In his 27 years as a civil servant in Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode was a quiet, solid achiever of immense gifts and remarkable ethos. With a bachelor’s and master’s in accounting, he was focused early enough to start his working career from the modest position of assistant treasurer, Badagry Local Government in 1988. Nearly three decades later, and after a number of courses within and outside the country, the brilliant and hardworking civil servant had risen to the position of a permanent secretary and accountant-general, even holding both positions at a time.
His accomplishments were staggering; but what was even more astonishing was the quiet manner he rose through the ranks and left a lasting impact.
It was, therefore, not surprising that less than three years after he voluntarily retired from the civil service, and with the same quiet dignity and self-effacement that have become his hallmarks, Ambode, 54, was back in government, this time at the highest level in Lagos State as its third Fourth Republic elected governor. It is not certain, despite his hardwork and accomplishments, whether he thought that amazing political trajectory possible. It is not even clear, though he has great mentors, whether a year before he assumed office as governor, anyone thought to make a political gladiator of the self-effacing financial and administrative manager.
Thirty years after he first signed up to work for the Lagos State government, through which he rose to be a consummate civil servant and adept financial manager, Ambode had become governor in extraordinary circumstances. He was indisputably sound as an auditor and accountant, even a chartered accountant, but not many, including perhaps some who voted for him in 2015, were absolutely convinced that the seemingly quiet and unpretentious financial expert and latter-day politician could muster the élan and charisma to lead the boisterous coastal state which recently celebrated its 50 years of founding. Ambode had come highly recommended by a past governor, the pacesetting iconoclast, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. And having excelled in school, he had acquired the character of showing grit, determination and uncommon brilliance. But he did not seem a natural politician, not to talk of being a lawyer and career rabble-rouser – these were the sort of people believed capable of succeeding as administrators and politicians. Ambode was different, confidently and quietly so.
But he was not the usual politician Lagosians had grown accustomed to over the decades. Indeed, shortly after he was sworn into office, the most populous state in Nigeria seemed to experience some stasis, unable to respond to the new governor’s novel methods.
But less than two remarkable and astounding years later, after Ambode had executed dozens and dozens of quality and, in some instances, expansive projects one after another, it was as if the state had been waiting for him all along with bated breath. Both Ambode and Lagos were made for each other, after all. He has not yet forsworn his self-confident disposition, yet his achievements have both been recognised and lauded, often very loudly, as if to compensate for his quietude.
Charisma is not usually associated with quiet detachment; but in the case of Ambode, his achievements have illustrated his sometimes impalpable charisma. And as every analyst knows, it is indeed possible to possess charisma without a corresponding or even ethical demonstration of progress. Ambode defies stereotypes and confounds propositions by his relentless and ironically charismatic accomplishments.
Far beyond the number and quality of Ambode’s monumental projects is the scientism of his methods, the integrated network of projects and programmes that blend with one another and create a seamless, impactful whole. Whether road projects or school and health facilities, or whether security or human development programmes, Ambode’s strides in two years possess at once a certain abstractness and concreteness.
It would be flattering to suggest that Lagos has a perfect cabinet. It probably doesn’t. However, given the achievements recorded in the past two years, and the peace and cooperation abiding in the cabinet, they are a reflection of the cerebral quality of the governor and his leadership skills as well as an indication that he has a critical mass of commissioners and heads of agencies to help him transform theory into practice. Importantly too, as is the nature of politics generally, the remarkable progress Lagos has made under Ambode reflects excellently on his interpersonal relations and financial management skills.
No matter how brilliant a cabinet, if the leader is not equally or better endowed, there would be no one to set the pace and direction. If Lagos is presenting itself as an example for other states and attracting attention from within and outside the African continent, it is an indication that a vision is in place and is being remolded and refined, and a leader possessing character and confidence is also running the show.
What is most remarkable about the solid and frenzied pace of development in Lagos today is its spread, both spatially and intrinsically. Spatially, projects are sited in concentric circles in all the senatorial districts of the state constituencies, and wards. And in one way or the other there is an engaging interconnectedness in nearly all the projects so that they can integrate forward and backward and hum synergetically to make life liveable in the Lagos megacity. Intrinsically, ongoing projects include roads, bridges, hospitals, security, apparatuses and many legacy monuments. The Epe axis is being opened up grandly.
Alimosho axis is being transformed into a behemoth, Oshodi is on the way to experiencing one of the most modern renewals ever, Lekki is enjoying a very thoughtful design makeover, and a new security architecture called neighbourhood security watch is already assembled. All these renewals and re-engineering have been made possible because they were predicated on a masterful re-engineering of the state’s financial infrastructure.
It is perhaps fitting that Ambode is in the saddle as the state marks 50, having been created in May 1967. He is fortunate to have predecessors like Asiwaju Tinubu who laid the foundations, and Babatunde Raji Fashola who built on that foundation. Ambode has placed himself appropriately to build on the works of his predecessors, and to take the megacity project to dizzying heights. As a former civil servant, he knows how to drive the civil service and get the best out of it. As a career financial manager, he has reorganised the state’s finances and put it on an even keel to make it work for the state. As a thinker and scholar, he has designed practical and engaging ways to get things done and make the state and himself respond adequately like a scientist to the challenges of statehood. And like a deep thinker, he has primed himself, standing on the shoulders of his predecessors, to envision an incredibly expansive, surefooted and glorious future for Lagos.
That Ambode is able to achieve these great strides without the accompanying and distractive noisemaking politicians are so often and clearly besotted to is a testimony to his idiosyncratic resolve to leave a mark and legacy in Lagos. He is just half way into his first term. By the end of the first term, and at the rate he is going, not to say the fluidity of his rhythm, he is expected to accomplish so much more, even as many of the legacy projects begun months back start to manifest in their splendor.
The clincher for many Lagosians and South-Westerners is that, far beyond working wonders in Lagos State, Governor Ambode is also deeply thoughtful, philosophical and ideologically expansive. His pursuit of regionalisation, where his predecessors had been fairly isolationist, speaks to his mindset as a true and well-bred son of the soil. He did not wait to be persuaded; and did not ask to be wooed. His instincts told him regionalism was right and did not detract from the state’s independence nor violated the constitution, nor yet flouted the unity and integrity of the nation. No sooner was he sworn in than he asked to be integrated into the Oodua Group, and its think-tank arm –the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria Commission.
There is no telling what six more years of Ambode will do for Lagos and the South-West. He has started well, worked well, thought well and from all indications, will finish well.
Dr. Adeeyo, OFN, is a member, Governing Council, Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State.