Ambode and the politics of Lagos

Akinwunmi Ibidapo Ambode, outgoing governor of Lagos had been around the power brokers in the state for a while having served in the civil service for 27 years, during which period he rose to the peak of his career, retiring as Accountant-General/Permanent Secretary, State Treasury Office (STO).

It was the first time in the state civil service an individual would have the rare privilege of combining the two offices of accountant-general and permanent secretary. The combination of the two influential offices speaks to Ambode’s brilliance in service. But there’s an inherent limitation to the influence a civil servant can exert politically no matter how brilliant. They’re not to be heard. That’s part of their oath of office and allegiance.

The power to be seen and heard lies more with the political gladiators who control the political machinery of the system. Ambode knew that’s where he needed to belong and upon retirement, had begun moves to break into the political circle.

In Lagos, it does not require a seer to tell where the political powers revolve. For every keen watcher of political developments in Nigeria’s richest state, Bourdilon, Ikoyi holds the ace. For Ambode, luckily, Bourdilon wasn’t a strange abode neither the occupant a stranger. Currying the favour that would pave way for breaking into the political circle was probably not too much a task for a man who proved his mettle while in service under the watch of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Party (APC) and former governor of Lagos, 1999 to 2007.

It was no surprise, therefore, that the name Akinwunmi Ambode began to ring a bell towards the end of 2014 when the APC commenced the search for a replacement for Babatunde Raji Fashola, who was rounding off his two-term tenure as governor of Lagos (2007 to 2015). As the APC primary election that would produce the party’s flag bearer for the 2015 general elections drew closer, Ambode became a dominant political subject matter among Lagos residents. It soon became obvious he was the anointed of Tinubu, the occupant of Bourdilon, whose political influence in Lagos is invasive.

With the backing of Tinubu and his Mandate Group, Ambode sailed tops in the APC primary election held at the Onikan Stadium on December 2014, defeating other aspirants, including Adeyemi Ikuforiji, then speaker of the House of Assembly, Obafemi Hamzat, commissioner for works and housing and Supo Shasore, commissioner of justice and attorney general, believed to have been pushed by Fashola.

Ambode’s journey to power had begun, as he went ahead to defeat candidates of other political parties, Jimi Agbaje, of the People Democratic Party (PDP), who was his major opponent in the 2015 election to become governor of Nigeria’s most viable and influential state.

Like Fashola his predecessor, the task before Ambode was huge. Expectations were high. Fashola had left a big shoe and the next governor must show he was capable of not only stepping into it but wearing it.

Since May 29, 2015, the verdict among many Lagos residents, including political observers, is that Ambode has piloted the affairs of the state with dedication, foresight and profit; raising the monthly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state from about N25 billion to between N30 and N33 billion. He became the first governor to resident at the Lagos House, Ikeja, which gives the advantage to effectively supervise governance.

In the area of infrastructure, he’s seen to have upped the game, with huge investment in the construction of bridges and roads. Standing to his credit are the two Jubilee Bridges at Ajah and Abule-Egba, transformation of the Berger area on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, completion of 114 local government roads, ongoing construction of the Agege Pen Cinema flyover, ongoing reconstruction of the Lagos Airport Road, ongoing construction of ‘Oshodi Transportation Interchange’, ongoing transformation of the old Onikan Stadium, ongoing Bus Reform Initiative (BRI) which is expected to inject over 800 high capacity new buses into the public transportation system, with the ultimate goal of replacing the rickety yellow commercial buses.

His administration is also seen to have done well in human capital development, with thousands of civil servants at lower, middle and senior cadres trained and positioned to offer optimal services to the public.

However, for some pundits, the outgoing governor failed in his more than three years of administration to be a good party man. This was succinctly captured in a statement issued by the Lagos APC caucus in the Federal House Representatives, led by Femi Gbajabiamila, the majority leader that “governance goes beyond building infrastructure.”

The outgoing governor has equally been accused of sideling those who provided him the structure with which he climbed to power, and seeking to build own political structure with the aim to dispense of his political benefactors.

He has been accused of forcefully retiring several permanent secretaries appointed by his predecessors in the quest to wipe inherited legacies and entrench self as the new power broker in the state. He has been accused of dismantling the waste management system that was working, and introducing a ‘non effective’ new system, resulting in heaps of refuse in Nigeria’s ‘centre of excellence’.

And perhaps, in the submission of Bola Tinubu, his godfather, Ambode’s greatest sins earning him instant rejection by the power brokers in the state is the deviation from inherited economic blue print that has been driving the development of Lagos since 1999.

Here is how Tinubu puts it:  “To ignore this blueprint for progress in order to replace it with ad-hoc schemes of a materially inferior quality contravenes the spirit of progressive governance and of our party.

“Such narrow perspective does not bring us closer to our appointed destination; it takes us farther from that destiny. For reasons unknown to me and most Lagosians, we have experienced such deviations from enlightened governance recently.

 “We must arrest this trend before irreparable harm is committed against the people and their future. For the record, let it be known that I shall vote in this primary because I see it as one of extreme import to our state and our party. Just as I shall vote, I equally urge all party members to do so.”

“We are democrats in the truest sense of the word. As such, we forever search for what is good and right for the people. With this ideal as our guide, the primary cannot be shaded by selfish ambition or the perceived personal grievance between this or that person. What is at stake is nothing less than the future of the people of this state and how we can best maximise our collective destiny.”

This, more than anything else, according to Tinubu informed the decision of the state APC to resort to direct primaries in choosing the party’s flag bearer in the forthcoming 2019 general election.

“By resort to direct primaries, the party places the people’s future soundly in their hands. As democracy would have it, you shall be the authors of the party’s nomination and hopefully our next state government.

Tinubu explained further: “My goal is and shall always be a better Lagos. To this objective, I have dedicated the greater part of my public life. Roughly 20 years ago, a corps of dedicated and patriotic Lagosians, put aside personal interests and rivalries, to put their minds and best ideas together for the good of the state.  Out of this collaborative effort, was born a master plan for economic development that would improve the daily lives of our people.

Bestowed on me was the honour of a lifetime when I was elected to be your governor in 1999. My administration faithfully implemented that plan. The government of my immediate successor, Tunde Fashola, also honoured this enlightened plan.

Where state government remained true to that blueprint, positive things happened. During my tenure and Governor Fashola’s, Lagos state recorded improvements in all aspects of our collective existence, from public health to public sanitation, from education to social services, from the administration of justice to the cleaning of storm and sewage drains. Businesses, large and small, invested, hired millions of workers and thrived.”

With these words, the leadership of the APC had gone into Tuesday, September 2, 2018 direct primaries that threw up Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the party’s flag bearer, thereby nailing Ambode’s second term ambition and marking the beginning of the governor’s exit journey from the Lagos House, Ikeja by May 29, 2019.

JOSHUA BASSEY

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