The 2015 governorship election in Lagos State will go down in the political history of the state as one of the most fiercely fought contests second only to that of 2003. But I must confess that I had favoured Akinwunmi Ambode to succeed Babatunde Fashola. My bias for Ambode was not borne out of any partisan consideration but on what I considered to be his professional and public service profile. I had thought then that faced with the choice of the two candidates, Ambode seemed better qualified.
In choosing Ambode, I reasoned that his experiential civil service years would sufficiently empower him in administering what is arguably Nigeria’s most complex state. I had thought then that having risen through the civil service ranks, Ambode would not be an outsider just learning the ropes like a Jimi Agbaje would. As the chief executive, I was of the opinion that he would effortlessly navigate the bureaucratic web. I had hoped for a seamless transition; that the governor would hit the ground running. That he would begin in earnest where his predecessor left off.
Now, it’s been more than three months since the governor assumed office. Can Lagosians safely say that the Ambode administration has taken off successfully? Has the governor hit the ground running? Personally, I must say that I am still waiting to see the presence and bold decisions that will sustain and even surpass his predecessor’s achievements and put Lagos on the path of sustainability.
I am hoping Ambode does not prove my initial assessment of his candidacy wrong. While it will be disingenuous of me to deny that the governor has taken some significant steps since he assumed office, it is in those actions that he has not taken that Lagos residents are waiting for him to begin work earnestly.
In his 100 days in office, Ambode did take some decisions. He streamlined civil service operations and also moved to improve on the processes of revenue generation and collection through the introduction of the Treasury Single Account. Ambode reportedly met with some foreign investors; held meetings and read the riot act to truck drivers in a bid to end the protracted Apapa traffic among a few decisions.The governor has hinged the philosophy of his administration on compassionate leadership-a declaration contained in his inaugural speech.
In my interactions with residents across the state, however, I have heard many say they are waiting to see the governor in action. Personally, I believe Ambode has what it takes to move Lagos to the next level. But he needs to move quickly. For one, Lagos is a very dynamic state. Things happen so quickly that the challenges that are thought to have been solved would mutate soon after. For example, many of the challenges such as street trading and okada riding in hitherto prohibited routes the Fashola administration addressed are beginning to resurface again.
That is why I think the governor cannot afford to waste any more time. He must now approach his job with the urgency that is required to govern a state like Lagos. First, he must now grapple with the ever burgeoning population which makes nonsense of planning and is a clear burden on infrastructure. For example, the governor can no longer project his planning on the population of the last eight years. More people have moved into the state since then. Public utilities are groaning under the weight of a burgeoning population. The population nightmare of the state should keep the governor awake at night. Importantly, Ambode needs to quickly take control of the narrative before his detractors start to define him and his policy directions. Unfortunately, many are wondering if the governor can tackle the challenges that confront the state with the urgency required.
Let’s take a look at the issues. As stated earlier, many of the challenges that were thought to have been solved by the former administration are now becoming a challenge for this administration. For example, the Fashola administration had successfully confronted the problem of insecurity. Working with the state police command and using the Lagos State Security Trust Fund to boost the capacity of the security apparatus, Lagos had become largely safe.
At a time, the state was ranked as the safest in Nigeria. Nightlife and tourism returned to the state. But in recent times, the state appears to have retrogressed into its violent past. Spates of robbery incidents and an unfettered reign of hoodlums are fast cementing Lagos as an unsafe state. Armed robbers that had previously been driven out of the state now seem emboldened to return.
The governor’s first priority must be to keep life and property safe for investment to thrive. The strategy will be to strengthen and reinvigorate the Lagos State Security Trust Fund and other novel strategies to provide capacity for security agencies.The governor must ensure that Lagos does not return to the era when residents slept with one eye open.
Closely related to the security concern is how our neigbhourhoods have been taken over by street urchins and hoodlums. All across the state, miscreants popularly known as Area Boys are having a free reign harassing residents and dispossessing them of their belongings.
In places like Ajah, Mushin, Bariga and Oshodi, area boys have returned to the streets to continue their reign of terror. This needs to be stopped. That is why it was gladdening when on assumption of office, the governor visited Oshodi for a firsthand assessment of the situation. Oshodi is only a metaphor for a growing menace. But Lagos cannot afford to return to its past notoriety as the future manifestation of urban apocalypse.
Then, traffic in the state is worsening. The protracted Apapa gridlock has remained intractable such that the chaos that had given Lagos traffic its infamy has returned with much vigour. Commercial bus drivers, okada riders have become more daring and reckless. Commercial motorcycles are back on prohibited routes as roads and expressways are now scenes similar to chaotic market places replete with hawkers and street vendors.
The Lagos Traffic Management Agency has almost become another inefficient agency. From the lackadaisical attitude of its operatives to traffic management, it seems that LASTMA officials are rebelling against the governor’s new traffic pronouncement that prevents them from arresting but issuing tickets to traffic offenders. Beyond this is the need to rethink the entire public transport system in the state. For example, the buses in the BRT fleet have all become road unworthy. The BRT drivers are reckless and have become a menace to other road users. The governor must strengthen the existing public transport infrastructure to respond to the need of present day Lagos. More vital is the need to expand and invest in waterways transport in the state.
The governor should continue to seek expansion of the public transport system beyond the road transport. The state needs lighter rail system. For example, what is wrong in connecting places like Epe and other satellite cities to Lagos through a light rail system with a future projection that the Lekki-Epe Expressway may soon become inadequate? Why can’t there be a major groundbreaking investment in water transport connecting the coastal areas to ease off pressure on the road network? Public schools and health care system will need continuous expansion and infrastructure upgrade. Ambode needs to move quickly before the challenges become overwhelming. There is no time to wait.