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Ambode's promises to Lagosians and Nigerians

For close to one hour last Sunday, July 3rd, the Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, was on his feet as he spoke to invited journalists about his last one year in office as well as his plans for the state in the immediate future. The venue was the banquet hall of the Government House, Ikeja. Mr Ambode exuded confidence and optimism. He recalled the achievements of his administration towards actualizing his promised ‘continuity with improvement’ in diverse sectors ranging from security, education, health; law, order and justice to massive electrification of the metropolis and roads rehabilitation/reconstruction among others.

The governor is confident that Lagosians will, in the next one year, witness more of the development dividends they voted for when they opted for him and the APC at the last polls. He promises that there will be even more massive investment in security with the ultimate objective of ensuring that every street in Lagos is effectively policed and safe. This he says will be complemented by an increased aggressiveness in the ‘Operation Light up Lagos’ project and other policies deliberately targeted at making Lagos a 24 hour economy befitting a model Mega city.

His administration’s Employment Trust Fund, he avers, will also take off fully offering entrepreneurial opportunities to large numbers of jobless youth. He assures that Lagosians will witness even more massive investment in education and health particularly with the creation of a medical park in Ikoyi that will take optimum advantage of the country’s bounteous medical specialists abroad, boost medical tourism and save scarce foreign exchange.

Governor Ambode’s vision of Lagos transcends the borders of Nigeria. He envisages Lagos as a model African Mega city. He enjoins the support of the media and the generality of Lagosians in ensuring that Lagos plays her destined leadership role in Africa. This mood of confidence and optimism in Lagos contrasts sharply with that of dejection, despair and helplessness in the majority of other states in the country. At least 27 states owe their workers arrears of salaries of several months. A recent study indicates that no less than 15 states are technically insolvent as they will be unable to survive without monthly allocation from the Federation Account. Yet, not only is Lagos State paying workers’ salaries as well as allowances, pensions and subventions as and at when due, the state is also systematically increasing its Internally Generated Revenue to the extent that she is practically able to subsist independent of federal allocation.

Mr Ambode gives an insight into his administration’s philosophy of public finance. There is absolutely nothing like government money he insists. What is popularly tagged government money in Nigeria is in fact tax payers’ money rightly belonging to the people. The key to the financial buoyancy of Lagos he explains lies in the sense of responsibility and accountability of government in utilizing public resources to deliver identifiable and verifiable services. The consequence is the steady and systematic widening of the tax net as an ever increasing number of citizens voluntarily pay their taxes.

It is all too easy to attribute the prosperity of Lagos in a vast wasteland of national poverty and stagnation to a favorable geographical location, huge population or other fortuitous factors. The truth, however, is that there is nothing inevitable about the commercial nerve centre’s current financial solidity that contrasts sharply with the national narrative of impoverishment and deepening underdevelopment. Today’s Lagos is the product of deliberate leadership and policy choices right from the democratic restoration of 1999 through to the incumbent Ambode administration.

Apart from the solid fiscal foundation laid for the state by the Tinubu administration, there has been a positive philosophical and ideological continuity that has seen Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) and now governor Ambode building constructively on the legacy they inherited. This type of continuity has been absent at the national level in the last 16 years. We will recollect that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration had the National Economic and Employment Development Strategy (NEEDS).

Rather than build on this, the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua launched his 7-point Agenda. President Goodluck Jonathan in turn initiated his Transformation Agenda, which had little or nothing to do with the policy initiatives of his predecessors. Governance at the centre has thus been characterized by radical discontinuities with negative consequences for incremental and steady development. This is unlike Lagos which has been carefully and systematically implementing a carefully thought out 10-Point Agenda over the last one and a half decades.

Lagos State was to all intents and purposes practically insolvent as at 1999. The state’s monthly Internally Generated Revenue was approximately 600 million Naira barely sufficient to pay its workers and grossly inadequate to fund qualitative social services and critical infrastructure. The City-state was widely depicted and perceived as a veritable jungle with decrepit roads, decayed public schools, chronic water shortage, traffic chaos and mountains of refuse on major highways among others.

The poverty and disorderliness fuelled several bloody inter ethnic and communal conflicts at Mile 12, Mile 2, Agege and Ajegunle. Eight years later, thanks to bold, courageous and imaginative reforms, Lagos State’s Internally Generated Revenue had increased to at least 6 billion Naira monthly and the foundation had been laid for the environmental transformation and radical modernization of infrastructure in the state.

A man of details and methods, former governor Fashola built impressively on this legacy while his first year in office shows that Mr. Ambode is taking the vision to greater heights to the glory of Lagos. But this story of success in Lagos awaits a replication at the national level. Nigeria awaits a pathfinder that can lay a foundation for developmental democracy which others can build on. Restructuring and decentralization as being vociferously advocated in some quarters may indeed be a necessary condition for liberating the developmental potentials of Nigeria. The Lagos example, however, shows that they do not constitute a sufficient condition for national transformation. Equally critical are visionary and competent leaders capable of navigating the ship of state from turbulent waters of stagnation and lack to more steady weather of ever increasing prosperity, stability and development.

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