Africa’s chaotic, sprawling and dynamic mega-city, Lagos, is in need of new ideas, fresh inspiration to drive hope and strong and steady hands to steer it to greater heights. The people have tapped the son of a teacher, Akinwunmi Ambode, for this onerous task of taking the state to another level. They have made him the present instrument of their wishes. The task is huge and the challenges are enormous, but the teacher’s son comes with an impressive pedigree of academic/professional qualifications, matched with his nearly three decades of work experience in various strata of government. There is strong hope that his broad exposure will be brought to bear on how he manages the affairs of the state which is in desperate need of fresh thinking and a new vision. As it is said: a people without vision perish in backwardness. I must state here that I like the ordinariness around him. His calm demeanour, unassuming and jovial nature is fresh, reassuringly distinct from the insipid and elitist arrogance we had in the the last eight years.
Even though I didn’t particularly see much conviviality in the electioneering, I believe his familiarity with government financial processes puts him in good stead to hit the ground running in the right direction. I dare say the fact that he is a chartered accountant is a plus on how he will manage government finances, plug leakages and initiate even more creative ways of generating more money for the state. Having held the positions of treasurer in about 10 local governments areas, state auditor-general, accountant-general, permanent secretary, ministry of finance in the state and rose to the pinnacle of his professional career at just 49, Ambode did the unthinkable in our clime: he quit. According to him, he had seen it all and the daily routine had become monotonous and boring. “I wanted a different challenge,” he told me in an interview late last year. This is one of the hallmarks of achievers – a restless spirit to conquer more challenges.
As he also said in that interview on what he had been doing after he retired at 49: “I have been running a public finance management-consulting firm where we deal with issues that relate to public finance and try to help the different arms of government with international accounting standards set for the public sector. Beyond that, I engage myself in community work. In the last two years, with a friend, I have written two books: one on ‘Public Sector Accounting’ and the other on ‘The Art of Selfless Service’. I love to engage in community service. I also run a foundation called La Roche Foundation where we focus primarily on leadership and education because we believe strongly that leadership is something that should be activated from a younger age – and not necessarily when someone wants to become a councillor or minister.
“After retiring, I made up my mind that I was going to go back to school to do some academic work again. So, I actually found myself doing a bouquet of business schooling where I tried as much as possible to realign myself with private sector life. I went to Harvard where I did a course in public finance management; I attended Wharton Business School to do an advanced management programme; I went to INSEAD in Singapore; I also attended IMD Business School in Switzerland to do some work on corporate directorship. All in all, I spent about a year and came back in February 2013 to continue working in my private firm.”
Well, Ambode may not have prepared to succeed Fashola, but he definitely equipped himself for the path of higher responsibilities – and what fate had in store for him through the godfather of Lagos politics, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu – who took notice, and threw his political weight behind him. And now, the son of a teacher and sewing mistress has been elected governor of Africa’s mega-city. Ambode has assumed office at a time of great wealth and even greater penury and poverty – when the dividends delivered so far are not proportional to the resources generated from the blood, sweat and tears of the people; at a time when hope that was kindled in the people has been dashed by massive mismanagement of public funds. Only a foolish optimist will deny the failure of the immediate past leadership, which in more ways than one, detached itself from the realities and circumstances of the people.
The cost of governance is too high and unsustainable – the duplication of government agencies has further put pressure on the resources that should be deployed more productively in critically important sectors. Lagosians crave for openness, transparency and competitiveness in the bidding process – as the cost of construction contracts in Lagos is the highest per square metre in the world. Contracts are only awarded to friends and cronies of the last administration without a competitive tender at massively inflated costs to the detriment of public resources to which they claim fidelity. And the quality of finished work is usually poor, untidy and puts to shame the claim to excellence. The liveability report compiled by Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking which surveyed 140 cities around the world to assess the best or worst living conditions has consistently ranked Lagos among the top four worst cities in the world to live. It gave Lagos the 138th position in 2012 ranking it the third worst city to live in the world. This was a drop from its 137th position in the 2011 ranking. In 2013, it ranked Lagos the fourth worst city in the world to live.
Cities are scored on political and social stability, crime rates and access to quality healthcare. It also measures the diversity and standard of cultural events and the natural environment; education (school and university); and the standard of infrastructure, including public transport.
There are thousands of roads in this mega-city that are in such a bad state which leaves one wondering whether you are in Lagos or some other backward state of the federation.
He has to tackle feeder roads and drainages in the state particularly in the blighted areas, such as Ikorodu North, Ikorodu West, Igbogbo-Bayeku, Ayobo-Ipaja, Abule Egba, Okokomaiko, Ojo, Ijora-Badiya, Isolo, Idimu and several other suburbs of Lagos. A visit to a place like Efunlaruja in Ikorodu West LCDA will leave many wondering if it is a war-ravaged area.
Lateef Jakande did open up many parts of Lagos. Many have suddenly forgotten that Jakande made construction of feeder roads a priority. This opened up places like Mile 12, Ketu, Ojota, Mende, Onigbongbo, Palm Grove and Onipanu, among others.
An estimated 90% of Lagosians have no access to pipe-borne water. Even some areas connected to the public water system during the Jakande era no longer enjoy water from the public utility. The Iju and Adiyan water works can no longer meet the water needs of Lagosians. Besides, trying to supply water from Adiyan Water Works to a place like Ikorodu West LCDA would not make sense. Residents of blighted areas like Ikorodu North and Ikorodu West and Ijede LCDA will probably never experience public water supply if he is thinking about supplying them from Iju or Adiyan. He has to return to the Jakande era of constructing mini-water works for communities in these places. This is the only way forward. Jakande did it successfully; therefore, I don’t see any plausible reason why it can’t be done now. Today, every household self-provides this basic necessity of life by sinking a borehole for use, while the city leaders exalt themselves in self-praise and luxurious living.
According to the state’s former Commissioner for Economic Planning & Budget, Mr. Ben Akabueze, in a recent press briefing; out of the N2.433 trillion generated and N2.749 trillion spent in the past eight years by the state under reference, N1.132 trillion was spent on the execution of 8,961 certified public projects/programmes and of this, education and health got paltry 14.09% and 7.66% respectively. This according to Intersociety, an NGO, is far below the UNESCO’s 26% advisory benchmark for budgetary funding of public education and health in the developing countries.
The consequences of poor funding of education and health are clearly visible for all to see. Thousands of public schools in the state have neither pipe-borne water nor roofs or toilets and students sit on worn-out tyres to take lectures in classrooms that have neither windows nor doors. The quality of products from these schools have declined to unacceptable levels, and yet the city prides itself as the centre of excellence. The failure of successive governments in Lagos becomes stark when viewed against the backdrop of the fact that many schools established by the Jakande administration nearly 35 years ago have not been improved upon. They are still in temporary structures despite the enormous resources accruing to the state coffers in the succeeding years (the state has an even greater potential to quadruple its IGR if only it can be more creative in its tax regime)
Ambode needs to tackle the infrastructure challenges in public schools in the state.
Yes, many schools have been renovated while new structures have been put in place in the last eight years, but many more schools are equally still begging for attention. Classes are still over-crowded with dilapidated structures across the state. The governor needs to pay a surprise visit to a school like Ipakodo Junior/Senior Schools, Ikorodu or Farm Settlement Primary school, Odogiyan, to appreciate these problems. You will find these dilapidated ‘Jakande buildings’ even in places like Apapa and Ikeja. Many will be shocked to know that pupils in some Lagos schools still seat on bare floors in classrooms.
At Lagos Baptist Secondary School, Agege, hoodlums have been reported to attack and rape students because there is no fence and security men. The school borders a market and a notorious motor park.
There has to be a holistic programme aimed at replacing all ‘Jakande structures’ in public schools within two years of his inauguration.
On health, it is a pity that the 27 general hospitals in the state remain mere “consulting clinics”. They are also overcrowded with dilapidated structures and unmotivated staff. Patients pay for virtually everything in these hospitals. Ambode has to address the issue of shortage of bed spaces in the hospitals and rejuvenate the primary health centres across the state. He must learn to pay surprise visits to these hospitals, that way he sees things as they are for himself.
The usual excuse of no money is patently false and untenable. The truth is that there is more money in Lagos now than at any other time in its history.
Ambode should as a matter of fierce urgency launch the foundation of his government on the broad philosophy of “No One Left Behind”. Former US President George W. Bush used a narrower version: “No Child Left Behind” to drive his desire to ensure that America put as many children in school as possible. Ambode can adopt this to encompass the underlying philosophy of his government. It should form the cardinal thrust of people-oriented policy programmes, driven with vigour and targeted at liberating every school child from ignorance, while also ensuring that as many people as possible are freed from the pains of poverty and diseases. Let this be the driving strap-line of his administration.
Now, the son of a teacher comes to the arduous task of governance with the discipline of his background steep in the consciousness of old and precious moral values. He no longer has the luxury of operating in the backroom reporting to someone on the front desk. No – all that has changed. He is now the man on the front desk reporting to a bigger constituency – the people of Lagos. He is now in the full glare of public scrutiny. Each time anything goes wrong, he is the one the people will call. And when someone drives into a pothole on the road, he is the one the person will rain abuses and expletives on. Let me quickly remind Ambode that impressive academic/professional attainments do not necessarily make one a good leader.
The measure of leadership lies in one’s ability to see into the future, develop a grand vision and apply one’s self to the challenges and sacrifices needed to transform that vision into an enduring reality – where social values are more noble than personal monetary gratifications which has been the operational philosophy of past governments. A leader must realise that a mandate is a covenant between him and the people. It comes with expectations and sure enough, with consequences as the 2015 elections have proved. It is not enough to seduce the people with the mantra of change, and then, leave all the promises on the campaign field, hoping the people will forget or become complacent about those promises. Nevertheless, Ambode’s story gives me hope that he can surpass even his own expectations. A story that began at the Lagos State Waste Disposal Board in 1986 has reached the zenith of the state in 2015. This is the stuff dreams are made of. If Ambode can make it, then, the boy who sits on bare floor to take classes in a public school will surely make it someday. We fervently hope the governor will make his learning environment less difficult for him and others. This is the least we ask of the son of a teacher whose personal story is as inspiring as it gets.
20 SUNSET AT DAWN
Something profoundly dramatic took place in the National Assembly on Tuesday June 9, 2015 – the day the sun began to set on the “fraudulent contraption” called the All Progressives Congress (APC) – which rode to power on the popular clamour for change. It was actually more within the realm of probability than possibility that what happened could indeed happen. But only a few could have predicted the scale of rebellion led by the duo of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara who later emerged as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, defeating their party’s preferred candidates, Yakubu Lawan and Femi Gbajabimila.
The ridicule, humiliation and loss of prestige that the APC suffered and the overall implications for the party going forward cannot be overstated. The party was worsted by its members in a contest for power and control that had all the permutations of plain greed, shrewd subterfuge, cold and pernicious alliances that were not only near perfect in planning but equally brutal in execution. By the close of voting, the fractured ruling APC was left with a bloodied nose, holding the short end of the stick – that it could not even perform the very first task of managing the selection of principal officers of the National Assembly: the Senate President and his Deputy, the Speaker and his Deputy – were all produced from alliances with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against the ruling party’s preferred candidates. This speaks volumes about the unwieldiness of the party that promised Nigerians El Dorado on the campaign stump.
I saw through the schism of these strange bedfellows from the very beginning – a contraption hurriedly stitched and bandaged together in the name of a political party – where treasury looters, career criminals, serial offenders, rascals and thugs suddenly transformed into architects of change; ultra conservatives suddenly became progressives and championing progressivism; walking wounded and aggrieved PDP members who lacked discipline became beautiful brides and were openly wooed into the APC fold with mouth-watering promises and offers of important party positions. Even those with corruption cases hanging over their necks in court of law were wooed into the fold of a party that claims to possess a higher moral standing and the solutions to all the imperfections that have stunted our country’s progress. And each new ‘decampee’ was hailed as “victory for democracy” by mobs of enthusiastic hopefuls – who were too excited by the promise of change to see through the elaborate scam of power-hungry and primitive wealth accumulators.
I saw through the complicated fraud sold to Nigerians as progressives who want to change the country and who want to be seen as “doing things differently”. I hate to sound like a broken record but it’s worth restating here: these people parading the entire political landscape as agents of change are actually among those we need change from. While the frenzied outcry for change which seized the airwaves might have been genuine, the promoters of that campaign, except for an insignificant sprinkle, read the mood of the people correctly and used the change mantra to hoodwink and dupe the people into believing they meant well. But in actual fact, it was a mere smokescreen to achieve their desire for power. It was never about the people – it has always been about self-interest and preservation of those interests. These so-called change agents are as corrupt as those they ousted from power. I stated it then that their campaign was motivated by self-preservation and inordinate ambition to expand the frontiers of their wealth and political empire. But I was shouted down by a motley crowd of miscreants who would rather think with their hearts instead of their heads. The red flags were clearly visible for all to see, but surprisingly, many, including otherwise well-educated and discerning people chose to be wilfully blind.
Now that the chickens are coming home to roost, the APC’s reaction to the developments beggars belief. In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party described as totally unacceptable and the highest level of indiscipline and treachery the conduct of last Tuesday’s inauguration of the National Assembly that led to the emergence of Saraki and Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively. The statement added: “Senator Bukola and Hon. Dogara are not the candidates of the APC and a majority of its National Assembly members-elect for the positions of Senate President and House Speaker. The party duly met and conducted a straw poll, and clear candidates emerged for the posts of Senate President, Deputy Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all senators-elect and members-elect of the House of Representatives. All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision. The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members. Consequently, the APC leadership is meeting in a bid to re-establish discipline in the party and to mete out the necessary sanctions to all those involved in what is nothing but a monumental act of indiscipline and betrayal – to subject the party to ridicule and create obstacles for the new administration.”
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the party’s National Leader, also talked tough on the developments: “I will never recognise such a kangaroo arrangement that produced Bukola as the Senate President. Or how do you want me to recognise a man who deliberately defied his own party because of his personal interest? It is not done anywhere. Therefore, recognising Bukola as the Senate President after all he had done to our party today, having gone against the wish and pattern of our great party, honestly will amount to endorsing impunity, and which you should all know I will not.”
I pinched myself several times to be sure I was awake and reading the APC reaction and that of its leader correctly. I was dazed by the bare-faced hypocrisy of those statements. It appears the APC has forgotten so soon that it is the biggest beneficiary of indiscipline in Nigerian party politics by brazenly encouraging indiscipline in the PDP from its Action Congress (AC) days when it openly supported former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to defy his party, the PDP. He eventually defected to the AC – on which platform he contested the 2007 presidential election, while still serving as the vice-president. The then AC and its horde of activists and lawyers provided the bulwark of support – intellectual, legal and morale booster for Atiku – which emboldened him to challenge PDP’s position on practically every issue in 2006/2007. All this culminated in the judgment by the Supreme Court that a sitting vice-president can defect to another political party without resigning his position – laying the legal foundation for the defections and indiscipline that we have in our hands today.
Now, take a moment to imagine the implications of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo defecting to the PDP. How would the APC feel? That clearly irresponsible judgment killed party discipline in our politics and elevated individuals above their parties – as it’s often cited to justify the immorality of our politicians who have made cross-carpeting an art and a tool of blackmailing their own party anytime they fail to get what they want.
What happened on June 9 was merely following a bad precedent set by the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – an offshoot of AC – which amongst other parties metamorphosed into the APC. In a desperate move to influence who becomes the speaker in 2011, the then ACN staged a “coup” against the PDP and its preferred candidate, Mulikat Adeola, as Aminu Tambuwal in a treacherous alliance with the ACN emerged the speaker against the PDP’s candidate – and this effectively torpedoed the PDP’s zoning formula of sharing positions. It was hailed then as “victory for democracy and legislative independence” by many human rights activists in the country.
Why the then ACN which had its strength in the South-west zone chose to work against the emergence of a candidate from South-west as the speaker, and instead supported a rebel from the North-west has never really been fully explained. Lest we forget, that action denied the South-west its top slot in the Jonathan presidency – which was later blamed for alienating the zone in key leadership positions.
Speaker Tambuwal then proceeded to work hard to please the then ACN and eventually the APC all through his reign as speaker while doing everything to undermine his then party, the PDP. The leaders of the then ACN sure made a show of their “moment in the sun” with Tambuwal. Many Nigerians will recall that Tinubu openly boasted of how the ACN made Tambuwal speaker. When Tambuwal eventually defected to the APC and refused to vacate his position as speaker, it was hailed by the APC as “victory for democracy and freedom of association”. And its satellite brigade – these same activists and lawyers – told Nigerians that Tambuwal had the right to defect to any party of his choice and that there was nowhere in the constitution that says the majority party must produce the Speaker or Senate President. When the PDP went to court, 69 SANs, we were told lined up to defend Tambuwal, in a case that was never concluded. Nobody told us then that what Tambuwal did was “treacherous and immoral”, nobody remembered then that the word “betrayal” meant something in the dictionary. Now, Professor Itse Sagay is telling Nigerians that what Saraki has done is immoral, illegal and a fraudulent betrayal of APC. He is accusing Saraki of bringing impunity from the PDP into the APC. Can you imagine that? These so-called activists and lawyers never cease to amaze me.
Only a few will forget how the then newly formed APC fuelled the crises that rocked the PDP in 2013. At the height of the greed and indefensible behaviour of the New PDP Governors, the APC founding fathers earned miles, travelling round the country, openly and treacherously in-your-face manner, wooing the aggrieved governors and their supporters to join the APC. Photographs of each visit were splashed in the newspapers the day after. It didn’t remember then that those same members lacked discipline and refused to recognise and abide by the PDP’s rules, neither did it occur to the APC that it was setting itself up for trouble. All it was interested in then was undermining the PDP and swelling its own numbers. And what did the activists do? They hailed the APC for providing an alternative to the PDP irrespective of the indiscipline exhibited by those disgruntled PDP members. Those same troublemakers suddenly became progressives and Nigerians hailed the APC’s “political sagacity”.
Five of the G7 governors eventually accepted and joined the APC along with their state legislators and suddenly, the APC became a force to be reckoned with – a party with an impressive national spread and a formidable opposition to the PDP which it eventually ousted from power. Let me state here without equivocation that without the G5 governors from the PDP, there was no way the APC could have won the presidential election. Their joining the APC with their supporters altered the political calculus in favour of the APC.
So, let the APC not deceive itself that it won solely on the strength of its merger. It didn’t – as its victory is tied to the indiscipline in the PDP. There is a saying: “If you sow the wind, you must be prepared to reap the whirlwind.” It is therefore surprising now that the time for reaping has come, the APC is talking of “indiscipline,” “treachery,” “betrayal” and “ridicule.” So, these words have meaning after all? Something is sure wrong with this manner of progressives who approbate and reprobate at the same time.
I did ask then whether it was right for the APC that promised change to be wooing “disgruntled” members of the PDP – the same people it accused of being responsible for all the problems of Nigeria into its fold? Listening to Mohammed lament the fate that has befallen the APC on Sunrise Daily on Channels Television, one would think he had been away in Mars and so was unaware of the politics his party played. He now wants Nigerians to believe that the present composition of the leadership of the National Assembly is pro-PDP. He said: “What we have in the Senate now is a pro-PDP Senate which is not in the interest of our party. How do you expect us to sit with Ekweremadu and Mark to discuss matters of national importance? These are part of the old PDP order we struggled to defeat at the centre.”
Mohammed is only now remembering that Saraki and Dogara are pro-PDP after helping the APC to defeat their former party in the presidential election. These people think every Nigerian is a zombie. The APC must be reminded that its false progressive leaning and the manner of politics it played from the outset provided the platform for people like Saraki – a man who ran a bank aground with massive losses to depositors; a man with corruption cases hanging over his neck – to emerge as the Senate President. And for the first time since March 28, 2015, the defeated PDP had something to smile about. Its National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, issued a statement which amounts to rubbing pepper in the wounds, telling the APC to “stop whining and accept the will of the people, respect the independence of the legislature, as the PDP is not responsible for their naivety and crass inexperience”. The APC should re-examine the internal contradictions of its make-up and not dwell too much on where it fell, but where it slipped. Needless to say more.