Ambode and the Godfather’s Rage

Ambode

When in 2014, he was asked about his successor, Fashola said he was not worried yet at the same time expressed concern. “I hope, firstly, that the next person is a lot better than me. I hope that he can do in four years what we did in eight years, and that can only be beneficial to all of us. We want somebody who can do these things in a shorter time and make all of the things we have done child’s play. That is why I said I don’t want to be the best governor of Lagos State. The best governor of Lagos is a futuristic idea. Every governor of Lagos should be better than the last one. My innermost interest in the next election is for who will best protect and advance the interest and the course of the state,” he stressed.

No doubt, the emergence of Ambode against Fashola’s preference had put the former governor in an uncomfortable position but he nonetheless campaigned for the man who is now his successor. The challenge of the moment is that Ambode’s handlers are trying to use Fashola as a distraction. The response of my friend and current Lagos State Information Commissioner, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, to a recent critical story published by “The Economist”, is to say the least, very unfortunate and rather unhelpful in the circumstance. I wonder why government spokespersons believe that abusing people would win the argument (or support) for their principal.

I have never met Ambode before but I have no doubt that he will eventually come good if he takes a lesson from Tinubu who himself spent the first year in office being compared to his predecessor, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (rtd) and falling short in the estimation of most Lagosians at the time. But Tinubu did not try to find fault. He accepted his mistakes, challenged himself and his team and he eventually did well. What that teaches is that Ambode should accept that right now, Lagos is not working, what with soaring crime rate and traffic chaos. But the governor has time on his side to fix the problems. That is the best way to respond to his critics, not by abusing them or taking potshots at his illustrious immediate predecessor. It is important for Ambode to see the bigger picture…

The foregoing excerpts is from my column, ‘Tinubu, Fashola, Ambode and Nigeria’ published on 19th November, 2015 and it serves as a background to the defeat on Tuesday of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode at the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries in the state. While most people may be surprised, I am not. Although it is commendable that the governor finally yielded to common sense yesterday by gracefully accepting defeat, he must, on introspection, realise that he is the architect of his own downfall. I knew as far back as March this year that Ambode would find it difficult securing a second term.

Following public outcry over provisions of the 2018 Land Use Charge (LUC), I wrote a piece titled “Between Ambode and Lagos Landlords” where I warned about the underlying subterfuge in the repeated use of ‘law’ to legitimize extortion as taxation in Lagos State. “In history, some of the greatest outrages against humanity have been committed under ‘laws’ passed by manipulated parliaments. But history is also replete with empires that crumbled under the weight of their own contradictions” I wrote before I concluded that “The glaring abuse of the legislative process (with names of private companies even being written into laws) in a revenue-generating gambit that fails to take into account the prevailing economic situation in the country can only lead to one inevitable conclusion: Hubris!”

Quite naturally, I expected reactions from Lagos. What I did not bargain for was the nature of the reactions. From close associates of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to senior government officials and party leaders in the state, my critical appraisal of the tax administration in Lagos did not elicit the negative response I expected. More shocking was that all the people who should ordinarily be angry with the piece were actually praising me for being ‘bold to tell the governor the home truth’. Almost everybody who called put the blame on Ambode who was said to be running a one-man-show in the state and would not listen to any advice. One particular refrain that kept coming from the reactions was “If he (Ambode) thinks Asiwaju can save him, he is making the mistake of his life”.

What the responses suggested was that Ambode was behaving like the foolish Yoruba wife who goes into marriage with a “me-and-my-husband” attitude that discounts the in-laws. In the event of crisis, such a wife will have nowhere to run for succour. But even at that period, I could also sense a feeling of frustrations from the camp of the godfather. I tried to gauge the mood in Bourdillon and the feedback was that Ambode “is a loudmouth, always bragging that he is now in charge. He sidelines any official known to be connected to Asiwaju (Tinubu) like the SSG and Chief of Staff among others and any commissioner known to be visiting Bourdillon regularly is in trouble”.

Until then, I had assumed the relationship between Tinubu and Ambode to be very cordial but the governor must have been given a false sense of security. I was therefore not surprised when the story broke recently that a certain Jide Sanwo-Olu had been endorsed as the preferred APC candidate in Lagos ahead of Ambode. By then, the governor had not only lost many of the critical constituencies in the state, he had become more a political liability than an asset to Tinubu. There are several stories of a governor who would sack officials at the slightest provocation and gloat about it with the refrain, “Mo bee lorun” (I cut off his neck). From the LASTMA boss to 18 permanent secretaries, Ambode spent his first weeks in office dismissing Lagos State officials he suspected were loyal to Fashola without any evidence.

Ambode’s human relations is another issue altogether. Generally regarded as arrogant and distant, even by peers, there is hardly any prominent citizen in Lagos who speaks well of him. Besides, unlike most other states where commissioners are glorified errand boys, Lagos has always been different with commissioners that had the authority of their ranks. That was until Ambode came. A commissioner told me as far back as March this year: “Our Exco meetings are nothing but a joke. The governor is the only thinker and he doesn’t like debate. He comes with pre-conceived ideas and any contrary opinions would be met with a stern ‘I am the governor here’ rebuke. The person I pity most is the deputy governor. Contrary to what has been established over the years in the state, it took Asiwaju’s intervention for her to be given approval to control the education ministry. But she can’t go beyond that ministry so effectively, the governor has reduced her to a commissioner.”

As if all these were not bad enough, Ambode dared his godfather by dissolving the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and Sector Emergency Flood Abatement Gang (EFAG) structures. Incidentally, several of the experienced officials who were posted out were trained by the governments of the United States, Finland, Netherlands and Germany, including those that had become experts in pollution and toxic waste management. These officials, mostly domiciled in the ministries of works and environment, were punished for being part of ‘Fashola’s crowd’

Unfortunately, the multi-million dollar Visionscope deal under which the state has been subjected to a monthly Irrevocable Payment Order (IPO) running to hundreds of millions of Naira, has not worked. Lagos is now an environmental nightmare, a city littered with refuse. So, invariably, he is paying more than he would under the old arrangement and there is no result. But that is not even his sin. By uprooting the Private Sector Participation (PSP) in waste management started by Tinubu and continued by Fashola, which empowered political leaders at the grassroots and yet delivered on refuse collection, Ambode had dug his own political grave.
In Lagos, the PSP is more than just a waste management outfit; it is an elaborate political patronage system that took care of thousands of party supporters and kingpins from the ward level to local government. Yet, by the stroke of his pen, Ambode took food out of the mouths of these 381 powerful PSP operators each of whom also had hundreds of people under them. With that, he also dismantled a thriving economy in the state. Many of the ‘Area Boys’ displaced from Oshodi and other areas as well as influential market women were absorbed under this programme as drivers, sweepers etc. When the pleas of the PSP operators fell on deaf ears, they sent a petition to Tinubu, who forwarded it to the governor, asking that the issue be resolved because of its political implications. Ambode ignored his godfather. On Tuesday, these injured politicians came out in full force to deal a fatal blow on the governor who does not understand the significance of ‘Jeun Soke’!

In all, Ambode did not lose the primaries because of his performance in office. But it is difficult to isolate the fate that ultimately befell him from what is happening all over the country vis-a-vis the role of godfather and its implications for the future of our democracy. While the governor may have congratulated the new godson, I am concerned about the manner in which Sanwo-Olu emerged because it suggests the same under-hand method of imposition that could also backfire with the people left to bear the brunt somewhere along the line. I am particularly not impressed by what I have seen so far. Sanwo-Olu’s response to Ambode’s desperate and ill-advised press conference of last Sunday was good on message but I could count up to ten grammatical/typo errors in the statement which betrayed a clear lack of attention to details.

Whichever way one looks at it, all the contradictions that define politics in Nigeria are in full display in Lagos. A fairly enlightened electorate that votes according to the dictates of one man and a governance standard that is measured by its municipal efficiency have been the essence of its stability since 1999. Yet the leadership selection method is in accordance with a rule book that could have been written by some Sicilian Families in the heydays of the Italian mafia. For those who choose to play the game, those rules are pretty clear: know the godfather and his political family; understand the meaning of loyalty and most importantly, the price tag of that loyalty and the consequences of deviant behaviours.

As it would happen, Ambode spent his first year in office pursuing his predecessor instead of learning the ABC of power politics and paying attention to the signals from Bourdillon. He is so naive that on Tuesday, he even thought he could outfox his godfather by hijacking the ‘Seven Wise Men’ from Abuja sent by the APC leadership. At the end, whatever the deal he might have struck with those politicians, it was a waste of time and efforts.

The lessons of Ambode’s defeat are too many and a day will come when we will appraise them. But we must be very clear about it: at the centre of it all is the role of patronage politics that has in turn empowered a few individuals to decide the fate of others at every election cycle.

That then brings me to my final word which is for the emperor of Lagos who, feeding on the frustrations of his starved subalterns, eventually got his way; leaving no one in any doubt as to who calls the shot in the state. But this is his stiffest fight so far, and an intimation that even his hold, repeatedly under threat across the South-west, will eventually fade away. No empire lasts forever. Therefore, there is wisdom in a Yoruba adage that will also serve him: When the talking drum is sounding too loudly, the signs are ominous. So, as there is a deep lesson for Ambode, there is even a bigger one for the Lion of Bourdillon. In his own interest, he must reinvent his politics that has become the leitmotif for godfatherism in Nigeria today.

Shettima’s Wise Choice

I have had several close interactions with the Governor of Borno State, Mr Kashim Shettima and I come out of every encounter impressed not only by his grasp of issues but also by his passion. I am therefore not surprised by the rigour with which he took the issue of his likely successor by endorsing his Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Prof Babagana Umaru Zulum as his preferred candidate for the APC gubernatorial ticket in the state. Yesterday, I was with Dr Mairo Mandara, until recently the Country Representative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and she could not hide her delight at the choice of Zulum who is at the heart of the efforts to rebuild after the devastation of Boko Haram. But she is not alone as many of the respected members of the Borno elite I have spoken to believe it is a wise choice. Zulum therefore comes highly recommended and he is nobody’s puppet.

In a season when many of the outgoing governors and sundry godfathers are settling for their sons-in-law and lackeys, it is commendable that some would still put their personal interest aside in pursuit of public good for their states. And nobody could have put the situation better than Governor Shettima himself. This is the way he explained his choice: “Of our 21 aspirants, if I were to support and handpick what some people might call any of my closest boys as successor; I most certainly would go for Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan or Adamu Lawan Zaufanjimba.

If, on the other hand, public service is the only consideration, none of the aspirants can be more qualified than our elder statesman, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda. If loyalty to political association is my main consideration, Senator Abubakar Kyari has proved unalloyed loyalty to political association with me. If years of sincere and mutual friendship are my main consideration, Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai and Alhaji Mai Sheriff are my closest friends amongst all our aspirants. If the consideration is about humility and ability to carry people along, His Excellency Shettima Yuguda Dibal is legendary. I have relationship and so much respect for majority of the aspirants, the likes of Hon. Umara Kumalia, Makinta, name them.

In fact, two of the aspirants, Mustapha Fannarambe and Umar Alkali are my relatives. However, because of the situation we found ourselves, considerations for the next Governor of Borno State requires specific quips tailored to our needs for now. From the generality of feedbacks, there is no doubt that what will define political debates in Borno’s 2019 governorship election will be promises in the aftermath of brutal conflict, deaths and destructions of communities… From overwhelming opinions and feedbacks, the aspirant with an edge in understanding the Peace-Development Nexus of Borno’s post conflict future is Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, mni.”

That Borno State has suffered a lot in the hands of Boko Haram in recent years is an understatement. A tested and trusted hand like Zulum will therefore be refreshing as governor after Shettima. I hope he wins.i

*Written By Olusegun Adeniyi

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