Former Lagos Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Olawale Oluwo and a member of the Ambode Campaign Organisation (AMCO), says the APC group is ready to dislodge the Governor’s Advisory Council from holding the APC Lagos’ levers of power. In 2018, Oluwo resigned his appointment to protest the gang-up against then-Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and defected from the APC to PDP. In this interview with Bayo Akinloye, the ex-commissioner sheds more light on AMCO’s plans, the blueprint saga that denied Ambode a second term in office and why he will be a better APC candidate than Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in the 2023 governorship election. Excerpt:
Politics is in the air, it’s the season of declaration of intentions, tell us, how do you see Lagos’ political environment?
The Lagos political environment before now has been interesting, and I believe it’s going to get more interesting as we move into the 2023 political activities. In the first instance, we have also been used to a two-party system of APC and PDP. But, on the APC side, it’s always been like a one-man show. It’s like a monopoly. I think that is about to change: that is the interesting thing about the 2023 elections.
You were the only commissioner who resigned in December 2018. Was that in protest against the fact that the then-governor was going to be denied a second term? Why did you resign?
Yes. You’re absolutely correct. And I did not only register my protest, I also followed it up with very clear statements in my letter of resignation from the government. I don’t like it when people play god with the transient power that ordinarily belongs to God and the people. There were two letters I wrote when exiting. The one that you saw in the public space is the letter I wrote to the chairman of the APC resigning my membership of the party and then also referring him to my earlier letter to the governor resigning my appointment as a commissioner. Because in government, you sign the oath of office, oath of allegiance and oath of secrecy. So, the resignation letter I gave to the governor is not the one I made public, it is the letter I wrote to the party chairman that I made public because I don’t owe him any oath of secrecy. But the issues in those letters that necessitated my resignations were basically the same.
Tell us what the issues were then?
The issues were internal democracy, undermining of democratic institutions, abuse of power and not making the welfare of our people the priority of government. I believe any democratic process should start with what is called internal democracy where the members who constitute the core of the party will be the ones choose the flagbearers of the party. I had worked with Governor (Akinwunmi) Ambode then for like three years, and it was clear to me that the direction he was going was consistent with the expectations of the people, and the people were happy with his performance. But a particular group within the APC just decided that they would stop his (Ambode) second term bid, not because he was not doing the work. Not because the people were not enjoying the dividends of democracy from him but because they said he was not a party man. A man that is a member of your party, how did he become a bad party man when prior to that time, about few weeks earlier, everybody in the party had endorsed him, starting from the senators to the House of Assembly and the rest of them? So, what changed? I couldn’t flow with all those rigmaroles, and I concluded it was best to just exit the government and the party.
You made a reference to a group. What group is that?
It’s the group that dominates the levers of power in the government of Lagos State, and that dominance has been there for close to 23 years, and I don’t think that dominance is sustainable. I think there must be a democratic process to manage the party’s affairs.
What’s the name of the group? Who is behind the group?
The name of the group is GAC; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s group.
That group has been described as the de facto ruling machinery in Lagos politics. Is it a legally recognised part of the APC? Some people say the GAC is just a cover for one man to perpetuate his political aims, to keep governing Lagos by proxy. What’s your impression of this GAC?
In the first instance, I do not know whether GAC was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) because it looks like an NGO to me, and there is nothing wrong in having an NGO. An NGO is to protect the interests of its own members. So, to that extent, if there is an NGO group within the party, that group would advance the interests of its members, not necessarily the interests of all the members of the party. Now, within the context of our party constitution, there is no provision for GAC. It is unknown to the party’s constitution and has no power to select candidates for the party.
My take is that the GAC, in furtherance of its own interests, has decided to pick a candidate to sponsor for the APC Primary elections. I want Lagosians to know that the incumbent Governor that has been endorsed by the GAC is the candidate of the GAC and not the candidate of the party. The AMCO Group will announce its own candidate and the candidate of the two groups will contest the governorship primary election in Lagos State. So, the field is open to everybody. Nobody should be intimidated or hoodwinked by the GAC into believing that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s endorsement is a fait accompli. GAC has no power to impose any candidate on the APC, only the entire members of the party can exercise such powers.
At the moment, are you a member of the APC, because I recall correctly you resigned a couple of years ago?
Yes, I am a member of the APC, I recently returned back to the party.
Having come back, what role do you aspire to play in APC politics in Lagos since those you protested against are still very firmly in control of the political terrain and do you intend to run for an elective office?
Let me put it this way: for this interview particularly, I want to say the struggle is not about me. It is about propagating our group (the AMCO group) in the public space and to let Lagosians know that AMCO is ready to lead the struggle for a better Lagos, using the APC platform. We do not believe in the GAC politics but we give it to them that it is within their constitutionally guaranteed right to advance their own interests. We have our own group, which is AMCO (Akinwunmi Ambode Campaign Organisation). It is not a new group. It’s been around since 2013-2014. But what we’ve done now is to expand it and prepare it for the next elections, the primary elections and the general elections that will be contested in 2022 and 2023 respectively.
There’s going to be a clash of AMCO versus GAC; is that a scenario you’re looking at?
That is the way of democracy. AMCO is working to ensure we have a competitive intra-party democratic selection process that is inclusive. I encourage other aspirants to come out and contest in the APC primary elections at all levels in Lagos State. They should not allow themselves to be intimidated because the APC leadership we have now at the national level is not the same APC of 2019. AMCO have absolute confidence, I repeat – absolute confidence, in the leadership of Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu led National Exco and NWC and we look forward to a level playing field in Lagos. As far as we are concerned, the two dominant groups in the Lagos APC are the GAC and AMCO. While AMCO may not control all the levers of power in the government, we have the majority of party members supporting us.
But the impression the public gets is that the group that has dominated for so many years remains the dominant group.
Thank you for calling it ‘impression’, but we have to operate on the basis of the facts. The APC membership preponderance is skewed in favour of AMCO. But for me, I think this election is going to be about the party members during the primaries and about the voting public in Lagos during the general elections. Fact is, the voting population is with us.
There are various elective positions available in the coming election cycle. Currently, you’re like an outsider because you don’t hold an elective position or whether any of your members hold an elective position in government. What are your plans and strategies not just to be dominant in the party but also to hold elective government positions in the affairs of Lagos?
We have that plan, and we’re going to be sponsoring aspirants to match other aspirants at every level of the elections in Lagos – Wards, Local government, House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate, governorship (governor and deputy governor). We’re a state-wide organisation, and we have our presence in all the local governments and wards.
Since reports that GAC has endorsed Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for a second term, are you going to field another aspirant to contest in the APC governorship primary and other positions?
Absolutely so. That’s the essence of democracy. It’s a competition. The GAC and their candidates are not our enemies, they’re our adversaries. But we’re in the same party, and the members of the party will determine who best will be their flagbearers, and we’re sure AMCO will be their preferred group.
It seems like a slam dunk with GAC endorsing Sanwo-Olu that the governorship ticket is settled among APC members. How will you change that and who is your group putting forward to challenge the incumbent governor in the primary?
Nothing is settled because the process is just about to start. AMCO has its own internal processes that is very democratic. I can assure you that within the next few days, you will know the candidate that AMCO is putting forward to contest the primary election in Lagos State against Governor Sanwoolu (the GAC candidate). I am fully prepared to play that leadership role and represent AMCO is that gubernatorial capacity if I get the endorsement. But like I said, that announcement will be made in the next few days.
What mode of primary are you looking at?
Direct primary is the best option for Lagos. After all the 2019 primary that brought in Sanwo-Olu and other officials established the procedure of direct primary in Lagos. We know that the party is owned by the members and they have the power to select flagbearers to fly the flag of the party.
How does your group intend to turn the table against the dominant GAC in APC?
The word “dominance” is relative. You can be dominant with respect to controlling the levers of power in the government but not necessarily dominant with respect to having the majority of members of the party.
They’re two different things. So, they hold the levers of power in the government but we have the members of the party on our side and that’s why we’re advocating that a process that will be fair to members is a process that allows members to pick their own flagbearers. I have no doubt in my mind that if that process is adopted, our group will come out victorious.
What will happen if the process AMCO prefers isn’t adopted?
There are internal mechanisms within the party to resolve issues. So, I don’t want to be presumptuous. But what we know is that we are determined to make sure there is internal democracy in the Lagos APC this time around. AMCO will continue to stand for inclusiveness, internal democracy, and development in Lagos State.
Good governance, inclusiveness and internal democracy; have these things been lacking?
Well, it’s been undulating and not consistently optimized. Sometimes they get it right, and a lot of times, you don’t get it right.
Can you shed some light on why Ambode was denied a second term ticket?
You know the truth? We have to be fair to the other side. They never for one day said Governor Ambode did not perform. They praised him to high heavens on the basis of his performance, and they didn’t stop at that. There were series of endorsements, back-to-back, by the APC senators representing Lagos State, the house of representatives caucus, the state assembly, the local government leadership and the party leaders. And within two or three weeks after those endorsements, we began to hear something else. They’re the only ones who can tell us why they didn’t grant a performing governor a second term in office. I would have thought that the basis for getting a second term was performance.
Ambode was accused of not implementing certain things in a ‘blueprint’. Have you seen the ‘blueprint’?
I’ve never seen the ‘blueprint’ and I don’t think Governor Ambode has seen any such ‘blueprint’. That’s the truth. But let me put it this way: Is the ‘blueprint’ the manifesto of the APC? If it is, why the secrecy about the masterplan? When was the masterplan written and who are the writers of the plan? Is it still current or is it now obsolete? Is it youth and technology compliant because the world has moved into the digital age? We implore anyone that is in custody of the masterplan to please make it public. However, notwithstanding the content of the yet to be disclosed masterplan, AMCO will remain faithful only to the APC manifesto. We will craft a modern masterplan out of the manifesto that will suit the Lagos dynamics and achieve the expectation of our youthful population.
The Visionscape deal was one of the reasons cited as ruining the second term bid of Ambode and that he tampered with where the GAC members are feeding fat on. You were in the government of Ambode. Please shed more light on this.
It is important to clarify that government is run on the basis of procurement, hence people make money legitimately by procuring goods and services for government and contracting with government generally. It is therefore not out of place that people will make money from refuse management, including participating GAC members. Our administration implemented the environment reform and Visionscape was the vehicle authorised to drive it. In our government, we focused on four major reforms, namely: the revenue reform, energy reform, environment reform and transportation reform. With respect to the environment reform, I’ve seen people talk about Visionscape without seeing the overall objectives set to be achieved by the environment reform. The GAC and the present government demonized the reform and shut it down without providing an alternative.
They have now gone back to dumping refuse at the Olusegun dumpsite in Ojota, with little regard for safety, because when you keep refuse dump for long, it begins to generate methane gas, and methane gas is highly combustible and can explode and kill people like a bomb explosion. We closed down the Olusosun facility but they reopened it within a few months of taking over from us. Now, what was our environment reform about? Number one: we said the way Lagos was handling refuse was not appropriate. So, we decided to close all refuse dumps in the state.
Number two: the vehicles evacuating and disposing of the refuse were completely decrepit. So, we proposed to financially support existing truck owners to buy new trucks which they will pay down over time from a percentage of the money government pays them monthly. We also refurbished the existing transfer loading stations and created engineered landfill in strategic locations of the state. The engineered landfills were designed to sort the refuse for recycling purposes and to provide feedstocks for waste to energy power plants that will power the communities around the sandfills like Epe, Badagry etc. I’m not saying our environment reform was perfect. But overall, in terms of the objectives to be achieved, in terms of the value addition for sustainable environment, industrial inputs and power generation, we were on course to joining the global best practice in refuse management. But they sabotaged it because of vested interests.
Please note this – there is no alternative option for a sustainable environment management in Lagos State outside of our well thought out environment reform; and I am convinced that Lagos State will still go back to implementing that our reform sooner or later. It was not a perfect programme but it can be perfected to reduce the concentration risks that were inherent in its implementation. It is not unexpected that vested interests would delay reforms but government must summon the courage to manage the process, by putting the interest of the people above vested interests of a few. The sight of mountainous refuse dump and inhalation of hazardous gases at the Ojota loop, being the busiest gateway to our city from the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, does not portray us as environment sensitive people.
But within a few weeks that the reform took off, there was a lot of refuse in Lagos?
No. No. There was sabotage. The vested interests were sabotaging the environment reforms, and we have it on good authority (with video evidence) that some of the trucks operated by the vested interests were tacitly encouraged to keep dumping their refuse on the roads in the night, just to sabotage the environment reform and embarrass our government.
It appears AMCO as a group isn’t well-known. In the eyes of the public, GAC is dominant. So, why did it take the group so long to come out for the public to know about the existence of AMCO that’s quietly dominant within the APC?
We have not been quiet. You know, before now, I think last year, congresses were held at the ward, local government and state levels. AMCO participated actively. Dominance should be defined within the context of effectiveness. We have been effective in our strategies, and as we go into the primary elections, we will aim to achieve dominance. Dominance is a dynamic phenomenon; you can be dominant yesterday and today but what is the guarantee that you will be dominant tomorrow.
In the last congresses held, you participated. The exco recognised by the party is of the other faction, not yours. How will your group come out strong when the national APC appears to recognise that exco?
I think we have to be very careful about the characterisation of that recognition. It’s not absolute. The process of the congresses has not been completed. It’s inchoate, to the extent that it is only the state chairman of the party that was inaugurated in Abuja. The Ojelabi chairmanship itself is still in contention because we believe that during the congresses, the state adopted a consensus approach. And, if there are five groups in the party participating in the congresses, then the consensus approach should accommodate all the groups within the party. It can never be a consensus if ALL the executive positions are shared to members of just one group in the party. That in itself is a violation of the directives of the national secretariat of the party.
That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, we have 245 wards and 20 local governments without party exco structures. The Exco Lists for these levels (including the uncompleted state exco structure) will have to be harmonized for fairness. As far as AMCO is concerned, it is only the chairman of the state exco that has been sworn in by the outgone Governor Buni’s Caretaker Committee. In Lagos, the GAC just allocated 100% of the exco positions to their own group only. That will not stand in this party.
The injustice perpetrated by GAC during the Congresses made the Lagos4Lagos group to exit the party for the PDP. The harmonized lists of exco members at the State, Local Government and Ward levels of the party will now have to be produced by the National headquarters since the state chapter has failed in that responsibility, on account of its being hijacked by the GAC (a group that is unknown to the party constitution).
Will that mean that your group is determined to break the chokehold of the group led by one man?
The party, members of the party and the people of Lagos, are determined to break it. I won’t say our group. Our group is just providing the leadership in that regard.
But what’s wrong with him controlling the party and managing all the crises in a dictatorial way that some people claim has worked?
Let me not personalise it. The GAC is a group within the Lagos APC. They may have monopolized control of the levers of power for two reasons. Number one: Because the other groups in the party have not been very aggressive in challenging the status quo; and two, the PDP that is the main opposition has not been able to muster the required capacity to take power in the State. That’s why AMCO is saying let there be collaboration by all the groups within the party to rescue the APC from the chock hold of the GAC because the people of Lagos yearn for this change.
If your group intends to field aspirants, including a governorship aspirant, will it not be a vote of no confidence in the incumbent governor?
You see, we don’t operate a parliamentary system. So, the concept of a ‘vote of no confidence’ does not arise. But let me put it this way: we’ve had three administrations in the state. We’ve had the Tinubu, Fashola and Ambode regimes, and now the Sanwo-Olu’s. I think the incumbent governor is struggling to impress the people of Lagos but AMCO is presenting a stronger value proposition to the electorate that will take Lagos to a superior level than what we are seeing now. The Governor still has some time to work before the end of his term but he must increase his work pace if he wants to be grouped in the column of performing governors like Governors Fashola and Ambode.
Won’t it be helpful if your group give your value proposition to the incumbent governor since you belong to the same party?
But he was elected on the basis of some programmes he sold to the people of Lagos. We don’t want to look like interlopers or busybodies but we are available to provide advice as appropriate if we are approached for such. Honestly, it is already getting too late for that now so we will continue to maintain our lane. We will even be happier to implement any good ideas we have by ourselves. That is why we are in the game to take over power from him.
It’s presumed Ambode is the leader of this group. He seems not to be visible. Why is he not visible to lead and articulate the vision of this group within the APC fold?
Let us not mix up visibility for effectiveness. Excellency Ambode has been very effective in organising the AMCO and in getting the AMCO ready for this battle. Whether that effectiveness will now translate to results is what we want to test during the next elections. The people of Lagos will determine that. Yes, we have been quiet, now we are talking and trying to sell our value proposition to Lagosians. It’s a matter of style. It’s a matter of strategy.
What are you offering Lagosians?
We’re offering them a better and fairer Lagos that is productive and inclusive, with a government that will prioritize the welfare and security of our people. The Lagos of today is working for just a few people; we stand for a Lagos that works for all our peoples. Furthermore, we were in government before and no one has said we didn’t perform. Our intention now is to go back to where we stopped. We’re close to the streets and the hoods. There is palpable yearnings for a better Lagos. We will lead that change process and deliver better security, education, infrastructure, energy, health and improved welfare for our people. In any development process, you start with security and energy (petroleum, gas, electricity, renewables and all that) because those are the foundation upon which the development of a modern society is built.
If you’re given the governorship ticket, will you accept it?
Yes I will. I prepared myself to serve this state since January 2006. Governor Ambode gave me the opportunity to realize that dream in 2015 and I am very grateful to him and to all the other leaders in my constituency who played some roles in my nomination. If given the opportunity to govern the state, I will run Lagos like a country, based on a template that will make us self-sufficient in all the things that can give our people better security and improved welfare. Afterall, countries that are just a fraction of Lagos economy, like Togo, Sierra Leone, Republic of Benin and a few others along the West African coast are running their affairs. I strongly believe Lagos should aspire to be a globally competitive city-state like Johannesburg, Cairo, and maybe Dubai, that has the attraction of an investment destination. Lagos must be self-sufficient in terms of revenues, energy security, food security, human capital development and adequacy of infrastructure.
People are saying that Lagos is not even scratching the surface of what it could generate in terms of IGR. What will you do to boost the revenue generation because you stated that if you got the call to serve as governor, you would not decline the opportunity?
I don’t believe in that special status being requested to be granted Lagos. I think it’s a lazy strategy. This state has all the ingredients to be great without going cap-in-hand to the federal government. It is in the interest of Lagos for the federal government to use its revenues to develop other states so the pressure of influx of people from other states to Lagos can be moderated. Lagos has quality human capital, natural resources and the strategic infrastructure like the seaports and airports that accounts for about 70% of international good and passenger traffic to Nigeria). What else are we looking for? Virtually all the major companies in Nigeria (including the oil and gas companies) have their head offices in Lagos. What we need in Lagos is to bring more people into the tax net, find other creative ways of generating revenue from utilities, and block the massive leakages in our revenue pots. People are encouraged to pay taxes when they are confident the money will be utilized judiciously for the development of the State.
Will you retain Alpha Beta?
No. I will not.
Because I don’t believe the company is adding any value to the revenue generation activities of the state. Besides, we have a Lagos state internal revenue agency (LIRS) that is doing exactly the work that Alpha Beta is supposed to do. I will rather strengthen the internal revenue agency of the state and redirect any savings made from that process to fund infrastructure that will improve the welfare of our people.