Akinwunmi Ambode, a career civil servant and former Accountant-General of Lagos State, was sworn in at Tafawa Balewa Square last week Friday as he prepared to lead the state at a time of economic anxiety, partisan political divisions and shifting demographics, yet appeared poised to continue the policies of his predecessor, Babatunde R. Fashola.
Mr. Fashola stepped down after an 8-year tenure as the most popular governor and one of the most powerful in the history of Lagos. The new governor predicated his campaign on the need to “consolidate” on the achievements of his predecessor.
Mr. Ambode, who was also a former auditor-general and a member of the All Progressives Congress like Mr. Fashola, championed and defended most of Fashola’s infrastructural and social initiatives. He also echoed his predecessor in his inaugural speech, saying he would continue on the State Development Plan (2012-2025).
“The plan is structured under four pillars: Social Development and Security, Infrastructural Development, Economic Development and Sustainable Development,” the incoming new governor said in the inaugural speech he read shortly after taking his oath of office.
He also immediately put in a place a new Ministry, that of Employment and Wealth Creation.
Ambode Takes Pages from Fashola’s No-Drama Playbook
Ambode has already taken several pages from Fashola’s no-drama playbook. After being sworn in, he immediately received the President of Namibia, Hage Geingob, in his office. He called a meeting with all state’s Permanent Secretaries the same weekend and warned the usually complacent staff that there would be no room for laziness.
“All staff must be at their desk by 8:00 a.m,” he said. “I will be at my desk by 8 a.m. and I expect everyone to be available upon request.” The next Monday, he was at his desk before 8 a.m.
He also said he would prefer to stay in Ikeja as opposed to the high profile official residence in Marina.
On Tuesday an articulated truck derailed at Iyana-Ipaja, a busy suburb of the state, with its 33,000 liters petrol content, the result was a massive fire disaster that left many killed. Only the second day after he resumed duty, Ambode was at the scene to supervise excavation and console victims. He told the hapless people who either lost their homes or shops that the state would support them.
Most PDP politicians had hoped that Ambode will reverse some of the allegedly elitist measures of his predecessors by abrogating the state’s economic pact with private companies like Lekki Construction Company and Alpha Beta Consulting, a professional services firm that has reaped significantly from the state’s tax revenues.
But Ambode made it clear there would be no major reversal of his predecessor’s commitments, but a piecemeal tweaks could be done to continue reforming the state’s public sector.
“As we all know, the best practices of yesterday may not be good enough for the products of today. In this sense, we shall embark on continuous reforms in the public service,” he said to a cheering crowd of mostly APC supporters.
This position angered PDP politicians, many of whom worry that Ambode will continue to promote elitist agenda, which they said had failed to distribute the huge resources of the state to those who actually need them. But Ambode’s approach has reassured APC supporters that the Fashola model, which was widely seen as popular and believed copied in many other states across the country, will be sustained.
“There’s no need for us to reverse the Fashola’s activities in this state. Even though many in the opposition continue to see them as unfair to the poor, discontinuing the development that Lagos has witnessed under the last administration is not something that we should encourage,” said Taiwo Usman, an APC youth leader in the state.
He explained that the incoming administration would adequately address the plight of the poor across the state with its newly-created Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment.
“The Ministry of Wealth will benefit mostly those who are not well-to-do right now,” he said. “But we’re sure that wealth will circulate properly among Lagosians.”
But a PDP chieftain, Dr. Adegbola Dominic, faulted this assertion, arguing that the fact that Ambode had vowed to continue on the path of his predecessor is enough pointer that most of his policies will be inimical to the welfare of the masses.
“Ambode has made it clear that his administration will be a rubber stamp of Fashola’s, that’s enough for us to know that the poor masses will continue to suffer under his policies as they did throughout Fashola’s tenure,” he fretted during a telephone interview with WESTERN POST on Wednesday. “We can continue to expect demolition of their livelihood without tenable compensation mechanism.”
For the supporters of APC in Lagos, the inaugural ceremony was a festive occasion, marked by touches of state’s antiquities, swagger and an inaugural ball that left many wishing the activities will never cease.
Being a Christian, Ambode’s oath was performed using the Holy Bible, but Qur’an was placed nearby for the swearing-in of his deputy, Mrs. Oluranti Adebule, who’s a Muslim.
Ambode’s inauguration also presented two firsts for Lagos State: He’s the first career-civil servant to lead the state and also the first Christian in the Fourth Republic.
Ambode spent his youth as a relentless administrator, receiving transfers to almost all the 20 local government areas in the state to perform at different capacities. He voluntarily retired in 2012 after 27 years in public service.
As the state’s accountant-general, Ambode is widely acclaimed as the brainchild behind the state’s widening revenue base and he helped to prudently manage the state’s inchoate financial resources after President Olusegun Obasanjo illegally withheld the state’s statutory monthly allocations in the last decade.
As the nation’s economic nerve center, Lagos has been bolstered by tax revenues on organisations ranging from large corporations and conglomerates to small and medium scale enterprises. Lagos now generates over N23billion in revenues. This is in addition to the state’s monthly allocation from the federal coffers.
But a sudden, steep drop in crude oil prices–from more than $100 a barrel last year to just around $50 in recent months– has caused widespread concern for the progressives who will need expansive financial capabilities to enable them deliver on their fascinating promises to the hopeful masses in the last election.
A senior economist told WESTERN POST the collapse of all prices could be a “headwind for the Lagos economy,” notwithstanding the fact that the state is not an oil-producing entity.
Neither Mr. Ambode nor any of the new members of his cabinet referred to the dwindling financial prospects of the state in their speeches.