Lagos: The Strategic Change Context


Recently, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, launched a book, Cascade of Change: A Decade of Liberal Thoughts. Political actors of diverse backgrounds used the event to examine the change agenda of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration in his first one year. Gboyega Akinsanmi, who covered the book launch, reports

Agood number of political actors and accomplished journalists converged on the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos, on June 23. The gathering was at the instance of the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde. And the reason was to unveil Ayorinde’s new book, Cascade of Change: A Decade of Liberal Thoughts.

The turnout was huge and impressive. The event brought together actors from the worlds of politics and journalism. The state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, former Ogun State Governor, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, former Ekiti State governor, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, and former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Femi Pedro, among others, featured prominently.

From the journalism world also, there were Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adeshina, Managing Director of THISDAY Newspapers Group, Mr. Eniola Bello, General Manager of Vanguard Media Limited, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, Managing Director of Daily Telegraph Publishing Company, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, and former Managing Director of Concord Newspapers Group, Dr. Doyin Abiola. They all came to honour one of their own.

The book presentation turned to be a forum for assessing the change the All Progressive Congress promised Nigerians. This time, the emphasis was not on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, even though he was effectively represented at the unveiling of the 558-page book, a compendium of articles written by Ayorinde in the last decade.
Discussants liberally assessed the Ambode administration. There was a consensus that if Nigeria “must be free from the shackles of socio-economic crisis, all actors – political and economic – must reckon with Lagos.” This, thus, signals the possibility of a new Nigeria with much to learn from Lagos.

Renowned political economist, Professor Pat Utomi, said change does not come easy. What informed Utomi’s remark was the myriad of social challenges, which he said, erupted just after Ambode took up the mantle of leadership. In the first three months, there was a sudden relapse of social order that compounded traffic situation, security challenge, and environmental problems.

Amid the challenges, at a meeting with the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Utomi confessed that he had to express his fears about the relapse of social order in the state. He asked Osinbajo: “Are you sure people have not made mistakes in Lagos?” But according to him, “The vice president simply assured me that Ambode was already responding to those challenges.”

Apparently, the conversation formed the thesis around which Ayorinde structured his campaign for change in the last decade. For Ayorinde, what Lagos needs is continuity and not change of political party, citing the remarkable records of Ambode’s predecessors. But Ayorinde did not have the same view about the federal government, which he argued, needed a fresh air from an ideologically oriented political party.

That explained what actually drove the campaign for change in the 2015 general election.
In his foreword to the book, the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, ascribed it “to prevailing conditions that made Nigeria cascade from setback to setback with each mistake more harmful than the one before it.” He cited the heinous records of corruption, terrorism and economic collapse.
Tinubu said change “became the rallying point; a single word turned into a political weapon that would bring down a political party that claimed to be the largest on the continent, which fancied the idea of ruling Nigeria for 60 years.” But what does that portend for Nigeria?

Discussants held a common view that the change had decimated the capacity of the Boko Haram insurgents, confronted corruption head-on and started finding the sustainable path to economic recovery. That was Ayorinde’s argument for change, a position he liberally canvassed in his new book.
Contextually, however, Lagos was the focal point. In her presentation, Abiola acknowledged how successive governments had engendered change in Lagos State. She also acknowledged the ground work the Tinubu leadership had been able to establish for continuity.

Asiwaju “could be what he could be,” Abiola stated, “But if Asiwaju does not have competent people around him, nothing much will be achieved. I had never met Ambode. I never had any discussion with him. But from what he has been doing so far, it is clear that he was prepared for the job. Ambode has been moving from step to step.”
Perhaps, it was Utomi who tried to put what had changed in proper perspective. He said, Ambode “is endowed with the ability of audacious imagination.” He said the ability was manifested in the Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of Fourth Mainland Bridge. He also cited the initiatives of SmartCity Lagos, Light up Lagos and neighbourhood renewal, among others.

Osoba, who chaired the book presentation, marvelled at Ambode’s approach to governance. Osoba’s perception is understandable for two reasons. First, Ambode silently embarked on massive transformation of the state at a turbulent time, when most states of the federation could not even meet basic obligations like payment of salaries.
Second, Ambode is trying to create an economically robust Lagos when federal allocations have dropped substantially. Beyond the conception of Fourth Mainland Bridge and Oshodi Transport Interchange, among others, Osoba said it was difficult to really fathom Ambode’s courage to construct a dual carriageway Epe-Ijebu Road, clear Falomo Roundabout, and initiate many other infrastructure projects.

Director-general of DAWN Commission, Mr. Dipo Famakinwa, explained Ambode’s records of performance on three grounds. First, based on his interaction with him, Famakinwa described Ambode as someone with strategic orientation about governance. Second, he said Ambode was able to put together a team of good hands, which he said, was a testament to his performance. Lastly, Famakinwa ascribed Ambode’s record to practical orientation, which in his argument, had helped him “consider his roles as the governor of Lagos State very seriously. On these grounds, Lagos is a developmental state. We all need to work together to really make Lagos a developmental state.”

Ambode actually had a turbulent beginning, which most discussants admitted was a defining moment for the nascent administration. Just after assumption of office, the social order relapsed almost completely, with increasingly frustrating gridlock, return of wastes to the streets, and mounting security challenges. It was indeed Ambode’s most challenging period.

But the governor responded with critical decisions, which in Abiola’s presentation, were products of creative minds. Under six months, the state recorded over 65 per cent decline in crime rate. Under three months, too, Ambode’s reform programme saved the state N3 billion per month. Around the same timeframe, gridlocks in critical traffic flashpoints quickly disappeared.

Ambode unveiled his next plan of action, which he said, was “to build on the foundation to move Lagos State to the next level. In the first year, we have laid the foundation to make Lagos globally competitive. In the future, we will build on it to move Lagos to the next level, a level of first class infrastructure, services, economic growth and opportunities for all.”

Even though the gathering was designed to unveil Ayorinde’s book, it turned out to be a forum for governance assessment, which Ambode confessed, he did not prepare for. The consensus was that, as Abiola put it, under successive governments, Lagos State “has been showing what it is to govern with efficiency. If we are going to make it as a country, we must reckon with Lagos State.”