When he wrote this article on Sunday 11 February, many may not have given it a deep thought; but in retrospect, all what he envisaged in his intellectual thinking, are all coming to bear on the national political terrain. His article, for the benefit of hindsight is presented to you unedited.
‘I first met Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode early May 2014 somewhere in Victoria Island, Lagos. We had just launched TheCable online newspaper. We ran a story — “The man who would be next Lagos governor” — which surprised him, for it was not yet public knowledge that he was going to throw his hat in the ring. I saw him briefly. We chatted, exchanged numbers and I wished him all the best. Ironically, nearly four years after, I have not met him again. We’ve spoken only once on the phone. That was a few days to the 2015 elections. Nonetheless, I have quietly observed him from a distance. I have come to certain conclusions which I intend to share with us presently. In all honesty, as I stepped out of the compound that day and jumped into my car, I worried a bit. I did not doubt his competence, but I wondered: Is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu about to take the gamble of his life? Why is he pushing a “dark horse” to be governor of a highly complex state like Lagos? I consoled myself with the fact that Tinubu supported a relatively unknown Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola in 2007. Lagos was clearly the better for it. So if Tinubu chose to back another dark horse, maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed to never support known politicians to become governor. There must be something Tinubu knows about dark horses. Ambode went on to win the APC governorship ticket in a fierce primary election that officially confirmed that there was no love lost between Tinubu and his protégé, Fashola, who backed other candidates. Ambode also won the governorship election convincingly against PDP’s Jimi Agbaje, whom many had seen as a replica of Fashola and the natural replacement on offer. If the truth be told, nobody gave Ambode a chance to do well in office. And they seemed justified when he took off on a shaky note. Lagos was fast dissolving into anarchy. In October 2015, Mr. Eniola Bello, THISDAY MD and columnist, fired an article, “Lagos, Oh! Our Lagos”, to lampoon the new governor. Looking back, I would say Ambode needed the heavy knock on the head. No matter the excuses he had for not hitting the ground running — perhaps there were a lot of housekeeping issues in his party and his new government — all that Lagosians wanted to see was action, certainly after the glittering footprints that Fashola left behind. No “dulling” governor can survive Lagos. Today, Ambode’s story has evidently changed for the better. What changed it? What is Lagos getting right? Is this sustainable? Is there any thread linking the tenures of Tinubu and Fashola to Ambode? Can Abuja learn any lessons from Lagos? These questions shaped my thinking today. It is fascinating that in less than three years, Ambode has put many Doubting Thomases on the back foot. What I like the most about him is that you can see what he is doing. No long story. You can see ideas at work. You can feel the sense of urgency. You can see the schools being built, the health centres, the roads, the bridges, the lights. You can see the regeneration of the chaotic Oshodi axis, the pioneer DNA lab, the Lake Rice initiative. You can see the thinking behind these projects — trying to create something close to a modern city, trying to make Lagos a 24-hour economy, putting people to work, easing traffic, reducing crime and, in Ambode’s words, making Lagos “home for all”.
I have in no way tried to suggest that Lagos has become a paradise, or that there are no failings and issues here and there. However, in my quest to understand what works and what doesn’t work in the peculiar circumstances of Nigeria, one area that continues to pop up is the governance structure and the political ecosystem. We most often play politics without a development agenda in mind. The mindset is always about grabbing power and retaining it by any means. In the end, we make little or no progress. We remain underdeveloped. Our politics in Nigeria is too political, pardon my grammar. Politics must have a goal — to impact positively on the society, not self.
Here are two lessons I intend to draw from my Lagos example. One, development is a product of planning. Having lived in Lagos through the tenures of Tinubu, Fashola and Ambode, I can see clearly that there is a plan that is being followed. It is not an accident. I have been hearing about the Atlantic City, the rail project, modernising the waste management system, mass transit, and beautification, among others, from the time of Tinubu. I am seeing every successive governor pursuing the plans, even if with modifications. The sense in this is that if you jump into governance without a template, agenda and goals, you are a visionless, ad-hoc leader.’