Last week, I was part of a team that went to Lagos State for a retreat. Since the Lagos State governor, Akinwummi Ambode assumed power in May 29 2015, I have not visited Lagos, save for a connecting flight to Germany last year October and then I didn’t even leave the airport.
Governor Ambode was one person I took interest in mainly because we are birthday mates, June 14, it may also interest you to know that United States President, Donald Trump is also born on June. For effects Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla leader who helped overthrow the Cuban government with the 26th of July Movement in 1959, who has become an icon all over the world for class struggle and leftist political movements, was also born on June 14.
Because we share a similar birthday date, I immediately took an interest in Governor Ambode. When he assumed power, for some few months, things were not working for the governor, he was constantly being compared to his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola who performed creditably well.
Still trying to find his feet in the early days of his administration, the crime rate spiked, traffic worsened on the major roads and commuters were constantly being robbed when stuck on traffic. It was a chaotic situation.
The situation prompted The Economist Magazine to write a scathing article describing Ambode as “weak”, “less competent” and “full of excuses.”
According to the Magazine, the governor had managed to roll back the successes achieved by his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, in reducing crime and easing vehicular gridlocks in the city.
Ambode, like every good leader, rolled up his sleeves and hit the ground running to prove a point to his detractors.
In a year, Ambode turned Lagos to one big construction site as buildings, roads, infrastructure were being constructed all over the place. Political observers say spending on infrastructure is one way to relate the economy.
What he has been able to achieve in the last one year is simply remarkable.
When I hear on the radio or read on the pages of the newspapers the achievement of any governor, I take it with a pinch of salt as most times I see it as just hype. Suffice to say there is a thin line between sycophancy and genuine commendations especially in a funny country like Nigeria.
But what I saw in Lagos got me impressed and that’s a lot because it takes a lot to impress me. I saw massive projects going on everywhere on the streets of Lagos, even my colleagues who were Lagosians and had visited Lagos just three months earlier, were impressed with the level and pace of work going on.
Last week Friday in the morning, we set sail for Epe where the governor was set to commission strategic Arterial/Inner Roads (Phase I) Epe LGA. When we got to the entrance of the town, a colleague was telling me some years ago how the entrance of the town was waterlogged but we were welcomed by beautiful roads which governor Ambode had constructed.
That same day, the governor commissioned Omotayo Banwo/Kola Iyaomolere/ Adetunji Adegbite/ Prince Oyewunmi/Ogun Close/Goodluck/Omotayo Close (Phase II), Ogudu Ori Oke, Kosofe LGA.
In the evening, when we got to the popular Berger Bridge, a colleague was telling me how some months ago, commuters spent a minimum of two hours on the bridge because of traffic and we passed the road in less than 10 minutes as the state government had constructed pedestrian bridges, lay-bys and Skip Round at Ojodu Berger.
The governor told us he is not in the habit of taking journalists round projects as he lets his works speak for themselves.
He also asserted that the revival of Eyo masquerade festival, which held last week, had the capacity to reflate the Lagos State economy up to the tune of N4billion.
According to him, the festival could generate employment to thousands of Lagosians associated with the festival.
He said such money would be earned by artisans from sewing of uniforms for about 10,000 masquerades just like other people including drivers, musicians, food vendors, artistes among others during the festival.
Ambode stated: “Just as we reactivate the festival, that’s almost like a N3billion, N4billion economy, not from us, but the masquerades.
“There are almost like 10,000 of them. They are likely to go and sew new regalia; the drivers, the security men, the caps that they wear, some people do it. So, that’s one economy out there.”
“At the end of the day, money would have circulated, maybe N5billion to almost one billion people that never expected to have the money in their pockets.”
According to him, that was how to make sense of the resuscitation of the Eyo festival.
The governor explained that the resuscitation of the festival was in line with the goal of the state to spend its way out of recession as money would be spread to people across all strata of the state.
“So, that’s the kind of thing we try to do all the time so that in every sector of the economy, there’s something circulating around Lagos.
He also spoke of the relevance of massive infrastructure undertaking by his administration as a way to empower the people of the state.
“When you go round, you see that we are doing a lot of construction. It’s not because there’s money. It’s because we are looking at that bricklayer in Badagry.”
“So, if you put a project in Badagry, that bricklayer will stay there and earn N5, 000 a day. So, the family of five will feed. And you do the same in Ipeju Lekki and so the economy is growing.”
“That is the strategy to reflate the economy. It doesn’t mean anything. You spend yourself out of recession. You put more money into capital expenditure so that for those who don’t have the means, we are able to spread the money around them.
“It doesn’t go out of Lagos. Instead, more people will come in here and do business and you start circulating it round until everything stabilises.
“That’s why you see that we’ve been able to become the catalyst to take Nigeria out of recession because we are very positive about the kind of things we are doing.”
According to him, most of the projects being executed draw skilled and unskilled hands from among locals in the areas where such projects are domiciled, thereby ensuring the employment of such people.
Ambode stressed the need for a good representation by elected leaders for their people, saying that they don’t want anything special from such representatives but to be able to solve their challenges.
“They don’t want anything so much. They don’t want us to put money in their pockets. They just want us to make it possible for them to move from one place to the other with ease, live their lives and some kind of safety for their children,” he said.
Since I started these column almost close to two years now, I have been accused of being too harsh or critical on some eminent persons and politicians. I have received dozens of calls and text messages from people who accused me of collecting money to smear their principals. Most times I laugh, that’s the life of a journalist, part of occupational hazard.
However, when someone performs very well, there is a need to commend that person. We need to start celebrating our own. Running out of superlatives to describe the performance of the governor. His performance has been brilliant and coruscate. In spite of the economic recession in 2016, the state had raked in N287billion IGR for the year as against N268.2billion generated in 2015.When other states were trooping to Abuja for bailouts, and still owing several months in salaries. Lagos was generating more money and building massive infrastructure to reflate the economy- holus bolus.
Anyone who is thinking of contesting the APC primary ticket with him or in the opposition, PDP in 2019 is just wasting his time. With what I saw in Lagos, there is even no need for him to campaign, his performance would speak for him. Kudos to the alpha governor.