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9 Oct 2016
From doubts to reality - "The Ambode Story"
The strong nexus that exists between the quality of political leadership and sustainable socio-economic development of any nation has been exhibited for eons.
For this salient reason Athenians had a concept of an ideal, well rounded man who is both physically and mentally fit, to dictate the destinies of men and materials. Indeed, centuries ago, Roman education was predicated on producing such thinkers who would have ‘a sound mind in a sound body’, as handed over to them by Homer.
While Socrates (469-399 BC) came up as the founder of ethics, and subsequently Plato, his disciple enunciated skills acquisition as the answer to the leadership question, Aristotle brought the twin principles of ethics and politics, all dovetailing into finding the best hands to pilot the affairs of the state.
This has over the years been transmitted to other civilisations and empires. Nigeria is therefore, not an exception. In our determined quest for leaders who are visionary; who know where the shoe pinches the common man and are ready to provide solutions to them, democracy has been seen as the most dependable avenue to meet such. And in the Nigerian context, Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country, has had the singular fortune of bringing up governors who are progressively people-oriented and pragmatic in walking the talk, since 1999.
The challenge however, became more obvious when the Babatunde Fashola-led administration, was winding up in early 2015.Who then would carry on the baton and run the good race? That was the million-naira question. But unknown to many, Akinwunmi Ambode from the backwaters in Epe,was waiting in the wings, tasking himself to be that singular man! When he took that critical decision to throw his hat into the gubernatorial ring, there were some moments of sober reflection. Was he adequately prepared for the onerous tasks ahead? What would he do, as forms of innovation in the delicate art of governance to assuage the pains of the people? What new policies, programmes and projects would he bring to the governance table? And how best was he going to do that?
Even then, he was aware that having served the state for 27 years in various capacities, traversing not a few local governments in accounts department that culminated in becoming the Accountant- General as well as the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, he ought to know the dynamics of Lagos affairs, more like the lines on his palms. Indeed, he knew. But the political aspect was a different ball game. So, what was he to do?
The answers came through the assemblage of tested hands that would be the wind behind his sails. For, as the American businessman, Sam Walton, had rightly observed, ‘individuals do not win but teams do.’
With that firmly in place, he made a determined paradigm shift by becoming the first governorship aspirant to tour the 20 local government areas and the 37 local council development areas, to learn first-hand what precisely their daily economic, social and even political challenges were. Interestingly, it was during such tours that the idea of bypasses took root, right inside his car. For, he was able to identify the areas that constituted asphyxiating hold on the jugular vein of the sometimes chaotic Lagos traffic. This was instructive.
It is therefore, not by any magic wand, or a whiff of imagination that as of today commuters enjoy modern bypasses at places such as Oworonshoki, at end of the Third Mainland Bridge as well as Alapere, Ojodu-Berger, Ile-Epo. There are also the on-going construction of reinforced concrete fly-over bridges at Abule-Egba and Ajah. But that is just part of the intriguing story of good governance emerging from practical experience of policy makers.
The other challenge has to do with the long-neglected inner city, pothole-riddled roads reeking of mud and mire. We must admit at this juncture that notwithstanding the accolades received by the previous administration on infrastructural development, these were nonetheless, skewed in favour of the elite areas of the city. The rural parts felt neglected and justifiably so.
The repeated complaints in this regard became an albatross on the neck of the All Progressives Congress party during the campaigns. Ambode, in his characteristic humility listened to them all. He knew that people living in such neglected areas had to resort to the use of commercial motorcycles known as Okada to move around. That again, inspired his decision to embark on the construction and rehabilitation of 25 roads per local government area to make a total of 4,500 of such over four years. But the harsh reality of the gnawing economic recession has since reduced that to two in each LGA. The piece of good news is that the first phase of 114 roads has been completed across the state. And recently, he charged the council chairmen to brace up to complementing such efforts on infrastructural development.
Another visible shift in leadership that is people-friendly is that of governance with a human face. As far as Ambode was concerned, the obnoxious appellation of government as being for the rich as against the interests of the poor would no longer hold sway. Nigerians, nay the good people of Lagos, must come to view government, more so in a democratic setting as theirs. Only that would engender the spirit of sustained allegiance to the state.
It was therefore, a heave of huge relief and breath of fresh air when his hammer fell on the state Traffic Management Authority officials, soon after he took over the reins of governance. That organ of government, once noted and notorious as a wicked weapon of intimidation, treachery and harassment of the people, was drastically reorganised. It would no longer going to be business as usual, in terms of indiscriminate towing of vehicles, sleazy acts of extortion and throwing poor Nigerians in search of their daily bread behind bars.
Such complaints which featured prominently in the course of his interaction with the people, before and during the campaigns informed the reformation of LASTMA. It needed a human face! So also was the prompt attention to the payment of long-suffering pensioners and staff salaries of civil servants. This has assisted in no small measure to win the hearts of the workers who have been motivated to give nothing but their best.
Little wonder that Ambode, who many did not give a chance to excel some two years back has now won the hearts of latter-day converts milling around him for one favour or the other. Still, he listens to them all.
As Prof. Akin Mabogunje and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo rightly captured in their book, Elements of Development, true development now focuses more on people as their object of attention rather than growth in the volume of goods and services. Good enough, Ambode has started justifying that. Like a lily flower at dawn, his petals have started unfolding to the warm rays of the Lagos sun.