How Ambode Underdeveloped Lagos (I)

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Akinwunmi Ambode

Ring true

By Yemi Adebowale; 07013940521; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

The biggest hindrance to Nigeria’s quest for development is the majority of its people. Many are ignorant of what constitutes developmental strides. They are oblivious of steps capable of motivating development, and so, are persistently applauding things incapable of pulling them out of the inglorious club of under-developed countries. I am persistently shocked to see even supposedly educated Nigerians applauding mediocrity in governance, apparently for selfish reasons. In Nigeria, you will find governors building worthless bridges while public hospitals and schools are in tatters. The citizens lack access to things as basic as public water supply and drivable inner streets; yet, you will find so many people praising these governors for building stupendous fly overs, cinemas, bus stops and hopeless multi-lane city roads.

During a visit to Nigeria last year, philanthropist and founder of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates, tried to redirect this country to the path of progress by urging the Nigerian government to spend more on human capital development instead of splendor projects. For Gates, the present economic templates being used by the Buhari administration lacks the ability to address the unique needs of Nigerians. This also applies to our governments at all levels in this country. Gates believes Nigeria has the ability to attain upper middle-income status like Brazil, China and Mexico, but says that achieving this status depends on the choice Nigerian leaders make.

Gates’ comments at the special and expanded National Economic Council on investing in people were penetrating. He declared: “The most important choice Nigerian leaders can make is to maximise the country’s greatest resource, which is the people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive. If you invest in their health, education, and opportunities – the human capital we are talking about today – then they will lay the foundation for sustained prosperity. If you don’t, however, then it is very important to recognise that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow.

“Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished. In upper middle-income countries, the average life expectancy is 75 years. In lower middle-income countries, it’s 68; in low-income countries, it’s 62. In Nigeria, it is lower still, just 53 years.”

Gates’ words are words of wisdom. This is the spirit Nigerians must embrace, if indeed, we genuinely want progress in our dear Nigeria. We must be persistently blunt with our leaders at all levels and demand for people-oriented projects. Unfortunately, this is missing in our country. An average Nigerian is always economical with the truth. Even when it is obvious that Nigeria is in a mess, we still find a legion of sycophants around the President and governors. Even the oppressed masses rally around them.

I had to properly situate what constitutes development – with the Bill gate epistle – to elucidate the failings of Akinwunmi Ambode as Governor of Lagos State. With cash of almost N3 trillion in four years, Ambode focused on grandiose projects, while critical sectors like public water supply, healthcare, education and roads suffered. He plunged public fund into projects that, ordinarily, should be private sector driven. A forward-looking government has no business buying hundreds of commercial buses and erecting $70 million transport interchange. He even plunged Lagos funds into a needless Airport Road project (road belongs to the federal government) while millions of Lagosians struggle to get to their homes, dominated by shabby inner roads begging for attention.  At the end of his four years, Ambode took Lagos State 20 years back, with degenerating slums, tattered roads, wrecked public water supply, decaying health and education facilities, worn-out waste collection system, and all the negativities you can think of. The deteriorating tattered communities in Ikorodu West, Ikorodu North, Igbogbo-Bayeku, Ayobo, Ipaja, Abule Egba, Okokomaiko, Ojo, Ijora-Badiya, Alimosho and several others, testify to this.

I always use communities in Ikorodu West and Ikorodu North to illustrate the tragic rot in Ambode’s Lagos. These areas are worse than war zones with very little government presence. For example, in the entire Ikorodu West, there are only three roads with asphalt. Over 500 other inner roads are ragged. Many in these areas have relocated and abandoned their buildings. Then, Ambode came with a bogus plan to construct a six-lane road through Ikorodu West i.e. Agric-Isawo road. He ended up destroying lives of thousands of people in this area. How did this happen? His contractor came in, excavated virtually all existing asphalt and drainages on the road and disappeared, leaving the community in pain. I have never seen this kind of wickedness in all my life. When it rains, this road becomes one big hell. Ambode replicated this wickedness in Igbogbo-Bayeku and Oshodi-Isolo, where his contractors also destroyed good roads for imaginary mega-roads.

Ambode spent huge amount on the construction of theatre houses in a state where over 99% of homes have no access to public water supply. His absurd 2017 budget made provision for the construction of five cultural theatres in parts of the state. The budget also made provision for the construction of five mini stadia. I could not understand why the budget that came with a heavy N170 billion deficit would include trifling things like theatres and stadia. It is a shame that Ambode is unaware that these should be private sector-driven projects.

The Lagos State Water Corporation was one big mess under him. It struggled to get funds for common water treatment chemicals. Many communities that enjoyed public water supply, prior to his emergence, no longer did during his tenure. Many homes resorted to digging bore holes. The public water supply failure in Surulere typifies the crisis in the entire state.

While his reign lasted, Ambode spent billions of naira on gigs and carnivals in a state where public hospitals, roads and schools are in tatters. Drains across the state constantly emit stench, while humdrum things guzzle the state’s money. End of the year party, Christmas party, Ed-el-Fitri party, Ed-el-Kabir party, Easter party and all manner of nonsense dominated Ambode’s tenure. He was always partying.

It was also heart-wrenching seeing public funds being wasted by his aides and commissioners attending carnivals abroad in the name of searching for tourists for Lagos State. The truth is that tourists will come looking for Lagos State if we put our house in order in terms of security and quality infrastructure.

Infrastructure in public health institutions across Lagos State nosedived in four years of Ambode administration. The 26 general hospitals and one Teaching Hospital in the state struggled for survival while public funds went into mundane things. These hospitals became even more over-crowded, with dilapidated structures and unmotivated staff. Patients now spend more hours waiting to see doctors and pay for virtually everything. At LASUTH, patients often queue for weeks waiting for surgery because of inadequate operating theatres. Many will not forget in a hurry how footballer, Raymond King, died in one of the theatres after a power failure.

In Lagos, classes in most public schools are overcrowded with dilapidated structures. They became shoddier under Ambode. Many will be shocked to know that pupils in some Lagos schools still sit on bare floor in classrooms. You will shed tears for Lagos when you visit schools like Orile-Agege Community Junior Secondary School; Ifesowapo/Aboru Junior Secondary School; District Senior College, Meiran; Ijegun Comprehensive Senior Secondary School; Akesan Community Junior Secondary School and Tomia Community Junior Secondary School, Mosalashi, Alagbado. The list is endless. You will find dilapidated Jakande school buildings even in places like Apapa and Ikeja. Again, virtually all public schools in Lagos lack running water before Ambode assumed office. The story remained almost the same while his reign lasted.

Under Ambode, Lagos State became an even more dangerous place to live, with higher crime rate. Abductions, violent robberies and killings assumed frightening level. Cult groups, armed robbers and kidnappers constantly terrorised the populace, even at day time. Lagosians persistently lived in fear. This ex-governor spent billions of Naira providing equipment for security agencies without laying out proactive strategy for combating crime, as done during the Buba Marwa era in Lagos. Ambode did not reckon with the fact that the security architecture of the state needed to be redesigned. He unsophisticatedly thought it was just about spending on equipment for the security agencies.

Within four years, this former governor destroyed the waste collection system in Lagos, turning the state into the garbage capital of the world. I have never seen this quantity of waste on the streets of Lagos in all my life. There is hardly anywhere you turn to in Lagos today without being assaulted by unprecedented heaps of refuse. Residents, who can no longer bear living with refuse in their houses, simply push them into the streets. Waste disposal in Lagos evidently collapsed. Ambode destroyed the state-owned waste managers, LAWMA, and brought in a lethargic firm called Visionscape. The “visionless” firm was saddled with the responsibility of clearing residential waste in 20 local government areas and 37 LCDAs. Visionscape wobbled and fumbled, leaving frustrated Lagosians heaping waste on the streets in tons.

While Ambode’s reign lasted, pensioners of the Lagos government wallowed in pain. Ambode pummeled them. Some died waiting for their pensions. Many are bed-ridden with no money for medicals. Several others became beggars. Retirees of the Lagos State Ministry of Education were the most bashed. Many of them are still waiting for their pensions over three years after retirement. The Ambode administration failed to faithfully remit pensions to the Pension Fund Administrators. The Chairman of the Lagos State Association of Retirees and PFA Pensioners, Michael Omisande, remarked: “Those who retired from 2016 till date are yet to receive a kobo. You know quite well that the PFAs will not pay until government credits retirees’ accounts.”

Many of these retirees spent the last 35 years of their lives serving Lagos State. What they got in appreciation from Ambode was humiliation. This has never happened in the history of this State. A governor that spent a terrifying $70 million on an opulent transport interchange failed to pay retirees their dues. What a governor!

The truth be told, Lagos has degenerated greatly since the exit of Lateef Jakande as governor. Under Ambode, it degenerated further. Lagosians yearn for the return of the Jakande era; an era when development was inclusive and people-oriented; an era when government touched the lives of the masses of the people directly with quality healthcare, education, water supply and passable inner roads. There is an urgent need to construct hundreds of inner roads with drainages in order to regenerate these blighted communities. That was what Jakande did to open up many parts of Lagos like Mile 12, Ketu, Ojota, Agege, Mende, Onigbongbo, Palm Grove, Onipanu. Emphasis must be placed on inner roads to motivate development and enhance the value of property in these shattered communities. Any governor in Lagos State, longing for development, should work on giving more people access to quality public healthcare, quality education in public schools, good inner roads and public water supply; not spending on theatres, foreign tourism fairs, transport interchange, stadia, and all sorts of things that should be private-sector driven. This is the only way forward for my beloved Lagos State.