Ambode: Humanist at 58
IF you dissect the whole teachings of the philosophical school called humanism, though it looks like its opposite, it is almost synonymous with that biblical exhortation which asks man not to lay treasures for himself on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, said the exhortation, man should lay his treasure in heaven where neither moths nor grasshoppers can eat it. However, while this biblical exhortation hammers on spiritual immortality as a result of sowing seeds in the house of God, humanists ask humanity to lay their treasures in the hearts of human beings, which can be seen, hinting that there lies immortality.
It will appear however from the standpoint of logic, that when a man lays imperishable treasures in the hearts of his fellow man, since man is the creation of God, he is laying his treasures in heaven. Going by this logic, if former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode’s four-year strides as the governor of the state are a measure of humanist philosophy, then he has laid his treasures in heaven and has achieved immortality in the hearts of the people of Lagos State.
Born June 14, 1963 at the Epe General Hospital, to the family of a man called Festus Akinwale Ambode and his wife, Christianah Oluleye Ambode, the young boy, one of the ten children of his father, was to later light the lamp of development in a state ranked as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Today marks Ambode’s 58 years sojourn on the surface of the earth. The elder Ambode equipped the young Akinwunmi with the paraphernalia of leadership from the outset. Sending him to acquire the golden fleece at Jude’s Primary School, Ebute Metta, Lagos State where he studied between 1969 and1974, he also proceeded to the Federal Government College, Warri, Delta State, a sojourn that took him till 1981 when he proceeded to the University of Lagos (UNILAG). From that same 1981 to 1984, he was in UNILAG where he studied Accounting and graduated at the age of 21. Not only did the precocious Akinwunmi bag a Master’s in Accounting from the same university and an Hubert Humphrey fellowship at Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, in no long time, he became a chartered accountant at 24.Diligently honing his academic and professional fecundity, he attended most of the best schools in the world among which are; Harvard Kennedy of School Of Government, Cranfield University, United kingdom, INSEAD-Singapore, Wharton Business School, Philadelphia.
After observing his compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) at The Central Bank of Nigeria in Sokoto and assured that the civil service was the lush ground to groom leadership potentials due to its civil underpinning, Akinwunmi joined the Lagos civil service where he began in 1988 as Assistant Treasurer at the Badagry Local Government. Thereafter, in 1991, he was posted to the Somolu local government as the council’s auditor and in later years, he became the Council Treasurer of same Somolu Local Government, where he had held the financial forte previously. At another time, he served at the Alimoso council and in 2001, his mastery and wizardry in financial matters came to the ears of the powers-that-be and he was promptly made the acting Auditor General for Local Government of Lagos State and later confirmed by the Lagos State House of Assembly. By January 2005, he was elevated to the post of Permanent Secretary in the Lagos State Ministry of Finance. In all these merry-go-round appointments, how was Akinwunmi to know that providence was taking him through the mills, so that he could understand the pains of grassroots people, have a feel of their wants and emotions, preparatory to undertaking an assignment of consequence in the people’s lives?
Strides-wise, Ambode chose not to rest on his oars. This probably was why he was appointed the state Accountant General in 2006, to handle portfolios of all financial activities in the state, with over 1400 Accountants in the state service under his administration. As if he and making strides were Siamese twins, Akinwunmi revolutionized the State Treasury Office, (STO) with his midas touch, changing the old patterns of Lagos State finances, budget, management and planning. He was the unsung hero behind the phenomenal raise in the ante of the Lagos financial performance within this period. This caught the attention of development analysts as he lifted the state’s budgetary performance to an annual average of 85 per cent.
The most fitting acknowledgement of Ambode’s intellect and understanding of the Lagos State financial, social and developmental needs were his choice by the Lagos political class to run for the office of the Governor of Lagos in April, 2015. In that election, wherein he campaigned for and ran on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) Ambode defeated his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) closest rival, Jimi Agbaje by 150,000 votes. Basking in the grips he had acquired on Lagos and the goodwill that it attracted to him, Ambode’s firm hold on the economic trajectory of Lagos and the thirst for Lagos to continue to consolidate on the financial gains of the previous years were some of the indices that delivered the governorship to him.
During his gubernatorial campaign, the man who was fast morphing from a civil servant imbued with a tradition of subordination to higher authority, being heard but not seen, into a politician, made use of his metamorphosis. He introduced panache into the electioneering process and made the youths to catch their fun while listening to “warring politicians.” His posters were surfeited with a cliché built on his understanding of Lagos, its economy, finance and people. Many have spoken about how he changed the mantra of electioneering, diverting it from the usual cliché that had no bearing on the aspirant’s past and trajectory. Ambode believed that in his own trajectory, his daring ideas and credentials, lay his success at the polls, so he deployed them to the highest advantage.
For him and this manifested quite tremendously in his campaign posters, he documented all his credentials and cognitive experience, perhaps asking anyone who doubted them to do a double check. Apart from documenting his educational credentials, Ambode also articulated all his trail-blazing catapults to the top of his career within the span of 27 years of his civil service career in Lagos State as well as his entrepreneurial journey in the private sector. Sounding like a fairy tale, the posters painted the iconic image of a positively queer man who entered the civil service at the age of 21 and rose, by dint of his mental endowment, to the zenith of the service as Accountant General. He literally challenged his rivals to be bold enough to subject theirs to same scrutiny. In a Nigeria where politicians shroud their past from the world’s glare, Ambode was telling an unusual story and perhaps pointing at the rout to go. His posters were distinguished by the mantra, LET MY EXPERIENCE WORK FOR YOU. Some analysts have said that it was the acceptance by the electorate, which came thereafter, his audacity to tell his own story for the world to hear, which propelled his political enemies and the opposition into spinning the unfounded allegation of his dual nativity.
In four years that his administration held forte in Lagos, Ambode brought on board panache and a can-do spirit that was not alien to Lagos and which set him apart as a man to beat. He bombarded Lagos with so many monumental developmental projects, which instantly made the State of Aquatic Splendor to become a construction yard. Virtually in all the local governments of the state, constructions went on simultaneously.
Development of Lagos became his locus of operation and in this regard, he bestrode Lagos like a colossus. It was such that, within four years, his strides dwarfed all his predecessors’ combined especially when one considered the twin impact of recession and dwindling oil price to less than $20 at that time. Tireless and with an eye on history, he was quoted several times as mouthing the need to attain immortality in the hearts of Lagosians by his developmental efforts. This must have been why he operated a governance model that touched virtually all the facets of the lives of Lagosians. Till today, his strides are yet unsurpassable as they are benchmarked as indices and measurement for good governance. A few of those developmental efforts are the iconic annual 5-Zone One Lagos Fiesta, his transport lay-bys and traffic control management model, the Bus reforms and terminals, the Aboru-Abesan bridge, Ajah-Jubilee Bridge, The Abule-Egba bridge, the Lagos Neighborhood Safety Corps model, pedestrian crossings, 576 completed world class roads, functional security architecture that he bestowed to Lagos, the infrastructural transformation of LASU, revamping of LASEMA rescue unit, the jetties and water ferries, healthcare model and Ayinke House Revamp, Airport road construction, the world class Oshodi terminal, the Epe re- development and Chalets, the DNA Forensic Laboratory, Oshodi Safety Arena, the Imota Rice Mill-The biggest in Africa , Lake Rice, the iconic transformation of Alimosho roads leading to Ota in Ogun State, the 5 Lagos theatres, the Pen Cinema bridge, his Lagos Marathon, the Ojodu-Berger transformation, the artistic monuments that he dotted around Lagos, the over 6,000 Housing units, his Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, transport buses, light- up Lagos initiative, the Onikan Arena, The J.K Randle Centre and a lot more that made him to stand out among those who have administered Lagos or those who will administer it in years to come.
Till today, the people of Lagos still speak of the Akinwunmi Ambode titanic achievements and remember him with profound nostalgia.
It is doubtful whether, even though the shenanigans of the political class denied him a second term, this same set of people can succeed in obliterating his memories from the hearts of the people he labored for. He impacted the lives of the ordinary citizens of Lagos in a way that ardent humanists alone could. For instance, while constructing the Johnson, Jakande, Tinubu (JJT) Park at Alausa, the model, which he parodied and eventually got, actualized, was the re-development of that park to become a world-class leisure park. After the commissioning of the park, Ambode literally turned it into the hands of the people by opening it to all despite being few meters away from his living room in the seat of power in Alausa, Ikeja. In a rare display of humility, the governor took his children to the park to have a feel of the facility with other fun-seekers at the park. Today, he appeared to the users of the park like the man who saw tomorrow due to his remarkable foresight. Even his biggest critics in their cocoons do say ‘’Ti egan ni e, Ambode se ise l’eko” meaning, with all honesty, Ambode worked in Lagos State.
As multi-faceted as his strides were, perhaps because of his civil service background, Ambode was content with the belief that blowing one’s trumpet was immodesty of the highest order. He preferred his strides to go ahead of him into the hearts of the people. As if he knew that in the hearts of the combines, forces who were displeased with his sagacity and “excessive” embrace of the common man on the streets, would not allow his government to endure, Ambode slaved every hour in his 48 months period of being in government as if the last day would be his last in office. He made stupendous inroads into the hearts of the people, so much that the lingo in Lagos is that, after the Late Action Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, no one had attempted to best his performance in Lagos.
As Ambode marks his 58 years on earth today, his fare in Lagos as governor should be a torchbearer to those who queue on the side of the people. They can surely be denigrated, despised and muzzled out of their vision and mission for the people but in the long run, they remain iconic in the eyes of history and in the hearts of the people they served. Happy Birthday to the peoples’ Governor!
• Adasofunjo is a writer from Lagos