Ambode: Nigeria’s Most Powerless Governor

By Comfort Obi

Even though I’m not a great fan of the very many awards given to state governors by some media houses, I usually have fun when invited to the ceremonies. The yearly rituals have been reduced to an all-comers affair. Even then, there are two awards I think the Media should institute.  One is that of the Worst Performing Governors. Awardees will never come to receive such awards, but they will take note and, work hard to get off the bottom of the table.

The second award, I have here set up. And I already have a winner. It is an award for “Nigeria’s  Most Powerless State Governor.”

A couple of years back, this magazine  carried a cover story entitled as such. And, fittingly gracing the cover was the Kwara state Governor, Abdul Fatah Ahmed. At the time, it was alleged that he could not cough without referring to his predecessor in office and political godfather, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. It was Ahmed who came between Saraki Jnr. and his father, the former Kwara state political strong man and former Senate Leader,  Olusola Saraki, now late. The Senior Saraki, after installing his son, Bukola, as governor for eight years, and his daughter, Gbemi, as a Senator, wanted a great send-off from mother earth. And, what better way than for Gbemi to succeed Bukola as the governor.

The state was Senior Saraki’s empire. Whatever he said, so it was. He was Kwara’s equivalent of Lagos state’s Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

So, that year, Saraki Snr. just wanted an exchange of seats between his two beloved children – Bukola and Gbemi. It was simple. “Bukola, take over your sister’s seat in the Senate. Gbemi, take over your brother’s seat as the governor.” For him it was a done-deal. Afterall, he had been installing and de-installing  governors and other political actors without a whimper from any Kwaran. But God works in mysterious ways. He met his waterloo in his son, Saraki jnr. He felt his father had reduced the governorship seat of the state to a huge joke. So, he disagreed with him, and refused to back his sister, Gbemi. For that decision, I admired Saraki Jnr. no end. Frustrated, father and daughter got another platform to realise their ambition. The old man was given a bloody nose. And he never recovered from the shock until he died. But I digressed.

I was talking about an award for the Most Powerless Governor in Nigeria. And, dear readers, I am happy to announce a fitting winner. It is no other governor  than Lagos state’s  Akinwunmi Ambode.

I had  initially penciled down three of them for this award – Governors Ambode,   Abdulazeez Yari of Zamfara state and, Kashim Shettima of Borno state.

Yari is the Chairman of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum – an office he obviously  takes more seriously, according to many observers, than his governorship job. He is either in Abuja, or out of the country. And visits Gusau.  He publicly resigned his position as the Chief Security Officer of the state. And this other day, he asked President Muhammed Buhari to declare a state of emergency in his state. He is overwhelmed by governance and banditry. He is powerless.  But, so very Nigerian, he has no courage to quit.

So, enters, Borno state’s Shettima. This guy has been governing his Boko Haram ravaged state for nearly  eight years. According to Shettima, before the advent of President Buhari, Boko Haram was in control of between 17 to 18 LGAs, he insists, and had their flags hoisted. Last week, Adams Oshiomhole, the APC National Chairman, upped the ante. He said Boko Haram was controlling 20 LGAs. What nobody has explained is this: The APC won in all the LGAs in Borno. If Boko Haram was controlling between 17 and 20 LGAs, it means there could not have been voting in those LGAs, unless INEC also hired members of the sect as their electoral officers. But these are questions only INEC can answer.

To have held on for almost eight years, Shettima must be  lion-hearted.  But this other day, the lion in him escaped. Before President Buhari, and Borno state stakeholders, Shettima broke down in tears. His vulnerability was clear. And so was his powerlessness.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state

Yet, of the three  of them who I considered for this novel award, Nigeria’s Most Powerless Governor – Ambode carried the cake. He beat Yari and Shettima to the crown.

For the governor of Nigeria’s richest state, it is a tragedy.   Lagos state governors are in a class of their own. A Lagos governor is a governor of governors. His state can survive without the hand-outs from Abuja. Ask Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo withheld the state’s  funds because Tinubu dared create LCDAs, Tinubu was unmoved. He had enough funds, and some more to spare.

But Ambode has demystified  that. In Nigeria today, he is the weakest governor, the most vulnerable. He cannot take decisions without taking permission. Worse, a perpetual impeachment sword is dangling over his head in case he dared do any of those without permission.

He is, without doubt, the most powerless Governor in Nigeria. Governor Ambode’s journey to winning this crown began when he picked a form for a second term in office without clearance from Tinubu.

He was asked to drop his second term ambition. That he has lost the confidence of the big boss and other stakeholders. He was threatened with impeachment if he refused to. Ambode ran helter-skelter. He ran from pillar to post. From Abuja, Lagos to several influential Nigerians, he asked for help to keep his job.

He  was installed  governor by Tinubu. Since he left office after a two-term tenure, Tinubu  has been installing every political office holder in Lagos. He holds the yam, and he holds the knife. He cuts for who he wants. When Ambode lost him, he lost everything.  President Buhari could not save him. Not even Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who is the highest political office holder in the South West could save him. That’s how powerful the Asiwaju, Jagaban Tinubu is.

So, guided by Tinubu, the Lagos APC opted for direct primaries. The word went out. Nobody could disappoint the leader. And Ambode lost so badly. Almost four years as a governor, Ambode had no political structure.  No good politician does that. He probably thought his accomplishments would automatically earn him a second term. But that’s naive.  He neither arranged, nor played his political card well. You ignore your political godfathers at your peril. So he was abandoned,  even by his Deputy, Dr. Idiat Adebule. They preferred his aide, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to him.

Since that humiliation at the primary, Ambode has been humiliated some more. He has not only become a lame-duck,  he is absolutely powerless. He has no executive powers. That has been withdrawn. All attention is focused on Sanwo-Olu. He is now the person  people invite  to social events instead of the governor. And, most of the places the governor goes to, even to receive dignitaries, he goes with Sanwo-Olu, the star.

I cannot confirm, but the story out there is that was the condition given to Ambode. Go with Sanwo-Olu, everywhere, or get impeached. So, he has been behaving himself. And enduring the humiliation.

Rumours of a pending impeachment against Ambode have been rife for months. And even though Speaker Mudashiru Obasa denied it, at a plenary in November 2018, Obasa had the courage to publicly say Ambode would determine his status – to be impeached or not. Only in Lagos can that happen. In other states, Speakers of Houses of Assembly grovel before the governor. And attend to their every beck and call. Obasa is clearly the most powerful speaker in Nigeria. Unlike his colleague-speakers, he can shun the governor. And nothing happens.

But at no time has Ambode’s humiliation been so total than since December 2018. He has not been able to present Lagos state’s budget to the House of Assembly. His efforts to present it have been rebuffed. When the delay was becoming very uncomfortable, like a lamb, he sent the Budget to the State House of Assembly on December 28, 2018, with a covering letter, promising to be available for any clarifications members would require. But, they insisted he must appear before them to present the Budget properly.

Since then, it has been a ding-dong affair. On January 8 when the House said it would reconvene to discuss the matter, there was no quorum. It adjourned to January 10, 2019.

Speculations have been rife as to why Ambode has not been able to present the budget. Some say he was compelled to send the budget to Sanwo-Olu for perusal, and final approval. You know, it has been taken for granted that Sanwo-Olu would be the next governor of Lagos state. Others allege it is because they don’t want him to implement the budget; that they want to deny him access to funds because they suspect he may pay them back in their own coin by supporting the PDP Governorship candidate, Jimi Agbaje. His assurances, to the contrary, have not done the magic. They treat him with suspicion. Yet, others allege they don’t want him to complete a number of projects he started just so he would be permanently written-off by Lagosians as a no good.

The delay in presenting the budget came to a head on Monday, January 21, 2019. The governor’s office had issued a press release to the effect that the governor would finally present it to the House of Assembly. That day, reporters attached to the governor’s office  trooped to the House of Assembly. So did the governor’s advance party. But no deal.

The reporters were locked out. They were asked to leave; that there was not going to be any budget presentation; that Speaker Obasa was in a meeting with members. And, so, Lagos state’s budget has still not been presented. See, this governor cannot even do anything. To present the budget, he needs to lobby the powers–that–be. Not a few Lagosians are watching. They are dumb-founded.  And wondering how the state will run without a budget; asking when it will be presented, and how long it will take for it to be approved and signed.

An aide to the governor described the situation as “sad.” That is an understatement.

While politicians are playing their political game, it is the populace that suffer. It is Lagosians that are being used as pawns in this dangerous game. If roads are not completed, it is Lagosians that will suffer. If there are no facilities and infrastructure, it is Lagosians that will suffer. Not these big men.

It is a shame that Ambode, once the envy of his colleagues, will leave office with many negative firsts. First Lagos state governor to be denied a second term in office. The most humiliated governor. The governor who couldn’t present the budget as at, and when due. Now, he also would go with the crown of the Most Powerless Governor in Nigeria. It is such a big shame. Step out, Your Excellency, for your crown.


Obi is the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of The Source (Magazine), https://thesourceng.com. Email: comfortobisource@gmail.com, comfort@thesourceng.com.

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