Ambode: A Humanist and Pragmatist at 53

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Habib Aruna
During the thick of the governorship campaign in 2015, the then candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode in Lagos State, came out with an instructive advert: ‘Let my experience work for you’. In the said advert, which was placed in major national dailies, Ambode explicitly came out with his intimidating credentials and the experience he garnered during his years in the Civil Service, when he left Alausa and went back to school in the United States and came back home to become a public finance expert.

It was therefore not a surprise that few days to the first anniversary of his emergence as the Governor of Lagos State, some notable members of the National Assembly from the state, placed a centrespread advert in the dailies to remind the electorate that they made the right choice by voting for Ambode. In the advert that was rightly captioned: ‘We say thank you Lagosians, his experience is working for you’, the lawmakers enumerated the giant strides the state has recorded in the past year and that, despite the economic uncertainty in the country, the state under the leadership of Ambode, is on a sound footing for growth and development.

In truth, for some of us working with him at close range, it’s not too difficult to see the humanity, simplicity, compassion, pragmatism and discipline in him. When we were disturbed few months after he came to power with negative media reports and slow pace of governance, the governor would always tell us that we are on a marathon race and not a sprint; he would tell us that it has always been his nature to be underrated. “Just wait and see”, he would say with a smile. And while it has been difficult to keep pace with him, we find solace in what the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu said of the governor during the launch of the BRT buses last year: “Ambode does not believe there is no solution to a problem; he believes there is always a solution to every problem”.

Hence, the unprecedented achievements of the past 12 months should be seen within this context. Here is a man who rose to become the Auditor General and then the first civil servant to hold the positions of both the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance and the state Accountant General. Needless to say, that he had variously been credited with managing the account of the state when the then President Olusegun Obasango withheld the state Local Government funds.

For sure, it is this spirit of doggedness and consistency that the governor brought to bear in the way and manner he has piloted the affairs of the state in the last one year. At every critical juncture of the journey, you always have this belief that you are working with a man who knows where he is heading; a man who listens and is very meticulous in everything he does; a man who is concerned about every detail of what you do and say on his behalf; a man who believes the Lagos city-state should rank among the best in the world; a man who understands the transience of power and above all, a man whose love for the STATE of EXCELLENCE is unrivalled and passion for his job is unmistakable. Indeed, you will always win a seat on the table with Governor Ambode if you have superior argument on any issue.

Despite all he has done so far, the governor has served notice of something even more remarkable and iconic. His administration is about to convert Oshodi into what he calls “world-class transportation and commercial hub.” The more challenging term he used is “regeneration of Oshodi.” I accept that this is the realistic idea because the “genes” of the area that make it a natural crime centre would die at the springing forth of the new Oshodi Ambode is about to give birth to.

The area would witness the consolidation of all the 13 parks into three multi-storey bus parks and terminals to stand on four floors. There would be shopping mall, recreation points, bus lanes, lay-bys, green parks to soften the environment, proper waste management, fencing and – wait for this – a dedicated fully kitted security team for Oshodi.

We see this spirit of distinction manifest also in manifold enterprises embarked upon by Ambode in his lifetime and in his current capacity as governor. His administration has restructured the civil service for maximum voltage performance, while creating new offices to cater for the emerging needs of the people. He has cut the cost of governance by streamlining some ministries, departments and agencies. Ambode has injected compassion into governance, paying N11b to aged pensioners who had been owed for decades. He has personally attended to the distressed, the indigent and the severely handicapped. Recently, he celebrated Democracy Day with the less privileged and persons with disabilities. Very early in his administration he threw in the weight of government to wage a war against sexual and domestic violence.

This compassionate governance philosophy has seen Ambode launch an unprecedented move to allay the security concerns of the citizens by within six months giving more than N6.4b to equip the Police and other security agencies with armoured tanks, brand new power bikes and scores of squad cars for Special Operation Services (SOS) for community policing. He has also launched an aerial policing of Lagos by donating a helicopter to the Nigeria Police Command in the state.

Closely knit to these is a radical road infrastructure development leading to the construction and renovation of more than 500 roads in the state and 114 link roads in all the local councils and the Light-up Lagos Project meant to banish darkness from every corner of the state.

And just before the first anniversary, Ambode again did what many considered an uphill task with the signing of an N844b MOU to construct the Fourth Mainland Bridge. The bridge that is expected to be completed between three and four years, would go a long way in changing the transportation system in the state. Instructively too, these achievements are anchored on the core pillar of his manifesto, which is Security, Infrastructure and Youth Empowerment.

This tendency to post top-flight performance on the part of Ambode did not however spring up overnight. It has evolved and matured over the decades. Beginning with when young Akinwunmi Ambode emerged with 2nd Best Result in the Higher School Certificate Examination in the whole of West Africa, he has not dropped down from the Olympian Heights. He graduated at 21 at the University of Lagos and became a Chartered Accountant at the tender age of 24, and at 36 a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). Between 1998-1999, he was at Boston University, USA as a Hubert Humphrey Fellow in Accounting and Finance.

Ambode retired at 49, becoming the first Permanent Secretary and Accountant General to do so voluntarily. He thereafter founded Brandsmiths Consulting Limited to provide Public Finance and Management Consulting services to government at all levels, its parastatals and agencies. Brandsmiths, in collaboration with Price Waterhouse Coopers, has trained government accountants and finance personnel to prepare them for the cut-over to the International Public Sector Accounting System (IPSAS) which became effective in 2015.

He went into politics the same year and introduced a fresh element of grassroots campaign that remains the talk of the town more than a year after. Ambode struck an uncanny affinity with those he came in contact with, assuring them that he would partner with their creative ideas to forge a people-oriented society.
As Governor Ambode clocks 53, it’s assured that he will continue to churn out more of his great signature projects. Happy birthday Sir!

Aruna, is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ambode