’s liberator. Denying him a second term is like punishing Epe people. He is a good ambassador of this place. No individual from another part of Lagos State can do what Ambode has done for us in Epe.” He concluded with a warning to APC. “If they finally conspired against Ambode, then APC should forget votes from the people of Epe in 2019.”
The Chief Imam of the Ansar-U-Deen Society in Epe, Alhaji Zakariyah
who described Ambode as Allah-sent also weighed in on the issues calling for a compromise. “I’m a religious leader and not a politician,” began the mullah, “Ambode’s tenure has brought monumental development to Epe. In fact, Epe, and its environs, has never been so blessed. We plead with those who will determine Ambode’s fate for a second term to forgive him his shortcomings.”
Septuagenarians Alhaji Yeeken Dairo and Alhaja Taibat Akingbehin at Oke-Balogun Street and Imokun Street respectively echoed similar sentiments. Dairo, community leader of Imokun LCDA, appealed directly to the good nature of Asiwaju Tinubu to forgive Ambode his perceived sins.
Alhaja Akingbehin, 75, said: “I have been on my praying mat, praying for Ambode since this crisis started. I have not benefited or received one kobo directly from Ambode, but I’m pleased with how he has transformed Epe. See how Ambode has turned Epe into a beautiful place. Many of our sons and daughters that came home during the last Ileya (Eid-el-Kabir) festival didn’t even know the way to their father’s compound again because of the new network of roads, and street lights Ambode has put in place in Epe.” It will be a big loss to Epe, she said, “if Ambode is denied a second term.”
Najeem Quadri, a baker, tackled APC leadership and Tinubu directly.
.“You give a man a job to do, and you are breathing down his neck again that you want to look into everything he does, what do you call that? Tinubu should stop playing God.” The baker advised the governor to be level-headed. “Ambode should not see the second term issue as a do-or-die affair. If they allow him good, and if they say no, he should come back home, we all love him.”
Continuing, Quadri avowed: “Ambode is a good ambassador of Epe. If they are making life too difficult for him, he should go to another party, and Epe people will vote for him.”
Once more, Quadri raved at Tinubu and others, whom he described as greedy.
“Did Tinubu not serve two terms? Did Fashola not serve two terms? Now they are deciding another man’s fate. Tinubu and his co-conspirators in APC should know that God will also decide their own fate,” he said.
He resented the idea of anyone begging Tinubu to endorse Ambode for a second term. “They should leave him to God,” he declared.
Another respondent who spoke with Saturday Sun, Otunba Maruphdeen Babatunde Abdulrahman, urged Gov. Ambode not to surrender. “Whether Tinubu or people in his camp like it or not, if Allah has ordained Ambode for a second term, no individual can do anything against it,” he quipped.
Abdulrahman who belongs to a different and opposing faction of APC said: “I don’t belong to Ambode’s faction of APC but I’m supporting him for a second term because of his records of achievements and performance. Ambode has really worked for Lagos. He has transformed Lagos State.”
He defended him further: “I don’t know why the so-called godfather and others are angry with him? Some are accusing him of not sharing money and that he is tight-fisted. Do they expect him to be sharing money? Lagosians voted for Ambode to transform the state, and that’s exactly what the man is doing. He should not dance to the tunes of these godfathers who are exploiters and don’t have conscience at all.”
As Moses in the Bible has his disparagers, so does the man described as the “Moses of Epe.” One of the dissenting voices is a secondary school teacher in a public school in Epe who spoke on condition of anonymity. He described Gov. Ambode as a partial leader, declaring that he has no pity for him.
“I have never been an Ambode’s admirer. He is a very biased and partial leader,” he said. “How I wish people in other parts of Lagos can take a trip down to Epe to see how Ambode has transformed Epe. They should come and see the beautiful road network, the beautiful landscape, and the glittering streetlights. While he is taking care of Epe, look at the refuse menace in other parts of Lagos; look at the bad state of roads; look at the traffic gridlock in other parts of Lagos State.”
He concluded solemnly: “Let him go. I have no tears for Ambode.”
The dissonance is loud in such areas as the Ayetoro market area, Waterfront and Marina streets. Some groups even appeared to be indifferent.
Shefiu Kasali, a shoemaker, complained that Ambode has only been transforming Epe in terms of infrastructural development but has not empowered Epe people.
“What is the use of beautiful roads, and street lights when we are all hungry? I boldly challenge Ambode to tell the whole world: how many Epe people he has empowered financially? How many people has he empowered in their business and trades? It is good that he is developing Epe physically; it is also good that he should give us what they call stomach infrastructure,” Kasali said.
Further findings by Saturday Sun revealed that Epe, made up of Epe Eko and Epe Awori/Ijebu people, has two traditional rulers––Oba Shefiu Adewale, Olu of Epe, for Epe Awori/Ijebu people; and Oba Kamorudeen Animashaun, Oloja of Epe, for Epe Eko people (those that have their origin from Lagos Island).
Both kings are staunchly behind Ambode as the governor is reported to have spread his projects in Epe across all divisions.
However, Saturday Sun gathered that a group from the Epe Eko section of the town are rooting for Mr Jide Sanwo-Olu, who hails from Lagos Island and is being backed by the Mandate Group consisting of Asiwaju Tinubu core loyalists, and the Group of 57 (LG and LCDA chairmen).
The reporter conducted his last interview with a cab driver on his way back to the garage, out of the town. What the driver said continued to reverberate in his mind as he journeyed back to Lagos.
“Oga, time and luck will determine Ambode’s fate. At this stage, he needs all the luck in the world. But with prayer, nothing is impossible as APC still have some days left to make the final decision on whom the party fields as its candidate for the election.” The cab driver may indeed be saying the truth. Gov. Ambode certainly needs all the luck in the world to survive the political tsunami threatening to consume him.