Former Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode’s response to a recent allegation of financial misappropriation is both concise and precise, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Though the saying, ‘silence is golden,’ which connotes that discretion can be more valuable than the most spoken words, is always very apt, even in the mid 19th century, when the phrase became popular, there is part of it that says ‘speech is silver,’ which also denotes that expressing oneself readily, clearly and effectively is equally valuable.
Presently, silence could not have been golden for the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. And the fact that he has come out to put the issues in clearer perspectives rather than staying mute and let public opinion run riot, showed he understood the weight of the matter at hand.
Politically, hardly has any state executive been so humiliated as Ambode. It is no longer news that the former governor was prevented from seeking a second term in office by forces that control things in the state.
For reasons that are best known to the main power broker in Lagos politics, the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, Ambode would not get a second term and he never did. That gave birth to the emergence of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Initially, the consolation for his teeming supporters, who never expected that the former Lagos governor would lose out completely, was that President Muhammadu Buhari would compensate him with a ministerial job, but that was never to be.
When the president eventually made public his ministerial list of 43 names, Ambode was missing on it. Rather, former Governor of Lagos and minister, Babatunde Fashola retains his seat while a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, got the second slot from Lagos.
Despite losing out in the Lagos politics, there didn’t seem to be respite in sight for the former governor. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) just announced that three bank accounts with a total sum of N9.9bn linked to Mr. Ambode had been frozen.
In a shocking revelation, the EFCC spokesman, Mr. Tony Orilade told the world that the anti-graft agency secured freezing order on accounts allegedly linked to the State Government under Ambode over alleged N9.9bn fraud.
According to him, the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, presided over by Justice Chuka Obiozor, last week, granted ex parte application that First City Monument Bank (FCMB) account with number 5617984012; Access Bank (0060949275) and Zenith Bank (1011691254) should be frozen.
The suspicion and allegation as specified by an EFCC officer, Mr. Kungmi Daniel, in an affidavit was that there has been an inflow of N9, 927, 714, 443.29 from Lagos State accounts into the FCMB bank account opened on September 17, 2018 during Ambode’s tenure and operated by the Permanent Secretary in the Office of his Chief of Staff, Mr. Adewale Adesanya.
Other allegations in Daniel’s affidavit were that Adesanya and some other signatories to the account made fraudulent transfer from the accounts of the Lagos State Government.
“The account always witnessed huge inflow from Lagos State Government in the above scheduled accounts managed by the respondent (Adesanya)”.
“There have been concerted efforts and attempts to dissipate the contents of the accounts listed in the schedule to this application.
“Without freezing the nominated accounts and temporarily forfeiting the money to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there is no way the fraud being perpetrated using the scheduled accounts can be stopped,” Daniel contended and Justice Obiozor granted his prayers, so the account stays frozen pending investigations.
In his response, however, Ambode in a statement by his media aide, Habib Aruna, said no account of his contained N9.9bn let alone being frozen by the EFCC. He said in the spirit of Sallah and having served Lagos State well with utmost dedication and integrity, his record was very clear and his mind joyful for the opportunity to have served the state diligently.
Ambode said while he did not intend to join issues with the anti-corruption agency at this time especially as there has been no communication between him and the commission on the issue, it is pertinent to clarify what he believed was a misleading import of the EFCC press statement issued on Tuesday.
He explained that the accounts in question belonged to the Lagos State Government and not him or any individual.
“Those accounts were opened in the course of normal operations by the Lagos State Government for its administrative purposes and not for the former Governor’s personal transactions as was being wrongly insinuated and have been operated to ensure smooth operations of government activities by previous and present administrations. The former Governor was not and will never be involved in any unauthorised use of government property and resources.
“We strongly believe that after four demanding years as Chief Executive of Lagos State, Mr. Ambode is entitled to some deserved rest with his family and loved ones without the unwarranted attacks on his well-earned reputation.
Many keen observers of the Lagos politics will not be taken aback by the turn of event. There is no-love-lost between Ambode and his political godfather, Tinubu and not many people knew the underlying reasons why their relationship suddenly went sour.
Even in building up the EFCC case against the former Lagos governor did not come as a surprise either. It had been reported that some APC supporters in the state had decided to bring Ambode before the EFCC for investigation on the grounds of alleged mismanagement of public fund.
Series of allegations and explanations have been espoused to justify Ambode’s predicament. In some quarters, he purportedly worked for the opposition to undermine the chances of the APC in Lagos. Some said stakeholders in Lagos State are particularly against the former governor for allegedly humiliating and treating them so badly – that he stepped on too many toes.
Principal among such people are the waste operators under the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria (AWAM), Lagos State, who were at loggerheads with the Ambode administration for significant part of his tenure after the governor contracted a foreign company, Visionscape, to manage waste in the state.
AWAM vice chairman, David Oriyomi, once told journalists in Lagos that: “The rejection of PSP operators in the state was an injustice, which has jeopardised the health and well-being of residents of Lagos State.” He was reacting to the rejection of their operation by Ambode then.
Perhaps, the most lucid explanation was when Tinubu after voting at Ward C, Ikeja local government area during the primaries, said Ambode became a “bad party man” who no longer deserved his support, because had lost the support of party members.
“It is those who made me the leader of the structure in Lagos, who said it was what they want. It is only if you have followers that you are a leader in democracy. If I look back and I don’t find them again; if I don’t respond to them, if I fail to accede to their request, I would have failed the leadership test.
“This is not personal; it is beyond me as a person. Every democratic constitution is preceded by, ‘We, the people’. So, I had to submit myself to the wishes and the yearnings of our party.
“This is an elixir for the general election. Ambode Akin, he is doing well, yes; he hasn’t been a good party man; not only the glamour, not only about brick and mortar. A talent is determined by character. For you to become an influential person, you have to respond to the yearnings of the people. This is politics; democracy – one man, one vote,” he said.
Is Ambode really bad or is he just a victim of the APC chiefs in Lagos, who have alleged that he frustrated them during his tenure and needed to be taught a lesson? Could it be true that the aggrieved party men are behind his EFCC predicament to stall whatever he is being considered for, not minding that ministerial consideration has eluded him already?
But now that he has cleared the air on the matter, considering that the issues border gravely on abuse of office and corruption, perhaps they would let him savour his retirement in peace?