BY HABIB ARUNA
It is always a herculean task to write tributes to your boss on his birthday, not for want of what to write, but for misconception of readers who may accuse you of being too patronising. As a matter of fact, there is no way a leader, mentor and boss like Akinwunmi Ambode will not be celebrated on his natal day to let people know the humane side of him hidden from the public.
Many have read and watched events marking Lagos at 50 and two years of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in the saddle, so they are aware of what he has done in the area of social development and security, infrastructure, economic development and sustainable environment.
I however owe it a duty to let the public know certain qualities which make him thick and propel him into changing the face of Lagos from a mega city to a smart city in just two years. Ambode is not a run-of-the-mill politician, but a thoroughbred professional who has an undying passion for the job. His daily itinerary shows he is more than prepared for the job and the result is what we are witnessing in Lagos today.
As James Allen More noted, “work joyfully and peacefully, knowing that right thoughts and right efforts will inevitably bring about right results”. This is an apt description of Ambode, a workaholic. I wonder many times where he gets the strength.
He hardly sleeps and so are his aides who he can call at any time of the day and night for an urgent assignment, especially when he embarks on inspection of projects, ensuring security agents are alive to their duties or/and ensuring the streetlights, one of his signature achievements, are on.
Ambode moves about most nights to certain parts of Lagos and whatever black spot he discovers is addressed almost immediately. So once everybody knows that the governor will personally monitor, they do their bits as diligently as practicable. All the projects he has executed so far are products of a well thought out idea though he invites others to make inputs.
His day starts at as early as 6am when he usually wakes having stayed up working till about 3am and sometimes, he may have just returned from inspection of projects around the city. He usually flips through online editions of the newspapers and then the print editions, before setting out to act on matters concerning citizens of the state.
What worried the governor most in his early days in office was the traffic gridlock especially, on Third Mainland Bridge, (inward Lagos in the morning), and Apapa road. This usually takes him out to personally assess the situation and he may not come back to the office until as late as 6pm in the evening. He discovered that the Apapa gridlock was caused by the arbitrary parking of trucks on both sides on the road and the abandoned pedestrian bridge.
The road which belongs to the federal government has been neglected for a long time but just like the way he is addressing other bad spots in the city, the governor had to last year order the state public works to move in for a quick fix of the road. And due to his persistent request, approval was recently given by the federal government to the state to reconstruct the much expected Oshodi-expressway to the international airport.
One day, the commissioner for information, Steve Ayorinde, and I left the governor at around 1:00am and we agreed to meet him by 9:30am later same day so that he will go through his speech which he was to use in his address to the state scheduled for 11:00am. To our surprise, the governor was in the office as early as 6:30am to prepare his speech himself; he only gave it to us to proofread when we got there at 9:30am. Such is the nature of Governor Ambode who has an uncommon passion for the job.
Another hidden side of Governor Ambode is the milk of human kindness running in his blood. He is generous to a fault. You cannot be a staff of Governor Ambode or his wife and be sad except the issue is not brought to their notice. He is somebody who has so demystified governance that things that were hitherto insurmountable become easy. You need to drive through the Third Mainland Bridge to Ketu/Alapere during rush hours to understand the marvel and the way he thinks. Or do you want to talk about the hundreds of roads that have been fixed; the two flyovers that were completed in record time and the palpable feeling around town that the state is moving in the right direction.
In truth, this milk of human kindness stretches to those in need of any assistance and it’s brought to the notice of the governor or if he saw it himself when glancing through the papers. He would immediately intervene, putting smiles on their faces, but with a stern warning that his identity must not be revealed. I have always been in a difficult position to keep hiding this from those who are hell-bent in expressing their gratitude.
For sure, what has helped Ambode in his current job as governor is his wealth of experience having served in the state civil service for 27 years. A first class material who rose through the ranks and retired as the accountant-general of the state, Ambode has lived in most slum areas of the city, including Ajegunle and he knows most interior parts of Lagos like the back of his hand. This much he used during his campaign in 2015, when he told Lagosians that his experience would work for them. He stunned the people of Ajegunle during an event recently when he mentioned all the roads in Ajegunle and how they interlinked and the ones that should be done urgently and they all agreed with him.
And what has shaped his personality and made him so unassuming is his very humble background which enabled him to know what suffering means. Though many successful people today were also from humble backgrounds and are heartless, Ambode usually says, “the only way I can continue to show gratitude to God for his mercy and favour over me is to assist as many people as possible not as Governor alone but in my personal capacity”. He has indeed kept that promise.
Growing up in Ebute-Metta part of Lagos like any other young lad of that time in the 60s, he imbibed the culture of hard work, diligence and perseverance from his parents. A brilliant and well-behaved child, Ambode, early in life discovered that a man’s destiny is in his own hands so he set a goal for himself and he set out to achieve that goal. Today, he is a success story in every way.
An astute administrator and a team leader, Ambode is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management. As this product of the ‘coconut’, ala Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s protégé, celebrates his birthday today, I join other teeming Lagosians to wish him a happy birthday and pray that God grant him more strength and wisdom in his service to the state and our country. Amen.
Aruna is the chief press secretary to Ambode