Is Am­bode Still Sleep­ing?

THISDAY - - EXPRESSION - FEMI BY AK­IN­TUNDE-JOHNSON e-mail: fa­[email protected] mo­bile phone: (08182223348 - SMS Only)

Many ad­mir­ers and sup­port­ers of La­gos gover­nor, Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode, have been wor­ried. They had hoped the pain of un­re­cip­ro­cated good­will - I mean, the essence of be­ing hard­work­ing, vi­sion­ary, ac­tive and pro­gres­sive in ser­vice de­liv­ery and other in­dices of gov­er­nance, is that at the end of one term of four years, you are in a pole po­si­tion to be adorned with a medal of sec­ond-term can­di­dacy. Am­bode’s pe­cu­liar fate sign­posts the fault­lines in a bro­ken po­lit­i­cal chicanery prac­tised all across the African con­ti­nent. A big man some­where, or a coven of fat-cats, whose grip on the veins and ar­ter­ies of state power and funds is em­bar­rass­ingly firm and red-hot un­yield­ing. They, the so-called god­fa­thers, turn le­git­i­mately elected of­fi­cials into vas­sals, ven­dors and ves­sels of rent-pay­ers.

It is in such de­press­ing cesspool of po­lit­i­cal hus­bandry you are blessed with “words-on-mar­ble” sim­i­lar to this: “Yes, he per­formed as a gover­nor, but didn’t do well as a politi­cian”. Such in­cred­u­lous “wise-crack” is why our pol­i­tics and gov­er­nance will of­ten be pressed down by ir­rev­er­ent greed, pseudo-di­a­bol­i­cal machi­na­tions, barefaced pil­fer­ing, morally des­ti­tute fat-cats... and clog­ging the chan­nels of good gov­er­nance.

So, we ap­pre­ci­ate the pro­found dis­ap­point­ment of Am­bode at be­ing fed the hum­ble-pie, and be­ing vis­ited with same whip other am­bi­tious but un­for­tu­nate as­pi­rants have had the dis­tate­ful plea­sure of em­brac­ing in the past. We un­der­stand that the shock of be­tray­als may cut both ways, and he has been left with the blunt edge of the ma­chete (well, some of his tra­duc­ers also have their own haunt­ing sto­ries to tell).

Yes, we get it... and we are gen­uinely in­censed at the foul sit­u­a­tion. We also have ac­cepted that though pol­i­tics has been var­i­ously slan­dered as be­ing dirty. How­ever, some of us be­lieve that it is the prac­ti­tion­ers that are dirty, un­prin­ci­pled, avari­cious, con­niv­ing, in­vet­er­ate liars, and more.

Pol­i­tics can be used for the good and ben­e­fit of a huge swathe of peo­ple, when fair-minded, in­dus­tri­ous, pur­posedriven and peo­ple-lov­ing men and women take the har­ness of power. Stretch­ing the ar­gu­ment fur­ther, it is clear to op­er­a­tors and ob­servers of party pol­i­tics in Africa that the game (or busi­ness) is akin to a binge at the casino jack­pot box-ma­chine - you may hit a jack­pot once in mil­lion moon, but mostly the pulls de­liver“dud-chequ es ”... fluffy noth­ing­ness. Ex­cept a cotton-wooled naive pup­pet, no politi­cian should be shocked by be­trayal, dis­ap­point­ment, dis­ap­proval or dis­sen­ this cli­mate, the ugly ex­pres­sion of hu­man’s psy­cho­log­i­cal or mental fail­ings is the rule, rather than the norm.

It is there­fore wor­ri­some to note that Mr. Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode, since the Oc­to­ber firestorm, ap­pears to be in a sleep-walk­ing mode. What ex­actly is wrong with Am­bode? Is he re­ally so shocked that he had ab­so­lutely no inkling of the po­lit­i­cal back-stab­bing that vis­ited his ex­alted of­fice? Is it pos­si­ble that he ac­tu­ally be­lieved his deputy and com­mis­sion­ers (picked for him by a time-tested sys­tem of re­mote prox­y­ism) would turn against their au­then­tic source of rel­e­vance, and pitch their tents with him? Or are there pre­vail­ing forces still sit­ting on his head or heart, chok­ing his vi­sion and in­sist­ing on rub­bish­ing his lega­cies?

Well, the fo­cus of this ar­ti­cle is nei­ther to probe the psy­cho­log­i­cal state of the gover­nor, nor his mental ca­pac­ity to bounce back from a tor­ment­ing trounc­ing from erst­while friends and as­so­ciates. Our pur­pose to­day is to wake Mr. Gover­nor up from what looks like a slum­ber­ing in­ac­tiv­ity - at least, from an out­sider’s per­spec­tive.

Less than a year into his ten­ure, which be­gan May 29, 2015, res­i­dents of La­gos State were de­light­fully prais­ing the acu­men and vi­sion that the Am­bode ad­min­is­tra­tion in­vested in deal­ing with the an­noy­ing “hold-ups”. Ma­jor roads were re­paired (ob­vi­ously, pot­holes cause traf­fic to move slowly); traf­fic-lights re­fur­bished; ar­te­rial roads were un­blocked, and lay backs and stops were hacked out of ma­jor ways. The traf­fic re­sponse was grad­ual and ap­par­ent: go­ing from Ogba, near Ikeja, to Falomo in Ikoyi, used to take all of two, three hours dur­ing the rush-hour (6am-9am). Then, like magic, the time frame short­ened to less than one and half hour. We started prais­ing the gover­nor and his aides. I re­mem­ber Chief Tony Oko­roji on my TV talk­show (FAJ-Alive) gush­ing about it: “What­ever magic the gover­nor is us­ing to get the traf­fic mov­ing, he should not stop... he’s done a fan­tas­tic job...!” He heard our hail­ing, and promised to do more - and even on more routes.

Then, they started build­ing (or re-build­ing) roads in all lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas; ma­jor bot­tle­necks were flooded with counter-strate­gies that broke old dead­locks - and traf­fic started flow­ing... shock­ingly. One of his mag­i­cal de­ci­sions was to ham­string the no­to­ri­ous VIO (and to a lesser ex­tent, the FRSC) from im­ped­ing traf­fic and mak­ing mo­tor­ing mis­er­able.

By the sec­ond an­niver­sary of the Am­bode ad­min­is­tra­tion, the trip from Ogba to Ikoyi had shrugged to less than an hour. A smart driver with rea­son­able ex­per­tise of the in­ter­twin­ing La­gos roads could make the trip in 45 min­utes. It was sim­i­lar re­lieved ex­pe­ri­ence in many other ar­eas of the state usu­ally no­to­ri­ous for en­ergy-wast­ing “traf­fic-jams”: Mary­land to Ojuelegba, Agege Mo­tor Road-Oshodi-Mushin to old West­ern Av­enue, Apapa Road-Oy­ingbo, Hu­bert Ma­caulay-Iddo axis, etc. It was too good to last, ap­par­ently. But what­ever the “condi­ments” ap­plied by the Am­bode ad­min­is­tra­tion, it worked bril­liantly, and we didn’t keep quiet.

Now, it is as if the gov­ern­ment of Am­bode is “on leave of duty” - per­ma­nently! Or his gov­ern­ment has gone on ex­ile. The tim­ing was sus­pect. Peo­ple have be­gun to won­der: the bad traf­fic heartaches are back, with vengeance! The roads are clogged with bad drivers, un­ruly ve­hi­cles and non­cha­lant traf­fic man­agers. What hap­pened? Is it that the gover­nor was so smit­ten by his loss of a re­turn ticket that he has lost ap­petite in the last seven months of his ten­ure? Is he pun­ish­ing Lagosians for not stand­ing up for him at his hour of need? Is he try­ing to give his party a bad name with which to hang it come Fe­bru­ary gen­eral elec­tions? So many ques­tions trou­bling av­er­age Lagosians.

Grad­u­ally and mad­den­ingly, the roads have gone to the dogs - worse than the pre-Am­bode in­ter­ven­tions. Tankers and trail­ers have vir­tu­ally over­whelmed our over­land bridges and Iko­rodu Road - to the clear frus­tra­tions of law-en­forcers, and chronic dev­as­ta­tion of man-hours, plea­sure and “ease of do­ing busi­ness” for law-abid­ing cit­i­zens.

The Ogba-Ikoyi trips have re­turned to three hours (if you get out be­fore 6am), or five, six hours on some oc­ca­sions. Yet, roads are not the only headaches. La­gos ap­pears to be on a free-fall. There’s no sense of lead­er­ship or mo­tion. Un­til very re­cently, the gover­nor was not seen reg­u­larly in the pub­lic space... The aura has gone... The man on the Alausa seat seems cold, ab­sent-minded of cur­rent re­al­i­ties ... dis­tracted by the fu­ture...gut­ted by the past!

With more than five months be­fore he hands over to the next gover­nor, can the states­man and ser­vant-leader in Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode rise to the oc­ca­sion - give La­gos res­i­dents, and Nige­ria, first-class ser­vices that will erect mon­u­ments of ado­ra­tion and wreaths of nos­tal­gia in the hearts of the peo­ple. It is wise to fin­ish strong, even when you have noth­ing to lose than the ring­ing words of his­tory etched in pos­ter­ity.

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