ONE would naturally feel proud to share the same Alma Matar with the All Progressives Congress (APC’s) gubernatorial candidate for Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode. It is even double in our case because we were not only colleagues at the Federal Government College, Warri but also at the University of Lagos, where he was my senior. As Alumni comrades would normally put it: We are both “Great Fedgocowosans” for the FGCW connection and “Great Akokites” for UNILAG.
I have followed the career of Ambode keenly for several years and I am least surprised he’s come this far. At FGCW, Ambode was an embodiment of discipline and efficiency. He was not only a prefect, but as the head of school entertainment at the time, he brought a lot of smiles to the faces of students. UNILAG is a much larger academic community and being such an “ocean” of a setting, there is very little I know of his activities there. Besides, I came in just as he was leaving but I have no doubt he distinguished himself as usual. Our Briton-born Principal, Late P. H. Davies whom students fondly called ‘Papa’( and he truly was one) prepared us very well for life after FGCW especially for leadership roles. As governor, he can jog back such teenage experiences to bring about a huge entertainment industry in the state. Accepted that the stakes are higher now and much more is required than just being the students’ entertainer, fortunately for Ambode – as it is often said – every great story begins with a humble beginning. His 27 years of meritorious and innovative service in Lagos State Civil Service are well documented. He has more than paid his dues for the state’s number one job.
My bet on Ambode is not because we share the same Alma Mater. I must first be convinced he is competent because Lagos deserves the very best. It is a lonely road to walk and co-travellers are few made of those who live by principles in a society that is patently lacking of idealism. It is not a surprise that my hero of the second republic led by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the impeached governor of Kaduna State! Along with some classmates and a small circle of friends at the time, we never ceased to eulogize him for standing out for his ideals. He was principled to the point that he would not succumb to the blackmail of the NPN dominated State House of Assembly that expected him to “settle” them to keep his seat. Balarabe lost out as governor but he never lost my respect over the years and I’m disappointed he’s become so obscure in the present dispensation. Added to him are many heroes of history I read about who have been a source of inspiration even at a tender age.
Ambode is a natural leader of men and a builder of bridges. At the time our Old Students’ Association (Lagos Chapter) ran into a hiatus that came out of a major crisis when most ex-students were fast losing interest in the affairs of the association, it took the pragmatic leadership of a much younger Ambode with deft moves to revive the Association and bring it to life again. It was a feat which the senior members at the time could not achieve but a younger and junior Ambode did as interventionist president. Yours sincerely had to politely turn down the offer to serve in his Executive having just served out a two-year term as the General Secretary because of not too pleasant memories.
Habitually, not one to go looking for the big men in power for what to get out of them, the writer kept away from Ambode at Alausa where he held several key positions except when we met at association meetings. But many colleagues who regularly went to see him had much to say of how he had been of great help to them in several ways in resolving various issues. His acts of generosity and compassion run to immense proportion. There are many students at various levels Ambode is paying their school fees, widows he is helping to get back their groves, area boys he is helping to rehabilitate, scores of problems he is taking upon himself every day to solve for others when in service and out. Unless a leader has such compassion, he would steal so much in office and deny his people the needed service, the good things of life or dividends of democracy.
Another factor that stands in favour of Ambode is the APC ticket. Whatever critics would say and with every sense of objectivity, it is still the most progressive party in the country today. All the APC states especially in the South West are doing quite well; even the so-called poor ones have been able to navigate and adopt innovative ways to generate, attract higher revenues for developmental projects. The evidence is there – be it in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun or Edo State – APC governments are performing but one is not saying the party does not have its own share of the warts in the Nigerian system (if we are looking for out saints, they are probably only in Rome after a hard search!). Even Ekiti was choking in the steam of meaningful development before the surprise ouster that many were surprised the electorate turned out the way it did but time will certainly tell. The same cannot be said of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Whether at the centre or in the states in the last 16 years of democratic dispensation, except in a handful of states including Akwa Ibom, Cross River and one or two others, the impact of progress hasn’t been as profound. It would be a big gamble for Lagos to lose out of the league of progressive states if it falls into the claws of the PDP but that is also left for Lagosians to decide on April 14, 2015.