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OPINION

Ambode: Wheeling Lagos to wonderland

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“If Governor Ambode were to be a student in your class, what grade will you give him? Distinction, I believe. He has performed wonderfully well and all that he requires is the support of everybody to continue this magical feat.”

The above extract, which succinctly portray the giant strides of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode as Lagos State governor, is taken from a published interview with the Balogun of Epe, Chief Lanre Razak, who also a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC).

Going by the intimidating template set for Lagos development by Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu while he was governor of the state between 1999 to 2007, not again will a governor occupy the Round House, Alausa, without having it thrust upon his shoulders the decree to continue raising the bar of making Lagos an Eldorado.

Ambode has not only shocked the doubting Thomases, he has also left those who backed him for the coveted office with no reason to regret the choice made two years after.

It still beats the imagination of many residents of Lagos, the commercial nerve of Nigeria, the amount of bridges, roads, laybys built by Ambode within two years to eliminate traffic bottlenecks. In a way and speed never seen before, Ambode is busy opening up inner city roads in various parts of the Lagos metropolis.
Ambode hit the ground running on May 29, 2015, when he was sworn in as the number one citizen of the state. So, he left no keen watchers of the development radar of Lagos disappointed 365 days after, when he commissioned 114 roads in all the 57 local councils and Local Council Development Areas in the state simultaneously. A feat seen by many as unprecedented in the history of the country.

From Surulere to FESTAC Town, Agege, Alimosho, Ikeja, Kosofe, Epe among others, Ambode’s footprints in visible projects is boldly written everywhere. To him, it appears it does not matter who voted for him or not, all that matters is the development of Lagos.

LAKE Rice project, a brainchild of comprehensive rice cultivation joint-ventured by Lagos and Kebbi states to ensure food security, remains a flagship agricultural feat in a sector not many thought Lagos could ever veered into let alone exceling in such a short time.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, described by many as the architect of the 21st century Lagos, said that “Akinwunmi Ambode has reflected that he is clearly a thinker and doer. I want to say thank you because experience is a great teacher and I am experienced. I am on the spot and I have watched things in Lagos since my tenure ended.
“I was worried hell when you (Ambode) took over, not about your credibility, character or capacity, but because however wise or smart a man is if there are no resources to back the ideas, production would be zero, progress would be zero.

“When you (Ambode) took over, I know you inherited a burden of debt. The debt profile of Lagos was high, I was wondering how you will re-engineer and face the challenges to make progress. Today, I can see your report card, you have scored well, and you have shown prudency especially in the judicious use of resources of the state. You didn’t disappoint us.”

According to Time Magazine, in a lengthy article featuring the extraordinary project and team which, in less than ten years, have transformed Lagos, once a dusty and crime-ridden state, into one of the top 100 best places in the world to live and do business in, noted that “Quality of air is better than in Paris or London. Unemployment is lower than in Germany. The state’s GDP is now the first in Africa above Johannesburg, Cairo, and Pretoria. In less than ten years the city became the financial and entertainment center of Africa, with Nollywood becoming bigger than Hollywood in terms of number of movies and revenue.
“Crime has almost disappeared, and a decade of a responsive and accountable government has raised the revenue per inhabitant to the same level as in China, Brazil or Poland. In term of people’s happiness, the international happiness index now places Lagos at the same level as Finland.”

The report added that “Lagos is already a megacity of 21 million people with a strong internal brand. If Lagos was a state in the United States, its GDP would be higher than the one of 14 other states, including New Mexico, Delaware, North Dakota.

“The GDP of Lagos state alone is already bigger than the GDP of Kenya, and bigger than the combined GDPs of 25 other African countries. Inside the federated states of Nigeria, Lagos contributes 25% to the national GDP (or 32% to non-oil national GDP) while being the smallest of the 36 states.”

Lagos is 65% of Nigerian tourism, 50% of national port revenue, over 70% of international air traffic, and 50% of national energy consumption. The state economy growth has been estimated to be 7% during the last three years. Lagos adds 600,000 new inhabitants every year, growing at a rate of 6 to 8% a year, ten times faster than New York or Los Angeles, which makes it one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.”

Ambode said his administration would rehabilitate all the Federal roads in the state even without necessarily asking for reimbursement from the Federal Government, as is the tradition, in line with the dream of making Lagos one of the sanest cities in the world.

“Some of these roads pose problems to the people of Lagos and they do not make us to be globally competitive. So, it is in our interest that the roads are upgraded,” Ambode said.
Therefore, at a period that other governors would have been settling down for real governance, Ambode commissioned two eye-popping flyovers in Ajah and Abule-Egba to mark his second anniversary in office, Lagosians were full of praises to the governor for walking his talking.

Ambode has been working round the clock to make Lagos a globally competitive city-state, by improving connectivity and providing permanent to perennial gridlock in the city.
The governor is also planning drastic facelift to the ever-busy road linking Murtala Mohammed International Airport to Oshodi to a globally befitting class, which despite the initial hitch has got the blessing of the Presidency. The project, when completed poised to be yet another milestone that Ambode has become synonymous with.

The governor also disclosed that a new road was being built to link the Meiran/AIT Road to the Lagos State University (LASU) and the Lagos-Badagry Expressway.
Ambode said the road was also being extended to enable motorists to link Sango-Ota without necessarily going on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.

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OPINION

Repositioning the NNPC and Baru’s knack for openness

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By Kingsley Ukah 
It will take a great deal of sustained and concerted reforms to ensure that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) runs effectively and efficiently in line with global best practices; and for it to serve, without interruptions, the common good of Nigerians.

For decades, the oil corporation has consistently been in the bad books of Nigerians who see it as a behemoth that has been appropriated by successive administrations to service political interests and private ends.

However, the decision of the NNPC Group Managing Director (GMD), Dr. Mikanti Baru, to continually open up the corporation for public appraisal and promote transparent and accountable management is novel in the ecology of the Federal Government’s anti-corruption crusade. Baru is committed to seeking strategic partnership where necessary in a deliberate bid to erase the negative perception that the NNPC cannot achieve the desired results or apply standard best practices in operations.

There is no doubt that leadership is key to every organisation that seeks to succeed. Since coming on board, the GMD has committed himself to doing things that will give the corporation a positive outlook. But one must quickly admit that it is not always easy turning things around in a corporation where corruption has been entrenched and reforms frustrated for years. But what is going well for Baru is his willingness to take on challenges and search for solutions. Apparently, that is why he is succeeding.

That Baru has chosen not to grandstand over the recurring question on the actual volume of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol, being consumed in the country, says much about his ability to be above the fray.

He has not been imprudent in his disposition. He has not created any ballyhoo over the matter that has been understandably politicized.  There is a sense in which the management of the nation’s oil sector has become a political decision under the watch of successive federal government.

But credit must be given to the exceptional leadership and sincerity of purpose that Baru has brought to bear in the management of the NNPC presently. For instance, as part of its expanding strategic partnership, it is a welcome development that corporation has agreed to work with the World Bank and the Federal Ministry of Finance to finally lay these decades of concern about the opacity in the public finance management of the subsector in which the corporation plays a very significant role to a rest.

It gladdened the heart when I heard the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Downstream, NNPC, Mr. Henry Obih, say that the decision of the corporation to abide by the directive of the National Executive Council (NEC) to work with the finance ministry and world bank to finally unravel this mystery.  That such efforts have been frustrated in the pas attests to the financial discipline that President Muhammadu Buhari has inculcated into governance. On this score, the leadership of Baru has demonstrated its support for the president’s philosophy of prudent financial management. He has shown by his disposition that he has nothing to hide.

In a widely reported Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition held recently in Abuja, the NNPC COO, said that: We (the NNPC) are presently in a joint project with the Federal Ministry of Finance. We are doing a study around consumption to determine the actual consumption by the people. He explained that “we have to put it on scale to see what we call the daily load or the evacuation, as against the actual consumption, that is, what people go to the pump every day to buy for their cars and generators at homes and for other uses.”

Obih said: “This is why the National Economic Council has mandated that we work with the Federal Ministry of Finance. We also had meetings with the World Bank about six weeks ago, and we are trying to progress in a global study that would help us get around the actual numbers of what we consume in Nigeria.”  This is forward-looking. While awaiting the outcome of the tripartite investigation, it is equally good that the NNPC has chosen to set some records straight against the backdrop of the ongoing campaign of calumny sponsored largely by the mafia in the sector.

Different consumption figures had been put out there in the social media to deceive the unsuspecting public. This tripartite intervention should, in the interim, put to rest the associated concerns while the investigation will, expectedly, assuage the frayed of Nigerians. Meantime, in terms of daily truck out from depots around the country and in terms of the records of the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) the NNPC trucked out 48 million litres daily in 2016 and 50 million litres in 2017.

The problem of rising volume of fuel is compounded by cross-border smuggling, because Nigeria remains the cheapest source of PMS in the West African sub-region. Unfortunately, Nigeria has a network of oil mafia that cuts across the entire chains of oil businesses in the country.  The mafia group is very big and powerful and has been operating for decades. It is also feeding fat on segments of the country’s pipeline network. It will take consistent and persistent efforts to defeat the oil cartel. At every point, it is fighting back and this has made the work of the Baru-led NNPC a little bit more difficult.

Obih, confirmed the challenges facing the corporation. Read him: “But again, one significant challenge is the fact that we have cross-border smuggling. Nigeria remains the cheapest source of PMS in the West African sub-region. All our neighbouring countries are selling at over 200 per cent high of the price that we pay at the pump. We have challenges in the pipelines that run through land, specifically, the System 2B, for instance; the one that runs around Lagos. It remains a big challenge, because there is a mafia that lives and feeds on those pipelines.

But it is not entirely bad news about the NNPC. Good things are happening under Baru as revealed by the COO, especially in the area of Joint Venture cash call payments. According to him, “What is heartening this year is that we can, at least, say that in a couple of the areas, we can see attempt to address them. For as long as I have been in this industry, we have been discussing cash calls as a never-ending issue. I think we were able to sit down together as an industry and government to try and tackle that issue and we should not underrate the importance of that.

“What is of significant today is that argument is off the table. For the first time, we finished a year without NNPC owing cash calls. That just essentially opens up the appetite. What that has done is that it opens up the appetite to have a conversation about investment. Nigeria is competing for capital with every other country in the world and sometimes we forget that and think that we are world unto ourselves, but the reality is that each of these companies operates in 20, 30, 80 countries and people are competing for capital. The whole JV process, we all need to put our hands on the plough to ensure it does not derail. We cannot take it for granted that we have a funding structure that works and assume it will continue to work.”

It is incumbent on Nigerians, especially stakeholders who have been yearning, over the years, for the NNPC to truly deliver on its mandate, to support the ongoing process to reposition the corporation. Baru can deliver with the right support and climate. However, the NNPC must now ensure that a strong technology-driven mechanism is put in place to ensure the real-time monitoring of the pattern of consumption in the country. This is what should engage attention and not petty issues that distract.

Ukah wrote in from Lagos
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OPINION

Managing crises: The Lagos example, by David Adegoke

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An oil truck explosion of apocalyptic magnitude occurs in Lagos, fatally charring a frightening number of lives and maiming several others. Many more vehicles are burnt, some to ashes, with scores of stampeding citizens severely bruised in the process. Pronto, denizens of social media go into action, sending pictorial, video and textual coverage of the gory scenes into the virtual space.

Soon, the phones of Nigerians begin buzzing with calls and messages from anxious compatriots in the diaspora eager to know the whereabouts of their loved ones in the country. Are they caught in the blaze? Are they close to the area of the accident? Are they safe? Where no immediate response follows, there is an urgent request to send back a message to reassure the agitated inquirer.

But in the midst of this bedlam, something else causes a stir: the sudden appearance of the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, within hours of the tragedy, attired in simple short sleeves and trousers looking like jeans. Those around are surprised. Why? There are two reasons: Nigerians are not used to seeing their leaders arrive at locations of disasters just moments after such mishaps break.

Secondly, because he isn’t dressed in suit or agbada which is the ‘uniform’ of their leaders, there is more curiosity surrounding the presence of the man. Word goes around that Ambode has got to the scene without notice, without fanfare. That swells the crowd of onlookers. The entire development deepens the bond between the led and the leader who would make a difference in governance by his acuity of empathy when the people are bereaved.

A governor may build great bridges and roads along with other physical infrastructure. That would put him at par with others who do so too. A leader may deliver moving speeches such as the Gettysburg Address by US Civil War President Abraham Lincoln. But he would only be in the circle of other orators like the ancient Roman senator and late President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. None of these distinguishes him from the pack. You don’t excel if you walk the beaten track; history would trap you among the ‘also-ran’ group. It’s a footnote category, hardly reckoned with on the pages of a country’s annals.

When he showed up at the scene of sorrow, blood and tears (to quote the lyrics of one of legendary Fela’s songs), Ambode brought both hope, comfort and lessons in empathetic leadership that is missing in our clime. Assessing the situation, the governor commiserated with the victims and took solace in ‘’the fact (his government’s prompt response) was able to save more lives’’. He added: ‘’We will continue to do our best and ensure that we mitigate things of this nature in future…Nobody knows when this kind of incident will happen next but the most important thing is that our response time should be up and running and able to save lives.’’

Observers have commended the Lagos administration for putting in place a disaster management infrastructure that made it possible for rescue trucks to get to the scene within 10 minutes. This was fast, according to experts, who argue that given our environment and the choked traffic of the hour the casualty statistics would have been astronomical, exceeding the nine lives lost and over 50 vehicles burnt.

Truly, it could have been worse with a fuel truck carrying 33000 litres of PMS on the loose that fateful evening. “’That was death on the prowl,’’ as a commentator Tope Ajayi put it, even while he advised Ambode to continue to invest more in the personnel and agencies saddled with accident response functions. And seeing how the Lagos model has worked quite efficaciously, the writer admonishes that ‘’other states should learn from Lagos.’’

But as we said at the beginning, if you had all these security and rescue paraphernalia in place without a human face, you’d end running a normal system, undistinguished by the exceptional touch that makes a difference. That evening the Lagos State governor provided the uniqueness we need in leadership and governance in Nigeria.

Ify Onyegbule, a well known radio presenter in Lagos, captured the superlative performance of Ambode in these hardly exaggerative terms on her Facebook timeline: ‘’ If you ask me, I think AkinwunmiAmbode would do well as Nigeria’s President! He didn’t wait till morning before going to the scene of the disaster. He never went to put on his danshiki and buba plus fila to go there just so he looks nice on camera. He never asked that a red carpet be spread so he can walk on it at the scene.

Ambode didn’t get there blaming the tanker parked or the danfo thatthe brakes failed! In fact the presidency needs to come and the Lagos model…quote me on this! Enough of all the rubbish going on in Nigeria!’’

Our leaders must not pride themselves in adulation when they provide us the dividends of democracy as we often term them. No doubt we shall always hail them when they do so. But there is more to administering human beings, just as there is more to being a father in the home than merely supplying money for the upkeep of the family. How about meeting the emotional demands of the wife and children, which represent the fiber holding the home? Nigerians, like the spouse and her children, only honour the male head of family they can identify with.

They don’t cherish a distant leader, as it were. Of course, they expect he must fend for them. But the point is that he must be there, or show up for them at a short notice, notably when they are grieving. At that stage, nothing else matters, not even the multi-billion naira state-of-the-art projects you may have given them!

Ambode’s succinct understanding of these dynamics of leadership is what is earning him accolades.
But we should realise that in the long run, greater applause is for the government of which Ambode is a member. For, he without an equally committed group of administrators would have earned little praise. He has an accompaniment of capable accident management and rescue agencies that performed a yeoman’s job last week on Otedola Bridge.

What is the lesson here? Government must build on that success by strengthening such institutions for the security and welfare of the people of the state as they are poised to stand the burgeoning status of Lagos as Africa’s foremost megacity of our era. In other words, it is durable institutions of state that accord honour to government. That was what enabled us all to salute the Lagos government last week.

*Adegoke, a journalist, wrote from Surulere.

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OPINION

Looters beware, nowhere to hide your loot, By Wale Suleiman

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President Muhammadu Buhari must no doubt be pleased with the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. And this is not just because the anti-corruption drive of the federal government is working, as evidenced by the recent jailing of some high-profile thieves, including former state governors. This is the first time such is happening in a democratic dispensation in Nigeria.

But Malami has also carried the anti-corruption message to the international community. The AGF, riding on the internationally recognized integrity of President Buhari, is crisscrossing the world, especially Europe and the United States, asking governments to voluntarily return funds looted from Nigeria. It is a pragmatic approach to recovery of looted funds stashed in the vaults of banks abroad.

The federal government would hire foreign consultants and legal experts to target such hidden funds not yet identified in ongoing investigations. Once targeted, the experts would collaborate with the government of such country to recover the funds for Nigeria.

This is an experiment that has worked and delivered fruitful dividend.  Early this year, the government sealed a deal that led to the repatriation of $321 million looted funds recovered in Switzerland. Last month, President Buhari said the funds would be put into the conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme targeted at the “poorest of Nigerians”.

An additional $500 million looted by the family of the late General Sani Abacha and stashed in the US would soon come back home too. This is because the federal government is already in talks with the United States on the repatriation of the fund.

Switzerland, which is a destination of choice for Nigerian looters, has an existing partnership with Nigeria for the repatriation of looted funds identified in the country.It was based on the strength of this partnership on asset repatriation between both countries that the $321 million was recovered for Nigeria.

 But the repatriation scheme is being expanding to bring in other countries Nigerian public officials use as haven for looted funds. The success of the scheme in Switzerland, which is like the pilot country, would encourage the federal government beam light on looted funds in other countries.

Recently, Malami and some Nigerian officials had a tripartite meeting in the UK between Nigeria, the US and the State of Jersey on asset recovery. There is no doubt that Nigeria is getting positive responses from governments all over the world on this critical issue. The anti-corruption stance of the Buhari administration is being noticed by the world. A good testimony of this was the recent invitation and visit of President Buhari to the United States. He was received by the President of the United States, Donald Trump, who eulogized Buhari’s leadership virtues and indicated his administration readiness to partner with Nigeria on mutually beneficial issues.

I have read comments in the press from some Nigerians asking what the government has done with the monies recovered. This is the right to question to ask, but it is simply unnecessary in this Buhari dispensation. Reason is agreements have already been signed between Nigeria, the countries involved and the World Bank on what the monies returned to Nigeria would be used for. The agreement gives Nigeria the privilege to decide what projects the monies would be used to finance, but the execution would be monitored by the World Bank and some selected civil society organizations to ensure value for money.

For instance, the monies repatriated from Switzerland would be used to fund government projects that would be closely monitored by the World Bank and the Swiss Civil Society Organizations in the country. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Repatriation, signed between Nigeria and Switzerland provides check mechanisms to ensure the monies are not squandered.

These checks and balances are to ensure effective and transparent utilization of the monies repatriated. These include monitoring by the world bank, the participation of the Swiss civil society and agreement of targeted projects. Some of these targeted projects include those related to social investments such as school feeding, entrepreneurial and skill acquisition programmes of the federal government.

Malami and his team are quietly working to ensure looted funds can no longer find a hiding place in our planet. And they are going about it with the diligence and unobtrusiveness of brilliant lawyers. There is no doubt the country is getting the desired result and is even poised to get more.

Corruption in public finance expenditure has gone on for too long in this country. And in recent years it had endured with impunity and brazenness. To attempt to stop the momentum as the Buhari administration is doing is to take on the darkest forces in the country and even beyond.

That is why should not surprise anyone that the administration has been the target of some virulent and hateful criticism ever spewed at any presidency in this country. The haters (I will not call them critics) would not care to see or recognize the positive actions of the Buhari administration but would very readily jump at any perceived mis-step of the government.

Those cannot be critics; they’re haters and propagandists. Criticism is desirable, especially in a democracy. When critics identify and comment good programmes and actions of government, it acts as an elixir-it encourages the government to exert itself in the right direction. When such critics also point at the whimsical, the misguided and bad policies of the government, it is taken seriously as evidence of constructive criticism which moves a country forward.

There is no doubt that some of the best initiatives of this administration to fight corruption include the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the electronic salary payment scheme (IPPIS). There is no doubt that the TSA especially has made release of government money very difficult, but it has ensured to a large extent that government budgets are not squandered. This is why many beneficiaries of squandered and stolen funds are complaining that things have been very difficult under this administration. But I have not heard or read any statement of the opposition commending any of the positive initiatives of this administration. They only see what is wrong, not what is right. And it is a pity!

Suleiman wrote in from Abuja

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