Thursday, June 14, 2018 2:21 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is 55 today. He is the governor of Lagos State which is a melting pot, better put, a pressure cooker of many nationalitis (Lagos is a mini Nigeria). In fact, there was something in his childhood which people must understand, a trait that makes him to successfully handle the state.
After his primary school education at St. Judes Primary School, Ebute Metta between 1969 and 1974, he went from there at the age of 11 to the Federal Government College, FGC, Warri. In his own words: “I left my parents at that tender age to go to the then Bendel State and I had a very good opportunity of meeting with other students from every part of Nigeria. You know the way the Unity Schools are set up, with students coming in from every state of the country. We had at least 10 people from each state across the nation. I had the opportunity of meeting Igbos, Hausas, Efik, Edos, Yorubas and the rest at that tender age of 11 and I spent seven years in that school. I did my O’ Levels and A’ Levels in Federal Government College, FGC Warri and came back to Lagos in 1981 to gain admission into the University of Lagos.”
Read other things that make Ambode “tick” in the following old interview
Ambode spoke with Ademola Adegbamigbe, David Odey, Lanre Babalola, Funsho Balogun and Kazeem Ugbodaga on his life and plans for Lagos State. Photos: Idowu Ogunleye
You attended the Federal Government College, Warri. How did that impact on your life directly?
I actually started my primary education at St. Judes Primary School, Ebute Metta between 1969 and 1974, and I went from there at the age of 11 to the Federal Government College, FGC, Warri. I left my parents at that tender age to go to the then Bendel State and I had a very good opportunity of meeting with other students from every part of Nigeria. You know the way the Unity Schools are set up, with students coming in from every state of the country. We had at least 10 people from each state across the nation. I had the opportunity of meeting Igbos, Hausas, Efik, Edos, Yorubas and the rest at that tender age of 11 and I spent seven years in that school. I did my O’ Levels and A’ Levels in Federal Government College, FGC Warri and came back to Lagos in 1981 to gain admission into the University of Lagos. But whatever it is that I am today, had been shaped in those formative years. You actually form the totality of your being in your teen years. I grew up knowing that I was a true Nigerian, and that there was no difference between me and a Hausa man for instance. We lived together. Concerning my nationalist outlook, I will say it was borne out of the fact that I spent several years at the Federal Government College, Warri. That has influenced me till today because I see myself as a Nigerian first by birth and a Yoruba man by tribe.
Can you tell us about your parents?
I was born into the family of the late Festus Akinwale Ambode who was a teacher and to Mrs Christiana Ambode, Nee Oresanya. I was born in Epe and my parents were also from Epe. My father died at the age of 57 in Ebute Metta in Lagos State and was buried at Atan Cemetery in 1981. My mother is still alive and she is 81 years old. She comes from the stock of the Ijebu Epes. I am the sixth of 10 children. I have five brothers and four sisters.
Can you tell us the influence your teacher, Philip Davies had on you while you were at the Government College, Warri?
I was fortunate to have met Pa Philip Davies who was then the Principal of the school. He was a retired military officer in the British army before coming to Nigeria as a teacher and principal. He began his career at Kings College, Lagos before being transferred to FGC Warri. So, the whole lot of us at FGC Warri between the years of 1970 and 1981 had the singular honour of meeting a disciplinarian; you know what it means for a man to be a military officer and at the same time an educationist. He had a particular influence on school children. My character and that of majority of the people who went to the school at that time was shaped by Pa. Davies of blessed memory. I can attest to the fact that the majority of the students who passed through Philip Davies became well rounded personalities.
It is being rumoured that you are not an indigene of Lagos State, how do you react to this?
I am a full blooded Lagosian, born in Epe some 51 years ago. As I told you earlier, I started my primary education at St. Judes Primary School Ebute-Metta, before I left for Federal Government College, Warri, then returned to the University of Lagos, Unilag for my first and second degrees.
I started my career with the Waste Management Board before I got transferred to the Local Government where I spent thirteen years. I was later transferred to the mainstream where I worked for another fourteen years, making a total of twenty-seven years of meritorious service.
My father was a teacher at Ebute-Meta where prominent people like Chief Lanre Razaq and many other notable individuals passed through his tutelage.
Don’t forget that the Lagos State House of Assembly cleared me as an indigene when I was nominated as Auditor General of the State.
So this rumour is not only false, it is also a political gimmick.
Beyond that, the constitution of Nigeria is clear on how to stand for election in the country. One must be a citizen, be above 18, not indicted and must belong to a political party. In all, I am well qualified.
In 1981, you had the second best WAEC result in West Africa, how were you able to achieve this?
In 1981, we did Higher School Certificate, HSC, examination and like every other student I sat for three papers. I did History, Economics and Geography. And I happened to have been the person with the second best result of ‘A’ in Economics, ‘B’ in History and ‘B’ in Geography, which is ABB. The best result then was AAB, scored by one of the students from the same FGC, Warri, Fidelis Odita, now a Professor. We both went ahead to the Universiy of Lagos. And he was actually made a Queen’s Counsel before the age of 40. I think God just gave me natural talents. I may not be the best of students that you would like to have as a teacher, but somehow, I strive to do my best, and that happened to be one of those things I achieved.
How were you able to cope when you lost your dad at a tender age?
If there is any singular event that actually shaped my life more than anything else, I think it was the death of my father. It was a turning point in my life. It was supposed to have deprived me of my future, but it brought out that leadership instinct in me and that personality we are all sharing today. I lost my father two weeks after I finished my examination, and it was quite a hard time becaue my mother was a housewife and I had other siblings. The ones who were my senior were in school and I just finished HSC. So, I had to choose between searching for work or struggling to go to school. God helped me, and I made the right choice. I decided that I was not going to live the life of my father and that I was going to challenge myself and be as hardworking as possible to be successful in life. That was how I decided that I would do everything possible to succeed as an accountant. At the age of 11, I had an encounter with one of my father’s friends and he challenged me and said ‘you, can you ever be an accountant?’ He was an accountant in one company. That hit me real hard. That was when I decided that when in secondary school, I would take the subject, Principles of Accounts. And I did that in form 3. That was why I also went ahead and got the points I scored in my HSC. I remained focused and told myself that I wanted to succeed in life and to be an outstanding accountant and I went ahead at the age 21 to be a graduate of accounting, had a masters in accounting at the age of 23, and became chartered at the age of 24. But all that journey was a culmination of that event that happened at the age of 11 when my father died.
When you are in a very hard or bad situation and you remain focused and hardworking, you will achieve the unusual. I became a leader to my other siblings, and also played the role of a leader in the house to my mother because my other siblings were outside Lagos and I happened to be in Lagos. In short, I became a father figure as a young man at the age of 19. So, the whole idea of the drive to excel was inculcated in me at a very early age and I had a combination of good friends around me that were also supportive.
With your qualification, you could have chosen a career in the private sector, but you opted for the public sector. What informed this?
I actually did not choose a career in the public sector. At the period in 1984 or 85, what was in vogue was to work in a finance house or a bank. And even before I left the university, my dream was to be a banker. I was fortunate enough that when I went for the National Youth Service, I served at the Central Bank Of Nigeria, CBN, in Sokoto. But when I came back, I stayed at home for three months and couldn’t get a job. The dream of working in a bank became elusive, but I tried not to lose my mind. The job that came to me was the job at the Lagos State Waste Disposal Board as an accountant in 1985. I can say that beyond my wishes, I found myself going into the civil service. With all my qualifications and attempts, the finance houses and the banks kept refusing to take me. I made several attempts, but fate or destiny said I was designed for the civil service and led me there. If you look at the kind of qualifications I have and the background I was coming from, I should naturally have gone to work in a bank, but I found myself at the Waste Disposal Board. And when I needed a bigger job, it happened to be at the Local Government, and not the private sector. At the end of the day, I worked for 27 years in the public service. I am excited that I was able to give to humanity what the God-endowed gift allowed me and I am also happy for who I am today.
How was your career in the civil service?
I had a rewarding career in the civil service. I joined Lagos State Civil Service at the age of 22. It was within the civil service that I became a chartered accountant and had my masters degree in accounting. It was also while working in the civil service that I got a Fulbright scholarship at Boston University; it was within the civil service that I became the youngest person to have ever attained the position of Auditor General at the age of 37. I must have put a whole lot in for Lagos State for me to have been able to achieve such positions at a young age without necessarily having to know anybody. For me, the work comes first. I love contributing to progress in this equally progressive government and touching the lives of people I came in contact with. I worked in six different Local Governments for 13 years, starting my local government career after leaving the Waste Management Board in 1988 as Assistant Treasurer in Badagry Local Government. I worked in this council between 1988 and 1991. I have worked in Somolu Local Government before as their council auditor and treasurer. I have worked in Mushin Local Government as their council treasurer. In Ajeromi Local Government, I was their council treasurer. In all those years, I was always in a position to improve on government’s delivery of service. This made it possible for me as a young man to have reached the peak of my career as a local government staff at the age of 29 when I became the council treasurer of Alimosho LG. All these places I have gone, I worked with lots of people who were older than me in various positions. Being able to manage and sustain sensitive positions at a young age from location to location without blemish speaks a lot about my competence and character. That is the experience I now want to bring into this next position that I am aiming for.
At what point did you decide that the next move is to become the governor of Lagos State?
Like I said earlier, I became aware of my leadership quality at that tender age when I lost my father. It was not easy for somebody coming from such a stressed situation. when I say stressed situation, I mean having family challenges about going to school, having a career, and setting up a family. Yet, one was able to combine such together in a way and manner that years after, you are able to reflect and say that this is how far you have come. I have always seen myself as somebody that has leadership attributes and I have used it maximally. I am a beneficiary of the Fulbright Scholarship which is a Hubert Houston Fellowship programme and I had this in 1998. The essence of that scholarship which is given by the US Government is for public leadership. This is a competition that takes about 112 participants from about 120 countries for a leadership training programme for 12 to 13 months with the government of the United States. Having the capacity to go through that programme means my leadership quality has always been there through the years, and it is not necessarily being brought to the fore because of the gubernatorial aspiration I have today. When you check my profile also, you will notice that I took calculated steps in the course of my career as I tried to display competence in managerial positions and while playing leadership roles. So, what you see today is the aggregation of all those activities deliberately planned to situate myself for leadership roles in my life. Today, I happen to be the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC in Lagos, and it is not by accident; it is something I have always nurtured in my life as an avenue for giving back to humanity. The Fulbright Scholarship also inculcated in us that one person can make the difference. That same fellowship gave me the drive to come back to Nigeria and decide not to work in the local government system again but to challenge them at the state level.
I voluntarily left the local government service as the treasurer of Ajeromi Ifelodun LG. Ajeromi Ifelodun happened to be the biggest LG then in terms of revenue, but when I came back from the U.S., with all my training in public leadership, I said to myself that this place was too small for me to display my public leadership quality and voluntarily wrote that I wanted to join the mainstream. It was not as if I was deployed. Fortunately for me, the first role I had was to be the Auditor General for Local Government because I was able to challenge myself that I needed a larger space to operate my leadership role and I was able to take the risk and became the Auditor General at the age of 37. That means I left something that was certain for uncertainty. But because of that attribute that flowed around me, I was able to showcase the qualities which earned me that position. The task was for me to go round all the local governments and be in charge of all the auditing of their financial statements, and we made lots of progress. I was able to clear all the backlog they had in 2001 within 18 months. Through the accomplishment of such tasks, I proved the leadership and managerial qualities in me. I am a good driver, I drive people in a team to achieve results. Without trying to be boastful, my achievements then helped me to become Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance at the age of 42. And in January, 2006 I was made the Accountant General at the age of 43, Which I accepted with all my heart. I defended Lagos State Government on all issues, as was necessary in terms of the state building up revenue generation and needing a defence at the federal level. It was in a situation when we needed to stand up for the people of Lagos State, and I stood up and was counted. I was the Accountant General of Lagos State for three years. I am very proud of my contribution to Lagos State. Lagos State will be 48 years this year and I worked here for 27 years. I came in when I was quite young and left at 49 years. I am very proud of my contributions to Lagos State.