He strode into the hall to the cheerful buzz of editors. After the hoopla and acrimony of the polls, Lagos was serene with hope. The task of the new governor was to articulate what he wanted to do.
No, he was quick to note, he was not going to address us on his plans. They are all public knowledge, enunciated during the barnstorming and debate of the election season. That night was for the bonhomie of conversation. Over meals and drinks, he could hear from the gate keepers of news and commentary their sense of the city, of what the people yearned for. He, too, would unveil the entrails of his minds.
Very quickly, the quiet evening eased into intellectual repartee. Jokes came as jibes, jibes as jokes. Introspections burned out of fiery lips. Questions rippled in the air. Suggestions laced insights. In certain moments, it reminded me of what I read about salons of Enlightenment Europe where some of the great ideas were birthed. But that night did not soar that high, it just had intimations of it. At least, as it referred to Lagos State, the oasis of Nigeria.
The man in the middle was Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. With his beige agbada and cap now illumined with a smile, now shaded with a somewhat beatific mien, he knew quite early that the editors were pregnant with curiosity.
What was he going to do about Apapa and its congestions? Lekki is a new suburb out of control with its traffic snarl? What the hell is the story about Lagos’ over N400 billion debt? What about the Ikorodu and the Mile 12 roads and Ayobo and the Fourth Mainland Bridge?
The governor understood that the fulcrum of the night’s obsession was how to move in Lagos. To move Lagos ahead, the residents have to move well. This harked back to my first-ever conversation with him over a year ago. His passion then was transportation. His thoughts chimed in with the concerns of the editors.
Once he spoke, he wrapped up the audience in the methodical cadence of his speech. Never mellifluous but never boring, he spoke like a man working towards a mathematical solution. The accountant in him was in rhythm.
Whether he spoke about the financing of Lagos in which he clarified that the debt was a mere three per cent of the state’s mammoth money and it was to be paid in between 25 and 30 years, or about the train project inherited from the Fashola administration, he was focused on the dynamic of a city on the move.
He spoke with the mastery of figure and place. His about three decades of work in various parts of Lagos shone through. He spent most of those years in local governments. Whether on Mushin, or Badagry or Ajegunle, he spoke not with professorial abstraction, but with the familiarity of a yeoman. Remember Maracanã Stadium?
Not the fable of Brazil, but the athletic audacity of Ajegunle that named a playground after the South American landmark. He referred to it when an editor spoke about a yet uncompleted stadium in another part of town. He said he had just discussed it in an earlier meeting, in which he laid out plans to rev up community sports in the city of Lagos.
He had touted his immersion in the interstices of Lagos as his special resume for governorship. He showed that with superfine lucidity, in answer to every question. It was as though he had spent his entire life preparing for the job.
So, what about the traffic situation. “We are going to have a traffic summit in Lagos soon,” he announced, indicating that he had anticipated the worry about how Lagosians move. He also articulated some ideas roiling his mind in specific areas. Should we continue with roundabouts on the Lekki corridor, or introduce American style intersections? Although he admits erecting flyovers could ease vehicular flow, it will take some time to accomplish. His eyes were focused on quick wins first.
On Apapa, an APC government in the centre could lead to better collaboration to decongest traffic while also focusing on the need to develop the other ports. He would leverage that virtue to revamp that economic hub. All developments seem to move towards the island. Reversing that trend is one of the virtues of the rail project, he said. The cost to complete it is, however, humongous, but it is a task that beckons. So, he noted the advantages. The journey from Mile 2 to CMS is about 20 minutes, including about four stops. That means businesses can erupt along the way with improved property value, and development can move to other areas, such as Ikorodu and Ipaja. Another deep sea port also awaits in Badagry with its promise of tourism. All these will take attention away from the island.
As people move, so they dream. Life is nothing without movement. “There is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind while we live here,” noted Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher of the human id. He said further that “life itself is but motion.”
The whole purpose of movement is to stay still, so that we move again. When we leave home, it is because we want to stay at work, at that party, at that friend’s home, at the birthday, at that funeral. But eventually, as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard notes, we want to go home. All literature from Soyinka’s The Road to Kerouac’s On the Road to Conrad’s Lord Jim to Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi, man’s chief aim is rest, an irony for a restless creature.
The night left out some key discussions about health care and education, especially about Lagos as a melting pot, given the firestorm generated about lagoon and peaceful coexistence. It reflected either satisfaction with Ambode’s inaugural speech about building a rainbow coalition for all, or a sense that it was just a political distraction from a peaceful city.
Governor Ambode told senior civil servants that he was not going to reinvent the wheel, but to oil it. As he simplified his mission to the editors, his dream is to make life easier and Lagosians happier.
He is going to ride on the foundation set by the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu administration and built on by Fashola’s. As Seneca famously noted, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” With his clinical mind and ample experience, Lagos seems to have rolled into the hands of an able manager.
Governor Ambode has the advantages of both the eagle and earthworm. As the eagle, he has been at the top tier of administration as the accountant-general of the state. He has walked through the portals of the world’s best schools from Harvard to Pennsylvania. As the earthworm, he has wallowed in the labyrinth of the people. He has worked and lived in Mushin, Ipaja, Ajegunle, etc. So, he has smelled the rose and touched the offal. He has the palate of the palace and poor. He has hugged kings and swaddled orphans.
It’s time to turn these gifts into assets for Lagos. A man fondly called AA, Governor Ambode has an A-plus mind and has the potential to be Nigeria’s alpha governor, both in Alphabet and in Acts (AA). As the Nike add urges, just do it.