Respected political economy theoretician and academic Professor Pat Utomi would not let go of a gathering of a Town Hall meeting hosted by a governor without observing the proceedings. So, on Tuesday October 11, 2016 he set aside his school duties at Pan-African University, Lekki and headed for the Molade Okoya-Thomas Indoor Sports Hall, Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos to peep into the entrails of popular democracy and governance.
He wasn’t disappointed. He met a mammoth crowd approximating the size of the spectators who would troop to the stadium for the final of a top international football competition. There were individual as well as collective interests who converged to listen to a governor’s stewardship.
When I stumbled on the crowd, I was relieved that I hadn’t come all the way from my base in Ota, Ogun State on a wasted trip, just as a smiling Utomi would have thanked God he also made the journey.
My take on this intellectual politician is that he has always argued for a strong nexus between the governed and the government. He believes that one way by which the government can strengthen this link is to be accountable to the people it is governing. Like the ancient philosophers and thinkers before him, men like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Harold Laski in our age, he holds the view that those in power who are ruling must subject themselves to periodic stewardship through revealing how they are handling the mandate to rule. Without that, governance would be occultic and in the long run be a futile one way affair.
Now this Town Hall meeting fulfilled the requirements for good governance as enunciated by the classical masters of the game.
The Lagos State Governor Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode flanked by members of his government including the Deputy Governor Dr. Idiat Oluranti Adebule along with top members of the ruling All-Progressives Congress (APC), faced the huge crowd to conduct the 3rd quarter 2016 Town Hall meeting.
The fifth in the series, it opened up the affairs of the government in relation to its performance since Ambode’s administration came into office on May 29, 2015. Those who listened to him were drawn from all the 57 councils spread across Lagos. There were market women; there were school pupils; there were artisans; there were the physically challenged citizens; there were grassroots politicians; traditional rulers including Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akinolu were there; two senators Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) and Ganiyu Solomon also showed up; representatives of the print and electronic media established their presence;in a word, virtually every segment of Lagos was represented.
Governor Ambode spoke of much water that had passed under the bridge. He alluded to challenges; but he also referred to gains. By his reckoning, government is all about overcoming difficulties and not one to be overwhelmed by problems.
Surveying the state in the period under review since the last Town Hall meeting at the City Hall,Ambode reeled out breath-taking achievements that included roads, streetlights, hospitals, environmental regeneration, urban developments, transportation, education, poverty alleviation, housing and youth and social development, employment, women empowerment and so on.
Obviously all these capture the essence of government and the responsibilities of the ruler to his people. Since government is the vehicle to drive all these areas of need, the governor decided to intimate those who gave him the mandate to rule of how far he has traveled.
On works and infrastructure during the period under review, the governor revealed that the State Government continued with its aggressive commitment towards infrastructure development to ease the movement of vehicles, pedestrians and commuters. So far, it has delivered on the following;
. It completed the construction of Agbe Road in Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government Area, and Adisa Ajibulu Road with Bridge in Oshodi-Isolo.
In making safety of life a reality for pedestrians in pedestrian bridges at TREM Bus Stop, Anthony across Apapa-Oshodi-Gbagada Expressway, and Ojota, both of which are at an advanced stage of completion. It completed Ojodu-Berger Pedestrian Bridge. Awarded the construction of Ago-Palace Way-Jakande Estate Link Bridge, foot Bridges at Itogbesa-Irewe and Okunudun-Erekun, Ojo LG. Presented a cheque of N4million to Mr Monday Imoni as compensation for his property that was within the Right of Way at 6 Fadahunsi Drive, Orelope in Alimosho LGA. There was emergency repair of Apapa-Oworonshoki Expressway (Ilasamaja Segment). Awarded Ojota second Pedestrian Bridge; Arowojebe Link Bridge, Aboyi Road Phase 2and Ajoke Salako Street. It completed the building of 24 Court Rooms’ Magistrate Court in Ajegunle, and the Egan Igando Mixed Housing Scheme was also delivered. It completed the New Critical Care Unit a-4-storey building in LASUTH.
The gathering also heard of impressive strides in wealth creation and employment. Here Ambode referred to the commencement of the training of the first batch of 100 youths in the Open Andela Training in ICT for a period of eleven weeks in software development culminating in applicants receiving Google and Microsoft Certification. He said government also organized an 8-week training on Capacity Building for 500 Tradesmenand Artisans at all the five Technical Colleges across the state namely Ikeja, Ado Soba, Ikorodu, Ikotun and Ekpe. In a similar vein, the government successfully registered 18 zonal bodies from the Trades Association, issuing 638 identity cards to artisans. Observers have taken note that this has led to a spiraling effect of self-employment leading to the alleviation of poverty in many homes and generally in the society.
Ambode noted that there has also been what he described as environmental regeneration in the period reviewed. For instance a great deal of effort was made to clean numerous collector drainsin scores of areas like Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Ikotun Bus-stop, Alimosho and Ijegun Road, Amuwo Odofin among many others. The government also completed the construction of drain for effective free flow of water at places like Odomola Senior Secondary School, Epe and at Education District VI, Oshodi. In this regard the administration carried out landscaping and beautification of a strip of land at MobolajiJohnson Avenue. 104 trees were also tagged at Freedom Park, Lagos Island for record and identification purposes while more than six million treeshave been planted to dateto upgrade the face of Lagos.
Governor Ambode, dressed in casual jacket and shirt without a tie, was quite informal to reflect the informality of the tradition of Town Hall meetings,dating back to the system of colonial America. In those days such gatherings attracted citizens who would come to listen to the views of their political candidates and how they were faring in office. Hundreds of years down the line the order hasn’t changed as we witnessed in Lagos on Tuesday. On this day, Ambode disclosed that the government had spent N166.8 billion on capital projects in the last nine months of 2016.
He declared: “A review of the 2016 budget shows that our state generated total revenue of N97.3 billion in the last quarter and had a total expenditure of N110.2 billion considering the fact that our cash reserve has remained positive. We expended N55 billion on capital expenditures in the last quarter”.
Ambode said the completion and handing over of 114 roads across the 57 local governments and local council development areas in the last quarter was a major achievement of his administration, disclosing that in the next three weeks his administration would commence the process of bid invitation for the construction of additional 114 roads across communities in the state. In addition, the governor had more cheering news for the people. Governor Ambode said he was going to boost employment opportunities and security in the state by recruiting additional 5,000 neigbourhood watchers into its Neighbourhood Safety Agency. He said he would begin this in November.
Analysts believe that this move would scale up maintenance of law and order while depleting the labour market. “The government,” he said assuredly, “will pay them salaries and allowances that will attract graduates too to be recruited. We are hopeful that this move will reduce criminal activities such as incessant kidnapping, invasion of any part of the state by militants, ritual killings, gang war and domestic violence among others.” Ambode put smiles on the faces of the citizens when he promised that his administration would work harder and support re-presentation of a bill that seeks a special status for Lagos State as the commercial capital of the country.
It would be recalled that Senator Oluremi Tinubu on October 5, 2016 presented the bill to the upper legislative chamber. But the law makers turned down the request. Now hear what Ambode says: “The bill was suspended and not rejected. It means that we have another chance to work harder and re-activate the bill to ensure it succeeds for the overall interest of Nigerians.”
And speaking on the bill, the Oba of Lagos claimed that ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo was responsible for Lagos not being granted special status. Oba Akinolu said Obasanjo had the opportunity to have granted that privilege during his eight-year tenure. If Obasanjo had done so, the issue of the National Assembly turning down Oluremi Tinubu’s bill would not have arisen, the Oba argued.This was gladdening news to the gathering considering the fact that when it came to the stage of an interactive session, most of the questions posed by the citizens centered on the upgradethe state chiefly through good roads.
Pastor Gbenga Oyebode of Surulere, Jimoh Olawale (Apapa Iganmu), Alhaji Saliu Ibrahim (Aguda) among others all sought the intervention of the governor concerning the state of the roads in their areas. One of them said the roads in his domain needed urgent rehabilitation to avoid fatal floods. For others like Mrs Bisola James (Ifako-Ijaiye), the concern was for attention to be given to the professional women in Lagos APC. A 74-year-old woman Alimotu Mudashiru (Ikate) who spoke in Yoruba said she needed personal assistance from the governor.
The gathering was moved with compassion when a visually challenged student of the Pacelli School for the Blind Master Kelechi presented his petition to Governor Ambode. He thanked the governor for his government’s support for the school. But like Oliver Twist he requested for more. He pleaded with Ambode to provide the school with a 32-seater Coaster bus. He also wants the state government to take care of the road where the school is located to prevent flooding during the rainy season.
Responding to their questions, Ambode said he would promptly handle the requests of the student of the Pacelli School. The government declared “We’ll deal with the flooding of the area as part of our structural support to the school.” This was met with thunderous applause.
The governor also said the woman who needed assistance would hear from him soon. There was room for some of the aides of the governor to address issues directly related to their portfolios. For instance the deputy governor spoke of new model schools in the offing. She disclosed that a secondary school would come up at Sari Iganmu. She said N10 billion had been set aside for the new model schools, adding that by November next month the projects would kick off. She described what was unveiling in the education sector in Lagos as a “New Dawn”. She concluded: “If your area is not captured now, you will be accommodated in 2017”.
As the program got to a close, the actor turned politician Mr Desmond Olusola Elliot (Surulere 1) offered the vote of thanks. He appreciated Governor Ambode and his cabinet for humbling themselves to meet the people. His presentation was short as he described the event as a wonderful Town Hall meeting in a wonderful state.
The attendees milled out, spilling into the streets with the scene again coming close to what you would expect after a big football match with supporters of winning and losing teams exchanging comments. This time, there was no vanquished side. All left hailing the Town Hall meeting as a fulfilling one that had not disappointed them.
Those who spoke out what was going on in their minds said they looked forward to the next Town Hall meeting, even as some would be expected to monitor the promises of the governor on his vows to help an old woman, build model schools beginning from November 1, recruit neighbourhood security watchers and prevent flood where the Pacelli School for the Blind is located.
– Ojewale, a journalist lives in Ota, Ogun State.