By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, one of the hottest slogans in our country today is “not too young to rule.” I agree absolutely. When I was approached recently by one of the exponents of this campaign, Mr Dayo Israel to be precise, I wasted no time in lending my voice, and my column to propagate what for me is the only way forward for the development of our dear nation. The reason for my excitement and willingness to contribute in my own little way towards proclaiming the message of the youths was simple. I was born in 1960, the year of our Independence. I grew up in an era when the destiny of Nigeria was controlled largely by people in their twenties and thirties. Those forty years and over, tended to take a back seat, in an avuncular or patriarchal mode and allowed the young Turks to have the field. This was because they believed that their time had passed and, that the younger generation that was to live the future, needed to be in control of that future. It was such a golden era that held out great promises to the future we all dreamt of and have been dreaming about ever since. But partly for the evil invasion of military coups, and the disastrous civil war that left our Eastern parts ravaged and devastated, I’m reasonably certain that Nigeria would have gone very far in the comity of nations by now. The same mindset that had led to those young “elders” to vacate the scene for vigorous, vibrant and vivacious young leaders would have continued to hold sway for the mutual benefit of our citizens and the country at large.
However, what has happened is that some of the young people who held sway at that time, are still very much around, ruling directly or by proxy. Their position is strengthened by the decimation of our erudite and visionary political elite by military miscreants who were only interested in feathering their nests and self-preservation. Therefore, we have a few inept and ineffectual leaders in power, who still want to govern Nigeria, when they are nearer 80 than 70. In a country of extremely gifted and undoubtedly brilliant young men and women, this should give us cause for grave concern. I’ve listened to arguments from rabid gerontocrats who tell us that the young of today have not justified their agitation for power to be handed over to them. They point fingers at some young Governors and Ministers who bungled their privileged assignments and looted the treasury dry. I agree that there are some notorious youthful leaders who have misbehaved badly! But there must be an opportunity for evolution and atonement and it is not all doom and gloom. This is particularly more so, because it is the mediocrity, buffoonery and lack of merit of these geriatric leaders that has brought those they now accuse to the fore.
We should therefore consider the pedigree of those youthful delinquents before we burden our youths with their shame. They emerged in the first instance due to our lackadaisical attitude to politics. I believe that the lackadaisical attitude was fostered by the debilitating years of military misrule and the penchant of the soldiers for undertaken failed democratic exercises just to assuage our hunger for civilian rule. Thereafter, once upon a time, and even at this moment, many of us came to believe that politics is the exclusive preserve of nonentities and never-do-wells. Since we cannot eat our cake and still have it, we should understand that the dregs of society we throw up would ultimately be the leaders we deserve, but the rulers we deride. I believe Nigeria deserves much better and we have many youthful and upwardly mobile people around today. This was the basis of my excitement when I first encountered Mr Akinwunmi Ambode over four years ago at a location on Glover Road Ikoyi.
Mr Ambode had shared his vision with me on that occasion in the presence of Mr Idowu Ajanaku, and the first thing that struck me about him was his humility and simple mien. He demonstrated beyond doubt that he knew his onions. He discussed ideas and a vision for a Lagos State that would be the pride of the nation in the development of infrastructure, social amenities and above all communal responsibility. He was of the view that if Government delivered on its pledges to the people by providing them with social amenities and welfarist programmes, the people would eventually rise up to the challenge, and perform their civic duties by paying taxes and treating amenities and infrastructure of the State as if it was their own to be cared for and nurtured. This was probably the accountant and financial adviser in him talking from an impressive background of practical experience. Ambode’s intimidating resume was, therefore, another attraction for me. I love cosmopolitan leaders who have had the dual opportunity to school at home and abroad; well-travelled and very exposed to new ways and means of doing things. While such people need political platforms to realise their dreams and vision, politics, for them, can never be the only priority. They just want to get the job done and move on to the next project. In about three years of attaining power, even his most vociferous and acerbic critics admit, privately and, oftentimes, publicly, that Mr Ambode has shown enough verve, vigour and promise of a greater tomorrow for our country. He has made his generation proud. Since no human being is perfect, the Governor of Lagos has made his own mistakes and I’m elated that he has found the uncommon courage to retrace his steps. That is the hallmark of a true leader – the one who errs and swiftly admits the error and makes amends. There is no use stubbornly and irascibly clinging to a mistake that can easily be cured simply because you do not want people to believe that you are fallible, when fallibility is merely a human trait.
All manner of ideas and suggestions are available to a leader. More often than not, not all government advisers share the vision of their principal. As a matter of fact, different people go into politics with different motives and mind-sets. A good leader would have to sift the wheat from the chaff, and swim or perish. Governor Ambode like a supersonic jet has entered his fair share of turbulence. The most raging, and mother of all, controversies, in Lagos right now, is the appointment of a company called Visionscape to take over a substantial chunk of waste management in Lagos State. Both Ambode and the waste managers have almost been wasted by those vehemently opposed to Visionscape and, possibly, Ambode himself. If anybody thought it was a joke that would soon blow over, they were wrong in underrating the determination, and total opposition, of those who felt short-changed by the new deal.
On a personal note, I experienced their fury after I posted an innocuous endorsement of Governor Ambode for a second term on my Instagram page. In this season of intolerance and cheap blackmail, the voltrons, as we call them, descended upon my page to throw darts , barbs and even missiles at Ambode and his supposed friend, Mr Adeniyi Makanjuola. I read that the whole of Lagos State has been taken over by garbage and filth. Some of the comments forced me to search other sites and I looked for any available information about this company they called unprintable names. What I unearthed was quite depressing. In fact, it scared me about what the future holds for our dear beloved country. It seems we have lost our ability to dialogue and understand each other forever. The unsubstantiated and unjustified ferocious attack on Adeniyi and his company made me to shudder with trepidation. I will tell you why.
I had read that Visionscape was a cheap company that lacks the capacity to handle the magnitude of the filth that a megacity like Lagos would generally generate. I doubt if anyone cared to probe further because my findings reveal otherwise. Unfortunately, social media thrives largely on self-help publications, imaginary and sometimes illusionary artificial and virtual reality. You need no education, exposure, job experience, known address or any advanced publishing technology to disseminate your drivel, jibes and even falsehoods. Your smartphone and sufficient data would achieve what all newspapers would never be able to distribute these days. And the more salacious the stories, the quicker they go viral.
Our youths who want to lead Nigeria should find pride, without prejudice, in Adeniyi Makanjuola of Visionscape. I have no doubt that whatever the challenges he may be facing today, he has a very bright future ahead. He comes from a background of serial investments, ranging from aviation to oil & gas, energy, finance and environmental utilities. Before returning to Nigeria at the age of 23, Adeniyi had completed his degree in Financial Economics from the University of Essex and obtained an M.Sc. in Urban Planning and Development from the University College London. On his return, he dabbled into aviation after discovering a lacuna in the onshore helicopter services business. What started like a hobby soon blossomed into a major player in the market place. Caverton Helicopters boasts of probably the single largest fleet of ultramodern helicopters in sub-Saharan Africa. Adeniyi has his fingers in many pies. His dream is to surpass the Dangotes, Adenugas and Elumelus of Africa. His foray into business has been passionate, rapid, remarkable and audacious.
Adeniyi and Harry Ackerman have worked closely in mining, oil & gas exploration in West Africa and the Middle East. The duo became partners as far back as 2009 after the latter suffered an excruciating injury in his fledgling rugby career. State-led strategies and privatisation of public utilities inspired Adeniyi to venture into familiar territories in Africa. Lagos being one of the 26 mega cities in the world is a natural place to be. The duo teamed up with local Emirati, Ali Ahli and led Visionscape Group, an environmental utility company, into the market to tackle the herculean task of cleaning up what was previously described as one of the dirtiest cities in the world. These ambitious entrepreneurs are poised to employ over 30,000 employees now, and much more later. It is not a joke. The anticipated turnover runs into billions, and naturally, there must be a lot of keen and vested interest as well as corporate disenchantment and envy. Indeed, it has been a battle of wits since they came into the high-wired deal that they agreed with the Lagos State Government.
Clearly those that have championed the campaign of calumny against Visionscape and Ambode know what they are doing and what they seek to achieve. They have been able to find support in people of like minds who can see no good in whatever others do to develop their environment and space. However, what they fail to realise is that for those for whom progress is the watchword, the sky can only be the limit. The venom of detractors only serves as an impetus to propel them to greater heights. I am not an apologist for Ambode and Visionscape but it seems to me that where great vision and courage has been shown, our duty is to give those involved a chance rather than condemn them form the outset.
Ambode and Visionscape should be content in the knowledge that those that have had eureka moments have never really been recognised and honoured in their own time. As the saying goes, time will tell!