Service for him is noble and that is what he’s offering the people of Lagos State. Taking Lagos to the next level is a task that must be accomplished and he believes his experience over the years puts him in good stead to get the number one job in the state. In this interview, Akinwumi Ambode, the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate in Lagos, represents his ideas and driving force, dispelling the squalid rumours about his candidacy.
I would like to know if you have recovered from the shock of the recent presidential election results for Lagos State?
I am not too sure it’s appropriate to use that word shock. Let’s go back in history to the 2011 elections when the president and PDP actually recorded 1.3million votes in Lagos State. In 2015, for PDP to have recorded six hundred and seventy thousand plus votes, it actually means that he lost over eight hundred thousand votes in this last one. That’s the way to look at it. Fewer people voted for him in Lagos State. So, where is that gain coming from? That’s the way I want us to look at it. May be another way to look at it is to say that the margin between APC and PDP was small and that was the part you think is shocking. Another thing to look at is when you look at the conduct of the election regarding INEC’s performance in Lagos State, you’ll discover that in most areas a lot of Lagosians were disenfranchised and that was due to no fault of theirs. That could be responsible for the number of people that came out to vote eventually. Also we know that there was apprehension before that particular election and everybody thought there would be violence. The streets were not too safe and the whole state was militarized. We can say that was why a lot people did not come out to vote. I believe strongly that you will see a totally different pattern during the April 11 gubernatorial election.
Don’t you think the Igbo challenge should give you concern? The Igbo seem to be gaining ground and thinking Lagos is also their Lagos?
We need to quickly correct that. There is nothing like Igbo challenge, every Nigerian living in any part of the country is free to exercise his or her rights and according to his or her choice. We have not seen any pattern evolving among the different tribes in Lagos. If there is any pattern, we will have to analyze it but we have not seen any. What’s obvious is that people will stand up and vote for whoever they like.
You think the odds will favour you next Saturday?
Absolutely. Again , I will go back in history to 2011 when President Goodluck Jonathan won the election by a very wide margin, but in the gubernatorial election, Governor Babatunde Fashola won with 1.5million votes as against 300,000 votes for the PDP candidate . That will repeat itself next Saturday.
Is it true that APC is making last ditch efforts to reach out to the Igbo community in Lagos?
This is politics and you have to talk to everybody and persuade or woo them to your camp, we are not going to sit down and assume a particular group of people did not vote for my party during the presidential election and so let me just let them be. So, I will re-strategize, talk to them and convince them on why I’m a better candidate. For me, there is no tribal vote in Lagos. Lagos is too cosmopolitan.
Our feelers reveal that Igbos voted for PDP during the presidential election to protest what the Fashola administration did to them and that they would do likewise against you on Saturday. Is that accurate?
It’s unfair to say that they are retaliating or that they feel offended by what the present government did to them. There is no evidence that Fashola’s government has been unfair to any tribe. His policies and all the infrastructure in Lagos State are for everybody. There is no restriction against any tribe to use a bridge or any other amenities in Lagos. To say that somebody has been unfair to them is unfair. I just want everybody to see that the next four years are about Akinwunmi Ambode and we are assuring voters everybody counts. Mine would be a government of inclusion and we will not condone any prejudice in terms of provision of infrastructure.
I want assuage their fears and say mine will be a government for everybody. Everybody’s interest will be served.
Since the next four years is possibly about your government, what about work-in-progress? Will you complete them or you have your own masterplan and agenda?
All work-in-progress will be completed. It’s an APC government and the party is supreme, so everything beneficial to Lagosians will be sustained. We’ll sustain our tradition of excellence as we have in the past sixteen years. There is no way I am going to deviate from the goals and the polices of the party. Beyond that, you know that public sector governance is dynamic, so we must continue to fine-tune every aspect of governance in the manner that’s beneficial to majority of Lagosians. We shall continue to improve the welfare of our people.
What are your priorities for Lagos State if you become governor?
The truth is we’ll do everything to improve lives of ordinary Lagosians and make them more comfortable and secure from day one. My main challenge or goal if you will is taking the youth off the unemployment queue and that’s why my government will provide small business loans to eligible youths within the purview of our Employment Trust Fund. I also quickly want to deal with the chaotic traffic situation in Lagos. Towards this goal we’ll hold a traffic summit and devise better strategies to deal with the issue. Since we are now going to have an APC-led government at the center, life will become more comfortable for Lagosians.
Look at the Murtala Mohammed Airport . It’s an eye sore but it’s a federal facility we have not been able to do anything about it in the last sixteen years. You know what it means if we have APC at the center? Look at what we are doing at Mile Two, the Badagary expressway and the modern rail project under construction as well as that between Mile two and CMS. These projects are funded by Lagos State government even as we speak despite the fact that they’re federal roads. Do you know what that means for us with a Buhari-led government? As we speak, the Federal Government is owing Lagos State N51 billion in terms of money expended by Lagos State on federal roads. Buhari has already promised that he will find a way to reimburse Lagos State.
That will allow us to complete the project and others and make lives more comfortable for Lagosians. So it’s imperative now that we let our people know that common sense dictates we must continue the tradition of APC in Lagos State because it means Lagosians will be more prosperous as well as the state. When will Lagos State government deliver the light rail project because it’s like it’s taking forever? You know that I just said it’s being funded by Lagos State and that federal government support is not there but I believe strongly that we will be able to create a financial structure that will enable us commission it in the next 15 months.
You said the current traffic situation in the state is unacceptable. Is that not an indictment of the current administration?
No ,there’s nothing like an indictment. Go to New York and other major cosmopolitan cities in the world. There are always traffic challenges . Nobody will even stay in New York if you have better alternatives in America. As structured as London is, they still have congestion charges to allow fewer cars on the roads. So, ours is not different and what is important for us is the ability to devise traffic management solutions that are effective and efficient.
Beyond our roads, we should be able to improve other modes of transportation which we are already debating. If commuters can travel the waterways and then the rail complements it, that will ease traffic on roads. Then because we now control the center, do you know what it means for us to now activate the monorail system because we will now be working with the federal government to be able to use it from Ido Terminus to other parts of Lagos. Federal Government regards Nigerian rail system as theirs, so you can imagine how many people we can transport from Lagos, at the Ogun State axis and people living at Ikorodu can also travel the waterways.
Okada riders, taxi drivers and artisans in Lagos said they won’t vote for APC and that they would rather vote for the opposition. What’s your party doing to placate them since there are quite influential?
I am not too sure all the artisans will want to vote for the opposition party.
Not if they see this government as elitist?
I will explain why this government is not elitist and why it’s more about them.
As we speak, 90% of the working class in Lagos State are artisans. And that means that a whole lot of people in Lagos are from the informal sector and everything we have been doing for the past sixteen years is about them. It’s about lifting them up and making their lives more comfortable. The basic things artisans are looking for is an enabling environment for them to thrive. The ability to move from one point to the other and then to have a more secured place to trade and do business. That we have been able to substantially satiate in the last eight years.
We created BRT mass transit system and illuminated major streets in Lagos for their safety. You cannot compare the situation of the country in 2007 with what it is now, because people are now moving freely. I just want to assure artisans. I want them to know that everything we have provided as infrastructure is for their benefit too. They use roads we’ve provided too. As part of my own agenda , I have decided to organize a credit guarantee scheme for artisans. We will improve on vocational training and skills acquisition schemes to better position them for more productive lives.
Project This is my initiative and it’s about tourism, hospitality, entertainment and sports. My vision is to make life better for carpenters, beauticians, tailors, drivers and security guards. The most expensive project in Lagos State is the ten-lane expressway to Badagary which also comprises the light rail project from Mile 2 to CMS and it’s situated in the mainland. It’s not in the urban part of Lagos. It’s not in Victoria Island. It’s for everybody and especially Lagosians in the Mile2 , Okomaiko, Mazamaza, Ajangbadi, Badagry and FESTAC axis. The asset acquisition we are talking about is to their benefit and wellbeing. The road being constructed from Mile 12 and Ikorodu will make life easier for people generally and not the elite only. It’s absolutely wrong to say that this government is elitist. The projects that are in progress as well as those already commissioned in the Island are to facilitate access to and from the Island. You should know that most workers shuttle from the mainland to the Island and vice versa. They’re for everybody.
How did this journey to being the candidate of your party begin?
That’s interesting. You know I’ve always wanted to serve, I have always believed that working in the civil service is noble. All my life, I have been in public service. I’ve done so for 27 years. So, if I have decided that I want to now continue on that noble path, it means it’s the tradition of whatever it is that I have started in my life. I want to clearly say that I have always been in the leadership position at a tender age. You see, I lost my father when I was 18 and I had all my siblings all around me. I started playing the role of a father at 18 to all my younger siblings. The ability to survive and my leadership acumen came from that background and has been my driving force in life.
Going through university without parental support meant I had to develop my innate ability to survive and succeed. At age 37,I had actually reached the peak of my career in the civil service as I became a permanent secretary and the auditor general for local governments at age 37 too . I was also on Fulbright Scholarship to run a programme in the United States that prepared me for public leadership at age 35. So, I don’t see myself anymore as an accountant and I began to focus my life towards public leadership. I studied at Boston University and ever since that time I have been systematically watching what role I could play and when the opportunity came I took advantage of it.
At what point did you decide to join the APC or ACN?
I became the permanent sectary at the age of 37 and I was the youngest permanent sectary and the youngest Auditor-General in Lagos State. But I did that for 12 years and subsequently decided on my own that it was time for me to move on when I turned 49. I’ve looked at all the records in Lagos State and I don’t know anybody that retired voluntarily in that exalted position. I was excited by the fact that I could also retire before age 50 and I was also excited that I will go down in history as the youngest person that has ever retired voluntarily as a permanent secretary. I so love challenges that I decided to incorporate a firm in an area that is not common for an accountant and that was why I took up consulting in financial management, so all that was just exciting to me. I became totally free. I quickly took up the advantage to see if I could duly serve. I joined the ACN, then I proceeded to APC. I became interested in Lagos State politics. The Lagos State governorship primary was keenly contested by vibrant aspirants. The truth is that any of us could have won the primary. Let me tell you that whatever it is, we had a good primary in Lagos State, because that was the first time a primary was keenly contested and televised and delegates came and actually voted up till midnight and the votes were counted. Losing your father at 18 must have been tough.
Can you elaborate further on your challenges?
It was extremely tough and maybe that was what made me who I am today. My mother was just a house wife and I had not even gotten my university admission when he died. So, obviously the future looked bleak and it was either I started working or go back to school. I could have done anything at that point but the good thing about that was that I had the second best “A” Level results in West Africa and I had automatic admission, so there was no way I was not going to take advantage of that. The family came around and wonderful friends from my school network gave me moral support. My family is very valuable to me. I secured my second degree at UNILAG on Federal Government scholarship, so I didn’t really have issues doing that, but at the same time, I started work very early also and I was able to find my way through and that’s the foundation of the toughness of character that you see in me today. The ability to always survive under harsh conditions has been part of me from age 18.
You said you left Lagos Civil Service at age 49 voluntarily, but some people disagree. What are such people actually talking about ?
Thank you. It’s very good that we can use this platform to clear whatever insinuations people are inferring. I have heard from some quarters that I was sacked by Governor Fashola and that I stole and that was why I left the service. Now the major issue is that if I was sacked because I stole, this campaign could have the best opportunity for the opposition to use it against me. We are almost at the end of the campaign and nobody has been able to bring a sack letter or say how much or what I stole.
I believe this is a campaign of calumny against me. I have in my custody a letter of recommendation written by Governor Fashola four months after I retired.
Governor Fashola is still on seat and journalists or anybody for that matter can go to him and verify my assertions, but the issue is I have served Lagos State meritoriously and I have done the unthinkable by leaving an exalted position voluntarily. I wanted to give budding talents to come up and serve.
Also I believe there are greater things beyond the office of the Accountant General and that’s why I am contesting the governorship. So if the other party or other people are trying to tarnish my image they should remember that God has said I will be the next governor of Lagos State and that’s why I am pleading with voters that they should vote for people with character, people with integrity and experience.