By Niyi Anibaba
ON Easter Monday, Lagosians woke up to behold Governor Mr Akinwunmi Ambode move from one place to another with a crowd of loyalists, government officials and thousands of enthusiastic residents.
The governor was performing the historic commissioning of a large network of 19 roads and two bridges in Alimosho local council. With a combined stretch of 27.4 kilometers, the streets are sited in the inner suburbs, far removed from the familiar Lagos – Abeokuta highway.
Until that Monday, this overworked human and vehicular route used to be the economic and business hub of the people of Alimosho-OkeOdo-Agbado area, the largest federal constituency in Nigeria. But a visionary and compassionate governor mulled the choking hardship ensuing from this arrangement as well as its effect on Africa’s fifth largest economy which Lagos has become and decided to change the narrative.
He came to the conclusion that governance is a failed enterprise if it doesn’t come close to the people via government projects, if it doesn’t shorten the distance between their abode and the centre of business through a good road network.
And so the Ambode administration refused to toe the line of elitist concentration of infrastructure in and around the expressway. He moved from there and headed for the underdeveloped outskirts to bring government to the doorstep of the people. Town planners call his action centrifugal country development. It breaks the monopoly of government presence in the metropolis. It restores the traditional concept of government as the father of all, both the rural dwellers and city folks, not that of the latter, even if government is in the city.
In line with the mood of the moment that marked the holiest ceremony in the Christian calendar, Ambode spoke of the commissioning as a metaphor for the economic reawakening of Alimosho. Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter was a restoration of lost hope and a return to life. The roads he launched on Easter Monday were figuratively as it were, a new page in the continuous delivery of the dividends of good governance after a long period of deathlike denial.
“This is what is called dividend of democracy,” Ambode told an ecstatic and jubilant crowd. “’We are making this Alimosho axis economically viable and livable. By opening up the whole network stretching 27.4 km we have brought economy back to this place. With the walkways and street lights, these communities are becoming safer and there is more to do. By expanding the infrastructure around this axis, you can travel as far as Ojo or Badagry without necessarily passing through the express road. That is what you voted for, and that’s why we are returning here to say we have kept all our promises.”
The governor also opened up on how to spare the land routes of needless stress. His government, he promised, will dredge the Illo River and rehabilitate roads in the area- Adekoya, Makinde, Suberu Oje, Old Ota, IshefunIjan which will be converted to a jetty through which residents can ride a boat to connect Marina on Lagos in less than half an hour. If you’re already getting the picture of a governor thinking beyond service delivery to the metropolitan people only, then you’re just close to Ambode’s long-haul race. For he says that a BRT corridor is coming in tow on the scene of the just-commissioned roads. Still more: something similar is in the offing between Epe and Ijebu Ode to make way for Lagos to access the Ijebu Ode- Ore Expressway in Ogun.
Both flanks, that of Alimosho and of Epe, form a grand vision of an economic integration of all the southwest states, starting with Ogun state the closest. Ambode says: ‘’That is what economic integration means, that is how to expand commerce, that’s how to create jobs for our people and by this project people in the community will benefit from the jobs and also benefit from the commerce and that is what inclusive governance is all about.”
The lesson from this Epe-born governor is that you can adroitly deploy endogenous initiatives to attract exogenous wealth and prosperity for your people. He went thousands of kilometers to Kebbi state to strike a deal for the now famous Lake Rice. Now he’s heading close by, westwards to his people to clinch the goal of an old dream cherished by Yoruba leaders of the 50s and 60s.
Isn’t it instructive that just recently the other states of the southwest- Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti- completed the process of readmitting Lagos into the Odua Investment conglomerate with 115 million shares, thus kick starting what is being hailed as ‘’the real economic integration of the region”?
When he met newsmen shortly after the road commissioning, an elated Senator Olamilekan Adeola said Ambode has ‘’surpassed expectations of Lagosians”. He added somewhat jubilantly: ‘’…many residents who relocated from the area years ago, have been returning to the axis due to the massive infrastructural by the Akinwunmi (Ambode)-led administration.” The federal lawmaker then addressed Ambode: ‘’Your Excellency, we are assuring you of giving you one million votes in the coming election (in 2019) in Alimosho alone.”
A chartered accountant at the scene Ladi Oluwaloni Olo agrees that the initiatives of Governor Ambode indicate that residents of Lagos are stepping into an era of prosperity. But his admonition is that the only way to appreciate the governor and his team is to boost the government’s purse. “The only way we can pay him back is to support his administration by paying our taxes”, he advises.
These submissions, together with those of other keen analysts, suggest that during the campaign for his reelection next year, Ambode would be relying on what a new school of political science has identified as ‘merit votes’. What these political scientists mean is that at a point during a public officer’s bid to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate, what he has achieved in his outgoing tenure would incontrovertibly speak louder for him and his government than the volumes of speeches he delivers at rallies. Similarly, it is his laudable performance on the ground which would outplay his opponents at the poll. The votes he secures are merited(earned, deserved, justified).
The governor’s critics and potential candidates on the other side would have little or nothing to present to gainsay his achievements. So when both camps offer themselves before the people on D-day, the one who earns or deserves their seal of approval is the one whose work is applauded by all and sundry.
That is the concept of merit votes which pundits believe would work in favour of Ambode in the gubernatorial ballot in Lagos in 2019.