One of the darkest secrets of outgoing Governor Akinwumni Ambode may have been given away by Lagos civil servants disappointed that they are not getting the new minimum wage of N30,000 in the month of May.
Leaks of official spendings given by aggrieved insiders sensationally revealed a pattern of events (like “project commissioning”) and other schemes orchestrated and hyped by the governor and his inner cycle to strip the state treasury bare, leaving virtually nothing for the incoming administration.
The workers’ anger stemmed from the fact that Lagos State Government is proposing to pay between N25,000 and N27,000 minimum wage, citing “possible adverse effect” on the state treasury. This is against the popular expectation of a full implementation of N30,000 signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Besides, Governor Ambode’s top aides were quick to blame the reported grinding of government machinery at the Alausa and the collapse of governance across the state on the refusal of the State Assembly to transmit the passed 2019 budget of over N800b back to the executive for the statutory governor’s endorsement such that the state secretariat has lately been suffering prolonged power outrage due to nonpayment of energy providers.
Even at that, the prospects of the implementation of what the government is willing to pay Lagos workers as minimum wage seem foreclosed for May as the government team also readily cited the non-completion of the template for execution.
But the official claim of “no money” has been punctured by aggrieved civil servants who alleged that Ambode would rather “punish workers who he believes were mostly opposed to his ambition for second term and instead squander state resources on needless jamborees and prioritize payments for contracts where he has personal interests.”
The damning expose came from highly placed officials in the Finance ministry conversant with the “decimation of Lagos treasury” in the past few weeks.
It was reliably gathered that the state government recently received a lump sum of N49b from the Federal Government as refund for what it had spent on federal roads and infrastructure in the past during the administrations of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN. A claim of N51b was originally tendered by Lagos State Government for federal roads reconstructed including Western Avenue and the iconic Marina road. The crusade for the refund had been championed by the latter until his tenure expired in May 2015.
Besides, investigations revealed that government’s prime lands in upscale areas like Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki were hurriedly allocated by Ambode to self, members of his inner cycle, friends and some corporate entities believed to be fronts to the governor himself in the last six weeks. Just as scores of “relations and cronies” of top players in the outgoing administration were absorbed into the state civil service in defiance of due process.
Ironically, Governor Ambode himself had reversed all last-minute employments as well as revoked all land allocations made by Fashola soon after he took over on May 29, 2015.
Efforts to get the governor’s reaction to these claims were, however, fruitless as at press time as most of the commissioners contacted flatly declined comment, claiming their tenure had ended. Besides, some cabinet members grumbled that they were completely kept in the dark by the governor over official activities as “he preferred to work with his inner cycle in the last few weeks”.
Also, repeated calls made to the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Habib Haruna, were not answered.
Investigations further revealed that workers at the state secretariat have had to operate under difficult circumstances lately as electricity supply to their offices has been disrupted by energy suppliers who complained of non-payment of their invoices for several months.
Said the highly placed official in the finance ministry: “I can you tell you authoritatively that Governor Ambode has been lying that he does not have money to sustain governance in recent times. If you say the budget was not passed on time for you to work, but the law permits you to spend up to 30 percent of the budget for the preceding year pending the passage of the new budget.
“Rather, what we saw in the last few weeks has been a spending bazaar by the governor once the N49b refund was credited to Lagos bank accounts. He rushed to effect payment for his retirement house running into hundreds of millions of Naira as well as splash almost a billion Naira on the organizing of a novelty soccer match involving retired footballers among other wasteful valedictory events for himself. The governor ensured that his friends and contractors like Laralek, Planet Projects and Plamera got paid several billions of naira for jobs, many of which have not even been completed. Of course, it is open secret in government circles that Ambode has more than passing interest in Laralek. This is a company that came from nowhere and became the darling of the Lagos Government beginning from 2015 and began to monopolize all the major road contracts.”
Already, the payment of a princely N10m to a firm called Studio 3 Architects for the design of Ambode’s “retirement home” said to be on Glover Road in Ikoyi has also been raising dust. It was gathered that the governor stampeded the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure to award the contract in March in brazen self-interest.
Experts decry the payment of N10m as “too excessive for mere design”.
A whopping sum of N100m was also shelled out for a special pictorial supplement in an international magazine owned by a famous celebrity journalist.
Another N500m was parceled out as “thank you” for the group that handled the propaganda assignments in Ambode’s failed bid for the governorship ticket of All Progressive Congress (APC) last year, out of which N40m was paid directly to the “anchorman”, a prominent politician who once represented the state at the senate.
Also, the hosting of “testimonial soccer match” by Ambode in Lagos last week cost Lagos taxpayers several hundreds of millions of naira.
Packaged by the Lagos State Sports Commission under Kweku Tandoh, the novelty match featured retired international players based in Nigeria and others from abroad. They included Kanu Nwakwo, Finidi George, Victor Ikpeba, El Hadji Diouf, Diomansy Kamara, Didier Zokora, Khalilou Fadiga, Austin Eguavon, Mutiu Adepoju, Peter Rufai, Samson Siasia, Christian Karembeu, Waidi Akanni, Uche Okechukwu and Seydou Keita.
It was gathered that each participant received between $50,000 and $100,000 (N18m and N36m) as “appearance fee”.
Said the source: “Yet, Ambode didn’t have money to provide electricity for workers at the secretariat for months now. Yet, the government does not have money to fix the Lagos-Badagry road which has become a monumental embarrassment today. Would you imagine that not a single kobo was released by Ambode to ameliorate the sufferings of people using the Lagos-Badagry expressway daily.”
Shedding more lights on the novelty match, the added: “The Government also provided logistics like Business Class tickets and hotel accommodation for the contingent from abroad. Those based at home did not receive less. If you add what was paid to consultants and others, you are looking at about a N1b.”
Meanwhile, controversy has continued to trail the commissioning of the multi-lane Lagos International Airport road and the Oshodi bus inter-change in as stakeholders particularly lament that Lagosians are yet to enjoy the transport facility in Oshodi.
Governor Ambode had invited President Muhammadu Buhari to perform the opening ceremony in April.
But our checks revealed that the Oshodi bus facility is only 60 percent completed. Just as the overhead bridge at the NAHCO junction on the Airport road which the governor had announced to the hearing of President Buhari would be open for public use by May 15 was still not ready as at the time of filing this report.
Said Comrade Segun Aina, the Executive Director of Social Justice Advocacy Network, a non-profit organisarion: “Much as one should give credits to Ambode for initiating the Oshodi and Airport road projects, the truth of the matter is that these projects were far from completion and should not have been commissioned at all. The governor just made mockery of himself. I believe he has scammed not only Lagosians but also President Buhari to commission uncompleted projects. Which goes to give credence to the story circulating in town that he is too desperate to impress Buhari to give him a job in Abuja.”