The mid-point of democratic governments has always been the ‘make or mar’ year. The first is the ‘teething’ year; where expectations are tempered on the back of successful elections. Then the sophomore year; filled with acceptable mistakes and unpopular policies. Then comes the penultimate year; with strong, well-publicised performances ahead of the final year; when governance runs on auto-pilot. Accordingly, any government not showing clear signs of strong performance by now is most likely waving the state house 'goodbye' come 2019 elections.
But for the Lagos State Governor, performance is demanded all year round, and rightly so. The former capital is heralded as the land of opportunity and frequently compels Nigerians from all regions to migrate in search of greener pastures. Standards are accordingly high. Like his predecessor, the emergence of Akinwunmi Ambode came with controversy – his rise showing striking similarities to a kingmaker’s move that allows the dark horse prevail.
But now we wonder, how wise was this move?
Federal Government vs. State Government
The yardstick for Ambode is even higher considering the party running the Lagos State Government (LASG) also runs the Federal Government. Political observers have long argued that the FG-LASG feud has stifled the growth of Lagos State. This feud goes back to the FG's refusal under President Obasanjo to release allocations to states that created new local governments without ratification by the National Assembly. The courts eventually adjudicated in favour of the LASG, but only after Lagos State had been forced to embrace self-sustainability.
Nevertheless, the FG and LASG's relationship has always been frosty. Despite federal character, LASG officials always insisted that Lagosians nominated for Ministerial appointments did not serve the state's best interest. A few weeks back, Ambode accused Fashola’s ministry of frustrating Lagos' infrastructural development, amid suggestions that both leaders have rarely communicated in the last two years. With these mixed signals, it appears that expectations of unmatched growth on the back of an FG relationship are not enough, Lagos must earn its place.
With crime on the increase, traffic challenges, a gradual return to a dirty environment and disorderliness, there were initial fears that the Fashola legacy was being eroded by the new Governor. However, by the first quarter of 2016, it became apparent that Governor Ambode had started getting a handle on Lagos. The Governor began with the implementation of the inner roads project, then moved on to ‘light up’ Lagos before tackling traffic gridlock amongst other challenges. But even at this point, we cannot embrace complacency. Nigerians are so conditioned by bad governance, that we have begun to celebrate governments carrying out their core responsibilities. These projects are not luxuries to be celebrated. Instead, we should look even further and demand even more.
No slums in an elitist state?
In his campaign, Ambode emphasised the need to focus on the hinterlands; Epe, Ikorodu, and Badagry in particular. This rhetoric was a subtle response to accusations that the State only caters to its bourgeoisie. On one end of this drive, the government announced its decision to ban commercial buses, commonly known as Danfos, in its desire to reinvent its own Dubai. But like my friend Simon Gusah has argued, this is symptomatic of the 'Dubai Delusion' where leaders fail to adjust their expectations. Instead of finding local and innovative solutions which suit the socio-economic realities, they focus on the grand, complicated plans. This is not to fault visionary leadership, but Lagos must evolve its template to serve the people, rather than have the people serve it.
At the other end, the LASG has found itself holding the wrong end of the migration stick. In its desire to achieve megacity status, the LASG has expressed its willingness to eliminate slums from the state. Governor Ambode has dug his heels into this policy. In November 2016, as the world reacted to Trump's election, a wave of police manned evictions beset residents of OtodoGbame. More recently, the waterside residents again found themselves victims of more LASG handling. In its defence, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice stated that the deployment of security personnel was a direct response to attacks on the Ishawo area of Ikorodu on Saturday night. They further claimed that the unpopular decision to enter the community was to find the militants hiding in the OtodoGbame community. Evidently, these statements leave a lot unanswered about the LASG's desire to account for the most vulnerable citizens.
Future Outlook - one good turn deserves another?
The LASG must remain careful to avoid ending its run, as overzealous policies may force the courts to delay or terminate their urban master planning before the four-year tenure is up. Where migration and urban planning are contemplated, adherence to development masterplans can preempt breakdown of law and order. Ultimately, the move to eradicate slums and modernise Lagos must require officials to take active steps to enforce rules rather than endanger lives and ecosystems.
This mid-point is critical for any government intending to campaign on performance. With the Oba’s declaration that there is no vacancy in Lagos and the kingmaker’s subtle nod, Ambode cannot afford to fail. That Ambode will contest for re-election is no special announcement. As long as PDP continues to keep up the internal wrangling, APC may arrive 2019 without formidable opposition. Incidentally, Lagos residents, city and slums alike, may have no choice but to #KeepTheChange.