By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
Many admirers and supporters of Lagos governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, have been worried. They had hoped the pain of unreciprocated goodwill – I mean, the essence of being hardworking, visionary, active and progressive in service delivery and other indices of governance, is that at the end of one term of four years, you are in a pole position to be adorned with a medal of second-term candidacy.
Ambode’s peculiar fate signposts the faultlines in a broken political chicanery practised all across the African continent. A big man somewhere, or a coven of fat-cats, whose grip on the veins and arteries of state power and funds is embarrassingly firm and red-hot unyielding. They, the so-called godfathers, turn legitimately elected officials into vassals, vendors and vessels of rent-payers.
It is in such depressing cesspool of political husbandry you are blessed with “words-on-marble” similar to this: “Yes, he performed as a governor, but didn’t do well as a politician”. Such incredulous “wise-crack” is why our politics and governance will often be pressed down by irreverent greed, pseudo-diabolical machinations, barefaced pilfering, morally destitute fat-cats… and clogging the channels of good governance.
So, we appreciate the profound disappointment of Ambode at being fed the humble-pie, and being visited with same whip other ambitious but unfortunate aspirants have had the distateful pleasure of embracing in the past. We understand that the shock of betrayals may cut both ways, and he has been left with the blunt edge of the machete (well, some of his traducers also have their own haunting stories to tell).
Yes, we get it… and we are genuinely incensed at the foul situation. We also have accepted that though politics has been variously slandered as being dirty. However, some of us believe that it is the practitioners that are dirty, unprincipled, avaricious, conniving, inveterate liars, and more.
Politics can be used for the good and benefit of a huge swathe of people, when fair-minded, industrious, purpose-driven and people-loving men and women take the harness of power. Stretching the argument further, it is clear to operators and observers of party politics in Africa that the game (or business) is akin to a binge at the casino jackpot box-machine – you may hit a jackpot once in million moon, but mostly the pulls deliver “dud-cheques”…fluffy nothingness. Except a cotton-wooled naive puppet, no politician should be shocked by betrayal, disappointment, disapproval or dissension…in this climate, the ugly expression of human’s psychological or mental failings is the rule, rather than the norm.
It is therefore worrisome to note that Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, since the October firestorm, appears to be in a sleep-walking mode. What exactly is wrong with Ambode? Is he really so shocked that he had absolutely no inkling of the political back-stabbing that visited his exalted office? Is it possible that he actually believed his deputy and commissioners (picked for him by a time-tested system of remote proxyism) would turn against their authentic source of relevance, and pitch their tents with him? Or are there prevailing forces still sitting on his head or heart, choking his vision and insisting on rubbishing his legacies?
Well, the focus of this article is neither to probe the psychological state of the governor, nor his mental capacity to bounce back from a tormenting trouncing from erstwhile friends and associates. Our purpose today is to wake Mr. Governor up from what looks like a slumbering inactivity – at least, from an outsider’s perspective.
Less than a year into his tenure, which began May 29, 2015, residents of Lagos State were delightfully praising the acumen and vision that the Ambode administration invested in dealing with the annoying “hold-ups”. Major roads were repaired (obviously, potholes cause traffic to move slowly); traffic-lights refurbished; arterial roads were unblocked, and lay backs and stops were hacked out of major ways. The traffic response was gradual and apparent: going from Ogba, near Ikeja, to Falomo in Ikoyi, used to take all of two, three hours during the rush-hour (6am-9am). Then, like magic, the time frame shortened to less than one and half hour. We started praising the governor and his aides. I remember Chief Tony Okoroji on my TV talkshow (FAJ-Alive) gushing about it: “Whatever magic the governor is using to get the traffic moving, he should not stop… he’s done a fantastic job…!” He heard our hailing, and promised to do more – and even on more routes.
Then, they started building (or re-building) roads in all local government areas; major bottlenecks were flooded with counter-strategies that broke old deadlocks – and traffic started flowing… shockingly. One of his magical decisions was to hamstring the notorious VIO (and to a lesser extent, the FRSC) from impeding traffic and making motoring miserable.
By the second anniversary of the Ambode administration, the trip from Ogba to Ikoyi had shrugged to less than an hour. A smart driver with reasonable expertise of the intertwining Lagos roads could make the trip in 45 minutes. It was similar relieved experience in many other areas of the state usually notorious for energy-wasting “traffic-jams”: Maryland to Ojuelegba, Agege Motor Road-Oshodi-Mushin to old Western Avenue, Apapa Road-Oyingbo, Hubert Macaulay-Iddo axis, etc. It was too good to last, apparently. But whatever the “condiments” applied by the Ambode administration, it worked brilliantly, and we didn’t keep quiet.
Now, it is as if the government of Ambode is “on leave of duty” – permanently! Or his government has gone on exile. The timing was suspect. People have begun to wonder: the bad traffic heartaches are back, with vengeance! The roads are clogged with bad drivers, unruly vehicles and nonchalant traffic managers. What happened? Is it that the governor was so smitten by his loss of a return ticket that he has lost appetite in the last seven months of his tenure? Is he punishing Lagosians for not standing up for him at his hour of need? Is he trying to give his party a bad name with which to hang it come February general elections? So many questions troubling average Lagosians.
Gradually and maddeningly, the roads have gone to the dogs – worse than the pre-Ambode interventions. Tankers and trailers have virtually overwhelmed our overland bridges and Ikorodu Road – to the clear frustrations of law-enforcers, and chronic devastation of man-hours, pleasure and “ease of doing business” for law-abiding citizens.
The Ogba-Ikoyi trips have returned to three hours (if you get out before 6am), or five, six hours on some occasions. Yet, roads are not the only headaches. Lagos appears to be on a free-fall. There’s no sense of leadership or motion. Until very recently, the governor was not seen regularly in the public space… The aura has gone… The man on the Alausa seat seems cold, absent-minded of current realities…distracted by the future…gutted by the past!
With more than five months before he hands over to the next governor, can the statesman and servant-leader in Akinwunmi Ambode rise to the occasion – give Lagos residents, and Nigeria, first-class services that will erect monuments of adoration and wreaths of nostalgia in the hearts of the people. It is wise to finish strong, even when you have nothing to lose than the ringing words of history etched in posterity.