Ambode and the Race for Lagos House

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As the 2019 general election inches closer, Gboyega Akinsanmi discusses the implication of the gale of endorsements Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode has been receiving lately

From the beginning, the voyage has not been entirely smooth. Many times, as Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode observed at a recent session, storms, mostly within and rarely without, threatened to terminate the voyage abruptly. Yet, according to him, with faith in God, the voyage has been a huge success despite challenges.

Ambode’s remark, however, is not a case of a candidate adjudging himself in a contest. Before now and then, different interests – opposition parties, civil society organisation (CSOs), organised private sector (OPS), community-based organisations (CBOs) and global community – at different times have examined and scored him high.

Even though they might not share the same political underpinnings, these interests had attested to the fact that the governor had indeed redefined the perception of Lagos State under three years. Even though, they acknowledged that issues remained, they nevertheless, said Lagos State has become a benchmark for measuring performance in government in Nigeria.

Already, the state’s Senate All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus has endorsed Ambode for re-election. Also, its counterpart in the House of Representatives has labelled him a creative manager of resources. Obviously, their decision alone has redefined the 2019 race for Lagos House with different groups now mobilising support for Ambode’s re-election.

Support from Within
Amid stern opposition in 2014, the state’s APC Caucus at the House of Representatives was the first to endorse Ambode after considering his track record. Again, the caucus had endorsed him for re-election. Its leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said the caucus endorsed him after deliberating on the report of performance analysis it conducted this year to ascertain the position of its members.

That indeed explained why the members of the caucus came to the state house, Ikeja on February 17. After a brief meeting with the governor, Gbajabiamila described the decision of the caucus as “a sacred duty.” He noted that it was something the lawmakers deliberated over a couple of days before they spoke with one voice.

He, first, cited massive infrastructure projects Ambode’s administration had been able to deliver in the space of three years. He, also, cited creativity his administration had brought to traffic management in the state, which according to him, had significantly reduced travel time within the state.

He, equally, pointed at how Ambode’s strategic response had helped restore public order in Lagos State. He acknowledged that he had redefined the state’s rescue and safety operations, which he said, had substantially reduced undue loss of lives at the time of emergencies. Likewise, he said, the grassroots have not been left behind in the ongoing transformation.

On these grounds, Gbajabiamila said: “We decided without a dissenting voice to seek his audience and endorse him for re-election in 2019. As stakeholders across all the LGAs, LCDAs and federal constituencies in the state, we have presented a very unique letter to Governor Ambode seeking for him to run again in 2019. We will give him unflinching support.”

In a letter it presented to Ambode on March 12, the Senate Caucus in Lagos State had also endorsed him to seek re-election. The letter, which was presented by Sen. Gbenga Ashafa, stated that Ambode had beyond reasonable doubt proved his mettle to lead the state to greater heights,” citing massive infrastructure development, strategic solutions to traffic gridlock and critical interventions in various sectors among others.

He, also, cited Ambode’s strategic partnerships with Kebbi and Kano states, which according to the Senate Caucus, attested to the capacity of Lagos State and the creative leadership the governor had been providing in the last three years. On this note, he said, “we must also mention that through the course of the period which our country battled with an economic recession, you made sure that Lagos State remained well above the curve.”

Views from Outside
Ambode is not just popular among the party faithful. He has equally earned public approval from captains of industry and chieftains in the opposition wings, among others. After listening to Ambode’s presentation at Eko Hotels & Suites on March 6, Chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia described Ambode as a prudent manager of scarce resources.

Aptly, Ovia put in perspective the challenge of governing a megacity, which he said, required unalloyed commitment and sacrifice. He, thus, noted that like a corporate organisation, Ambode “has rendered us account. The governor is the chairman. We are your shareholders. Indeed, you have done well by my own assessment. We will renew your mandate in 2019.”

The Chairman of Forte Oil Plc, Mr. Femi Otedola made a similar remark on March 4. In a statement he personally signed, Otedola acknowledged diverse challenges in the state and the rest of the country. He, also, analysed the impact of the recent recession, which reports showed, almost crippled governments in most states of the federation between 2015 and 2017.

Despite these numerous challenges, Otedola said Ambode’s “great good works” have kept Lagos as the benchmark for other states to aspire to. I have watched and followed keenly, in the almost last three years of the brilliant transformation projects across the state. No doubt, Ambode is building on the foundations laid by his good predecessors.”

Otedola, thus, said Ambode “is building roads and bridges, schools and hospitals, water treatment plants, sewage and storm water drainages, solid waste management plants, and mass transportation infrastructure. I am sure all my respected compatriots, friends and followers will agree with me that Ambode should please continue with his good job till 2023.”

For critics, at large, how Ovia and Otedola rated Ambode might sound like remarks of investors, who always seek to protect their business interest. But Ambode’s assessment by former Deputy National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George validated their ratings. At the 1st Annual Lecture of Swaaya Limited, George, a traditional critic of Ambode’s predecessors, said the governor “has changed Lagos State significantly.”

Although he claimed he scarcely travelled to other parts of Lagos, George pointed at how Epe, a long forgotten suburb of the state, had been transformed under the Ambode administration. He claimed he had not met Ambode before, but added, “I must say I am impressed with his performance so far, especially in the area of infrastructure development.”

At the 2017 Annual Dinner and Awards of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) in Lagos, also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo made a striking observation about Ambode. He noted that he had taken note of development projects he had been executing across the state, which Obasanjo, said would make life more comfortable for the people.

For former Managing Director of Concord Newspapers, Dr. Doyin Abiola, Ambode’s performance in office shows that his ascension to power was never by accident. With reference to how Ambode has been able to transform Lagos within a short period, Abiola said: “If we are truly going to make it as a country, we must reckon with Lagos State.”

Dissecting diverse development the state had recorded between 2015 and 2018, former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba described Ambode as a patriot, who according to him, had kept social contract even at a time Nigeria slipped into its worst economic turbulence. When other states could not pay salaries, he said, Lagos was and is still a huge construction site.

Osoba, however, explained two core rationales that defined Ambode’s records of achievement within short period. First, he said, Lagos State has become successful under Ambode because of the continuity that has been put in place in the past 19 years. Second, he added, Ambode himself has been committed to the security and welfare of Lagos residents.

Burden of a Patriot
Ambode has, however, been in the eyes of the storms for two reasons since January 2018. First, the decision of the state government to review the Land Use Law, 2018 has drawn public ire against him. But sensitive enough to people’s supremacy, Ambode reduced the charge by average 45 percent with the approval of the State Executive Council.

Already, the council had sent a bill to the state’s House of Assembly to enable it incorporate into the law all concessions agreed to during series of dialogue held on the new regime.
Also, the state’s new waste management regime has run into turbulence. And its consequence is evident in the return of wastes to the streets. But the governor had gone back to the drawing board. After a cost-benefit analysis, the state government had already agreed to an understanding that would bring back former waste collection operators under the public support participation (PSP).

These issues have, to some extent, affected Ambode’s public rating. But Hon. Moruf Fatai-Akinderu, a former member of the House of Representatives, looked at the issues differently. First, he said Ambode had shown due regard to the people of Lagos, which according to him, was the reason his administration consulted widely and reduced the land use charge.

Unlike his counterparts countrywide, Fatai-Akinderu said Ambode deserved another term because he “has been patriotic to the APC and its leadership.” Aside, he noted that the governor “has committed to implementing the APC manifestoes. He has been patriotic to the letter and spirit of the APC Constitution. He deserves it because he often seeks public welfare.”
Even though his policies had elicited disapproval of some stakeholders, Ambode should not have problem getting re-elected.

Reacting to the gale of endorsements, the governor made three key observations. First, he passionately conveyed his appreciation, not just to those who endorsed him, but mainly to all residents, whom he described as the bulwark of his regime.

Second, Ambode said the endorsement “is a mark of political stability in the state.” He, thus, said he could not have done much without political instability. He, then, said he would work by the day to make Lagos a megacity to be reckoned with globally.

Lastly, Ambode viewed endorsements as a mark of harmony and brotherhood in the political class in the state. Without harmony in the ranks of the APC leaders, Ambode said he could not have achieved much in the last three years.

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Even though his policies had elicited disapproval of some stakeholders, Ambode should not have problem getting re-elected.