For 23 years, Bola Tinubu has ruled Lagos State directly and indirectly as the undisputed godfather. However, the new kid on the block, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (GRV), appears to be on the verge of upending Tinubu’s dynasty in Nigeria’s commercial capital. He tells The Africa Report how he plans to achieve the seemingly impossible.
When on 29 May 1999 Bola Tinubu was being inaugurated as the Governor of Lagos State at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Ikoyi; Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour was a 16-year-old high school student of Ecole Artive Berlin, Paris.
Since then, Tinubu has risen from the position of governor to Lagos godfather, southwest leader and now President-elect. But his fairytale life is now on the verge of being dented as 39-year-old Rhodes-Vivour, the Labour Party governorship candidate, seeks to upend his dynasty.
“Lagos is like a mafia company. They are not interested in transparency and accountability; they are not interested in the social contract between themselves and the citizens. So, that is why they have to go… We are bringing it [mafia] down and restoring it [Lagos] to the people,” he tells The Africa Report.
On bringing down Tinubu’s empire, he adds, “Every empire also has a sunset and the people also want something new.”
Gbadebo is a Yoruba name that means the one who brings the crown. He tells The Africa Report that he will restore the crown of Lagos by tackling the corruption that has prevented the state from maximising its potential. He sees himself as a David who can bring down the Goliath of Lagos.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) never viewed GRV as a threat until the 25 February 2023 Presidential election where his Labour Party and its candidate, Peter Obi, defeated Tinubu at the Presidential poll in Lagos State.
Gbadebo is a member of the illustrious Rhodes-Vivour family of Lagos Island. He is the great-grandson of Justice Stephen Bankole Rhodes (C.B.E), the second Nigerian to be appointed to the judiciary. His grandfather and grand-uncle were also judges as well as his uncle, Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, who until 2021 was the second most senior jurist at the Supreme Court.
Every empire also has a sunset and the people also want something new.
Despite being from a family of lawyers, he chose to study architecture first at Nottingham University in the UK and then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for his Master’s before returning to Nigeria where he obtained a Master’s in public policy at the University of Lagos.
Gbadebo’s heritage is expected to play to his advantage since the indigenous people of Lagos have been on the periphery of politics for several decades while the Yoruba from other southwest states hold key positions. Ethnically, GRV is a hybrid. His father is Yoruba while his mother is Igbo hence his Igbo middle name, Chinedu, which means ‘God leads’. He is also married to an Igbo woman, Ifeyinwa, a molecular scientist who attended both Oxford and Harvard.
Ideally being a mix of two tribes ought to expand his appeal but the APC supporters have turned the campaign into a tribal one, accusing him of planning to give the Igbo people control of Lagos and pointing out his lack of fluency in the Yoruba language.
“Now that they have seen the power of the people, they are resorting to tribalism. They have created all sorts of stories, that I am an IPOB leader. They are only desperate because they know I cannot be bribed or bought.
“The people know that I have never been in the APC or associated with them. So, when you are voting for me, you know you are voting for a real shift from this level of mediocrity and state capture and that is the reason behind their propaganda. Yesterday I read that my mother never married my father, all sorts of nonsense but it will backfire,” he tells The Africa Report.
Rise of Obidients
GRV is not totally new to Lagos politics. In 2017, he ran for chairman of the Ikeja local council in Lagos under the now-defunct KOWA party. The cornerstone of his campaign was bringing godfather politics in Lagos to an end. He lost that election but remained active in politics.
Ahead of the 2019 election, he joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) where he contested in the Lagos West senatorial election and polled 243, 516 votes. However, he lost to Senator Olamilekan Adeola, who got 323, 817 votes.
Now that they have seen the power of the people, they are resorting to tribalism. They have created all sorts of stories, that I am an IPOB leader.
The following year, however, a seismic event took place in Lagos that would evoke political consciousness among youths. Thousands of youths staged the #EndSARS protest which caught the attention of the world. Gbadebo played an active role in the protests, mobilising youths and calling for an end to police brutality.
On 20 October 2020, after a curfew had been imposed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, some defiant youths remained at the Lekki toll plaza singing the national anthem when soldiers in the cover of darkness, shot at them. The protests subsequently metamorphosed into a full blow riot as shops were looted and government properties were burnt along with some businesses belonging to Tinubu.
Many of the youths who took part in the protests adopted Peter Obi of the Labour Party as their candidate and were called Obidients.
Gbadebo quickly identified with the Labour Party and won the governorship primary of the party. However, his opponents describe him as anti-government and cite his role in the #EndSARS to discredit him.
“That’s complete nonsense. I am not anti-government, I am anti-bad governance,” he says.
“Everything that happened afterward was an aftermath of the army coming to shoot civilians and I never encouraged it,” GRV adds.
Peter Obi’s message resonated with the evangelicals, disenchanted youths, middle-class professionals and the Igbo ethnic groups. This helped Obi to win the Presidential election in Lagos where he secured 582, 454 votes to defeat Tinubu who polled 572, 606 votes. This was despite the violence meted out to Obi supporters by the APC on the day of the election.
Tinubu went on to win the general election but the APC has now returned to the drawing board to ensure it retains the state on the 11 March election. Governor Sanwo-Olu and his surrogates have been lobbying several hitherto neglected sections of the state for votes and have increased their adverts.
Already, analysts believe disenchanted Labour Party supporters who are aggrieved over the outcome of the Presidential poll and scared of possible violence may not come out on election day and this could affect Gbadebo. He, however, thinks differently.
He says, “I cannot say that the election will be violence-free but[…] we will resist any form of violence or intimidation or harassment that comes our way. This election is like nothing anyone has ever seen in Lagos.
“In the Presidential election, we got more than 900,000 votes compared to what the APC got. These were votes that were not bought, votes that were freely given out of love and hope for a new Nigeria. So, that love that the APC is trying to extinguish is only going to embolden the people to come out again.”
GRV, who is running as an outsider, tells The Africa Report that he will introduce a number of reforms in his first 100 days in office if elected.
On claims that he has never held public office before and thus is unfit to lead Lagos, he tells The Africa Report: “Obafemi Awolowo never held public office before he became Premier neither did Lateef Jakande before he became governor of Lagos in 1979 but these men have defined excellence in leadership.”
The Labour Party candidate vows to address the perennial traffic congestion in the state by ensuring that large passenger vehicles are allowed to ply the lanes designated for the Bus Rapid Transit vehicles.
He promises to deepen transparency in governance and also cancel the state’s 20-year contract with Alpha Beta Consulting, a firm allegedly owned by Tinubu which has exclusive rights to generate taxes on behalf of the state government.
The Labour Party candidate also seeks to bring an end to the ‘agbero’ menace by ensuring uneducated youths are taught life skills at the local government level which would make them employable. He also plans to provide soft loans for small businesses while also reducing the state’s debt profile.
Gbadebo says, “Most definitely, Alpha Beta will be a thing of the past. It doesn’t make any sense to me as a governor that since 1999, these people have generated over $1.2bn that has ended up in private hands and accounts when in reality, it is the Lagos Inland Revenue Service that does most of the work.
“So, why should this obscene amount of money accrue to one man, his family and cronies when it could have been put into our public health and school system or for a welfare scheme?”
The Labour Party candidate denies reports that he plans on sacking government workers. Rather, he says he will increase salaries and in the process reduce public sector corruption.
Gbadebo adds, “The Labour Party is focused on restoring the dignity of labour. We are going to ensure we increase their salaries to a living wage and not a minimum wage.
“We will ensure they have access to student loans and affordable housing so that we can set a path for them to be truly the middle class. When you don’t do these things, the cost based on the bribes and our ranking on the ease of doing business and many negative things create a Lagos that is stifled.”