By Adewale Adeeyo
In his 27 years as a civil servant in Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode was a quiet, solid achiever of immense gifts and remarkable ethos. With a bachelor’s and master’s in Accounting, he was focused early enough to start his working career from the modest position of Assistant Treasurer, Badagry Local Government in 1988. Nearly three decades later, and after a number of courses within and outside the country, the brilliant and hard working civil servant had risen to the positions of a permanent secretary and accountant-general, even holding both positions at a time. His accomplishments were staggering; but what was even more astonishing was the quiet manner he rose through the ranks and left a lasting impact.
It was, therefore, not surprising that less than three years after he voluntarily retired from the civil service, and with the same quiet dignity and self-effacement that have become his hallmarks, Ambode, 53, was back in government, this time at the highest level in Lagos State as its third Fourth Republic elected governor. It is not certain, despite his hard work and accomplishments, whether he thought that amazing political trajectory possible. It is not even clear, though he has great mentors, whether a year before he assumed office as governor, anyone thought to make a political gladiator of the self-effacing financial and administrative manager.
Twenty-nine years after he first signed up to work for the Lagos State government, through which he rose to be a consummate civil servant and adept financial manager, Ambode had become governor in extraordinary circumstances. He was indisputably sound as an auditor and accountant, even a chartered accountant, but not many, including perhaps some who voted for him in 2015 on trust, were absolutely convinced that the seemingly quiet and unpretentious financial expert and latter-day politician could muster the elan and charisma to lead the boisterous coastal state soon to mark its fifty years of founding.
Ambode had come highly recommended by a past governor, the pacesetting iconoclast, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. And having excelled in school, he had acquired the character of showing grit, determination and uncommon brilliance. But he did not seem a natural politician, not to talk of being a lawyer and career rabble-rouser — these were the sort of people believed capable of succeeding as administrators and politicians. Ambode was different, confidently and quietly so. But he was not the usual politician Lagosians had grown accustomed to over the decades. Indeed, shortly after he was sworn into office, the most populous state in Nigeria seemed to experience some stasis, unable to respond to the new governor’s novel methods.
But less than two remarkable and astounding years later, after Ambode had executed dozens and dozens of quality and, in some instances, expansive projects one after another, it was as if the state had been waiting for him all along with bated breath. Both Ambode and Lagos were made for each other, after all. He has not yet forsworn his self-effacement, and is unlikely to, given his quiet and self-confident disposition, yet his achievements have both been recognised and lauded, often very loudly, as if to compensate for his quietude.
Charisma is not usually associated with quiet detachment; but in the case of Ambode, his achievements have illustrated his sometimes impalpable charisma. And as every analyst knows, it is indeed possible to possess charisma without a corresponding or even ethical demonstration of progress. Ambode defies stereotypes and confounds propositions by his relentless and ironically charismatic accomplishments.
Far beyond the number and quality of Ambode’s monumental projects is the scientism of his methods, the integrated network of projects and programmes that blend with one another and create a seamless, impactful whole. Whether road projects or school and health facilities, or whether security or human development programmes, Ambode’s strides in two years possess at once a certain abstractness and concreteness. Abstractness because many of the projects seem enviably and reassuringly futuristic; and concreteness because they are of practical and immediate use as tools for revving up development and raising living standards.
It would be flattering to suggest that Lagos has a perfect cabinet. It probably doesn’t. However, given the achievements recorded in the past two years, and the peace and cooperation abiding in the cabinet, they are a reflection of the cerebral quality of the governor and his leadership skills as well as an indication that he has a critical mass of commissioners and heads of agencies to help him transform theory into practice. Importantly too, as is the nature of politics generally, the remarkable progress Lagos has made under Ambode reflects excellently on his interpersonal relations and financial management skills.
No matter how brilliant a cabinet, if the leader is not equally or better endowed, there would be no one to set the pace and direction. If Lagos is presenting itself as an example for other states and attracting attention from within and outside the African continent, it is an indication that a vision is in place and is being remoulded and refined, and a leader possessing character and confidence is also running the show.
What is most remarkable about the solid and frenzied pace of development in Lagos today is its spread, both spatially and intrinsically. Spatially, projects are sited in concentric circles in all the senatorial districts of the state, state constituencies, and wards. And in one way or the other there is an engaging inter-connectedness in nearly all the projects so that they can integrate forward and backward and hum synergetically to make life livable in the Lagos megacity. Intrinsically, ongoing projects include roads, bridges, hospitals, security apparatuses, and many legacy monuments. The Epe axis is being opened up grandly, Alimosho axis is being transformed into a behemoth, Oshodi is on the way to experiencing one of the most modern renewals ever, Lekki is enjoying a very thoughtful design makeover, and a new security architecture called neighbourhood security watch is already assembled.
All these renewals and re-engineering have been made possible because they were predicated on a masterful re-engineering of the state’s financial infrastructure. It is perhaps fitting that Ambode is in the saddle as the state marks 50, having been created in May 1967. He is fortunate to have predecessors like AsiwajuTinubu who laid the foundation, and Babatunde Raji Fashola who built on that foundation. Ambode has placed himself appropriately to build on the works of his predecessors, and to take the megacity. Project to a dizzying height. As a former civil servant, he knows how to drive the civil service and get the best out of it. As a career financial manager, he has reorganised the state’s finances and put it on an even keel to make it work for the state. As a thinker and scholar, he has designed practical and engaging ways to get things done and make the state and himself respond adequately like a scientist to the challenges of statehood. And like a deep thinker, he has primed himself, standing on the shoulders of his predecessors, to envision an incredibly expansive, surefooted and glorious future for Lagos.
That Ambode is able to achieve these great strides without the accompanying and distractive noisemaking politicians are so often and clearly besotted to is a testimony to his idiosyncratic resolve to leave a mark and legacy in Lagos. He is just half way into his first term. By the end of the first term, and at the rate he is going, not to say the fluidity of his rhythm, he is expected to accomplish so much more, even as many of the legacy projects begun months back start to manifest in all their splendour. Lekki Expressway has been transformed, including a flyover at Ajah. Epe-Itoikin Expressway is nearing completion, so also the Abule Egba flyover. A number of other flyovers are in the works. More than 600km of roads have been rehabilitated or reconstructed. So too, have bridges been built. What is even more impressive is that it takes a very self-confident politician who will be facing re-election in less than two years to eschew the self-promotion and narcissism many politicians and governors are obsessed with. Under Ambode, Lagos is permanently in the works, aggressively and thoughtfully.
Sometimes, all it takes is a lay-by of not more than half a football field in Oworonshoki or Ketu. But it does wonders for traffic flow. Sometimes, all it needs is erasure of roundabouts, and traffic grid lock is eliminated. The beauty of the Ambode revolution coursing through the state’s sinews is that brain works, after all, and reflectiveness can go a long way in ameliorating the problems of a community. Today, there is no contention about Ambode’s capacity to govern exceptionally well.
If the sometimes querulous leader of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (POP) in Lagos, Bode George, could give Ambode not only a pass mark, but an excellent mark, all that the governor needs is to sustain his performance and probably better it in order to pass safely into the legend of Lagos where only a few past governors reside. Imagine the poetics of a quiet governor undertaking a quiet but unmistakable revolution. It is called virtuoso.
The clincher for many Lagosians and south-westerners is that far beyond working wonders in Lagos State is that Governor Ambode is also deeply thoughtful, philosophical and ideologically expansive. His pursuit of regionalisation, where his predecessor had been fairly isolationist, speaks to his mindset as a true and well-bred son of the soil. He did not wait to be persuaded; and did not ask to be wooed. His instincts told him regionalism was right and did not detract from the state’s independence nor violated the constitution, nor yet flouted the unity and integrity of the nation. More importantly, he selflessly prepared his mind to put the vibrant economy of Lagos at the service of the region, knowing full well that the strength of his people and their security depend on the collective prosperity of the region. No sooner he was sworn in than he asked to be integrated into the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) There is no telling what six more years of Ambode will do for Lagos and the Southwest. He has started well, worked well, thought well, and from all indications, will finish well. The energies he brings to the job, and the organised and orchestrated ideas that undergird his stewardship, not to say the soundness of his visions, will ensure that the projects he has committed himself to, whether Atlantic City, Fifth Mainland Bridge, Dubainisation of Alimosho, renewal of Ikeja Business District and the rapid metamorphosis of the Lekki Axis, among other great developments, will permanently change the landscape of Lagos.
The tender and tough amiability of Governor Ambode is powerful. The extraordinary elements intrinsic to his glorious élan infused the future of Lagos State Government with great promise, and her present with the illumination of commanding graces. But it is his splendid gravitas that sparked simple things as street lights to sparkle, brighten and pulsate, inviting tourist and tempting global investors.
Every dimension of life in Lagos State is now joyous and anchored to the ardour and glamour of internationalist cordiality of vibrant cultures that enliven refreshing and perpetual hope. The people of Lagos State, assuredly, tender to the hugely cerebral Governor Akinwunmi Ambode immeasurable gratitude for his steady, magnetic and winning leadership skills, and his delightful brilliance that has invigorated us all with joy and magnified the global stature of our precious homeland.
Dr. Adewale Adeeyo (OON) is member, Governing Council, Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State.