A calm administrator with winning ways and a deservedly rising political profile, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode takes Lagos higher and higher. Vincent Obia writes
A kinwunmi Ambode, 53, is not from one of the aristocratic families in Lagos State. He is the son of a teacher and did not school in England or America, as was the trend among wealthy folks in his day. But he has had a brilliant career.
Ambode joined the Lagos State civil service in the mid-eighties and voluntarily retired in 2012 after a 27-year-old meteoric career. Upon retirement, he founded Brandsmiths Consulting Limited to provide public finance and management consulting services to governments, their parastatals and agencies.
Ambode was elected governor last year. He is one a half years in office, meaning that his four-year tenure is still in its early stages. But on the road to 2019, when his first term as governor of Lagos State will end and he may choose to seek re-election, Ambode has several things that Lagosians can see and begin to think beyond his first term.
An accountant by training, he has brought great credit to Lagos State in the area of revenue generation.
Even as federal revenue allocations decline due to falling crude oil prices and states grapple with desperate financial straits under Nigeria’s pseudo-federal system, Ambode’s Lagos has progressively devised innovative strategies to not just stay afloat, but also pursue its development objectives. The state generated total revenue of N101.69 billion in the first quarter of 2016, netting a surplus of N4.85 billion as against an expected deficit of N29.92 billion. The Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Akinyemi Ashade, said in May, during a ministerial press briefing to mark Ambode’s first year in office, that the revenue was above that of 2015, which stood at N97.28 billion in the first quarter. This means a revenue performance of N4.4 billion more than that of the same period last year.
This success story, despite a rocky year for government revenues, is the product of a visionary leadership that looked ahead and pursued broader revenue generation strategies. The Ambode government continues to project and create avenues for developing the state into the future.
Against All Odds
Nobody can gainsay the fact that the current quasi-federalism practised in Nigeria is not sustainable. It has replaced productive capitalism, the foundation upon which Nigeria was built, with consumption capitalism, which stifles creativity and innovation and tends to glamorise indolence. The current federalism establishes the rule of the idle and pressures the diligent to kowtow to idleness, a contradiction that spreads the culture of indolence.
Lagos State is in the vanguard of the progressive agitation for true federalism, which aims to return Nigeria to production and pull it back from the devastation and shame of effortless consumption.
It has been difficult to push this campaign, though the pressure for restructuring and return of the country to fiscal federalism has been mounting. The few powerful beneficiaries of the current lop-sidedness have dug in their heels and would not allow the fundamental change that would move the whole country forward.
But the Ambode government is not deterred; it has continued to shine the light. At a time when many state governments are using the excuse of declining financial allocations from the federal government to build comfort zones in which they operate and justify the non-payment of their workers’ salaries, the Lagos State government has maintained an excellent record of regular salary payment.
The government is taking internally generated revenue to another level. It is targeting a monthly IGR of N30 billion next year, planning to increase the IGR to N50 billion monthly in 2018, and projecting to grow from the N662 billion budgeted this year to a yearly budget of N1 trillion by 2018.
A fiercely ambitious administrator, Ambode told a town hall meeting in July that his government planned to reduce the state’s dependence on federal revenue allocation to between zero and 10 per cent within the next three years.
Recently, crude oil was, reportedly, discovered in the state. But Ambode is not hinging his hope on oil rent. He plans to harness the rich tourism potentials of the state and build a robust service sector for Nigeria’s commercial capital.
The governor said at the town hall meeting in Badagry that his government planned “to develop the state’s tourism potentials to reduce our dependence on federal allocation. The future of Lagos is about service and tourism.
“We have a greater plan for Badagry. We are already implementing the plan with construction works going on in different parts of Badagry. Our plan is to make Badagry Nigeria’s hub of tourism.”
Prominent among the things that have come to light in Ambode’s patriotic drive to grow the revenue base of the state is his background in financial management. He was a civil servant and financial consultant for nearly 30 years before running for the office of governor.
The governor has also excelled in security. He realises that his vision to make Lagos State Africa’s model megacity and a global economic and financial hub can only be achieved if people feel safe to invest, work, reside, and visit the state for business and leisure. His administration is investing heavily in security and working with key stakeholders to secure life and property. At a recent event organised by the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, over N1 billion was realised in cash donations from individuals and corporate organisations.
Many individuals and corporate bodies made commitments in cash and kind towards the maintenance of law and order in the state, while others pledged crucial technical support.
As part of the Ambode administration’s security strategy, the Rapid Response Squad, a Lagos State government security outfit coordinated by the Nigeria Police, is being regularly strengthened with funding, equipment, and transportation facilities. The government is also funding and equipping other security outfits coordinated by other federal security organs, like the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, and Nigeria Navy.
In line with the new world of information communications technology, the government is working on a plan to incorporate real time technology into the state’s security system. The aim is to have a system through which the whole state can be electronically monitored from a control and command centre. This would facilitate the rapid deployment of security to prevent and counter violent crimes and protect life and property. The system, according to the government, would be deployed to sensitive places, such as banks, schools, strategic roads/junctions, government buildings, shopping malls and other public institutions.
To ensure security in every nook and cranny of the state, Ambode recently announced a plan to employ at least 5,000 neighbourhood watchers and deploy them across the state. On August 15, the governor signed into law the state’s Neighbourhood Safety Agency Bill. His chief press secretary, Mr. Habib Aruna, said the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Law, 2016 was part of efforts to institutionalise and deepen community policing in the state.
Aruna said in a press statement, “We would go all out to make sure that this agency is activated and all our neighbourhoods will be covered, and then centralised with the state government with all the necessary equipment and resources to ensure that we establish what we call community policing. That is the way to go.
“We will re-brand neighbourhood watchers and re-equip them to the level that neighbourhood watchers in all the local governments will have their vehicles and necessary equipment to complement security. “We are also working on employing additional 5,000 neighbourhood watchers in all our local governments and they will be paid by us.”
A crucial aspect of the administration’s security agenda is the perimeter fencing of public schools in the state. This is to beef-up security in the institutions in the wake of the recent kidnappings in schools.
The Vice Principal of Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, in Epe area of the state, two students, and a teacher were kidnapped by gunmen on the morning of Thursday, October 6 from the school premises. Though, they were released five days later, the incident caused fear among Lagosians about the safety of pupils and students in the public schools.
In response to the problem, the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board has commenced the perimeter fencing of public primary schools. Public relations officer of SUBEB, Mr Seye Adelusi, who disclosed this on Monday, said work had begun in many of the primary schools. He stressed that the board was also working to ensure that all schools in the state were manned by security guards, both day and night.
He stated, “The board is also planning to recruit security guards in public schools where they are lacking, to protect the children in such schools.
“We are also collaborating with other security agencies, like the Nigeria Police, Neighbourhood Watch, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, to boost security in the schools.”
The security beef-up in schools has been of significant relief to parents and their wards in the state.
The Ambode government has enjoyed an excellent reputation. It has been associated with progressive initiatives and visionary leadership.
In a rare appreciation by an opposition party, last Monday, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party issued a statement to commend the All Progressives Congress governor. Spokesman for the PDP chapter, Mr. Taofik Gani, said Ambode had taken government presence to many parts of the state that had been abandoned for eight years by his predecessor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola.
“Without adopting the government of Ambode, at least we can now see signs of government presence in some erstwhile abandoned areas under former Governor Babatunde Fashola,” the statement read.
Ambode’s down-to-earth style of leadership definitely has something to do with his origins. Born in Epe, a suburb of the state, he attended St. Jude’s Primary School, Ebutte Meta, Lagos; Federal Government College, Warri, and the University of Lagos where he studied Accounting, graduating in 1984 at the age of 21. He has a master’s degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos and is a chartered accountant.
Ambode came into the service of the Lagos State government shortly after his one year National Youth Service Corps programme in 1985, as Account Grade II with the then Lagos State Waste Disposal Board (now Lagos State Waste Management Authority). By 1988, at the age of 25, he was appointed the Assistant Treasurer, Badagry Local Government Area. In 1991, he was posted to Shomolu Local Government Area as Auditor. He was later deployed to Alimosho Local Government Area as Council Treasurer. Ambode was posted back to Shomolu as Council Treasurer and transferred to Mushin Local Government Area as Council Treasurer.
He traversed the three senatorial districts of the state and many of the local government councils in different capacities within 10 years. This was a vital preparation for his later political responsibilities.
In 1998, Ambode was awarded the US Fulbright Scholarship for the Hubert Humphries Fellowship Programme in Boston Massachusetts. He also attended the Wharton Business School for Advanced Management Programme; Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield, England; the Institute of Management Development, Lausanne, Switzerland; INSEAD Singapore; and Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Boston, U.S.A.
He became the Accountant General of the state in 2006 and held the position until 2012, when he retired. His six years stint as accountant general witnessed significant improvement in the state’s financial performance, with a transformation of the revenue generation, management, and budgeting strategies.
Ambode won a clear victory at the poll last year, beating his closest opponent, Jimi Agbaje of PDP, by 801, 311 votes to 659,788 votes. But his election saw the stiffest opposition to a governing party’s candidate in the state since the Fourth Republic. PDP put up its best performance in the state at the last election.
Nevertheless, Ambode has since his inauguration on May 29 last year maintained a popularity that transcends party lines. The story of his one and a half years stewardship has been that of success, hope, and resilience.
It is difficult to say how things will pan out before the end of his tenure. But so far, Ambode has demonstrated confidence in his strength at the wheel of power.