By Niyi Anibaba
“We shall practice government by incentives and not government by enforcement. We shall implement creative ideas and concepts that reduce cost of running government; ideas that make life simpler and happier for our people…
Join hands with me, to offer new ideas that will pull more resources to cater for the poor and needy amongst us. This will be a compassionate government”
– Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in his inaugural address on May 29 2015.
For a society whose citizens have been identified as being among the poorest in the world despite their nation’s enormous wealth, it is the evidence of ultimate responsive governance when an administration hoists compassion and integrity as its watchword. Not doing so amounts to breaching the sacred covenant between you and the governed. It is a treasonable crime, for which the government should cede space to another!
I believe Governor Akinwunmi Ambode clearly understood the solemn enterprise of governance when he made the pronouncement above to herald his administration as one to be judged according to how it shows compassion to the people. In less than 100 days in office, his walk in consonance with his talk has proved that he can be taken at his word.
Let’s consider some unforgettable developments and how he responded to them. Within a fortnight of Ambode’s assumption of office, the state witnessed a series of fatal petrol tanker explosions at Iyana Ipaja, Idimu and Ikorodu. The governor abandoned scheduled state duties to visit the scenes of these tragedies in order to commiserate with the victims and the bereaved. He promptly followed it up with a meeting of oil industry stakeholders and set up a committee to work out how to end the excesses of fuel tanker drivers.
I readily recall how Ambode mingled with the people in the rain at one of the points of the explosions. Soaked in the downpour, the governor’s message was clear: I am with the common man every step of the way, come rain, come shine. He made a pledge to assist the people cushion the heavy losses they incurred. He has since honoured his word!
How about the case of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway gridlock? The governor undertook the nightmarish trip on that stretch. He punished himself by spending long hours on the highway, experiencing the pains and frustration of motorists and commuters, the better to appreciate the sufferings of those who voted him into power, so he could learn to serve them and formulate strategies to make life easier for them. It’s part of his take on the principle and practice of compassionate governance.
Now if that was a collective perspective, how about instances of the governor’s direct reach to the woman with multiple births whose husband fled home? He couldn’t stand the responsibility of catering for his family with several mouths to feed. Ambode got in touch with the family and provided a generosity that has since seen the hapless man return home. After all, they are part of the “poor and needy amongst us” the governor referred to as he took the oath of office.
Another such personal intervention by the governor was when he left Ikoyi on his way to work. A car with a female at the wheels had overturned and Ambode halted his motorcade and joined in the operation to save life. Does that not remind one of the compassion of the Good Samaritan in the Bible whom the Lord Jesus Christ commended for setting aside his own personal convenience and time to attend to a dying victim of robbery?
Well, this allusion to empathy for the weak and the vulnerable in our midst leads me to the trending issue of the whopping eleven billion naira Governor Ambode is now paying out to our long-suffering senior citizens whose pensions and gratuities had remained unremitted for years, for nearly 20 years in some instances. It is sad that some of their colleagues died while waiting for the money. Others cannot even fully enjoy the money because of health concerns. These elderly men and women served the state to the best of their abilities while they were still active only to be rewarded with apathy in their old age. Nothing proves a government’s genuine compassion for these old people but to give them their dues when they need it most after service to their father land.
It’s been praises and prayers galore for the governor from the thousands of citizens whose relatives and friends are benefiting from his gesture. Of course, there are still more pensioners to be redeemed. And Ambode has assured them that it would soon be their turn to smile and dance. They have cause to believe him because of his track record. He didn’t fail the people when he handled the finances of Lagos State as its Accountant General during a most difficult period.
At the heart of every successful administration is that component of government called compassion for the people. No matter what accolades you accumulate on account of your grandiose political philosophies or ideologies, if you fail to connect to the people on their ordinary needs, you are a failure. Since representative democracy starts with the election of government by the people, it follows that the success of a ruler should be judged by how his actions address the plight of the people who constitute the driving force of government.
Indeed, politicians ought to be assessed by their answers to these questions: Do I possess the milk of human kindness that would enable me put the people first before my personal and friendship considerations? Can I be a Good Samaritan, using my personal resources to relieve their pain? Can I drop my agbada and move into the rain to sympathize with grieving citizens away from the comfort of my home? Can I go the extra mile to show compassion to the people who braved the hostile elements on election day to vote for me?
If the politician says yes to all these, please note that the matter isn’t settled yet until he walks the talk as Governor Ambode has done these few weeks he has been in the saddle.
––Anibaba, an educationist, wrote in from Surulere