Akinwunmi Ambode is the current governor of Lagos State. And the matter is that he is pretty good, perhaps excellent doing the job. So expectedly much of what he gets from us Lagosians are accolades. Boy, the guy deserves it.
Somehow, Ambode reminds one of Dr Michael Okpara. Okpara, we may recall was the wonder working governor of former Eastern Nigeria. Perhaps, it is that Ambode has some physical resemblance with the now late Okpara. The two come with the same averagely stocky figure and a bull face to match. And it appears that the two are also united in their penchant for remorseless hard work. That is the only way to explain outstanding leadership performances.
In summary it may be said that Ambode is doing so well he invites citizens to have faith in him. That is whatever he propositions for Lagos, Lagosians take it that it is for the good of Lagos. And if it is good for Lagos, it definitely is also good for Nigeria, for Africa and lastly but not least, for the black man. Lagos is really no longer a Nigerian city. Lagos is the bellwether for black Africa. If it goes well with Lagos, then the black man may have built his own new Jerusalem here on earth.
So when the Governor came with his program of phasing out Danfo buses as a plank of the dreamed for megacity, our reception is that if it is an Ambode vision, then it must be good for us. But we were some troubled. Not with the concept, but the turnaround or lag time to kick-start or complete the de-danfoing of Lagos roads. Though no firm dates seem to have been given, it appears the phasing out will be done by fiat than negotiated consensus. If it is, it is a regrettable throwback to the dark days of the dictator, General Murtala Mohammed. Largely misguided and egoistic, Mohammed, despite being as ordinary as the guy next door, self-righteously brought the nation to ruin. He gifted Nigeria with a virus nearly as deadly and devastating as AIDs. It is the virus of WIE, with immediate effect. Even if it was Mohammed wanted to do good, his rushed and un-programmed agenda brought home the quip: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For instance, his WIE has almost completely totalized the civil service into a monster of corruption. And without a great civil service it is bye-bye to development. 40 years after Mohammed, the civil service is yet to recover.
The point is, a good thing hurriedly done can turn up completely virulent. It is not just of its poor execution, but more importantly of the several and varied hidden risks that will unfold. The logic of it is simple. Government bureaucrats (or even worse coup makers) are not on the streets or markets and can’t know everything or even anything. Ensconced in their offices, government pickins wallowing in their alleged patriotism or civic spiritedness, can only work on models, printouts, spreadsheets and other such abstractions.
And several economists have correctly noted it is not feasible for government, (which by the way is only a party in governance), to gather all the information that is needed to drive policy. And this gets worse if the policy is so hurriedly assembled that the inputs from major stakeholders are excluded. Now the following might help us. Governance is a joint participation of government, here represented by the Ambode, and the relevant publics, here represented by danfo promoters, operators, financiers, mechanics and of course commuters. Yet, we only heard of de-danfoing Lagos roads after it became a fait accompli.
But if the de-danfoing policy is to work as a virtuous gain, it must seek information and inputs from the various parties in the issue. And this includes the drivers, the investors, the commuter publics etc. It is not enough to want to do good. Achieving great policy goals demands that major stakeholder parties be co-opted into the design, if not execution. Things may take longer but they will work better and serve most productively.
To illustrate. Danfo buses services in Lagos are a multibillion naira going concern. It employs a chain of subindustry service providers such as drivers, financiers, mechanics, motor boys, etc, in their millions. In a typical business scenario all the players are assumed to have short to medium term plans for themselves and their businesses. So the least any government must do is to accommodate the interests of the major parties in the game, within this short to medium term. And that runs from 1 to 5 years. That is banning danfo buses is too seismic to be introduced like a volcano.
Anyway it makes for optimism that Ambode was an accountant. And we are told there is something the accountants call obsolescence, planned obsolescence. It is within this window of programed obsolescence that stakeholders are expected to restructure, phase out, re-engineer their investments, businesses and lives. Within this window some of them may plan and move to other states where their services are required or sell off – not as in a fire sale. Or they could transit, not stampeded to other businesses, saving themselves billions. That means boosting the Lagos economy there off, since there will be a minimum of write-offs.
However, if government does not allow for planned 3-5 years’ obsolescence, the following may happen. The traumatic foreclosure will lead to billions of investment assets and naira junked or frozen into nothingness. This may look like a commuter version of the tragedy of Treasury Single Account, TSA. By a shock-freezing of trading funds, the federal government only succeeded in fatally wounding the economy. Thus if the TSA was well phased and scaled, the economy wouldn’t have deflated so much it is financial Armageddon for the nation, almost.
Our suggestion: We advise that Ambode has done so well he is almost certain to win a rerun election. That is, he has plus 4 extra years. So he could treat the de-danfoing as a two-term policy execution program. And it might make great sense to first of all test drive the process. For instance, in the first phase only Ikeja to CMS will be involved. That is the danfos plying the route will be rezoned to other routes, say Ikeja-Apapa. And lessons learnt. It is the lessons that are learnt that will next give the road map on how best to fill up the state with the model mega city buses.
The president’s and governors’ PR men.
It is almost common wisdom that the president is having bad press. The matter is out there in the newspapers and the airwaves. But what interests us is the fact that a related discussion has come up: What is the best qualification for presidential or governorship spokespersons.
This is where the matter becomes interesting. One of the leading Lagos radio hosts is of the opinion that it is a job best done by public relations practitioners. We humbly object. Political communication is not a PR nor a media job. There have been media persons who ended up doing a great job. There was also Mike Deaver, a Reagan hand, who was a PR dude, who also did well. However, many from the two backgrounds have also in due season failed.
What may be extracted from this is that the men succeeded or failed not because of their qualifications but because of their talents. The truth is that at the high levels of representing the president or governors, what are at stake are not things that may be covered in a curriculum or work experience. It is more of talent. You either have it or you don’t. Yes, there are marker or trace elements, like broad reading, a wide frame of reference, a broadcaster’s voice, a writerly skill, and above all an ability to think. But the success is in the mix not in the elements.
And the tragedy of education is that no one can be thought how to think. You can only be taught and given the tools. The ability to think – outside the box, which is what real thinking amounts to – is genius. And no man can teach you how to be genius, even if like Einstein or Soyinka he is one himself. May be like the genes, genius is a lottery sweepstake, a Baba Ijebu winning combination.
What has brought many spokespeople low is their inability to think. They are too much of bromides. But our local experience has thrown up one or two persons. There is Dele Alake. The guy served under then Governor Bola Tinubu, in a season of high political turbulence. And Alake served so well he won the eagle feather. However, of the many at work today, we think Dr. Tam George is as good as they come, perhaps the best at the game. He is the information headman for Governor Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State. Watching him severally on Channels TV, especially, my take is that he meets the gold standard. He is always calm and has a wide swathe of practice and theoretical references. And he avoids personalizing or trivializing State issues, like it is with the presidency hands.
The only crack on his armor is that he appears to be speaking only to the Channels TV. We have not sighted him on any of the several other Nigerian stations. We suspect PR/spokesperson practice is like unto a buffet. Variety is often its spice. So the guy may perhaps broaden his use of media brands.
And the point is that George was a former lecturer and never a former PR or media man, as much as we know. His success emphasizes the point that being an ace spokesman for government requires not just ability to write or speak well, but also to think deep. And that can’t really be taught. It is a gift. Perhaps if the parties in government in Rivers State and Federal were one, it would have been indicated George be loaned to Abuja for greater national service.