As the 2015 General Elections drew closer last year, one big question on the lips of many Nigerians was who will succeed Babatunde Fashola as the governor of Lagos State. Fashola was undeniably a performing governor and was celebrated as such across Nigeria and even abroad; indeed, anyone who could perform creditably managing the urban jungle that the city-state of Lagos is deserved all the applause.
The job of stepping into Fashola’s big shoes fell to his party man and a former Accountant-General of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode. Almost immediately as he came into power, crime rates surged, dilapidated infrastructures increased or became more apparent and discontent was rife. The Lagos that had long been forgotten seemed to have returned.
Lagosians reacted viscerally, not least inspired by the fact that Ambode seemed to have begun a pointless battle against his much beloved predecessor. By the time the Economist wrote a scathing piece dismissing him as “incompetent” and “full of excuses”, it was like a funeral: the new governor was a dud.
Then he went to war.
Since October last year, there has been a huge turnaround in the performance (or at least, the perception of performance) of Governor Ambode as he has worked immensely to tackle the immediate problems that he saw on ground, and to reassure Lagosians that he knows what he is doing.
Today, as the president kicks off the first official visit by a sitting president in 14 years, it is perhaps time to assess the Lagos governor and what he has done since then.
First was the purchase of patrol cars, armored personnel carriers (APCs), gunboats, motorcycles and helicopters for the Lagos State Police Command, which improved their ability to respond to and fight crime promptly. The primary result was an immediate public relations coup – with the image of governor who could rise to the occasion imprinted on our minds. The real result? Crime rates fell again – no longer were stories of people being waylaid in the huge traffic jams Lagos is renowned for.
He has also commenced the construction of flyover bridges at Ajah roundabout and Abule-Egba, two areas where it is common to spend hours in traffic. Already, the road approaching the flyover bridge at Ajah has been expanded and it has eased traffic, even if marginally. Once these flyover bridges are completed, it will provide motorists with access to Epe and to Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway respectively without having to go through the roundabouts.
This is in addition to the construction and rehabilitation of numerous roads such as the Ago Palace Way in Okota, Coker-Aguda Road in Surulere and Brown Street in Oshodi. The state has also commenced fixing problematic portions of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, a road which routinely comes under stress due to the weight of containerized trucks from the Apapa Ports that ply it.
These are roads that threatened to torpedo the legacy of even the clinical Fashola, and yet Ambode makes it look so easy.
After years of waiting, the Fourth Mainland Bridge is finally underway which will link Ikorodu to Eti-Osa Local Government over 26 kilometres. Then there is the other long-awaited project that has picked up progress: the first phase of the Lagos Light Rail from Okokomaiko to Marina (known as the Blue Line) which Governor Ambode has promised that will be delivered by December 2016.
It is distinctly remarkable that this administration is doubling down when it comes to transformation, embarking on efforts to reform the waterways, which currently ferry about 2 million people across the state monthly. The poitential has always has always been limitless. The fact that action is finally being taken, priceless.
There is a huge possibility for the promotion of inter-nodal transport – where commuters can use two or more modes of transport to move around in a day, and it will relieve the road system of a lot of the pressures it currently faces.
The governor has also telegraphed action in expanding the economy, with the acceleration of the Lekki Free Trade Zone. N1.6 billion has apparently been released to accelerate infrastructure development within the Zone. This is one case where the creation of jobs and the chance for economic growth is not a question of vain theory.
Indeed, just as we were going to press with this editorial, we got news of the grand plan for the troublesome Oshodi area of Lagos, with a vision that inspires as to the possibilities for the economy, for housing and, again, for transportation.
The result of all of these is a sense of calm amongst residents of Lagos. They, and we, are now convinced that we are in good hands, and the election of a man we barely knew was not a mistake.
We predict that better days are ahead for Lagos.
Of course, there is still a lot that can go wrong. If it does, the Lagosians we know will be as quick to deliver knocks as they have been generous to give him kudos.