Governance as a relay race

I first met Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode early May 2014 somewhere in Victoria Island, Lagos. We had just launched TheCable online newspaper. We ran a story — “The man who would be next Lagos governor” — which surprised him, for it was not yet public knowledge that he was going to throw his hat in the ring. I saw him briefly. We chatted, exchanged numbers and I wished him all the best. Ironically, nearly four years after, I have not met him again. We’ve spoken only once on the phone. That was a few days to the 2015 elections. Nonetheless, I have quietly observed him from a distance. I have come to certain conclusions which I intend to share with us presently.

In all honesty, as I stepped out of the compound that day and jumped into my car, I worried a bit. I did not doubt his competence, but I wondered: Is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu about to take the gamble of his life? Why is he pushing a “dark horse” to be governor of a highly complex state like Lagos? I consoled myself with the fact that Tinubu supported a relatively unknown Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola in 2007. Lagos was clearly the better for it. So if Tinubu chose to back another dark horse, maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed to never support known politicians to become governor. There must be something Tinubu knows about dark horses.

Ambode went on to win the APC governorship ticket in a fierce primary election that officially confirmed that there was no love lost between Tinubu and his protégé, Fashola, who backed other candidates. Ambode also won the governorship election convincingly against PDP’s Jimi Agbaje, whom many had seen as a replica of Fashola and the natural replacement on offer. If the truth be told, nobody gave Ambode a chance to do well in office. And they seemed justified when he took off on a shaky note. Lagos was fast dissolving into anarchy. In October 2015, Mr. Eniola Bello, THISDAY MD and columnist, fired an article, “Lagos, Oh! Our Lagos”, to lampoon the new governor.

Looking back, I would say Ambode needed the heavy knock on the head. No matter the excuses he had for not hitting the ground running — perhaps there were a lot of housekeeping issues in his party and his new government — all that Lagosians wanted to see was action, certainly after the glittering footprints that Fashola left behind. No “dulling” governor can survive Lagos. Today, Ambode’s story has evidently changed for the better. What changed it? What is Lagos getting right? Is this sustainable? Is there any thread linking the tenures of Tinubu and Fashola to Ambode? Can Abuja learn any lessons from Lagos? These questions shaped my thinking today.

It is fascinating that in less than three years, Ambode has put many Doubting Thomases on the back foot. What I like the most about him is that you can see what he is doing. No long story. You can see ideas at work. You can feel the sense of urgency. You can see the schools being built, the health centres, the roads, the bridges, the lights. You can see the regeneration of the chaotic Oshodi axis, the pioneer DNA lab, the Lake Rice initiative. You can see the thinking behind these projects — trying to create something close to a modern city, trying to make Lagos a 24-hour economy, putting people to work, easing traffic, reducing crime and, in Ambode’s words, making Lagos “home for all”.

I have in no way tried to suggest that Lagos has become a paradise, or that there are no failings and issues here and there. However, in my quest to understand what works and what doesn’t work in the peculiar circumstances of Nigeria, one area that continues to pop up is the governance structure and the political ecosystem. We most often play politics without a development agenda in mind. The mindset is always about grabbing power and retaining it by any means. In the end, we make little or no progress. We remain underdeveloped. Our politics in Nigeria is too political, pardon my grammar. Politics must have a goal — to impact positively on the society, not self.

Here are two lessons I intend to draw from my Lagos example. One, development is a product of planning. Having lived in Lagos through the tenures of Tinubu, Fashola and Ambode, I can see clearly that there is a plan that is being followed. It is not an accident. I have been hearing about the Atlantic City, the rail project, modernising the waste management system, mass transit, and beautification, among others, from the time of Tinubu. I am seeing every successive governor pursuing the plans, even if with modifications. The sense in this is that if you jump into governance without a template, agenda and goals, you are a visionless, ad-hoc leader.

The best years of Nigeria were when we had national development plans. We had the first one in 1962, covering up to 1968. Key economic development drivers were kept in focus: power, roads, technical education and agriculture. It was a co-ordinated plan between the central and regional governments, spanning civilian and military times. Some of the policy outcomes were the construction of the Kainji dam, the development of the lower Niger River basin, the building of the Port Harcourt refinery, a tree-to-crop system in the Western region and farm settlements in the Eastern region. We can argue about our fidelity to our development plans, but at least we had plans.

Two, for development plans to be sustainable, leadership must run like a relay race. Our constitution is very clear: no governor or president can spend more than eight years in office. The wise leader will groom a pool of successors, a core team, to carry on with the plans. African dictators often think they are irreplaceable. They keep amending the constitution to stay put. They define continuity narrowly — in the context of “only one man can do it”. Lagos has benefitted tremendously from running a “relay race” in leadership. You can see a method in its governance delivery. No governor has dropped the baton yet. It is said that success without successor is failure.

The biggest failing of President Olusegun Obasanjo, in my opinion, was the way he handled his succession in 2007. Having embarked on meaningful reform initiatives that saw significant economic growth and development, he probably was more focused on getting a third term than creating a legacy that would outlive him. He had conceived mega projects in power and rail sectors that are very vital to attaining our development goals. Imagine the socio-economic value of a rail line from Kano to Lagos? Imagine the socio-economic value of stable power supply? He came up with Vision 20-2020 that needed to be pursued with urgency and commitment.

I would say the natural successor to Obasanjo was his vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was a key player in the policy processes of his government. In fact, as vice-president, Atiku was theoretically the leader of the economic team, although Obasanjo was very hands-on. He entrusted Atiku with power during his first term, and Atiku certainly knew the ideas and the goals pushing the reform agenda. Allegations of corruption against him effectively led to his political ruin, but we cannot say exactly that corruption has been wiped out of Nigeria since Obasanjo stopped Atiku from becoming president. I may be wrong, though.

But since Obasanjo had irreconcilable differences with Atiku, he had other options. Having groomed the likes of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, it was pure tragedy that he settled for Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as his successor. Worse still, none of his mentees was part of Yar’Adua’s new government! If Obasanjo wanted a governor to carry on with his agenda, Yar’Adua was too distant to be the one. He knew nothing about Obasanjo’s policies. He, unsurprisingly, began to undo them one after the other: reversed the sale of refineries, stopped the Kano-Lagos rail and stalled the power projects.

I am not saying Yar’Adua did not have good reasons for the actions he took. That is a different topic of discussion. My point here is that Obasanjo did not think beyond politics when he was settling for Yar’Adua — and we are suffering the consequences till this day. That is why in appraising and applauding Ambode, I am also able to see that there is clearly a plan, a foundation and a relay race in Lagos. There is a method. There is fidelity to the principles. There is onward movement. If the PDP had had a similar thinking for the 16 years it was in power, Nigeria would have been much better today. But does the ruling APC have any enduring plan for Nigeria? I can’t see it.



Many years ago, a photograph of corpses on Benin-Ore road went viral. The story then was that the passengers were robbed, asked to lie on the road and then crushed by their assailants. This narrative was designed to paint a picture of insecurity under Jonathan. Police denied the tale, saying a bus broke down and while the passengers disembarked, an oncoming vehicle rammed into them. Well, the photograph has resurfaced with a new tale: Fulani herdsmen just butchered some people. For effect, the audio of a crying lady went with it. Nigeria! Meanwhile, an old video showing Boko Haram militants slaughtering a soldier is back in circulation, just that it is now showing “Fulani herdsmen” at work. Those working to set Nigeria on fire neither sleep nor slumber. Kontunu.

Prof. Usman Yusuf, executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), has been recalled from suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari — in a move that has clearly undermined the supervisory minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who had suspended him over allegations of gross misconduct. Alas, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister of information, has said the recall will not affect the investigation of allegations levelled against Yusuf. Wonderful. How come Mr. Mounir Gwarzo, the suspended DG of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), does not enjoy this presidential privilege? The contradictions of this government are simply ridiculous. Change.

Am I the only one wondering why Prince Kassim Afegbua was declared wanted by the police over the statement he issued on behalf of former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida? IBB urged Nigerians to vote for “digital” leadership in 2019 and asked President Buhari to sacrifice “personal ambition” in the “national interest”. I thought it is Babangida that should have been declared wanted, not his media aide. Anybody who knows the inspector-general, Mr Ibrahim Idris, should please remind him that we have seen many overzealous and sycophantic IGPs in Nigeria. Where are they now? We will certainly see Idris’ end too. Impunity.

Politicians must politick. The herdsmen/farmers crisis has offered a big stage for drama from all sides — PDP governors are trooping to Benue to shed crocodile tears, and Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, the governor of Kano, has decided play the game. He has asked all “rejected” herdsmen to relocate to Kano. What are the plans on ground? Does he know the population of the herd and the herdsmen? Will there be enough grazing fields? Is there sufficient water supply? Have the potential host communities been identified and consulted? And to think Ganduje has a PhD in public administration from UI! May we be blessed with leaders who think before they talk. Amen.


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