By OKUNADE ADEKUNLE, Lagos
With all clear indications on the political radar in Lagos party politics, it is obvious that the immediate past Executive Governor of the state, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, would in the next 4years experience intensive power battle with the party and the House of Assembly of the state over how policies and programmes were executed during his regime. From the look of things, the state lawmakers are battle ready and positioned themselves as a tool to be used by the party to rattle Ambode for the next 4years.
In some quarters, it is believed that the intense war against Ambode and whoever that is affiliated to him is a political war to completely destroy his political landmark in the state and bury his contributions in any form to the party and the state.
The steps taken by the House of Assembly in recent times give credence to the fact that Ambode as a person and former governor may want to be uprooted out of the state’s book of relevant past Governors by the power that be in the APC and Lagos generally.
Few weeks after the 9th Assembly was proclaimed by the executive Governor of the state, Mr Babajde Sanwoolu, the Rt. Hon. Mudashru Obasa led House of Assembly suddenly woke up to her responsibility of investigating Ambode over the purchase of 820 buses at the rate of N45b without budgetary approval of the House during his administration. It is right to point that the Assembly is empowered constitutionally to probe and carry out investigation on how a governor spends public funds.
In furtherance to carrying out the responsibility, the House of Assembly inaugurated a committee to probe the administration of Ambode. A lawmaker from the senatorial district where Ambode comes from, Lagos East, was appointed to chair the probe panel, in person of Honorable Fatai Mojeed. Although, Mojeed was the Chairman House Committee on Transportation during Ambode’s tenure and many wondered how he could not raised alarm while carrying out oversight on the ministry.
The committee was set up following a motion moved by Hon. Gholahan Yishawu (Eti-Osa II) during the plenary.
Yishawu recalled that Ambode had briefed the 8th Assembly about his intention to establish a bus reform programme which would require purchase of 5,000 high-capacity buses in the state.
“Ambode said the state government will only commit 30 per cent of the cost of the buses supplied, while the operator would have to amortise the remaining cost on installment payment basis until the 30 per cent paid by the government is liquidated.
“In 2017, the executive had proposed a supplementary budget of N17bn for the purchase of these buses, but because this was not in consonance with the earlier presentation by the governor, the House refused to approve the proposal for procurement of the buses.
“Hence, the former House sought further clarification from the executive which they did not obliged.
“The executive did not come for clarification and the House did not approve the proposal in the subsequent budget proposals of 2018 and 2019.
“The executive still made provision for the purchase of the buses at N24bn and N7bn in 2018 and 2019, respectively, but the proposal suffers the same fate as that of the 2017 budget proposal,” he said.
Yishawu said whereas there was no appropriation for the purchase of these buses, Ambode went ahead to procure the 820 buses at the cost of N45bn.
He said the present House was worried that out of the 820 buses, about 520 were still at the bonded warehouse of the importer, while 50 were still with the Customs which were accumulating demurrage to be paid by the state.
The lawmaker added that the present assembly was worried that the buses were purchased with taxpayers’ money without legislative approval.
Yishawu then submitted that the House should set up an ad hoc committee to investigate all the issues relating to the purchase of the buses.
He also stated that the House should investigate the cost of the purchase of the buses and other issues surrounding the purchase to prevent a re-occurence.
In his contribution, Hon. Yinka Ogundimu (Agege 2), stated that the House needed to investigate every transaction that had to do with the procurement of the buses.
He added that it would be a bad precedent if the House did not do anything about the matter.
“A huge amount of money still needed to be paid on the purchase of these buses. Whoever has erred should be brought to book,” he said.
Also, Hon. Rasheed Makinde (Ifako-Ijaye II) said it was obvious that the last administration erred in awarding contracts.
“The 8th Assembly rejected the proposal on the buses, yet they went on to spend N45 billion on the project.
“Since we did not approve the contract expenditure is null and void, so the money should be refunded”, said Makinde
The Speaker, however, directed the committee to invite the Accountant General of the state, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and others that were involved to state their roles in the purchase.
He also told the committee to invite the current Commissioner for Finance, the Managing Director of LAMATA and others.
The House of Assembly never stopped at the probing of the purchase of 820 mass transit buses, they also set up investigative panel to probe the abandoned N5.6 billion Ultra-Modern Cardiac and Renal health facility located near the General Hospital, Gbagada.
The move followed the report read by the Acting Chairman, House Committee on Health, Hon. Olusola Sokunle, on the floor of the House.
Sokunle, in his report, said that members of his committee had embarked on a tour to assess the situation of the public health facilities across the state.
“We observed that there is shortage of manpower, non-functioning ambulances, insecurity, unequipped laboratories and more importantly, abandonment of multi-billion Naira Cardio-Renal Facility, Gbagada,” he said.
According to him, most of the equipment in the hospital are not working.
“I got report that the cardio-renal machines only worked for two weeks before the facility was locked up. Also, most of the sensitive equipment are obsolete,” Sokunle added.
Sokunle pleaded with the House to give the committee the power to invite the Ministry of Health to appear before it to give clarification on issues bothering the multi-billion Naira project.
Contributing, Hon. Tunde Braimoh, representing Kosofe Constituency II, expressed displeasure over the wastage of public funds through the abandonment of the project that would have saved many lives.
“It is disheartening that the investment of the state in the hospital is being abandoned.
“If these facilities are functioning, we would have saved many lives and reduce the constant medical tours to India and other foreign countries,” Braimoh said.
He urged the House to grant the committee the authority to delve more into the matter from the point of supply of equipment and how they stopped functioning.
On his part, the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Sanai Agunbiade, said that if equipment of such magnitude was sited in the state, it was for a purpose and that it must not be wasted.
Agunbiade, who urged the House to invite suppliers of the equipment for questioning, added that such questioning must attract public participation.
Hon. Abidun Tobun, a third-term lawmaker representing Epe Constituency I, who corroborated Agunbiade, said that the House should also invite those who took delivery of the equipment in the centre for questioning.
Also, Hon. Rotimi Olowo, a fourth-term lawmaker, described the abandonment of such medical facility as a colossal waste.
Other lawmakers took turns to express disappointment over the abandonment of the health facility.
Responding, the Speaker of the House, Rt Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, directed the Clerk of the House, Mr Azeez Sanni, to write a letter to the state Ministry of Health to appear before the ad hoc committee.
Obasa also directed the clerk to write a letter of invitation to other necessary stakeholders to the meeting with the committee on the project.
The Lagos State Cardiac and Renal Centre, Gbagada, a multi-billion Naira health facility, is presumed to be one of the signature legacies of the Babatunde Fashola-led administration, lying abandoned by the administration of Ambode.
Many political pundits argued that the panels and issues to probe by the lawmakers may have been part of the set on motions to destroy Ambode so as to be reduced politically locally and nationally. The pundits argued further that the outcome of the panels if he is found guilty or fingered in any abnormality, he would have his reputation damaged and may end his political career.
Even as the reports of the probe panels are yet to be made public, recently, some youths in the state under the aegis of Lagos Youths Vanguard led by their patron, Mr Rasaq Olokooba, staged a protest at the Assembly Complex, calling for a comprehensive probe of Ambode by the House. The group called on Ambode to submit himself for questioning.
Olokooba added that they had watched events for 90 days and that there were clear indications that Ambode had been going up and down to disrupt the activities of the current administration.
“For every government that is going out, you leave a template for the coming government to succeed. Ambode handed over a very rickety handing over note that cannot assist the current administration.
“If you go round the state today you will see that there is no governor that would inherit such state and the people of the state would be happy with him, but thank God the goodwill enjoyed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is still intact if not, by now the people of Lagos State would have been complaining bitterly.
“Put all these things together and add it to what the EFCC said recently that they were going to conduct an investigation into the activities of the former governor of Akinwunmi Ambode, you would see that we are right,” he said.
The patron insisted that anybody could be investigated anytime, but that they were shocked by what happened at the residence of former governor Ambode in Epe, when the operatives of the EFCC wanted to search his residence.
He described what happened there as very ungentlemanly, adding that this was not how statesmen behave, and that statesmen respect institutions, and apparatuses of the government.
“Also, the parliament has promised us that they were going to look into the activities of the last administration, but we have not heard anything from them. I am a tax payer, I pay education tax, I pay the salaries of the Governor from my tax and I must be concerned about how the money is being spent likewise other Nigerians.
“The former governor must be accountable for how he ran the affairs of the state in the last four years. We want him to clear his name. Gone are the days when people just hear of probe and you don’t take it up,” he said
Olokooba maintained that they were taking the matter up because the EFCC and the parliament had spoken about it.
He stressed that the rest of the world was watching Nigeria, which he said must work as it represents 2.5 % of the population of the world.
“We are the most populous black nation in the world and after Cairo it is Lagos among the most cosmopolitan cities in Africa. We don’t want anybody to mismanage Lagos. We want this to be a deterrent to others such as local governments chairmen, senators and others in public offices who might want to do what the last administration did.
“Look at the state of Lagos, people were complaining bitterly over the litters of refuse in the state though they are disappearing now. Look at Badagry Road, you would agree with me that you are also part of what we are doing today as journalists,” he said.
Olokooba added “Ambode should submit himself for questioning. We want public hearing on the probe of Ambode and we want to be part of it. We are tax payers”
However, a group believes to be loyal to Ambode fired back at the anti-Ambode protesters and the House, in a statement to berate the call for his probe.
The Lagos Renaissance Group, said that all attacks on the person of the former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode would fail.
In a statement signed by Daniel Awesu and Abdul-Quadri Enikanolaiye, chairman and secretary general of the group respectively, LRG condemned the anti-Ambode protests that took place at the Lagos Secretariat and the Lagos State House of Assembly.
LRG described the protest as “highly despicable, unjustified, embarrassingly shameful and uncalled-for.”
In the statement, the group said that while it was not opposed to genuine protests and criticism, it was opposed to deliberate attempts to tarnish the image of the former governor.
“Sponsored and money-induced protests and attacks by faceless and disgruntled elements are harmful to any democracy and social well being of a society,” the group said.
LRG said that the anti-Ambode protests had been sponsored and that the protesters were mostly “hired street urchins.”
The group pointed out that the protest was just one of the planned assaults on the former governor in attempts to allegedly taint his name and rubbish his achievements as governor in the state for four years.
“No doubt, this is one of the series of intentionally planned persecution and political assaults on the former Governor Ambode in order to wickedly rubbish his rich and enviable credentials and pedigree. From the instigation of the Economic And Financial Crime Commission by people of known questionable character and history to investigate the former Governor; to the reprehensible display of imprudence by the Lagos State House Of Assembly (made up of 100% of the All Progressive Congress, APC) members to embark on a wild goose chase of probing the pro-people Public Bus Transportation Scheme implemented by the immediate former Governor of Lagos State who is a committed member of the APC.
“It will only be an act of feigning ignorance or mischief if anyone living in Lagos State is oblivion of the tremendous and daring but short-lived pro-people policies and program the former Governor Ambode designed and implemented during his 4-year tenure: 2015-2019.
“The majority of youths and residents in Lagos State in particular and Nigeria in general, know better than to be involved or believe in concocted, unintelligently manufactured and cheap falsehood by the enemies within who feel perpetually threatened by either Ambode’s achievements while in government or his discreetness and calmness in the face of persecution and barrage of lies against him while out of office.
“In the light of this, we of the Lagos Renaissance Group, a socio-cultural-political organization based in Lagos State, unequivocally maintain that all the campaign of calumny against Governor Ambode will continue to fail in the face of logic as the man lives in the minds of the people,” said the statement.
Pundits opine that the mismanagement of the current crisis between the House of Assembly and former governor Ambode may snowball into an uncontrollable events that may affect the ruling party in 2023 general elections in the state.
They argued further that the party leadership needs to play the role of meditator in the crisis by calling the warring parties to order so as to allow peace reigns.