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Lagos Matters

Ambode’s performance will be a landmark in Lagos’ history –Steve Ayorinde



How would you describe your experience in the public sector?

I would say that it has been smooth because my first posting was at the Ministry of Information and Strategy which is my turf due to my background as a journalist. Also, before the cabinet was formed, I had spent about six months with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode as the governor-elect. I handled communication and publicity for him. That was an advantage because I ran his publicity and media relations while he was an aspirant, a candidate and also as the governor-elect before he was later made the governor. Not only did I have the opportunity to speak for him and ‘curate’ his public profile, I was also part of the think-tank that worked on a few areas that we thought would be impactful to the state, especially as it concerned tourism, arts, entertainment, and sport. If you recall, part of what he campaigned with was project THEAS, which stands for tourism, hospitality, arts and sport. So my transition was smooth.

How did you meet Ambode?

He was like a big brother that I knew from afar simply because he was a big brother to a few close friends that I had. When I was the Editor of The Punch, he was the accountant general and the few friends that I knew, who were close to him always spoke about him glowingly. They always said that he was a brilliant accountant that had an abiding interest in the arts and it was a thing of interest to me. I knew of him as the accountant general and someone who was central to assisting Asiwaju Bola Tinubu when the funds of Lagos State were seized by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The state had to be creative in generating revenue in order for it to survive. He did so well that when he was accountant general, the money generated within the state rose from N600m monthly to about N6bn and ever since then, it has been on the rise.

He was a father figure to some artistes and from his own money, he would help them. There was a popular female musician at the time that was notorious for her kind of lyrics in a creative way. She did an album titled, ‘Olori Ebi’, which means the head of the family in Yoruba. Later, I got to know that the Olori Ebi that she was referring to was Governor Ambode. He was the one that helped St Janet. He bought her the instruments she required and set her up. There are other artistes who owe their rise and success stories to him, for instance, MI and Ice Prince. I had the privilege of attending some of their album launches and it was made possible courtesy of the governor’s intervention. I like the fact that he was always in the background but he genuinely loves entertainment, arts, creativity, and sports. We share the same interest in a particular team. It was easy to discuss arts and sports with him.

Many artsy monuments were created for Lagos@50 but people feel that such may not be sustained since a new government is about to take over. How would you react to that?

First, government is a continuum and we are thankful that it is not a different party coming to power in Lagos State. The governor-elect has been a part of the government in different capacities so he understands the developmental goal of the state and it is not likely that he would deviate from those things that make Lagos the number one state. It would be a continuation of what Governor Ambode did, just like he (Ambode) continued from where Babatunde Fashola (former governor of the state) stopped. It was Fashola that began the Lagos Countdown and Ambode expanded it. Fashola built Freedom Park but we use it and still maintain the place. I think that the next administration would not just continue what we have done but expand the vision. Even the governor-elect said that they would not only key into all what we have done but expand it. He made this statement when the President came (to Lagos).

Why were you moved from the Ministry of Information and Strategy to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture?

In my estimation, I think the Ministry of Information and Strategy had been stabilised to an extent that if you like, you can say that we were on autopilot. You will recall that at the time, tourism had become so big that everybody was talking about Lagos as far as tourism was concerned. At the time, there was no replacement for the commissioner that had left, in my opinion; maybe the governor felt that he wanted the same level of seriousness and competitiveness that we had brought to the information and strategy ministry to be given to tourism, arts and culture and I would say that we achieved that because that was when we said we should have a calendar of events of what the state would do every month for different things for the first time anywhere in Africa. Now everyone is copying us. I think the governor wanted a trusted and capable hand that was part of the ideas that are now germinating as far as project THEAS is concerned.

But some people feel that your predecessor, Folarin Coker, had ego clashes with the governor and that was why he was removed. Is that true?

No; not really. He was not the only one that left; about four people also left. I did not come to the tourism ministry till after a year. If the idea was to replace him I would have been brought here immediately, but there was no need for that. I do not think that the governor was looking for a replacement until he felt that the level tourism ministry was reaching at the time needed a firm hand to handle his vision. OLF (One Lagos Fiesta) was Folarin Coker’s idea and the governor bought into it. They are very close. It could happen that there were issues but I do not think that those issues had anything to do with who replaces who. In any case, those issues are now behind them and they are good buddies.

The governor’s tenure is almost over and you would have to vacate your office. How do you feel about that?

Nobody signs to do two terms with any governor. Even if the governor had got the ticket for a second term in office, I don’t think anyone would have been guaranteed to serve with him for the second term. A few people might but you do not sign up to do two terms. Some people prefer to work from outside, some prefer to do one term and choose to step down. I do not access the fact that the governor did not get a second term in a literal manner; however, as human beings, it is disappointing considering the enormity of the job that the governor had done. From the assessment of everyone, you would see that his competence was never in doubt. If there were areas that were pointed out that he needed to work on, I think lessons have been learnt and even the governor recently said that he is a lot wiser. There is always a lot involved in matters like this and what should be of consolation is the fact that his competence is not in doubt and he is being celebrated for having immensely contributed to Lagos in the past four years. What this means is that four years is enough to contribute to the state. With what Ambode has done, I think that his four years would be a landmark for generations to come as far as Lagos State administration is concerned. Maybe ‘bad’ things happen to good people for a reason so that you can be channelled to a route that you did not think might come early.

How did you feel when the French President, Emmanuel Macron, visited Lagos?

It was a birthday gift for me personally. I think President Macron came to Lagos on July 5, and my birthday is on the 9th. I could not have got a better birthday gift. Also, I knew him when he was in Nigeria, he was in Abuja but he often visited Lagos. I was closer to his friend, David Evette, and some other people. I was a young line editor at the time with Comet Newspaper when he was around. When he became the finance minister of France, I used to tell people I know him. Then he became president and all of a sudden he said he wanted to come to Nigeria but he would prefer to stay in Lagos.

We began to plan with the French Embassy to lodge the president at Eko Hotels and Suites but they told us that the president would not want that, instead he would prefer to be at the Shrine. I was the happiest person on earth. The biggest validation of ‘destination Lagos’ that we had done in Lagos for the past years, of Lagos being sold to the world, was Macron’s visit. He crystalised it. I know of the gains that we have had since his visit to the state. I know that Christiane Amanpour’s son came to Lagos for a private visit after Macron had come. What the young chap said was that his mother told him that he must visit the Shrine because that was the place that the French president visited. The Namibian president came to Lagos and the governor hosted him but the Namibian president asked Ambode why he was hosting him on the Lagos Island instead of the Shrine. He said was it because he was not Macron and that if the French president could visit the Shrine, why wouldn’t he. It was a defining moment for Lagos and Nigeria. Yes, France won the FIFA World Cup but we won the ‘pre-world cup’ with Macron’s visit. The Shrine has become to the world one of the most iconic event centres on account of what happened with Macron.

One striking thing happened: Governor Ambode’s personal car has become iconic. Normally they fly the cars of visiting presidents to the country they want to visit. Even though Macron had his fleet of cars waiting, he chose to ride in Ambode’s car, the Audi. The car took him around. Less than one year after, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Lagos. Of course, he had his presidential fleet which took him to different places. He later came to the Lagos House where he had lunch; it should be noted that no President has been to the Lagos House in the past 20 years so his visit was historic. Somehow, curiously, he could not ride back in his car so he had to change to the same car that Macron used. It is a case of two presidents and one car in one year. That is something awesome. For us, Macron’s visit would always remain a watershed visit. It is not likely that we would have something bigger than that. It is a form of endorsement and therefore we should be grateful. For me to have had the privilege to co-organise the visit was very fulfilling. I think that if you begin to count the successes and accomplishments of the contribution of what I have been able to make to this administration, the Macron visit is one of them.

Source: Punch

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