It was a few days to Christmas. The night was resplendent and festive. The Lagos House at Alausa, Ikeja stood aglow, bathed in the splendour of colour kaleidoscope. The scene is simply beautiful and ethereal. More like a theme park wonderland festooned with twinkling, shimmering lights ushering in the most joyous festival on the Christian calendar celebrated by saints and sinners alike.
I was on the list of some senior journalists invited for dinner and tete-a-tete with His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State. For some of us, it was our first meeting with this affable, bonhomie, down-to-earth governor. Casually dressed in jeans atop a short-sleeve shirt, he tries to make us feel at home in this ballroom where dinner was set and the deejay was spinning old school music to reawaken the nostalgia of bygone times.
If you haven’t met Ambode, you won’t know how deep this man is, how focused, how strategic and organized his mind works as a governor trying to clear the Augean stable and make things work in the largest and the most populous city in Africa, beating Cairo, the capital of ancient Egypt where the baby Jesus was smuggled to for fear of being beheaded by Herod who killed innocent babies per chance one of them may be the expected Messiah threatening his crown and authority.
He may be quiet, humble and soft-spoken, but beneath the veneer of an introvert is a hard-working man with the resolve and steely determination to transform Lagos from a chaotic city to a modern, smart city where things work. It hasn’t been easy though.
Running Lagos has been one big modern Olympic marathon relay race starting from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the visionary leader and talent spotter who handed the baton to Babatunde Fashola, a paradigm-shifting sprinter who left his indelible footprints on the tracks of time, then to Ambode who after a cautious start is flying higher and impressing most people who now marvel at the aesthetic transformation taking place in various places within the city, building on the foundation set by his exemplary predecessors. Look at Oshodi. Look at Ojodu Berger. The transformation in Ikorodu. The flyover bridge at Abule Egba. Ibeju Lekki. Epe. The mega bus terminals along Bank Anthony Way in Ikeja, Oshodi and other places. The vertical hanging canoes artistically decorating the road to the local airport and some strategic points in the city. The intimidating array of security equipment and infrastructure bequeathed to the police in Lagos, which include helicopters, a fleet of cars, patrol vans, armoured personnel carriers, gunboats and motorbikes that have brought down crime. You can go on and on and on. There is no local government where Ambode’s impact has not been felt.
The governor had brought together these opinion leaders from the news media to assess his administration, to get a feedback from them, so that he would know whether he is on the right path or not. He knows journalists for who they are: a no-nonsense tribe noted for their cynicism and skepticism, not easy to impress, who would call a spade a spade, who would tell it straight to your face and hit you with powerful editorials, if you are not doing well. But on this night, Ambode carried the day with one journalist after the other giving the governor kudos for a job well done so far. One journalist even remarked that the governor had achieved enough to deserve a second term which the other journalists concurred with the nodding of heads. And per chance he gets the second-term ticket, the journalists advised Ambode not to slow down but should sustain the momentum and aim at leaving a legacy.
It was an interactive no-holds-barred session where people had the opportunity and the freedom to express their thoughts and inner feelings as well as highlighting problems in their localities that needed attention. Problems such as bad roads, the need for more inner roads, refuse dumped on streets and inside gutters causing blocked drains and environmental nightmare.
One question after another and the governor was listening, mentally taking notes and waiting to answer all of them at a go. In answering the questions, Governor Ambode surprised many with his razor-sharp intellect and hands-on knowledge of the issues, tackling them with the deftness of a skilled surgeon. He is a man you underrate at your peril. Such were the deep thoughts coming from his mind that the journalists wished they had recorded some of the newsworthy things he said, but for security reasons they were not allowed to bring in the number one tool of their trade. Their phones were collected at the security checkpoint.
Today, the phone has become an indispensable journalism tool. Without it, you cannot record an interview nor take pictures. The phone does everything. With it, you can background a story using Google, you can spell-check with it, you can use it as a dictionary, you can take pictures as well as find pictures on the web with it and you can send stories by phone. A brave new world for journalism. Thanks to modern technology that has disrupted journalism just like “Fin Tech” has changed banking and the financial world today.
Yet as a journalist, you are going to do your work and for security reasons you are not allowed to use your phone. You try to argue your way but the security agents tell you that they are doing their job. You are not allowed to face the governor with a phone. So frustrating. Thank God for the human brain. It is amazing what the brain can capture in such circumstances.
I hope, by God’s grace, to continue the Ambode story and the exclusive interview he granted me the next day in his office. I wanted a full day but he could only afford 30 minutes of his precious time. Such a busy man and a workaholic to the core! This time around, he gave orders that I should be allowed to come in with my phone. I came and I saw another side to Ambode. I will bring you my impressions next week. Till then, here is wishing my readers the best of the coming New Year.