By Samuel Ogundipe
Akinwunmi Ambode has been a student of progressive politics throughout his adult life. Long before he considered running for governor earlier this year, he served under successive progressive administrations in Lagos State for 27 years.
His stump speeches throughout the campaign included a promise to “consolidate” the progressive policies of his two firebrand predecessors. And shortly after his inauguration on May 29, he set about making the state as sustainable and as financially solvent as his predecessor, Tunde Fashola –eliminating wastes within his own office and streamlining state agencies and parastatals.
“We must establish a system that is both accountable and responsive to all Lagosians and I don’t think we can achieve this if we don’t put prudent policies in place to consolidate progressive efforts of past governments,” the governor said while meeting with permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals upon assumption of office.
Lagos’ progressive experiment has attracted the attention of all Nigerians across political spectrum, as they continue to see the Centre of Excellence as the model state whose direction the remaining 35 must emulate. This is hardly a surprise considering the fact that the state has the busiest local and international airports, three congested seaports and a massive revenue base. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the state recorded over N1T in internally-generated revenue between 2010 and 2014.
Ambode’s background as a highly-educated civil servant with primary skill in taxation and auditing shatters any doubt about his intellectual wherewithal. But as he continues the struggle to improve the atmosphere in Lagos or maintain the pace of his predecessor –amidst rising criminal activities–Ambode risks facing the ire of Lagosians who say they’re growing disillusioned with him.
Dupe Killa, a lifelong progressive, campaigned vigorously for Ambode’s victory, because, she said, she had “too much at stake to leave the affairs of Lagos to PDP.”
Six months later, Killa has joined a growing chorus of despondent Lagosians who say they’re beginning to decipher a stark disconnect between their new governor’s priorities and those of his predecessors on the back of whose benevolence Ambode cruised to victory.
Governor Ambode “is not doing as well as is required for Lagos,” added Killa. “This position draws on the salient contrasting points of Lagos’ needs versus his current pace.”
Kenneth Haastrup, an insurance broker who commutes daily from Ilupeju to Marina, said he was amongst those trapped in a traffic gridlock that gripped the state on September 21, after a disagreement between the state government and transport union culminated in truckers parking on Ikorodu Road, the busiest in the state.
“I was uncontrollably furious when I learnt that the governor was partially to blame for the traffic,” said Haastrup, 46. “I began to regret my donation to his campaign and also the vote I gave him, because he can’t tell us he didn’t know about these problems before he became governor.”
Another demoralised Lagosian is Madam Faith Afegbua, a Festac grocer who witnessed the fatal robbery of banks along the busy 4th Avenue–the fourth of such armed robbery operations since Ambode assumed office. She said she never lived under a more frightening administration in Lagos than the current one.
“Before, we used to have petty-petty thieves, but now we have big robbers using heavy shooting machines to rob banks in our neighbourhood,” said Afegbua. “I moved to Lagos in 1973 and I have never been this fearful–tell him to get to work,” a visibly angry Afegbua added.
One of the topmost requirements expected of anyone seeking elective office in Nigeria is the ability to understand Nigerians’ impatience and move quickly to preempt it upon assumption of office.
Many in the Class of 2015 Nigerian governors, like Kaduna’s El-Rufai and Wike in Rivers, recognised this and acted in a timely manner to display their mettle. But Governor Ambode has not been able to justify the trust Lagosians placed in him when they gave him their mandate on April 11.
According to CIAPS Governors Performance Index, CGPI, an advanced mathematical tool that grades the performance capability of each of the 36 governors, Ambode has consistently performed below par every month since he assumed office.
CGPI, which is an initiative of the Centre for International, Advanced and Professional Studies, CIAPS, a non-partisan public policy think-tank, ranked Ambode below the 60% performance average in July, August and September and the centre’s director, Professor Anthony Kila, warned that, as a result of the growing cases of armed robbery and increase in threat level to peace of Lagos residents, Ambode’s showing is unlikely to improve when the index for the month of October comes out early next month.
“Although he’d just announced his cabinet,” said Kila, “the cases of armed robbery and other criminal activities that continue to threaten the peace of Lagosians will be weighted.”
Commenting in its September report, CGPI wrote of criminal activities in Lagos: “Security however is becoming an issue again as we are now seeing some marginal increase in crimes around the state.”
Kila, a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development at Cambridge University, said Ambode failed to understand that an elected public officer has just a three-month window to get to work, no matter how naturally lethargic the individual may be.
“No matter how sluggish you are at doing things, you must understand that you have only a three-month window to start taking measures that display the leadership quality in you.”
While Mr. Ambode may be slow in making sweeping policy decisions compared to his predecessors, his ability to run a state as massive as Lagos without commissioners for several months shows that he has a good grasp of his new job. The governor has met every crisis with decisive gusto. He abandoned all tasks to witness a fire outbreak at the suburban community of Iyana-Ipaja on June 2, barely 3 days into his administration.
Less than a month later, the governor had started paying victims of the inferno. Also compensated were survivors of another fire outbreak at Idimu, which occurred on June 6, in an apparent attempt to avoid the elitist label that impugned the empathy posture of his predecessor, Mr. Fashola.
The governor also approved release of about 2,500 pending Certificates of Occupancy as a great relief to many downtrodden landowners across the state.
Ambode’s Chief Press Secretary, Habib Haruna, told Happenings some mischievous elements are only out to tarnish the image of the administration because his principal has done what is humanly possible for him to do and will continue to do more.
“People will complain about one thing or the other, but most of the complaints are coming from those who have sinister motives of tarnishing the image of the administration.”
“Within few months,” said Haruna, “our government has been able to start capital projects, compensate all victims of Idimu and Iyana-Ipaja fire disasters and paid N11B to pensioners.”
Apart from the foregoing measures, Haruna averred that Ambode is the only governor in the Class of 2015 that has begun capital projects.
“Lagos State is the only state that is currently embarking on capital projects; others are either trying to pay salaries or barely paying salaries.”
On traffic gridlock and intense criminal activities across the state, the CPS said Mr. Ambode has already contained the gridlock and placed orders for new choppers to properly improve policing.
“The traffic has now reduced,” he said, “administration officials are not sleeping over these matters because they mean a lot to the governor.” “We’ve also concluded plans to purchase police helicopters for rapid response to crimes such as armed robbery.”
The jury is still out on whether Lagosians will face higher tax prices for the governor to be able to implement most of his progressive agenda. He recently lamented that the plummeting oil prices are beginning to affect the state’s tax receipts, N276B in 2014 (Credit: NBS), urging residents to brace themselves as his administration makes tough choices in the coming months.
Ambode is no stranger to financial distress in public service. As the state’s Auditor-General and later Accountant-General (2001-2012), Ambode is widely acclaimed as the brain behind the state’s deep revenue base and he helped to prudently manage the state’s inchoate financial resources after President Olusegun Obasanjo illegally withheld the state’s statutory monthly allocations during the last decade. But his real test will probably be how he augments the state’s dwindling revenues against a rising demand from the ever-growing Lagos population.
Ambode’s political opponents see no bright spots. Dr. Adegbola Dominic, a Lagos PDP chieftain, told Happenings he still finds it difficult to understand Ambode’s policy thrusts several months after he assumed office. “It doesn’t look to me like this is a serious man,” he said. “We don’t even know what his policy fundamentals are; maybe it’s because he rode into office by being someone’s political errand boy.” Dominic added that he is hardly upbeat about “any meaningful change” anchored by Ambode because “the governor has been dithering on almost everything that is important to Lagosians.”
Killa, who uses her Twitter presence to champion progressives’ causes, concluded of Ambode’s exploit in office so far: “It is a sad, shocking fail.”
Ambode’s commissioners were inaugurated last week, consequently eliminating one of the administration’s oft-repeated alibis. They will now have to work under a more demanding atmosphere at a shorter time frame.
Notwithstanding, how the governor and the ruling APC manage the growing concerns of Lagosians will have broad implications for the viability of the progressive experiment —whether it would eventually be adopted by states in other regions of the country or crash under the political weight of its foremost crusader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.