From Nurudeen Oyewole, Lagos
Then Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, in an unusual candour few days ago, let out his frustration against his immediate predecessor and current Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, not a few political observers have started connecting the dots to the likely implication of what the outcome would be.
After leading a team of journalists across specific places where there are ongoing projects of his administration, Ambode lamented how his efforts to rehabilitate the roads leading to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and the Presidential Lodge, Marina, were being hampered by the Federal Ministry of Works.
“The road linking Oshodi to the international airport, you would all agree with me, is a national embarrassment. In the spirit of the regeneration and urbanisation this administration has set out to achieve, we believe strongly that the road must be repaired. And we took it upon ourselves to appropriate the 2017 budget and asked the House of Assembly to approve the total reconstruction of the airport road, from Oshodi to the international airport,” Ambode said.
The governor had gone a step further ýto reveal that prior to his emergence, the ministry, now presided over by Fashola, was owing the state the sum of N51 billion as reimbursement for reconstructions carried out by the state government on federal roads.
He further said, “The historic place we refer to as Presidential Lodge is still more or less being tossed about in terms of being handed over to us. We believe strongly that by May 27, 2017, we should be able to invite Mr. President and other people who have actually made Lagos what it is today to that Presidential Lodge for the final banquet and dinner to mark Lagos at 50.
“As we speak, we are yet to gain entrance into that place, and this is frustrating our programme. So I want to use this medium to appeal and say that the approval of Mr. President should be rightly honoured, and the agencies concerned, that is the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, and the security services, should honour that promise by Mr. President. We just believe strongly that we must proceed to gain access into that place so that we can roll out our programmes for Lagos at 50.’’
Less than 24 hours after the mass media went to town with the story, Fashola, returned his own salvo. In a statement issued by his media aide, Hakeem Bello, the former governor was short of calling his successor ungrateful. Indeed, he was emphatic that what the governor said was not true, saying he was only “raising storm in a tea cup.”
“This response is to ensure that members of the public are not misled. The allegations of lack of cooperation from the ministry and frustration of Lagos
State government development initiatives are simply not true,” a part of the statement read.
Fashola recalled that in 2016 he approved the use of the Federal Ministry of Works yard at Oworonsoki for the Lagos State government to create a lay-by to ease traffic. He also approved that Lagos State be granted the right to manage the street light on the 3rd Mainland Bridge to support the security initiatives of the state. He added that within the same year, the minister also supported the approval of the World Bank Loan of $200million to Lagos State, a request the previous administration had denied the state.
“As far as the international airport road, which is currently the ground for the alleged ‘frustration’ is concerned, the correct position is that the Lagos State government presented a request for four roads it would wish to take over.
“The ministry has presented the memorandum conveying the request of the Lagos State government to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) as was done with a similar request by the Kaduna State government in 2016.
“Due to the fact that two of the roads also connect Ogun State, the FEC could not reach an immediate decision on them because it requested the input of the other state government affected,” the statement added.
On the Presidential Lodge, Marina, Fashola said the building was actually under the purview of the Presidency and that whereas the ministry has been directed to work on the modalities for transfer, it still has the survey plan pending.
The minister further queried the motive behind Ambode’s public accusations, saying it should be scrutinised because it came barely a week after the governor spoke with him on phone, “the first of its kind since the assumption of office on May 29, 2015.”
Although pundits say the actions of both gladiators go beyond official disagreement, the Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that all is well.
“There is no crisis anywhere. Whatever you have seen so far was a minor issue that must have been caused by communication gap, which we, as a party, will look into and address.” Joe Igbokwe, the party’s publicity secretary in the state said,
Igbokwe, however, agreed that the road leading to the international airport has actually been a shame to the country. But he was quick to attribute the state of the road to years of abandonment by the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). “It used to be an issue when the PDP was in power, but not anymore. The APC government is the same. There is no rancour anywhere. And I can assure Lagosians that in the next six months or thereabouts, the road leading to the airport will be renovated. We are together,” he said.
But it is not known whether the two gladiators involved in the political brickbat share Igbokwe’s position.
Indeed, the alleged political discord between Fashola and Ambode was a matter of speculations ahead of the 2015 general elections. At the time, while the candidacy of Ambode, a former accountant-general of Lagos State, was being promoted by ýthe party’s national leader and former governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Fashola was said to have vigorously pushed for the candidacy of his former attorney-general and commissioner for justice, Olasupo Sasore, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Ambode eventually defeated Sasore and other contenders in the APC gubernatorial primary election by a wide margin. The bad blood the outcome of the primary generated was carefully managed such that both Ambode and Fashola were always on the campaign trail together. But the newly found love between the duo could not thrive for long after Ambode won the gubernatorial election and was subsequently sworn into office.
As President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office and started searching for personalities that would work with him as ministers and advisers, speculations became rife that the hawks within the Tinubu/Ambode caucus of the party were out to prevent the appointment of Fashola. In what seemed to be acting true to the playbook, at a point, how Fashola as governor of the state had spent N78.3 million to develop a personal website with mobile applications was revealed. The noise was yet to simmer when another damaging report crept to public domain concerning how the former governor expended a whooping sum of N139 million on the construction of two boreholes at the state’s Government House.
The allegations failed to discourage the president, who eventually sent Fashola’s name to the National Assembly for subsequent confirmation as minister.
The appointment of Fashola appeared to have opened a new vista of politics in the South-West geopolitical zone. It is believed that observers are sensing attempts to checkmate Tinubu’s political relevance in the zone. On more than one occasions, Fashola’s name, alongside that of the Minister of Solid Mineral Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi and the Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, was mentioned as the president’s henchmen who were saddled with the responsibility of taking the region out of Tinubu’s political grip.
Those who believe this line of thought are quick to pinpoint how Tinubu’s godson, Segun Abraham, was schemed out of the recent APC gubernatorial primary election in Ondo State. The party’s candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), eventually emerged winner in the general election. His emergence was said to have been made possible by Fashola, Fayemi and Amosun.
At the home front, however, the APC structure is still firmly in Tinubu’s grip, with his loyalists occupying strategic positions in the State Executive Council. That notwithstanding, insiders told Daily Trust on Sunday that alignment of forces opposed to Tinubu’s control are not relenting. It is believed that their efforts would become more manifest as the 2019 general elections draw closer.