BY ODUNAYO AKINSIJU
It is not so much of a walk in the park as it is a long, hard haul to the top with a man who looks set, perhaps destined, to becoming the next governor of Lagos State. I am talking about Akinwunmi Ambode, the 51-year-old chartered accountant who is contesting the Lagos State governorship on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC) come April 11, 2015.
This is an account of a volunteer who had a ring-side view of this amiable candidate’s busy schedule last Saturday. And what a difference that day made in accentuating the point that this is a candidate who would leave no stone unturned in reaching out to every stakeholder in Lagos State with his message of continuity and sustainability. His body language and his remarks at each occasion reveal why he is the ideal candidate that is arguably the most qualified and better prepared at this period to continue with the legacy of successes that Lagos State has been witnessing in the past 15 years.
The day started with the biggest revelation. The Igbos, contrary to insinuations, are indeed behind the candidature of the APC candidates and are not averse to the type of progressive ideology that the ruling party in Lagos State preaches. And so the day began with a grand rally at Onikan Stadium, where a full house of professionals, elders, women, traders, youths and students – all of Igbo extraction and based in Lagos State – trooped out to unequivocally make their stand known: they were out to endorse the Buhari-Osinbajo team for the presidential election as well as the Ambode-Adebule team for Lagos State governorship.
It was their show, the Igbos in Lagos. Funded and organized by them to express their position. And although the rally had in attendance key APC leaders and candidates like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the party with his wife, Oluremi; Ambode and his running mate, Dr. Oluranti Adebule and several other candidates of the party, it was still a platform decidedly mounted to demonstrate where the Igbos stand in the forthcoming election.
It was a necessary and commendable stand to make at this time when endorsement of certain candidates has become desperate and dollarized. Anybody who claims to be on your side ought to be able to stand up and be counted for you. This is what the Igbos have done, just like the Arewa people did last month at the same venue, declaring in one voice that no amount of last-minute transactional overtures would make them vote against their conscience.
This principled stand did not escape Ambode in his remarks. By that rally, the Igbos have reciprocated the good gesture of the successive administration in Lagos, a state where they have kept a commissioner’s slot for several years and where one of their own has been the official spokesperson of the party for many years. The next four years will witness more cordial relationship between the Lagos State government and the Igbo whose contribution to the commerce and fortunes of the state is well acknowledged, Ambode said clearly. His promise was that in his administration, if elected next month, no one will be discriminated against on the basis of tribe, religion or creed, while also promising an improvement in the business environment of the state.
The Arewas were next and this Epe-born technocrat is showing no sense of fatigue or irritation even though he had been out the previous night till the wee hours of the morning attending a dinner meeting with all the aspirants who contested the party’s slot with his last December. The meeting with the Hausa leaders in Lagos was as strategic as the Igbo rally. The non-indigenes’ votes in the state, said to be between 35 and 40 per cent of the total registered voters is a voting bloc that cannot be ignored. Both the Igbo and the Arewa are said to account for the largest chunk of that total.
Warm welcome and a promise of total support for his continuity agenda awaited Ambode from the Sarkin Hausa and the entire Arewa community, when Ambode’s campaign train arrived in Yaba. How can a candidate be so blessed in one day, getting the endorsement of both the Igbo and the Arewa in Lagos the same day, two weeks to the Presidential elections and four weeks to the governorship poll? To these ‘non-indegene Lagosians,’ apart from his own sterling qualities as a well-read, and well-experienced Public Finance expert, Ambode is reaping the fruits of the labour that his party, the APC, has sown in the past 15 years in Lagos.
While the federal government struggles to deliver on its promises and is adjudged to have failed in the key areas of national security, accountability, power, oil and gas and in provision of social infrastructure, thereby making the desire for change at the centre a necessity, Lagos State on the other hand has been exemplary in how to grow Internally Generated Revenue and deliver on promises, thereby making the state attractive not just to indigenes of other states but to foreigners as well.
Such a working state, the Igbo and Arewa communities are unanimous in their verdict, deserves the services of a technocrat who has the requisite experience, who understands the workings of government and who was part of the painstaking effort to grow the finances of the state in continuing with the good works of the incumbent governor. In their wisdom, that man is Akinwunmi Ambode, the University of Lagos-trained Chartered Accountant who spent 27 years of meritorious service in the Lagos State Civil Service, rising to become the Auditor General for Local Governments and later as Accountant General/Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.
But Ambode was not done on that interesting day. And he chose a community in dire need of government attention as his next point of call. Makoko, next on the schedule, provided a platform for the governorship candidate to hear first-hand the yearnings of that community and to address a town hall meeting that sought to reassure on the type of change they should expect in the next four years. While slums and shanties may be an unfortunate feature of most mega-cities in the world, due to inadequacy of resources, Makoko, from Ambode’s assurance, will witness a true transformation in the new dispensation. “The Lagos of our dream is here. It is a Lagos that will work for everybody. We will build on the achievements of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Governor Babatunde Fashola administrations. We are coming to consolidate on those achievements and Makoko will not be left out in this new dawn,” he said.
If it is about roads, for instance, Ambode was confident that his Project 20-20-57 would come to the rescue of localities like Makoko. What this project means is that if elected, Ambode’s government, would have minimum of 20 roads and 20 streetlights constructed in each of the 57 local councils each year. “With this template, more than four thousand roads would have been completed across all the local governments and council areas in Lagos in four years.”
For a man whose selfless disposition is widely acknowledged, Ambode exudes real passion about his desire to serve as the governor of this prosperous state. His vision is clear and he has an infectious way of communicating it to the people. “We seek a clean, safe and prosperous Lagos, where justice and equity shall reign,” he reiterated at each function. And because he is real and demonstrably amiable, Lagosians, just like the band of hundreds of volunteers that have enlisted to his cause, believe him.
He did not end that memorable Saturday without looking in at the Ikosi residence of Hon. Tunde Salau, who passed on last week. Touching words of condolence poured out from his pen, describing the departed as a strong pillar of support… a seasoned politician and leader. May your story never end.” He had more kind words to the family of the departed also.
Campaigning with Ambode was like a long cruise, in which you hardly feel the strain. So it can be said of last Saturday, like the great American jazz singer once sang: what a difference a day makes, and the difference is Ambode.
*Akinsiju, a Lagos-based social entrepreneur, is an AAMCO Volunteer