It is not in doubt that like the Presidential race between Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari, which promises to be an epic battle, one of the governorship races that will equally be keenly contested is the race for the Alausa RoundHouse by Akinwunmi Ambode of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and Jimi Agbaje of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The reasons for this keen competition in Lagos are not far-fetched. Like at the federal level where only the two dominant parties are in the race, the competition in Lagos is also between APC and PDP. People can hardly recall the names of any of the other nine contenders. They are not campaigning. What’s the point of wasting the funds they can hardly spare? Their parties probably won’t field any presidential candidate in the real sense of it. Those candidates appear either planted or are there to gain the traction of being addressed as ex-governorship candidates.
That leaves the ring for the two main contenders, who incidentally have unique strengths that place them on an almost equal footing to make a dash at the prize – winning the governorship election.
Agbaje comes with a noticeable brand recall. He was once the Treasurer of the once influential Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere. He is seen as a Pharmacist of note and generally acknowledged to have done well during the 2007 polls even though he came third, behind Babatunde Fashola, (SAN) who won the race for CAN and Musiliu Obanikoro, who was PDP’s candidate.
Ambode, on the other hand, comes with a rich experience spanning public and private sectors. He has had a rich 27-year experience in the Lagos civil service, rising to the position of Auditor General for the Local Governments and then as the permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, before his voluntary retirement as the Accountant General at 49. Although he doesn’t flaunt any previous direct political experience, the manner in which he ran his consultations and campaigns for almost one year before winning the primary election last December shows his depth and ability to gain useful grounds in good time.
With both candidates now household names in Lagos and their campaigns reaching fever-pitch, one might be tempted to conclude that the winner would emerge based on the popularity of each candidate (brand identity) and the strength of the political parties. While this assertion may have merit, a keen and unbiased analyst would see and infer that the key indicators to determine the likely winner between the two gentlemen lie more on how their campaigns have progressed in the last two months, how their brand identities have been perceived, how their parties are being marketed and how all these are playing up in the media.
A thorough appraisal of the situation may see an election that is heading for keen contest, but without doubt it will also not miss the clear edge that Ambode has over Agbaje in almost every area of assessment. Arrival at this summation is not just because Ambode has managed to lift himself up unto a pedestal in which he is seen as a capable and well-prepared for the task ahead, but also because Agbaje, rather curiously, has not managed to live up to the expectation that his second shot at the gubernatorial goal would pack as much punch as the last time in 2007 if not better.
Ambode’s first edge is his early bird approach to tasks. He used this strategy rather ingeniously in the run-up to his party’s primaries. Since May 2014 when he launched his biography and had the Oba of Lagos endorse his candidacy, there had been nothing stopping him. His consultations and tour of Local Governments were as determined as they were decisive, thereby revealing him as one who wouldn’t take the opportunity of being a preferred candidate lightly. It was almost as saying that even if his candidacy would be threatened; it wouldn’t be on the basis that he did not work hard for it or that he was not acceptable to party members across the Local Government areas.
It was the same strategy he used immediately after winning the primaries – granting the right kind of interviews and combining mega rallies with consistent meetings with different segments of the society. Agbaje, on the other hand, came too late into the game. There was hardly any pre-primary assurance of readiness. His entry seemed unsure or forced. But even after defeating Obanikoro at the primary election, it took several weeks of tortuous expectations to begin to see his posters and feel his presence. The initial impression communicated was that Agbaje was reluctant to wear the PDP toga.
It did appear like the damage had been done, because when Agbaje eventually got his groove back, it was almost in slow motion, preferring town hall meetings to grand rallies that communicate the strength of his party and the popular perception.
You would almost think Ambode’s methodical campaigns in the print, broadcast and online media came too early as to give Agbaje an opportunity to launch a response. This never happened as his ‘Bold Ideas and New Opportunities’ concept lacked the cutting edge attractiveness expected of him. Compared to Ambode’s aesthetically-savvy print adverts, Agbaje’s was left to do mere catch-up. But this is even more evident in how Agbaje is disappointing in not having a catchy jingle this time around unlike when his ‘Everybody Loves Jimi Agbaje’ jingle was a communication hit eight years ago.
Agbaje’s first faux pas was to have initially used that old jingle of eight years ago after winning the primary in December. That was a weak shot at goal. Like Agbaje himself who has grown older and lost a bit of his charm, his 2007 hit jingle has lost verve and unsuitable for this year’s upbeat campaign. In beating a costly retreat, consequently, Agbaje ceded the space to Ambode who seized the opportunity in a manner that the PDP candidate might never recover. His first creative salvo was the AMBO sound track that featured the best of Nigeria’s popular musicians. With that jingle conveniently taking over the airwaves, it was as if Agbaje would have to get angels to compose for him to get a re-match. But more woes await Agbaje as another hit soundtrack, Everybody Lo L’eko, sung by Yemi Alade, became the icing on the cake.
But by far the most spectacular of Ambode’s communications strategy is the ‘I Believe’ commercial and sound track video, featuring the candidate himself alongside the cream of Nollywood and hip-hop music stars. This is as classic as it is award-winning. It is unlikely if any political jingle in the history of Nigerian politics would match this video, in terms of concept, content and creative accomplishment. Agbaje should not have responded to it. But he did, rather unfortunately, with the ‘Agbaje No 1’ video and soundtrack that parades artistes of lesser creative ranking.
All these of course have consequences on the rating of both candidates on social media, a youthful platform where Agbaje was initially projected to have an advantage. But the reality of Ambode’s edge over Agbaje on social media has got nothing to do with the six years age difference between them. It has a lot to do with Ambode’s head-start and the consistency of his events – rallies, meetings, visitations etc. When he hit the 100.00 mark on facebook last December, Agbaje was at 75.000. Today, the APC standard bearer has almost doubled that of his PDP counterpart. The same edge is seen in his twitter handle followership.
And how ingenious it is of Ambode’s handlers to have created an iconic A+ logo to counter Agbaje’s JK alias and still crown it with a sobriquet from his surname – AMBO, which has since metamorphosed into a buzzword conveying the sense that Lagos is ready to take on the world. The power of social communication!
Like the issue of Ambode’s mega rallies as opposed to Agbaje’s town hall meetings and enlisting top artistes and celebrities to endorse him, Ambode’s edge over Agbaje on social media communicates an important message – popularity and acceptability.
But I do not think Agbaje’s reluctant posture has so much to do about funds.
While Ambode popularized the use of A-Frames as campaign tools as a better alternative to posters, Agbaje has responded with equal vigour showing that he too could match if not surpass Ambode’s budget and goodwill for such materials. But the image of the party and responsiveness of each candidate’s media machinery come in. The media is awash with stories of Ambode’s A-Frames and billboards being defaced and his supporters being attacked by the opposition. The APC candidate’s media handlers released a statement on this and were able to portray the opposition as the aggressor and gained sympathy traction for their candidate.
There is yet the ingenious manner in which the perception that Agbaje was better qualified was halted. Ambode’s team simply released their candidate’s CV, and asked the voters to judge. It was impossible to ignore the richness of the resume of a man who had the second best result in the whole of West Africa at 17; graduated in Accountancy at 21, earned a Master’s Degree and qualified as a Chartered Accountant at 24, became a Fulbright Scholar at 35 and has run a private company since 2012 which has the likes of Price WaterHouse Coopers on the list of its clientele.
If Agbaje’s camp had a response to that, it didn’t appear eager to want to show it and in any case, the allegation of tax evasion hanging over Agbaje’s JK Pharmacy, even though he claims to have stepped down as the Chairman, does not help his image until he is, perhaps, able to produce evidence to the contrary.
Lastly, I am aware of Agbaje’s camp claim of ‘victory’ at the debate with Ambode. It would be unfair to the PDP candidate not to aspire to at least an edge, moreso that he went in with the burden of the gaffe over why Nigerians must vote for Jonathan if they did not want the South-South region to ruin the economy. But swag and gift of the garb do not always make up for experience and hard facts as seen in the two debates where both candidates have slugged it out. Yet, another gaffe about returning commercial motorcycles (Okada) to the highways removes from a candidate’s electability, because figures from orthopedic hospitals and the police show that for the sake of personal safety and public security, excusing the Okadas from the few major highways was indeed a wise and remarkable policy.
It is needless to stress the limited effects that debates have on the outcome of elections, especially in this clime where it has become three for a dime, with every media house and organization making a pastime of organizing debates. But then one can see Ambode walking away with an advantage. He cannot be accused of shying away from engaging his contestants, having done one with eight others at Archbishop Vining Memorial Church and then a one-on-one with Agbaje on the platform of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
What seems to count, in totality, is what the NOI polls has succinctly captured in its latest survey showing that Ambode leads in its opinion poll with 26% as against Agbaje’s 21%. While the large pool of undecided voters may play a role in who eventually emerges as governor, undecided voters often tend to take a cue from the result of current polls just like opinion polls, like actual elections, tend to build on the current impressions, head-start advantage and popularity of the candidates.
*Stevens, a Media and Public Affairs Analyst, resides in Lagos