Visionary midwife of an emergent smart city
Exactly 16 days after the commemoration of the third year in office of his innovative and aggressively modernising administration on May 29, 2018, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode celebrated his 55th birthday on June 14. As expected, there was widespread commendation and approbation from within and beyond Lagos State of the remarkable strides his administration had taken in three short years to make indelible imprints on the developmental landscape of Lagos. Stepping into the shoes of his illustrious predecessors since 1999, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who envisioned and laid the foundation for the resurgence of the new Lagos and Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) who actualised the consolidation of the vision, Ambode has raised the pedestal of governance in the Centre of Excellence to unanticipated heights by accelerating the pace and expanding the scope of the state’s infrastructural modernisation and service delivery programmes.
Of course, the fact that Mr. Ambode hit the ground running and almost instantaneously began to make an impact on diverse sectors of the state is not surprising. Just like Fashola before him, the incumbent governor had been part of Asiwaju’s team between 1999 and 2007 and played a key role in the conceptualisation and implementation of aspects of the long term vision being systematically actualised and constantly improved upon in the ongoing transformation of Lagos State over the last 19 years. Indeed, Ambode occupies a unique place in the leadership annals of Lagos State as the first full-fledged civil servant to be elected as the chief helmsman of the state having risen from the lower rungs of the Lagos State public service to the apex of his career over a period of two and a half decades when he became a Permanent Secretary and Accountant General of the state.
Governor Ambode’s sterling performance, publicly acknowledged even by many of those who belong to opposition parties in the state, has drastically altered the widespread but obviously mistaken perception of civil servants as laid back, rigidly committed to familiar routine and prone to carrying out directives rather than initiating policies and demonstrating innovative, bold and creative leadership. The governor’s knack for dynamic, path-breaking leadership was already on display when he was the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Accountant General of Lagos State. During this period, according to his biographer, Mrs. Marina Osoba, not only did he spearhead the creation of the State Treasury Office (STO), but under him “Lagos State has become the first state in the Nigerian Federation to convert from the cumbersome and antiquated paper based systems to the more modern, internationally practised e-based systems. Not to mention that this new e-based system has been shown to vastly cut down on the incidence of corruption in the collection of taxes.”
In the words of Mrs. Osoba, “In a popular business newspaper, Business Day, of Tuesday, 2nd July, 2013, it was reported that Fiscal Management in Lagos State had surpassed that of the Federal Government and internally generated revenue from taxes has touched the 75 per cent mark in stark contrast to the Federal Government’s 20 per cent. Also, the paper stated that Lagos makes up to 20 per cent of total Nigerian GDP and 40% of non oil GDP. All these gains from the smallest state geographically (that is in terms of size) showing that Lagos State, which is without any of the rich mineral resources that other states have in abundance, can think outside the box and create wealth using what little she has and building on its commercial base. These great strides are particularly noted to have happened in the last six years (2006-2012) during which Akin headed the STO.”
One unique advantage that Ambode has is his understanding of the workings of the bureaucracy and his ability to optimise its strengths to ensure due process and accountability in the implementation of public policy while at the same time utilising his multi-tasking and hands-on management skills to ensure that bureaucratic delays and bottlenecks do not obstruct the efficiency, timeliness and meticulousness of policy.
In addition to his B.Sc and M.Sc degrees in Accounting as well as his being a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow in Accounting and Finance from Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, Ambode on retirement from the Lagos State Public Service decided to attend specialised management courses in four of the best IVY League Business Schools in the world. These are the Wharton Business School Advance Management Programme, Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield, England, the Institute of Management Development, Lausanne, Switzerland, INSEAD, Singapore and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Boston, USA.
All of these have no doubt grounded the governor for his ongoing historic task of mid-wiving the transformation of Lagos from Africa’s emergent model megacity to a regional Smart City in every sense of the word. The concept of Smart City implies not just the provision of qualitative infrastructure and services to cater for the expansive population of a megacity. It entails the deployment and utilisation of the latest technologies, including Information and Communications Technology (ICT). This is to enhance the efficiency and quality of life in diverse areas such as electricity supply through smart off-grid technology, efficient transportation services, enhanced security, improved public sector governance as well as continuous up-scaling of the aesthetic appeal of the city to boost economic growth through the multiplier effects of a 24-hour economy that generates wealth and jobs through tourism, entertainment, arts and culture.
A major step towards the creation of Smart City hubs that will be intensive prosperity enhancing international hubs of boisterous commercial and economic activities was taken when the Ambode administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Lagos State and the City of Dubai for the establishment of the Lagos Smart City reminiscent of Smart City, Dubai, the Smart City, Malta and the Smart City, Kochi (India). The objective, according to the governor, is to establish a strong nexus between technology, economic development and governance with a view to “developing sustainable, smart, globally connected knowledge-based communities that drive a knowledge economy”. This initiative is projected to attract billions of dollars worth of investments to the state as well as create thousands of jobs while boosting wealth generation in the Ibeju-Lekki axis especially and Lagos as a whole.
All over Lagos today, the frenetic infrastructure modernisation and facility provision in the spheres of roads and transport infrastructure, emergency management, security, education, health, justice, environmental upgrade, social development, revenue generation, recreation and entertainment, sports, employment creation, agriculture and food productivity among several others are all too evident that the details should not detain us here. What is undeniable is that at the end of eight years of an Ambode administration, virtually every part of Lagos State including Alimosho, Ibeju-Lekki, Epe, Agege, Badagry, Abule-Egba, Oshodi, Mushin, Ikorodu and several more will be inexorably drawn into the vast developmental orbit that the whole of Lagos State is being transformed into. The scope of the developmental impact is unprecedented in the history of the state.
Interestingly, even as this frenetic regenerative governmental engineering is ongoing, the forward looking governor is already looking ahead to the role of future generations in maintaining and improving on the envisaged emergent Lagos Smart City in an ever increasingly competitive and globalized world. Towards this end, the Ambode administration has undertaken the most comprehensive review of the Lagos State Education Policy that was carried out since 30 years ago in 1988. The objectives of this policy include ensuring better access to inclusive education, upgrading standards in accordance with best practices, ensuring an efficient administration and control system as well as providing a functional model for the delivery of qualitative education.
As the Deputy Governor, Dr. Mrs. Oluranti Adebule succinctly put it, “To produce the smart youths, our educational system must be re-engineered, and schools re-positioned to deliver graduate students who will blend with global trends.” In his comment on the state’s new educational policy, no former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Peter Okebukola, said: “I read through the entire revised draft policy twice and found it to be very comprehensive, rich and forward-looking”.
Another critical sector in the actualisation and management of an emergent Lagos Smart City is the public service. This informed the creation by the governor of the Office of Transformation, Creativity and Innovation headed by a Director-General, Mr. Toba Otusanya. The objective of this office is to train, equip and re-orientate workers with the requisite skills, competencies, attitudes and qualities for managing an emergent Smart City. Already, the Office has commenced ‘train-the-trainer’ programmes for a pilot group of 100 workers from Grade Levels 10-14 designed to change the mindset of participants from a fixed and route one to a growth-oriented and innovative approach necessary for the successful management of a dynamic and competitive Smart City.
The pilot beneficiaries of this training will be the transmitters of the culture of creativity and innovation throughout the service by being a beacon and a role model to others even as there are plans to expand the programme to include Local Government Staff as well as officers on Grade Levels 1-6 in the mainstream public service. Surely, under Ambode’s dynamic leadership, Lagos State’s march to qualitative and global Smart City status is unstoppable and thus serving as an even more formidable lever for the elevation of the entire Nigerian economy.
• Dr. Abdul-Lateef is Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs.
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