Between Ambode and Fashola by Wale Fatade

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It was the worst kept secret in town. But the gloves came off when Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State accused his predecessor and current minister of works, power, and housing, Babatunde Fashola, of frustrating efforts of his government in developing Lagos State.

A foreigner would have been forgiven if he had assumed that the duo are members of different political parties, while those of us familiar with Lagos politics could also have thought we are back in the era of former president Olusegun Obasanjo versus former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu. But Obasanjo and Tinubu belonged to different political parties then, and in our peculiar brand of politics, such is normal.

Accountants are normally reticent allowing figures to speak for them while lawyers are usually voluble even though not all are advocates, however, in this tiff between Ambode and Fashola, the accountant-turned-governor has said more than the usually voluble lawyer. The governor took the extraordinary step of announcing the alleged sabotage at a press conference while Fashola decided not to get involved at a level by allowing his spokesperson to respond to the accusation. Many commentators, at least the ones I have read, seemingly are supporting the governor and asking the minister to do the needful. But critically examined, I don’t think this is the case.

This battle is not about Lagos State at all, so neither party is right. It is a political battle just as ego and continual relevance are the subplots in the unfolding drama. For me, the only part of Fashola’s response that said a lot than what else was written in his statement was the information that Ambode has not spoken with him since May 2015. It remains the most important in my view and confirms that ego is at play. Pray, why will members of the same political party who owe their rise and prominence to the same godfather, suddenly decide to stop talking to each other?

By now Nigerians should be familiar with the story of how Fashola emerged minister and the allegation that Mr. Tinubu was not in support just as he did not support Kayode Fayemi’s emergence too as minister. The love or shall we say soft spot President Muhammadu Buhari has for Fashola is evident to the extent that he reportedly toyed with the idea of making him his running mate until the problems of running with another Muslim put paid to the idea. And speaking of phone call, those who should know confirmed to me that Fashola too has not had a one-on-one with his estranged godfather since he became minister. So why pillorying his successor for a similar action even though the issues Ambode raised could have been sorted out amicably too without recourse to the public?

My thinking, and I hope I’m wrong, is that there is a silent battle to obliterate Fashola’s efforts by the present Lagos State government. Two Saturdays ago, I was shocked to see part of the Heritage Park at Oshodi already demolished for the structure the government is putting up there presently and you wonder why the new structure could not accommodate the park. Just think also about asking LASTMA not to arrest motorists again but issuing tickets to them and other actions to make this government more humane than Fashola’s. Nothing bad at a level especially when one considers the fact Fashola’s government was an elitist one which concentrated more on the Lekki-Ajah axis of the state than the low-income areas.

Another angle to this battle is the Tinubu’s angle, or as a friend said, the major angle.  The handwriting is clear that he is not happy with Fashola especially when one remembers the battle for the APC’s ticket in the last governorship election in Lagos. The disquiet lingers and if not properly managed, the party might pay dearly for it in subsequent elections. Is Ambode fighting Tinubu’s battle? Or is this a carryover of the way he exited the Lagos State civil service while Fashola was governor? Only the gladiators can tell us but citizens who are on the sidelines will surely feel the pinch.

It speaks poorly of these two that whatever animosity between them has become a matter of public discourse. In a nation state with weak party structure, it might be impossible for APC to resolve this and so Ambode and Fashola owe Lagos residents a duty to cooperate for better service delivery. Aftermath of the heavy flood of 1980 in Ibadan, peeping from our house balcony at Elekuro, we were shocked at the way the late Bola Ige and former President Shehu Shagari conversed intimately even though both belonged to different parties. What followed was federal government support for the then Oyo State in providing succour for the affected residents. Ambode and Fashola should learn from this.

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