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Ambode Has Begun Well

Ambode has begun well. He could become Nigeria’s torchbearer in the new dispensation. Nigerians have a moral duty to support him to succeed. Lagos is too important to all of us

C. Don Adinuba

There is no state governor who will be watched in the next four years as Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State. This is no puzzle. Lagos is the most strategic of all 36 states in Nigeria. With three seaports and an international airport as well as the most active domestic airport in the country, it is Nigeria’s economic capital. Accounting for an overwhelming percentage of value added tax, some 40% of Nigeria’s energy resources are consumed in Lagos. As the nation’s erstwhile political capital, it has attracted more Nigerians from other parts of the country; it is Nigeria’s melting point. In one word, Lagos matters.

Since the restoration of democratic governance in 1999, its strategic importance under the Nigerian firmament has ballooned. Bola Tinubu, with a background in business management and considerable exposure in international business, laid a strong foundation for its solid development in the context of 21st century challenges and ambitions. Babatunde Fashola was to take the state to unprecedented heights, practically casting a magical spell of bold ideas and imaginative on Lagosians who are ordinarily difficult to impress.

Individuals and groups, including businesses, have been wondering if the shoes of the new governor who assumed duties last May 29 are big enough to fit the shoes left behind Fashola. Though it is still early in the day to predict with considerable certitude how Ambode will lead Lagos in the next four years, there are indications that Lagos is in safe hands. He has started well. Take his prompt visits to two places where within one week of ascendancy to leadership two wet petrol tankers turned into balls of fire, killing scores of people and destroying homes and offices. The visits were no public relations stunts.

The governor asked for a comprehensive list of victims and assets destroyed by the accidents. Contemporary management scholars and leadership researchers agree that emotional intelligence and other behavioral factors are a key leadership requirement. People like leaders who are considered caring in not just organisations but also the larger society. When President Barack Obama received in audience on October 25, 2014, at White House an American nurse named Nina Pham who contracted the dreaded Ebola virus while treating Eric Duncan, a Liberian patient in Texas, American care givers were over the moon.

There is nothing which lifted the morale of the management and staff of First Consultants Medical Centre in Lagos when Fashola visited the facility on September 18, 2014, and followed it up days later with a reception for Ebola survivors like Drs Morris Ibeawuchi and Adaora Igonoh, after the place was infected by Ebola in July.

In contrast, the hospital still grieves that both the Minister of Health, Christian Onyebuchi, and President Goodluck Jonathan completely ignored it, despite its heroic and expensive effort to contain the virus. Brigadier General Godwin Alabi-Isama, second in command in the Third Marine Division of the Nigerian Army during the 1967-70 civil war, has in his illuminating The Tragedy of Victory narrated how a noncommissioned officer could not believe his eyes when Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, the general officer commanding the division, removed his shirt and used it to bandage the wound of the soldier who was shot in action; the soldier was so moved by Adekunle’s magnanimity that he vowed while on a stretcher to return to the war front once he got well.

He kept his promise! Because Ibrahim Babangida caught the reputation of a caring leader while working as our military head of state there were a number of officers willing to go to the battlefield on his side even blindfolded. Put succinctly, people want leaders they can trust. Trust, teamwork and communication are worldwide given greater weight than academic brilliance and technical skills in the choice of candidates for leadership positions.

Amode’s pledge, in his inaugural speech, to continue with the development policy and programmes of his predecessor is worthy. Fashola’s transformation of Lagos is phenomenal. Yet, this is no guarantee that his transformation agenda would continue. We live in a country where rulers love to strike postures, even if the consequences are unbelievably costly.

The path-breaking rail development programme of the Lateef Jakande administration in Lagos State was abandoned by the succeeding military regime in the mid 1980s in the state. In Cross River State, the Liyel Imoke government abandoned the multi-billion dollar Tinapa project designed to leapfrog the state’s development, in the tradition of what the preeminent American management science professor, Peter Senge, calls double-loop learning in his great book, The Fifth Discipline.

But as for Ambode, “there no reinventing the wheel”, as Businessday of Sunday, May 31, put it in its front page report. He has his job cut out for him. Declared the new governor who became the state’s accountant general in his 30s: “I am committed to the State Development Plan (2012-2025). The plan is structured under four pillars: social development and security, economic development, infrastructural development, and sustainable environment”.

As though to assure the public that he would walk the talk, Ambode appointed one of the most effective results-oriented members in the Fashola government, Tunji Bello, who was the commissioner for the environment, the secretary to the government. Fashola was the poster boy of good governance, the talisman used by the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to charm the people of the Southwest geopolitical zone to abandon the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and embrace it in the 2011 vote.

The people were promised that an ACN government in each state would transform the place, just the way Fashola had done in Lagos State. There is another significant point Ambode made in his inaugural speech: his resolve to make Lagos home for all. The fact that he made the subject a key component of the speech shows he did not engage in mere soapbox rhetoric during the electioneering campaign. Lagos is arguably the most liberal state in Nigeria right now.

After all, Ben Akubueze from Anambra State was in charge of economic planning and development in both the Tinubu and Fashola administrations, and so became the longest serving commissioner in Lagos since 1999. There are a lot of non-indigenes working as civil servants and teachers in the Lagos public service, something which does not yet obtain in many other states.

Indeed, several of the commissioners and other political appointees in Lagos are so-called non-indigenes. But they are mostly Yoruba. The last general election has shown the need to make political appointments reflect the demographic composition of the state as much as possible. Lagos, the most multicultural of Nigeria’s states, is best positioned to lead the charge for a new Nigeria.

At the inception of democratic rule in 1999, I proposed in a private note to then President Olusegun Obasanjo to use his good offices to influence governors to give at least one political appointment to each of the six geopolitical zones in the nation, instead of appointing only people from their states. It was part of the search for national unity and cohesion. In the Second Republic, Kano State Abubakar Rimi proudly appointed people from today’s Akwa Ibom, Edo, Gombe and Bauchi states to key offices. Anambra State governor Jim Nwobodo struggled with Plateau State governor Solomon Lar over where Mrs Janet Akinrinade from Oyo State would serve as a commissioner.

Mr Justice Obi Okoye from Anambra State was made the Plateau State chief judge while Lawrence Anoliefo, also from Anambra State, was appointed the director of public prosecutions in Aper Aku’s Benue State where he later became a high court judge. Both the chief judge of Mohammed Goni’s Borno State and attorney general were Yoruba.

But today Abia State would protest vehemently against the elevation of its serving female state high court judge, Ifeoma Jumbo-Ofor, to the Court of Appeal simply because her parents are from Anambra State, though she is married to someone from Abia! It is the same state which some three years ago retrenched some Igbo 4,000 civil servants simply because they are non-indigenes of Abia. Ambode has begun well. He could become Nigeria’s torchbearer in the new dispensation. Nigerians have a moral duty to support him to succeed. Lagos is too important to all of us. •Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.

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