By Bolanle Bolawole
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As would be expected, a flurry of activities is hallmarkingGov. Akinwunmi Ambode’s last days in office. Last Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari was in Lagos on a one-day working visit during which he commissioned many signature projects of the Lagos State governor. Critics say the projects were hastily commissioned and that they were notreally completed and ready. They hinged their criticism on the admission of Ambode himself that some of the projects will become fully completed and operational between early and late May. Two reasons advanced for this “rush” to commission “uncompleted” projects is that Ambode is bent on taking the credit for his projects instead of letting the in-coming administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu do so. The issue of Ambode’s failed second term bid is still fresh in our memory. We shall return to that shortly. The other reason adduced is that the out-going governor is preparing the grounds for his future by worming his way into President Muhammadu Buhari’s heart. While it raged, the fight for second term between Ambode and Sanwo-Olu was said to have been resolved with the promise of Ministerial portfolio made to Ambode. So, inviting Buhari to Lagos to commission five-star projects is said by many to be the right step in the right direction and an exercise meant to further cementAmbode’s claim to Lagos State’s ministerial slot. Note that I said “further cement” because the governor is said to have done a yeoman’s job during the last presidential election in winning his Epe constituency handsomely for Buhari while many other APC top-notch lost scandalously in theirs. While we cannot confirm – or deny – the assertion, the governor was also said to have been generous in bankrolling the APC in the elections, both at National and State levels. Ambode, the critics further said, had to hurriedly bring the president to Lagos because Buhari was slated to travel out of the country again for medical tourism. On the occasions that Buhari had travelled in the past, who could vouchsafe what would happen or say equivocally when he would return? So it was wise to bring the president the time Ambode did.
Another school of thought, however, is that it was a pragmatic and wise decision for Ambode to forge ahead with his signature projects. Commissioning the projects in their various stages of completion is demonstration of commitment. It is also a way of tying the hands of the in-coming administration not to abandon the projects. This argument makes a lot of sense. I live in the Agege area of Lagos and would very much love Ambode to also fast-track as well as commission the flyover at Pen-Cinema before he throws in the towel next month. There are so many other construction projects embarked upon by Ambode that made people say he has turned Lagos into a huge construction site. Critics say he put too many iron rods inside the fire at one and same time; meaning, he was biting more than he could chew. Those who were happy he did not make his second term bid – for now, to me, and we shall soon return to that – accuse him of over-confidence. They say he was too sure of second term and never contemplated the ground could be made to shift from under his feet the way and manner it did. Our elders have a saying, to wit, “Esin ota eni kii ga l’oju eni” That is true: You enemy’s horse can never be tall enough in your reckoning. You will always find a way or reason to ridicule it even when you know in your heart of hearts that you are merely playing petty politics.
The official reason the powers-that-be gave for denying Ambode second term was that while he was a good governor, he did not make a good politician; a euphemism for not putting enough money in the pockets of the party and party leaders. But other reasons peddled by Alausa (read: Civil servants and political appointees) are that the governor blocked all avenues and loopholes for “ilabe”; that he over-centralized award of contracts, concentrating all the levers solely in his own hands; and that he was responsible for the “miserable” salary scale in force in the State when he could have given them a better deal. “Ilabe” is euphemism for corruption. Ambode as an accomplished accountantreportedly blocked many of the loopholes through which the state’s treasury could leak. In this wise, close to 80 percent if not more of Lagos civil servants and political appointees prefer ex-Gov. Babatunde Raji Fashola to Ambode. They chorus that Fashola was more liberal and democratic! None has denied, however, that Ambode is more of a darling of ordinary Lagosians than all former Lagos governors. Short ofhis tax review which set him on collision course with a wide spectrum of Lagosians, Ambode is seen as a governor who has delivered on the dividends of democracy more than his illustrious predecessors. Some of his critics howevercomplained about the quality of the jobs executed by many of Ambode’s contractors, especially on road projects. Roads are a sore point in Lagos at this point in time. Virtually all the roads are riddled with gulley and ditches. “Pot holes” are inadequate to describe the sorry state of Lagos roads. Just as some close aides of Ambode have assured, last-minute efforts are being made to ameliorate the situation, including clearing blocked drainage. Driving from my Tabon-Tabon area of Agege to my church in the Alapere area of Ketu or to my office at Ikeja, I see palliative measures all the way; but the rains usually wash them away in a jiffy.
Ambode appears to be trying hard to make the best of a very bad situation and ensure that he finishes well and strong; he isconstrained, however, by some factors. One: Despite that the struggle over second term is over on the surface, the conflagration it kindled still seethes underneath. The government is sharply divided into pro- and anti-Ambode forces. During the fight for second-term, most of the political appointees and civil servants abandoned the governor to side with party leaders led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. APCrank-and-file were no match for the tested and accomplished political gladiators. Only a few big-wigs publicly identified with the governor. The anti-Ambode forces won the battle but how can they go before the sitting governor and stare at himeyeballs to eyeballs? So, many are just bidding their time and praying for May 29th to come quickly. The Ambode loyalists are also counting their days of relevance because they know they must pack their loads and leave with the governor. Some of them in the service are said to be perfecting their papers so they can leave with their entitlements before the other side takes over. Expectedly, therefore, Government is not running as smoothly and as speedily as it should. Another reason why many projects appear to be at a standstill is because of paucity of funds. Government functionaries may be reluctant to admit this and politicians may be quick to “debunk” it, gargantuan funds went into the fight for second term ticket on both sides. After this, a lot of funds also went into prosecuting the Presidential and Governorship elections. As in 2015, the Lagos State treasury bore the brunt. Then, of course, the shock and disappointment of failure to bag second term took its toll, expectedly, on Ambode and his loyalists. If a man performed creditably as Ambode did and yet would not get second term, where are the reward for good work and the incentives for performance?
With just one month left of his term; Ambode appears to have shrugged off the despondency and frustration that came over him after the loss of second term. Thanks to the strident complaints of Lagosians about the rudderless state of affairs aftermath of the Lagos APC governorship primaries. The State appeared to have been on auto-pilot. Those fighting to have the governor throw open the State treasury threatened to impeach him. The governor ran from pillar to post to starve off impeachment. In the interim, governance and Lagosians suffered. Somehow, the politicians sorted themselves out. Critics boasted that their carrot-and-stick approach worked on Ambode: Do our bidding, get nomination as Minister or stand against us and risk impeachment. The Ambode people, however, countered that it was the intervention of well-meaning party leaders and the governor’s love for the welfare of Lagosians that persuaded him to toe the path of reconciliation and peace. All is well that ends well, as they say!
Mark my word: The loss of second term may be a blessing in disguise for Ambode. They might simply have helped him shift his second term forward to a more opportune time. Ex-Gov of Ekiti State, Peter Ayodele Fayose, said when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was hounding him out of office in 2006, he thought it was for evil, not knowing that God was only postponing his second term to a more auspicious occasion when he would be more relevant to his people and nation. And, indeed, see how relevant and greatly celebrated Fayose was during his second term! Between 2014, when he made his come-back for second term, and 2018 when he eventually left office, how many of Fayose’s colleagues during his first term (2003 -2006) did Nigerians still remember or were of any political relevance? This is the more reason Ambode must bend over backward to ensure he finishes well and strong. As many of his legacy projects that he can complete up to whatever percentage, he should not hesitate to do so. Indeed, if there is any new project he thinks he should flag off these wee hours, it will be wise if he does so. In 1971 when the now late Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo was leaving office as Military Governor of the then Western State, he embarked on a whirlwind “thank-you” tour of the State, laying foundation stone of new projects everywhere. I was in Form Two at Owo High School, Owo, which was opposite one of such project sites. I remember we were lined up from morning till evening to await his arrival. Eventually, he camevery, very late and turned the sod of the Owo Medical Centre, now Federal Medical Centre, Owo. It took many years or evendecades after the foundation laying ceremony before the project became a reality – but it eventually did. If Gen. Adebayo had not turned the sod, only God knows whether Owo would have had the project.
When I met Ambode in December 2017, I placed some project requests before him – the Alapere canal, which I asked him to help us concretize on both sides, and the Bakare and Owo-Ade streets, which I asked him to help us pave. I also placed a personal request before him. No doubt he has but a while to vacate office but as our people would say, even in these late hours of the day, the Sun is still vibrant enough to dry washed clothes – if only his aides or anyone will bring this to his attention. Where there is the will, there is a way!