Ambode and challenge of a megacity
TINUBU’s years of guerrilla warfare with the military during the period of pro-democracy struggle had schooled him in security matters. As governor of Lagos, Tinubu reorganised and renamed the existing state security outfit, Operation Sweep, set up by the previous military administration. This was done to divest it of its military orientation and disposition in order to make the state investor-friendly while not reducing the security effectiveness. He launched the new outfit on June 7, 1999 under the name – Rapid Response Squad.
The Rapid Response Squad could, however, not contain the sharp increase in violent crime in the state. The Police Force all along had been known to be afflicted with lack of necessary communication gadgets, poor firepower, and low staff morale, among other problems. This put a big road block in the realisation of Tinubu’s vision of a secured state.
Thus, the governor started a campaign for the establishment of state police force to combat crime in his domain. This quest was supported by the State Assembly, which passed a motion calling on the state governor to initiate steps towards the establishment of state police. The Assembly passed a vote of no confidence on the federal police system
However, the governor’s quest was entangled in constitutional bottleneck, and the government was in a quandary as to whether to unilaterally declare a state police force or go through the long tortuous journey of the stringent constitutional demands. In the governor’s preliminary proposal on it, there was indication of readiness to recruit and pay the salaries of 10,000 – 20,000 policemen into the Nigeria Police Force. But these lots would serve the state government.
This did not go down well with federal authorities and, of course, the constitutional provision made it almost impossible to have a state police. While this debate was going on, the security situation in the state got increasingly worse, and a personal attack on Governor Tinubu indicated that it had completely got out of hand.
On the long run, Tinubu managed to keep the state safe and secure through a dexterous grassroots approach, carrying along the various segments of the society. He instituted what was then known as neighbourhood watch, a statewide vigilante group that complemented the efforts of the regular security agencies.
The Babatunde Raji Fashola government that took over from the Tinubu administration continued to face the challenge of security, particularly the challenge of financing the increasing demands of security in the state. He sought for support from the private sector through the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF). Security operatives under Fashola were, however, more exacting, giving the government an image of being draconian.
On taking over the reign of government, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has had to face the dilemma of either adopting the folksy approach of Tinubu or the relentless toughness of Fashola in enforcing the laws of the land. The governor is doing a balancing act. A government cannot alienate itself from its citizens. It has to reckon with the character of its citizenry.
Managing a megacity like Lagos requires single-mindedness, focus and strong political will. Megacity, according to experts, is a concept with its origin from the United Nations Habitat Organisation. It is simply a definition for a city which has a population of 10 million or more. Strictly speaking, there are only two megacities on the continent of Africa, Lagos and Cairo. The population of Lagos has evolved rapidly from about 400, 000 by the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970 to about 21 million as of the current count.
The government of Ambode, expectedly facing its teething problems as a new administration, has a lot on its plate in resolving the dilemma of the dynamics of change, which is the mantra of its party.
Ambode has come to outline the critical areas he would focus on as security, job creation and infrastructure. Enunciating his agenda of making Lagos a model city, during an interview, the governor stated: “My dream is a Lagos that will work for all of us and be a win-win for the government and everyone that lives in the city. I know we all desire a safer and more prosperous state. I am focused on that and together with my cabinet members, we will deliver all our promises to Lagosians.”
Ambode has also pledged to continue with the policy of his predecessor in partnering with the private sector through the security trust fund to ensure security in the state, which he sees as bedrock of economic growth. So far, he has been able to raise about one billion naira since he assumed office. He sees the private sector involvement as a show of confidence in his government.
In his words: “The support coming from both the private and public sector will send a message to the Federal Government that there is need to pay greater attention to security in Lagos.”
Governor Ambode believes more in applying technology to fight crime. He is planning to reactivate CCTV cameras in the state to ensure effective security monitoring. Overall, Ambode seems on top of his outlook to create “a greater Lagos that all of us will be proud of.”
• Akingbade wrote from Lagos.