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Ambode and his ‘non-paddy man’ performance

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Lagos State governor Akinwunmi Ambode

History would again be made in Lagos State on May 29, 2019 when Governor Akinwunmi Ambode hands over the baton of leadership to Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, as governor and deputy governor respectively.

The events of May 29 would cast Ambode in the shadow of similar scenario that played out between Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, not on the pedestal of who revealed whom, but on the perspective that one would loom large while the other dissolves into history.

Going by what he did and did not do in the four years he occupied the office of Governor of Lagos State, the Centre of Excellence, it would not be accurate to conclude that Ambo would fade into the darkness of obscurity or irrelevance. Already small talks have been going on among residents whether the outgoing governor is signing off as a saint or villain.

As a former accountant general of the state, Ambo knows that giving account is an essential feature of every transaction. So, whenever the story of Lagos would be told after next Wednesday, the character of Ambode would encumber the story line, even when the narrative of his contributions could possibly astound generations.

And playing up the same Christ-like nativity chronicle, when he came, Ambode was seen as a surrogate child. But when he started exercising his mandate, not miracles; the people marveled. It also happened that at the moment of his great trial of faith and courage, the very same people, who once reverenced his exploits turned with unabashed boldness to demand from Pilate, “Away with this man, put him to the cross.”

It was not on account of what he did that Ambode received the abbreviation of his tenure, rather he was accused of not doing things the former way, of not being a party (paddy) man.

What he did
Although his misdeeds consisted of what he did not do, the Ambode persona would therefore be defined by what he did while in office.

In the build up to the 2015 general election when the Lagos ‘poster boy’, former governor Babatunde Fashola, was about to complete his second term, Ambode was the toast of the leadership of Lagos chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) led by no other person than the National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who singlehandedly backed him to pick the party’s nomination ticket despite not being the choice of his immediate predecessor.

In four months, precisely before the party’s governorship primary held on December 4, 2014 at Onikan Stadium, Ambode was strategically and politically marketed as the most fitting successor to Fashola irrespective of other alternatives.

But, acting true to what was said about his capacity to deliver even more than his predecessors, Ambode hit the ground running as soon as he assumed office on May 29 2015. One of his early steps was addressing the excesses of officials of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Vehicles Inspection Officers (VIO) and other government parastatals, whose activities were attracting deficit image to the party.

With the clarity of an accountant, the incumbent executed and commissioned some projects in a space of just two years. Those exploits attracted songs of praise and the saying, “what Tinubu achieved in eight years, Fashola did in four and what Fashola achieved in eight years, Ambode completed in two years.”

If those eulogies did not sway his resolve and single-minded determination to make Lagos the true example of good and committed governance, it must have attracted quiet envy. Yet, the actions not only earned him accolades, but also endeared him the more to the citizens of the Centre of Excellence!

As a result of his initiatives the words of praise continued to expand with most observers apportioning the commendations to Tinubu, who was sold as a man with great foresight and insight to locate good brains and achievers to run government.

While Ambode was later nicknamed, ‘Governor General’ of Nigeria, his administration was described as second to none in terms of performance, such that under his watch the Lagos State House, Alausa, became a Mecca for tutorials on governance.

At a point Southern governors congregated to discuss Nigeria’s system of governance and arrived the conclusion that certain steps must be taken, especially bothering on tinkering with the 1999 Constitution.

It was not as though Ambode excelled only in execution of projects, he was also perfecting the art of checks and balances through the Treasury Single Account (TSA), which in turn blocked revenue leakages and loopholes and enhanced revenue generation.

As an accountant the outgoing Lagos State governor knew the place of finance in project execution. Having ensured steady in flow of funds, it was easy for him to tackle the challenges of governance.

He caught the attention of civil servants when he approved the sum of N11billion to offset pension arrears pending since 2010, not only for the state’s mainstream retirees, but also those in local governments and parastatals.

Ambode was also noticeable in the way he responded to public anxiety over the rising spate of crimes in Lagos, especially through the rebranded Rapid Response Squad (RRS) of the Nigerian Police.

Not many would remember that the governor had declared his intention to change the face of Lagos through improvement of security, provision of jobs and infrastructural renewal. But did he?

Ambode also showed his mark by the strategic partnership he entered into with his counterpart in Kebbi in the area of food security, which saw to the birth of LAKE RICE.

His pictures may no longer hang prominently in public offices, but Ambode would continue to be seen by those who pass through the Abule-Egba and Ajah Flyovers, the DNA Forensic Centre, the Oshodi Transport Interchange, Ojodu Berger regeneration, and 10-lane Airport road, particularly whenever any of the 820 high and medium capacity buses, which he brought President Muhammadu Buhari to commission passes by.

And then?
At a recent visit to President Buhari in Aso Rock, Ambode made what could pass as his testimony and valedictory remark to all who witnessed his meteoric rise and remarkable strides in Lagos State.

When the outgoing governor declared that ‘I am wiser now’, it was the echo of a man who came, saw and cooperated with the forces that were programmed to ‘annihilate’ him politically. If he would conquer, at least he knew he had to cooperate.

As he passes the baton to Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat, Ambode would be doing so without any heavy burden on his mind or misgivings about the sequence of activities that denied him another opportunity to mount the soapbox and tell Lagosians what else he wanted to do for them.

He learnt his lessons. His confession of knowing better is a promise that if similar opportunity offers itself that he would do better. It could be said with the benefit of hindsight that Ambode received his baptism in politics and came out of the murky waters a new man.

Ambode could thump his chest that he had become wiser, but it should definitely not end up as show of conceit. As he leaves the scene and becomes a former governor of Lagos State, Ambode should begin to seek ways to apply his nuggets of wisdom into good purpose/

One of the possible avenues could be by helping to groom emergent leaders on the pitfalls of being lone-rangers and how to meet the demands of teambuilding. It might definitely not be over with Ambode, because he has shown that out of an accountant could come something to count on.

As the beauty of democracy revolves around periodic elections and stocktaking, it would not be far fetched to say that though Ambo is going, Ambo could come again. But in what shape or form is a question better left to mature in the womb of time.


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