Lagos and Ambode’s Long Goodbye

Akinwunmi Ambode

With a hugely promising governance trajectory halted mid-stride by the quaint godfather of his political realm, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, willy-nilly, enters a valedictory phase of his odyssey with head held high. Louis Achi looks at Ambode’s positives and writes that the unfolding scenario reinforces the perception that the South-West, nay Nigeria, still remain substantially transitional democracies

For three tough years, Rome had besieged the City of Carthage. As the battle-hardened Roman General Scipio Africanuswho took the city finally in 146 BC watched it burn in complete destruction, he suddenly broke down and wept. It was a shocking spectacle for his troops to behold. Crying for a defeated enemy was an indulgence unknown in that era.

Carthage at the time was the only existential threat to the Roman Empire until the coming of the Vandals several centuries later. Scipio’s emotional reaction to this particular conclusion of a historic, bloody campaign stemmed from a deep philosophical apprehension that all cities, nations, and authorities must, like men, meet their doom.

In terms of her progressive affluence and civilizational influence, Carthage shared some kindred features with Lagos. But while General Scipio Africanus was an external invader, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the godfather of Lagos State could perhaps be seen as an ‘internal invader.’ While Scipio’s mission was a hostile take-over, the Asiwaju’s undertaking somewhat represents an Omoluabi’s benevolent capture – with his eccentric political swag extending through much of the South-West zone.

Perhaps, it is only outsiders to the web of intrigues, Mafia-like maze of foot-soldiers, big and small leaders who solely depend on Lagos State resources (without productivity) for survival could discern that the rather untidy short-circuiting of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s political excursion has fundamental linkages to a lack of philosophical apprehension of the transience of power. It was this sudden, flashing insight that all cities, nations, and authorities must, like men, meet their doom that overwhelmed General Scipio Africanusand triggered his unsettling emotional breakdown.

Perhaps in a milieu sorely lacking philosopher kings, critical deficiencies in the understanding of the mortality of power can be excused. Kayode Ogundamisi, notable commentator on Nigerian and international politics and also an anti-corruption campaigner succinctly captures the way forward for Yoruba land and Tinubu. His words: “The class structure of modern day Yoruba politicians is modeled after the so-called Hausa-Fulani hegemonic style we all have been brought up to detest…

“For all his contributions to Nigeria’s democratic process, the legacy of Governor Tinubu will be better served if he stops getting involved in every selection process; let contests and processes be free and fair.

“Nigeria’s democratic process can only improve if internal party democratic process is free, transparent and fair; party membership open and attractive to the best who may disagree with the leaders of the party. It will be a shame for all his contributions, for Tinubu to leave the public with the image of the Lord of a Mafia group.”

Further according to Ogundamisi, “The Lagos All Progressives Congress, APC, power structure is filled with contradictions, sometimes progressive, sometimes self-serving, mostly operating like a bunch of mafias, highly close-knit. Those who control the party at every level expect absolute loyalty and no questions asked…Hardly would you find a Lagos State civil servant that is not a card-carrying member of the APC. Particularly the Alausa based civil servants, what happens in Alausa always remain in Alausa.

“Lagos APC has political leaders who depend on state resources; they have no other means of livelihood than politics. They know Lagos like the back of their hand and have foot soldiers beholding to them, from NURTW members, to genuine party members who desire progressive change to just anyone that can be a yes-man or woman, mostly reliant on a rental system.”

It is within this quirky context that Governor Akinwumi Ambode’s truncated stewardship can be fairly assessed.

The Ambode Scenario…
After dispatching the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s mettlesome Chief Jimi Agbaje in the keenly contested April 12, 2015 governorship election, Ambode hit the ground running. As governor of Nigeria’s commercial and industrial capital faced with the challenge of satisfying the yearnings of the over 15 million residents of Lagos, it couldn’t be otherwise.

Drawing from his rich professional background as an accountant, administrator and public finance management expert and leaning on a vision to make Lagos a clean, secure, more prosperous state with a robust economy built on service, equity and justice, the Epe-born dynamite left few in doubt that he is indeed the man the city needed.
One of the major achievements of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was the massive inner roads (re)construction his government embarked upon at the outset. In his ‘114 Roads’ project, each of the 57 local councils in the state got two good roads was completed. The accounting guru’s philosophy that a well-lit Lagos will reduce crime also saw him light up at least 365 streets across the state.

On the security front, just a few months after he came into office, the governor acquired 10 armoured tanks, three helicopters for aerial surveillance and policing, two gun boats, 15 armoured personnel carriers, and dozens of Isuzu trucks. Despite challenges in the area of security, the safety of lives and properties of Lagosians have received – to a large extent – a boost.

After several postponements, Governor Ambode began the disbursement of the N25 billion Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, one of the promises he made during his campaign in 2015. The initiative, aimed at artisans and entrepreneurs in the state, saw the disbursement of N6.25 billion annually. A huge chunk of that figure goes to carpenters, tailors, hairdressers, vulcanisers, and other players in the informal sector in the state and has helped create more than 11,000 jobs.

On the agricultural front, early in his tenure, Ambode launched the game-changing Lagos-Kebbi (LAKE Rice) project. Thousands of residents trooped out to various centres across the three senatorial districts in the state to buy the commodity which sold for N12,000 (50kg bag); N6,000 (25kg); and N2,500 (10kg). It was a much needed respite for a population that had been reeling under the impact of economic recession.

The recession then in 2016 notwithstanding, Lagos State generated a figure which ranked among its highest ever internal revenue. As at the preceding December, the state had raked in N287 billion in IGR, a whopping N19 billion more than was generated the year before. Except in 2013 when the state generated N384 billion, the year was the highest the state had made since its creation. A rejig of the state’s revenue generation agency played a major role in this feat. But governor also acknowledged faithful tax-paying citizens in the state for the revenue landmark
His words: “The tax payers are the ones giving us the little energy that we have and even though when they say Nigeria is in recession, somehow Lagos has been able to do it and it is because people are paying their taxes.”
The governor also dealt expeditiously with backlog payment of N11billion as arrears to retirees of Lagos State Government. There are much more.

Against unproven allegations of being impetuous and adversarial, the emergence of Chief Ambode as Lagos State chief executive evokes memories of other progressive eras of the state. Clearly, Ambode is not a saint. But the parameters for electing the governor of a Nigerian state do not specify sainthood as a key requirement.
His choice, simply acknowledges the capacity of focused individuals to change their society for the better. For decades, both as an accountant, administrator and public finance management expert, he has provided clear, pragmatic leadership.

Going forward, just mid last week, Chief Sanwo-Olu, Ambode’s successor-in-waiting joined the governor at the Lagos Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) meeting. GAC is Lagos state’s highest advisory political organ under the leadership of Tinubu. The membership of the council, made up of the governor and leaders of the party across the three senatorial districts of the state, include, Dr. Olorunfemi Bashorun; Senator Anthony Adefuye, Prof. Tunde Samuel, Chief Adeyemi Ikuforiji, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi and Cardinal James Odumbaku. The meeting, which held at Marina, Lagos on Tuesday, also featured the presence of Femi Hamzat.

This boorish ritual represented part of the valedictory motions of Ambode ahead of his standing down, as decreed by the Lion of Bourdilon. In the coming months, more such moves are expected from the governor under the watchful eyes of the dug-in political establishment of the state.

It’s worth recalling that a month ago the Asiwaju had proclaimed with some mystery that though Governor Ambode has done well in office, he has not been a ‘good party man’. For this reason, the godfather said the party decided to withdraw support for the governor who wished to go for a second term. According to Tinubu, the decision to abandon Ambode for Babajide Sanwo-Olu was beyond him. For good measure, he explained kindly he was only doing the wishes of the party, which had entrusted him with its leadership.

In all, a calm philosophical Ambode has taken all these unsettling dissonance in his stride as he focuses on the next phase of his life. Such is the measure of the man. The emerging consensus is that like the Phoenix, he will rise again.