BY Niyi Anibaba
Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, the governor of Lagos State has, since his inauguration some 12 months ago, moved with the winds of a hurricane to begin a new phase of growth and development of the state such that his achievements in this brief period of one year out of his four-year constitutional tenure appear like he has been there for a longer time.
Yet, it was only on May 29, 2015 when the newly sworn in Governor Ambode stood before a hugely expectant crowd at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, to proclaim his agenda as the helmsman of Lagos. He spoke of a Divine orchestration that worked in his favour. He words: “It has pleased GOD through the people of Lagos State, that my destiny as a little boy, born from a humble background on the 14th day of JUNE to become the 14th Governor of our great state, Lagos is being realized. I am eternally grateful ….”
He went on to make a solemn promise that his era would strike a difference, adding “the challenges we face today as a state are good enough ingredients to bring out the best of all of us.”
Indeed, as we mark his government’s first anniversary we can see the result of leveraging on these ingredients to give the best to Lagosians. We can safely admit that truly Ambode has not flinched from the problems of governance. Instead he has boldly applied these challenges to effect changes in all spheres of life in Lagos.
In less than 24 hours after taking office, he met with the Body of Permanent Secretaries with whom he would work before the appointment of members of the cabinet. He presented his vision to reposition the state along the principles of efficiency and a service driven-administration. He would streamline some ministries, departments and agencies, he said. This would cut cost of governance as well as create new offices to cater for the emerging needs of the people.
By August 5, 2015, Ambode had moved swiftly to give teeth to the reform. He dropped some senior carrier civil servants and appointed 19 new permanent secretaries based on “merit, competence, and track record.” In the same period, he scrapped the Office of the Special Adviser on Taxation and Revenue, Debt Management Office while he merged the Office of Works and Office of Infrastructure, Office Drainage Services and Offices of Environmental Service.
A major outcome of these reforms was the re- introduction of lump sum leave bonus for civil servants. It also resulted in something else that brought smiles and joy to thousands of Lagosians: he paid a massive N11billion back log of arrears owed retirees for decades.
Quite early in office, Ambode located the thorny issues of fraud and corruption in the flow of government revenue. He blocked the drainpipe by introducing the Treasury Single Account (TSA) operation with effect from September 1, 2015. This consolidated all government revenue into a single account. It threw out the multiple account regime that was a breeding ground for graft and the pauperization of government treasury.
While at work attending to the business of bureaucracy and civil service reform, the governor simultaneously embarked on a whistle-stop inspection to several areas of the state. In his first 100 days, he had toured Ipaja, Mosan-Okunola, Oshodi-Isolo, Brown Road (Oshodi), Ikotun Ejigbo and Somolu communities.
Now, there is a pedestrian bridge in Ojodu Berger and over head bridges in Abule Egba and Ajah being built by Ambode in his first year in office to save the lives of citizens. There have also been noble futuristic moves such as the signing of MOU for the construction of a Fourth Mainland Bridge. Dozens of major and link roads have been constructed across the state; In June 2016, some 114 local government roads will be delivered. All these have landed with a gigantic light-up Lagos campaign, notable among which are the 36 kilometer stretch of street lights from Ile Zik to Sango Toll gate and the linking of 67 Ibeju Lekki communities to the national grid.
This lighting up of Lagos and rapid road modernization in the state are part of a strategic goal to create a conducive ambience for local and foreign investment in Lagos with its teeming population close to 21 million residences and make the state a 24-hour economy.
Ambode’s government has linked security to this quest for an enabling environment for business. He has erected a huge security profile befitting a megapolis that Lagos has become. His administration gave the police a hefty N4.8billion worth of equipment in December and more were added by President Mohammadu Buhari, who was represented by Vice President, Yemi Osibajo, during the week. Thus, the state has so far spent more than N6.6b to equip security agencies in the past six months.
Thanks to the Lagos State government, the Police now have more attack helicopters, patrol vehicles, power bikes, gunboats, armour personnel carriers, and bullet proof vests. Insecurity is fast receding in the state, with adequate coverage of this former federal capital and the economic epic center, as a result of all these proactive steps undertaken by the Ambode government. The rescued of the school girls in Ikorodu, that was widely applauded has been widely attributed to this huge investment in security by Ambode.
Covering Lagos is also a function of the business of commuting between home and the work place by the residents. In this area Ambode has injected 434 new BRT vehicles for the people in the Ikorodu corridor. There is also the re-launch of the Blue Rail Project to ease the burden of road transportation. A water transportation scheme is in the pipeline. What we thus witness in this sector is a holistic approach to tackling the problem of transportation in Lagos State so that there would be less stress on only one aspect of the system.
Meanwhile given the challenges of road indiscipline and its fatal consequences, Ambode has restructured LASTMA for efficient traffic control, with mobile courts to deal promptly with road-related breaches. LASTMA is now headed by a well respected retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police Chris Olakpe. The citizens are heaving a sigh of relief these past twelve months with sanity steadily returning to Lagos roads.
A key promise of Ambode on May 29,2015 was to nip unemployment in the bud and offer an outlet to the creative prowess and potential of the teeming job-seekers in Lagos State. He has set up a whopping N25b Employment Trust Fund to work out an enduring template to engage the youth. Government has also intervened with the recruitment of 1300 teachers. The latter has had a three-fold impact: it has revived primary education in the state; it has reduced unemployment in a socially significant aspect and finally it has contributed to tackling poverty since in Nigeria’s socio-cultural setting, one person in employment results in the economic empowerment of a family of three or more.
Still on education, Ambode set aside some N1b for upgrade of schools infrastructure across the state. The governor has in addition resolved the protracted LASU crisis leading to the signing of the Revised University Law to make for harmonious campus life devoid of the seasonal industrial actions that have adversely affected the quality of education there.
Hurricane Ambode has not left the health sector untouched as is typical with all great storms of that name. Recognising the evergreen truth of the Latin saying, Mens sana in corpore sano,(A sound mind in a sound body), he has approved N49b Medical Parking Ikoyi while his government has greatly improved the welfare of medical doctors and other health delivery staff. And soon Lagosians will be enjoying the services of a DNA Forensic Centre as an MOU for its establishment has been signed. Government has enhanced the image of the health scene with the introduction of 20 mobile care unit ambulances together with 26 Transport Ambulances. These have been classed by experts as worthy investments long needed to bring succor to the citizens.
Agriculture and food production in the state got a fillip under review. Ambode’s administration entered into a deal with the Kebbi State government for the Development of Commodity Value Chain Rice Production. The implication is that when the pact fully plays out Lagos would have partly taken charge of its destiny in its responsibility to feed its population. The government would also save money spent on food importation.
Closely linked is Ambode’s prompt answer to the challenge of potable water supply to the residents. His interventions have addressed the issue in a significant way. In the past 12 months, more citizens have accessed good water for domestic and industrial use. This has given birth to a healthier lifestyle for Lagosians given the irrefutable fact that most ailments in the body are traced to unhygienic water intake.
The Lagos state government has also been active in entertainment and tourism. It has partnered with the private players and Nollywood to tap the limitless talents of the sector. Recently the government rebranded the One Lagos Fiesta idea to boost the industry. Apart from giving teeth to the seasonal cultural festivals by supporting them, the authorities are rehabilitating recreation centres across the state to attract the youth for profitable relaxation and to take their mind away from crime. Such national and religious holidays as October 1,Eid el Kabir and Easter no longer pass without meaningful government-citizen participation.
Now, as Lagos prepares for the 50th year of its creation next year Ambode is putting in place an elaborate plan to give the people a befitting celebration. The government has succeeded in raising a committee to work on the anniversary, with Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka and respected economist, Chief Rasheed Gbadamoshi as co-chairmen. Lagosians and Nigerians alike are excited as they await Lagos at 50 on account of the involvement of these illustrious citizens.
Sports has not been neglected by Ambode in this first year in office. There has been a well-reported international marathon race that attracted the best in the globe. Ambode has also hosted Spanish football giants Barcelona with a move to establish a football academy in Lagos.
Indeed, many who have observed the activities of Ambode over the past 12 months say they are struck by how he has faithfully gone about fulfilling his campaign promise to run an administration that will ‘’ cater for the poor and needy…and (operate)a compassionate government.”
Now I have seen this compassion nature in Ambode many times over since he took over on May 29. First I refer to his approach to the question of sexual and domestic violence. He has shown zero tolerance for it. In only a few days in office, Ambode met with the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), charging them to intensify sensitization against assault on women. He approved the use of 112 toll free line to report cases of rape, defilement, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, maltreatment and other sexual attacks.
Secondly, I allude to Ambode’s personal response to disasters. He wasn’t in Lagos during a fatal tanker explosion and fire outbreak but he flew back immediately when he got the news, inside the rain, he went straight to the scene to take charge of rescue operation. How about the other moving incident that occurred when there was a motor accident as he headed for work? The governor stopped his convoy, got out of his car and went on to pull out a woman trapped in the crashed vehicle.
We can also recall Ambode’s personal intervention in the case of Mrs. Ruth Uche, whose husband fled his Agege home when his wife gave birth to three sets of twins. On reading of the story in the newspapers, the governor straightaway directed the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Oluranti Adebule to provide official assistance to the family. That made the father of the children to return home.
Working with Deputy Governor Adebule and a cabinet he appointed in September last year, which keen watchers described as Ambode’s Dream Team, the governor has been able to initiate policies that rest on a tripod: Security, Job Opportunities and Improved Infrastructure. A close observation of the style of the governor in his first year in office would reveal that the three-point Agenda sums up the whole responsibility of government. All of political economy or political science together with the traditional concept of good governance boils down to seeking the welfare of the citizen of a state with utmost compassion. The three points of Ambode adequately capture this vision of good governance.
Add the above to Wednesday’s signing of the N844b MOU for the Fourth Mainland Bridge and Friday’s commissioning of the Meiran-Ajasa Command Road, a major link road, and it would not be too difficult to decipher why Governor Ambode is receiving so much acclaim for his strides in his first year in office.
––Anibaba, an economist, wrote in from Gbagada.