It took a scathing but factual criticism of the leadership failures of Governor Akinwumi Ambode by The Economist magazine for the governor to open up a debate with Lagosians on what he has achieved in the last five months. The Economist had this week issued a damning report describing the Lagos State governor as “less competent, full of excuses but few solutions for the worsening gridlock”.
According to The Economist, “the gridlock that Lagosians have suffered in recent weeks is noteworthy even by the city’s horrendous standards. Rush hours have lengthened, and vehicles back up at unusual hours along the bridges linking the mainland with an island business district. Safety concerns are mounting as armed robbers pillage stuck cars while police are far away”.
The publication, quoting security experts, noted that “this is symptomatic of a broader increase in organised crime under a new and less competent state government”.
Between Ambode and Fashola
Comparing Governor Ambode with his predecessor Babatunde Fashola, The Economist is of the view that Fashola, who was lauded for improving traffic and security, “curbed dangerous motorbike taxis and brought local “area boys” (street children) under control. Cars were terrified into order by a state traffic agency, LASTMA, whose bribe-hungry officers flagged down offending drivers”. For Ambode, according to The Economist, he “is full of excuses, but few solutions, for the worsening gridlock. Traffic is always bad during the rains, he says. Nigerians are migrating to Lagos en masse in search of work in a worsening economy, his office adds”.
However, the magazine believes the root of the worsening gridlock is in policy: “Mr Ambode cut the powers of traffic controllers by banning them from impounding cars. In retaliation, officers have refused to enforce the rules”.
But Mr Ambode’s office says the measure was intended to create a more “civil society”. For The Economist, “less fastidious types think it amounts to weakness, and would prefer that he (Ambode) focused on public transport instead”.
“The biggest concern is that the gridlock is a sign of a breakdown in relations between security forces, government agencies and the new governor. If that is the case, there could be worse to come,” the publication opines.
Reacting to the criticisms, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, issued an impassioned rebuttal to the recent swipe taken at the governor by The Economist for the deteriorating traffic and security condition in the state. The Lagos state government in its vehement reply said the report was one-sided, and failed to take into account the “added bite to the security and traffic management efforts” of the state by the Ambode administration.
According to Ayorinde, the report also did not “take into account the bigger picture of an emerging reform policy, designed to address the larger concerns in the management of security, traffic and the environment”.
But nervous glances have been cast in the direction of the state government’s response which has been described by observers as ‘childish ranting’ instead of addressing the issues raised by The Economist, especially where the reply read: “Perhaps, it is high time that this vaunted magazine learnt to restrict itself to strict journalism rather than seeking to impose jaded views in a volatile political climate where, we dare say, the gluttonous lot can choke on their own bile, almost hoping that the elections leading to the emergence of the governor could be held over again.”
“Governor Ambode won a hard contest, at the polls and at the tribunal…up to the Supreme Court. He enjoys the full backing of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and majority of Lagosians who see in him a compassionate leader and competent manager of resources”.
Counting the achievements of Governor Ambode thus far, the reply states: “He [Ambode] has demonstrated his mettle by first getting the finances of the state back in shape, restructuring a choking debt exposure from 18% interest rate to 12.5%, thereby freeing N3bn every month for the state to put into other pressing uses. He has paid out N11bn in pensions to those neglected since 2010; signed 2.500 C of Os; constituted a forward-looking cabinet that has hit the ground running; fixed more than 200 roads across the state in what he calls Operation Zero Tolerance for Pot Holes and has flagged off a remarkable initiative with Local Governments that will have 114 roads (two per each of the 20 Local Government Areas and 37 Local Council Development Areas) constructed with standard drainages, walk-ways and street lights.
“This Thursday, November 12, he is declaring open the BRT corridor that links Mile 12 to Ikorodu, which in itself is preparatory to the launch later this month of an ambitious roll-out of 450 new set of mass transit buses and a dedicated special BRT service that will be direct from Ikorodu to Victoria Island. He is lighting up the entire metropolis in a matter of weeks and is finalizing on a major waterways expansion project. All these and more at a time that he is fortifying the security apparatus with a set of brand new patrol vehicles and power bikes as well as three helicopters to assist in surveillance.”
Lagosians are shocked that it took The Economist’s criticism for the government of Akinwumi Ambode to highlight some of the things it claims it has been at since inauguration on May 29, 2015. Many note that contrary to claims by the government that The Economist is myopic, the report reflects the feelings of majority of Lagosians, and urge the State government to be more open in communicating its activities to the residents, and also work harder especially in the area of grinding traffic and resurgence in armed robbery.
By Kelechi Deca