Custodian Guest Blog: Ambo vs Jay Kay

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By Olajide Salami

In spite of Abuja being the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos holds a place as the de facto capital city in our hearts. Perhaps just commercially, but one likes to think socially as well. I say this because politically, everyone has an interest in the next governor of Lagos.

We’ve all heard the jingles. I can sing “everybody loves Jimi Agbaje” like it’s the national anthem. If I was at the discotheque (*chuckles* Been waiting for years to use that word in a formal setting) and “Ambooo o Ambooo, eko sese beere ni o Amboooo” came through the speakers, it would only be right that I reached into the recesses of my soul for my sickest shoki!

Lagosians are faced with a serious choice. Ambo or JK. Each bringing a different skill set to the table along with a different set of associates. One may interpret associates to mean either of Bode George or Bola Tinubu and the attendant perceptions of both as regards the Lagos state treasury. Or Patience Jonathan and the Oba of Lagos. Both recklessly loquacious, but bearing enough importance in the context of winning an election the Nigerian way. Some Lagosians will gauge their choice along cynical patterns. Who will I rather have steal Lagos’ money? Tinubu or Bode George? Not to equate them, but using each as a symbol for their individual camps for this article’s purpose only. One line of thought will go ” This one that PDP has lost at the center, is it Lagos they now want to use to line their pockets?”A few weeks to the Presidential polls, Patience Jonathan had called our brothers up North “Born Troways”. I believe that was a more reckless statement than that made by the Oba of Lagos, who threatened “death by lagoon” to any Igbo residing in Lagos, if they failed to vote Ambode come Saturday. While the stigma of having any of the aforementioned two support you is a semi-permanent one, how the voting populace view your candidacy in the light of such promoters is important. Certain people voted APC because they saw the First lady as a liability. I find the Oba of Lagos’ latest diatribe disgusting and unbecoming of his station. Not only is he a royal father, he is a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police. Having attained lofty rank, he should know the security implications of such reckless utterances. Or does one relegate experience as soon as one ascends the throne of their fathers? It would explain much. It will be unfortunate if his recklessness causes the candidate he is promoting to lose votes. The implication of the Oba’s statements infuses the polity with suspicions of xenophobia, which could be done without. Through Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Igbos have become commissioners and spokespersons of the government in Lagos. One expects though, that the PDP and Jimi Agbaje will jump on this gaffe, squeezing, until all political advantage can be gleaned.

In the interests of balance and equity, it’s only right I declare my stake. I have some interest in Ambode. It may favor me personally if he wins. I also have some interest in Jimi Agbaje. It will favor me personally if he wins. I have friends, good friends that are working on both campaigns. Either party winning would mean I have friends that worked on the governor-elect’s campaign. I also have another interest to declare. I have a running bet of 50k (naira oh!) on the outcome of the Lagos gubernatorial election. I said JK would not win more than four local governments in Lagos. This was right after the acrimonious PDP primaries. My good friend said JK would win outright. We bet. 50k. We also bet 50k on the outcome of the presidential elections. I won. He has not yet paid me. I suspect JK will win in more than 4 local governments and I will lose the second bet. If so, “ojoro cancel innit”. We’ll see.

Now to Lagos and the choice Lagosians face, bearing in mind we are all Lagosians to varying degrees. I was born in Lagos. Lived in Lagos till 1993. Got admission into King’s College, so moved back to Lagos in the September of 1996. The background here goes to serve my next point. My subconscious divides Lagos into two: Pre 1999 Lagos and Post 1999 Lagos. Do you remember it? The Lagos that doubled as a pigsty? With heaps of refuse everywhere? The Lagos that ended at Victoria Island for most people? The Lagos that had Lekki as simply a place on a map, not to be visited unless absolutely necessary? To be clear, I am talking about the Lekki (Phase 1) that had land going for 500k per plot but people still refused to buy because it was swamp. That Lekki, that Lagos. The Lagos without streetlights. The Lagos where Awolowo road had one lane? The Lagos where Ozumba Mbadiwe was not dual carriage? Do you remember that Lagos? Not this Lagos where you’re in traffic for 6hours max. I’m talking about the pre Bola Tinubu Lagos when you’d leave your car in traffic and go back to get it two days later. That Lagos. I am juxtaposing that Lagos and the one we presently have, with all its attendant problems. If you had to choose, which would you rather? What would be your Lagos of choice? If you had to be honest, do you know any other city within the boundaries of Nigeria’s borders that has shown as much growth and foresight as Lagos has shown over the past 16years?

The driving force behind this new, post 1999 Lagos is Bola Tinubu. His name evokes all sorts of emotions, depending on who’s asked. Fact remains, he has been behind this new Lagos via his tenure as governor, and then through recommended lieutenants. In the mind of most Lagosians, you’re either voting for Tinubu or against Tinubu. This is not to paint Tinubu in saintly oils. An aura of corruption hangs about him. Lagosians sit and collectively estimate his personal networth. No one really knows.

Bola Tinubu’s networth is not on the ballot as much as the PDP would like you to think. Bola Tinubu’s vision is. We are all familiar enough with the Fashola success story so there is no need for me to rehash. What many aren’t familiar with however is that the primary that produced Fashola is the same primary that caused Jimi Agbaje to decamp to Democratic Peoples Alliance to contest the Lagos Gubernatorial election in 2007. He came a distant, but smiled upon third if I remember correctly. Since then, he has moved to the PDP, anathema to most Lagosians, attempting again, to enter Marina.

The Tinubu lieutenant he is facing this time is Akinwunmi Ambode. A former Auditor general, Accountant general and Permanent Secretary in the Lagos state ministry of finance. A Herbert Humphrey Fellow attained through a Fulbright Scholarship. (one of the most stringent and meritorious scholarship funds in the world)

A brief perusal of Ambode’s CV, bearing in mind that a CV is only a snapshot of relevant work experience, raises the question: what has JK done? Jimi Agbaje, well liked, charismatic, etcetera. What has he done? What has he done for Lagos? Private sector provision of jobs and medical ameliorates in the form of JayKay Pharmacy, what else? You’re scowling now aren’t you? This is not to say that Jimi Agbaje has done nothing. This is not to reduce his achievements; this is in no way, ad hominem. What I am asking here is for voters to consider their choice by way of an employment interview. Lagos is your company. You are the Chairman of the board. Given the two candidates, having perused their CVs, who will you give the job? The charismatic chap, or the one barely speaking words, but having his CV do the talking for him? I have heard denigrating banter along the lines of “a two day course in Harvard is what Ambode is highlighting on his CV in bold print”. If several two-day courses in arguably the most prestigious university in the world were so easy to come by… goes without me having to say it. A concerted effort by Ambode to constantly develop himself and keep himself abreast of modern financial practices says as much for him as people waving his efforts aside dismissively. This is the real choice Lagosians are faced with. Are you voting for “swag”? Or are you opting for experience? 27years worth of experience, most of it paid for already by Lagos state taxpayers, channeled into service in the Lagos state civil service. This, ladies and gentlemen is the choice you face. When you thumbprint on Saturday, those will be your options.

The argument for and against Lagos as an opposition state or not in view of an impending Buhari presidency carries some weight. Not enough weight however, for the voters to be blinded by it. The crux of the ballot here should be between the two candidates, what they bring to the table by way of experience and what liabilities by way of political associates they carry. The sooner voters recognize that, the better. Ambode hails from Epe. Off the top of my head, without any research, an Ambode win would secure much needed economic and residential expansion towards the eastern axis of Lagos. A significant portion of Lagos that have placed bets by purchasing property in Lakowe, Abijo and Siye will begin to see basic infrastructure to support whatever businesses they choose to initiate along that end. The Lekki Free Trade Zone and the Dangote refinery will bring an APC led government developmentally in tune with its much needed federal presence in the form of an airport and seaport. The PDP led government at the center refused or were unable to lend support here. The economical significance of such an alliance will boost Lagos’ IGR (internally generated revenue) exponentially, putting to bed suspicions that the only advantage a Lagos in APC hands will bring is a slight increase in federal allocations. This puts in perspective, the exponential growth of Lagos state’s internally generated revenue from 1999. I am led to understand Ambode has been as instrumental in shaping IGR in Lagos, as Professor Osinbajo was in leading the reform of the Lagos Judiciary making it the benchmark for the rest of the federation. In light of the development in this area alone, federal allocation to Lagos will be a mere pittance. Internally generated revenue will skyrocket as small and medium enterprises grow. The Lekki Free Trade zone will open up new frontiers for foreign direct investment. Indomie have opened a factory there. Coscharis Motors have moved a large part of their operation there. A Lagos APC and a Lagos Federal government alignment is pregnant with such economic advantage as to completely wean Lagos state off any crumbs from the Federal Government. Apapa will most likely get the much-needed federal attention it deserves. Neighboring states stand to benefit as well bonded warehouses and dry ports can be opened up on Lagos-Ibadan expressway and along the Ijebu area of Ogun state, creating seamless transitioning of goods from Lagos to the rest of the country. All this can happen if Lagos and Abuja share the same political will.

All the above is not to say that the same cannot happen under a Jimi Agbaje led PDP government. The chances are only significantly slimmer. While Jimi Agbaje seems made of good mettle, I’ll argue that like Ambode, his team have under marketed him. Much emphasis has been placed on his charisma than his work ethic. A lot of his plans have been proposed with the foundation under them being a Goodluck Jonathan led Federal government which have been rendered invalid by current political realities. Whilst those are my concerns about Agbaje, I find I am slightly underwhelmed by Ambode’s lack of communication skills. One does not expect elevated oratory from gubernatorial candidates, but a part of me wonders if the man has not taken the time to communicate as much to us the electorate because he feels he has Bola Tinubu’s support and thus, does not need to say much. My thoughts travel back to the one debate he participated in with Jimi Agbaje and perhaps it is best he is not talking as much.

This was not a balanced article by any means and I won’t make any such pretensions. This is both Akinwunmi Ambode and Jimi Agbaje as I see them, politicking aside. This is what each represents to me after attempts by their promoters to market them to me, and the general Lagosian populace. Thus, pound for pound, Ambode appears to me, a better candidate for the office of the governor of Lagos, if only largely less eloquent than Jimi Agbaje. I am sure there are others who share my view the same way I am certain there are others who don’t quite view both candidates with the same prism as I have. Whatever the result, Lagos state does have two of the best candidates the Nigerian gubernatorial elections have on offer in 2015.

Lastly, is it me or have this year’s elections been like a movie? Fascinating!

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