By Segun Ayobolu
His now widely applauded generosity of spirit, large hearted-ness; liberal disposition and non-antagonistic political and leadership style were in evidence during his immediate predecessor, Mr Akinwumi Ambode’s recent landmark 60th birthday. Despite whatever political friction had transpired between them in the less than cordial transition between the two administrations in 2019, when Ambode unexpectedly failed to secure a second term, governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu led a delegation to celebrate with the trained accountant who had risen to the apex of his public service career as a Permanent Secretary and Accountant General of Lagos State before ascending the exalted office of governor in 2015.
The amiable incumbent was munificent in his laudation of his predecessor who responded in kind with no less charitable encomiums on his successor. The perhaps unanticipated fallout of that gesture of Sanwo-Olu, as many analysts have pointed out, was Ambode’s presence at the reception held for newly elected President Bola Ahmed Tinubu by the Lagos State government, the first time the former would be seen publicly or privately in the company of his predecessors and successor since 2019.
Sanwo-Olu’s exhibition of humility, charitableness, and affability that was largely responsible for this rapprochement is symptomatic of his signature political style. He does not allow the immense powers of the office he occupies to induce in him a sense of hubris. The picture of the President and his three successors relating amicably on that occasion was amply publicized in the media and Lagos is most likely the only state with this kind of governance continuity where the four governors since 1999 could still affect that degree of cordiality despite the albeit brief break in ‘political transmission’ with Ambode since 2019.
While Sanwo-Olu has received considerable accolades for his unaffected and unobtrusive leadership style as governor during his first term, others have not failed to point out what they perceive as a weakness of this disposition to politics in a complex, cosmopolitan mega city-state like Lagos where leadership can not afford to be perceived as a popularity contest and the governor must be prepared to take some hard decisions to enforce the law and public order.
Those who argue for a tougher governance stance on the part of the governor contend, for example, that even though Sanwo-Olu was responsible and responsive in reacting to the massive #EndSars protests that rocked Lagos along with some other urban cities across the country in 2020, exhibiting commendable emotional intelligence in handling the situation, he did not firmly communicate to the agitated youths that the state would not tolerate a descent to anarchy. After all, the nationwide protests were against the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the police is a federal, not a Lagos State government agency.
As events would turn out, Lagos witnessed a level of destruction not experienced in other states, a horrendous loss from which she is yet to fully recover. But then, this criticism may be unfair as, despite the goodwill extended to the protesters by the governor who bent over backwards to accommodate them and be the courier of their messages to the federal government, he was still accused of calling out soldiers to disperse the demonstrators even when it is obvious that a governor has no operational control of the military.
But let no mistake be made about it. Sanwo-Olu has on occasion taken and abided by some tough decisions when it was absolutely necessary for him to do so. The best example is the ban on motorbikes popularly known as ‘Okada’ on major highways in a number of Local Government Areas in the metropolis. The ban has been strictly and firmly enforced with salutary effects on the level of fatal accidents, avoidable injuries, and even traffic crimes in affected parts of the state. It is expected that in due course, the administration will widen the Okada ban to encompass other parts of the state even as it continues to enhance and expand alternative and less dangerous means of transportation particularly in the hinterlands.
The battle for the governor’s second term was hotly contested and heated. This was no function of a less-than-exemplary performance by his administration. Indeed, across sectors, the administration embarked on landmark projects with Lagos becoming a virtual construction site across Local Government Areas and Local Council Development Areas. His adroit handling of the Coronavirus pandemic early in the life of his administration was a pointer to his no mean leadership capacities. Because he kept his eyes firmly on the ball, his administration successfully midwifed the delivery of such epochal projects as the light rail schemes, the giant rice mill in Imota, and the substantial completion of the Dangote refinery some of which had been conceived by preceding administrations.
The intensity of the electoral contests in Lagos this year was influenced largely by ethnic factors, religious propaganda, misdirected youth angst, and complacency on the part of ruling APC cadres that had become too used to seemingly effortless success in previous elections since 1999. This also resulted in the party’s alienation from many of its traditional high-vote constituencies that displayed apathy to the polls. That the governor still won a reasonably emphatic victory at the polls on March 18, was indicative of the satisfaction of large segments of the electorate with his leadership and performance despite constraining primordial tensions and sectarian pressures.
What then do we expect of Sanwo-Olu’s performance in his second term? As all tiers of government earn significantly more revenue in Naira terms with the removal of the fuel subsidy by the Tinubu administration, there will be more focus on the performance of the sub-national units of government, and Lagos, the jewel among these entities, will be the cynosure of all eyes. The anticipation of the people is high and the governor seems to know it. If the morning of the commencement of the second term is an indication of what the day will bring, we may expect a less pacifist, more activist, and no-nonsense Sanwo-Olu this time around.
Already, he has dispensed with the services of chief executives of some key agencies and parastatals of government indicating that he will set officials to a higher standard of performance in his second term. Some of the agencies affected include the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency (LASAA), Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC), Lagos Television (LTV) and Lagos State License Plate Authority among others.
The governor’s body language appears clear that he will not tolerate the news of poor corporate governance, irresponsibility, and managerial incompetence emanating from some of these agencies. A good example is LASAA where, according to authoritative information, the solid foundation work done by previous Managing Directors of the Agency such as Mr. Tunji Bello, immediate past Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, as well as Mr. Mobolaji Sanusi, a lawyer, managerial psychologist and journalist who was in charge between 2015 and 2019, resulting in a considerable boost in revenue earnings, significant debt mitigation, enhanced staff welfare and elevated corporate governance, have been significantly diminished and eroded by alleged managerial ineptitude.
With the re-engagement of Dr. Muyiwa Gbadegesin as Managing Director of LAWMA, the computer scientist has a rare second chance to correct any identified lapses during his first tour of duty. There is no doubt that the governor would do well to enhance the supervisory competence of the Parastatals Monitoring Office (PMO) to keep the agencies on their toes and ensure the sustained accountability of their executive management.
Residents of Lagos State wait with no less interest and anticipation for Governor Sanwo-Olu’s list of commissioners for his second term as Nigerians eagerly anticipate President Tinubu’s nominees for ministerial positions. Given the experience and stature of some of the departing commissioners in a key Ministry like Environment, for instance, the public will expect highly competent and dedicated replacements to build on the achievements of the past and face emergent challenges. The administration is commendably focused on critical infrastructure projects such as big road construction works but must not lose focus of inner city roads many of which are in need of more regular routine maintenance.
Transportation remains a key Ministry in a sprawling metropolis like Lagos and giant strides have been taken in improving public transportation and traffic management. However, one area that must attract the administration’s urgent attention is the intractable traffic gridlock in Apapa and environs which defied its best efforts in its first term. Sanwo-Olu can certainly do for Apapa what Governor Babatunde Fashola did for Oshodi during his tenure. No less critical is the efficient and proactive management of a ministry like Physical Planning and Urban Development as Lagos continues its accelerated pace towards its mega city-state aspirations.
If Sanwo-Olu succeeds in at least ensuring the commencement of construction work on the 4th Mainland Bridge, which has been on the drawing board for long, it would be a defining element of his legacy. Expectations are high for a superlative second-term performance from Sanwo-Olu between now and 2027. He has the proven competence, managerial experience, and leadership acumen not to disappoint. Critical in this regard is a more steely disposition on his part and body language that unmistakably indicates zero tolerance for mediocre leadership on the part of critical agencies of government.
There is obviously no let up in the relentless bid in some quarters to discredit and disparage the 2023 presidential elections at all costs and by all means. After all kinds of bizarre conspiracy theories, fake spiritual prophesies and other amusing antics failed woefully to prevent the swearing-in of the clear winner of the election, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of the APC on May 29, enormous efforts are now being expended to intimidate as well as damage the credibility and integrity of the judiciary which is saddled with the adjudication of election petitions. This week the Supreme Court had to dismiss unfounded and unproven allegations that the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Justice Kayode Ariwoola, had any telephone conversations with President Tinubu or judges handling the election petitions. Those who alleged offered no proof. Even before the Election Petitions Tribunal began sitting, there had been the fake report that the CJN had traveled to London for a surreptitious meeting with the President. This again proved to be utterly fictional. And the day before yesterday, another fake news turned up on social media that one of the judges hearing the petition, Justice Boloukuoromo Ugo, had resigned in protest against alleged attempts to compel him to pervert the course of justice. It appears that certain petitioners have no confidence in the rigor and strength of their cases before the tribunal and are resorting to media intimidation, threats and blackmail of the judiciary to have their way. These patently anti-democratic antics will fail catastrophically. Except for the irredeemably prejudiced, it is all too easy to prove, logically and empirically, that the February 25 presidential election is the best and most credible in this dispensation since 1999.