To Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, ex-governor of Lagos State, former Auditor General and Accountant General, the ideal way to celebrate his three score in mother earth would not be to organize an elaborate feast, spread a red carpet to bring friends and well-wishers together or even pop champagne. Doing so is absolutely not in his character. If there would be a get-together at all, it would be with the deprived, the vulnerable, children of the poor or the special class of the handicapped as he has done most times in his enviable life.
Of course, there is nothing wrong in celebrating 60 eventful years, years well spent in the service of both the state and humanity. It’s indeed a milestone for a man who believes that posterity should be the ultimate judge in the affairs of men. Yet, it’s an important day for an audacious, visionary and pragmatic leader, who is always mindful of his place in history. It’s therefore only appropriate to seize the occasion of this landmark and symbolic day to examine his modest contributions to the development of Lagos, a state he loved so much.
This explains the reason some leaders, desirous of standing out of the crowd in the history books, would burn the midnight oil for brand-new ideas to tackle the seemingly intractable challenges of society. They don’t want to be classified as simply adorning the wall of the governor’s office with their portraits. They want to live in the hearts of the people through their performance. This was a governor, who at any time of the night, would come to the office to scribble down new ideas that came to his head. He once told me and a cabinet member that even if he was asleep, his brain never slept
Ambode has pitched his tent with this history-making camp. It comes with a price: courage. According to Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States of America, “One man with courage makes a majority.’’ This US leader is credited with numerous courageous policies that toppled the established norms of his time. He was not afraid to take a decision as long as it was in the interest of the people.
Ambode displayed rare courage and compassion few weeks after coming to office, by approving a hefty N11bn to be paid as backlog of arrears to retirees few weeks after coming to office. It was unprecedented. The point had long been established that Ambode came to office prepared, having been part of the system. This much was demonstrated early in the life of his government in 2015, when he moved like a hurricane to prove that government business isn’t meant for the laid-back.
Few months after we came to office, I was opportune to be among some of the cabinet members and we were talking about on-going projects spread across the state and the amount of time and capital the governor was committing to making Lagos a smart city. The bottom line and the aggregation of opinion of those at the meeting was that of a governor who was restless, committed, determined, passionate and bold to change the face of the state for good.
Consider these staggering statistics: in his first year in office the governor initiated and successfully completed more than 40 impactful projects, including injection of 434 new BRT buses for Ikorodu corridor, fortification of security in Lagos with a whopping N4.7bn equipment for the police and subsequently up to N7bn, employment of 1300 teachers to revive primary education, setting up of N25bn Employment Trust Fund, massive road rehabilitation and reconstruction in inner Lagos, approval for development of N49bn medical park in Ikoyi, provision of 20 mobile care unit ambulances and 26 transport ambulances, building of flyover bridges for Ajah and Abule-Egba areas, rebranding of One Lagos Fiesta to boost tourism and entertainment, creating enabling environment for foreign direct investment etc.
He signed an MOU with Kebbi State on the development of commodity value chain rice (rice production). In his second year, Lake Rice became the talk of the town. Lake is the acronym for the joint effort of Lagos and Kebbi to produce the grain. He started the construction of the Rice Mill at Imota which was nearly completed before he left office. The rice mill which has been completed and inaugurated by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is said to be the biggest on the continent.
Another major achievement of a man who has remained popular in the streets of Lagos was his boundless vision to move the state from a pedestrian plane to the sophistication of a 21st megacity through the erection of structures of gothic and exotic expressions. Examples: Ojodu (*60*) Flyover Intersection, Tafawa Balewa Bus Terminus and the breath-sapping Ikeja Bus facility commissioned by former President Muhammadu Buhari, Oshodi Mega Transport Terminal, Reconstruction of the Airport Road and the Pen Cinema Flyover that changed the face of the Agege/Abule Egba axis, which was 80 per cent completed before he left.
We also have the 21 roads and two bridges with a combined stretch of 27.4 kilometers in Alimosho-Oke-Odo-Agbado area that motorists in that axis and those navigating to neighbouring Ogun State cannot forget in a hurry. Yet, there are other iconic structures spread across the state like the JK Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History; the renovation of the iconic Glover Memorial Hall; Mobolaji Johnson Arena; Oworoshoki layby; Epe Charlets and others. He was so meticulous that his administration touched every sphere and corner of the state.
Ambode was compassionate in making sure that government resources were effectively used for the betterment of the masses. He had been known to show up at road accident scenes to help rescue victims. Once when he read of a woman whose husband ran away from home because she gave birth to three sets of twins, Ambode directed prompt welfare support that brought back the fleeing man.
He demonstrated severally as governor that experience can indeed be an asset in governance; he was always calm and dutiful, even when there was a major challenge in a state that is becoming increasingly complex to govern. As someone who was close to him in office, he was a leader that is always disposed to superior ideas and options. To the extent that he was ready to change the tie he wore to the office if some of us (his aides) were not comfortable with it.
His maxim was: “Where ever you come from, as far as you labour and add value to the productivity of our dynamic and vibrant state, our government shall work with you to make Lagos State a better, livable and more prosperous home.”
As you celebrate your 60th birthday sir, here is a toast to a great and generous boss, a smart and intelligent public servant, a collegiate and pragmatic leader and above all, a perfect gentleman. May you continue to enjoy more fulfilling years in good years and abundant blessings. Happy birthday sir!
*Aruna was the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ambode