On a few occasions when meticulous people express interest in why the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, prefers to keep his middle name in the background, one tends to wonder if the tradition of adding a middle name to one’s identity or using initials once one assumes public office is a constitutional requirement or simply to boost one’s social status.
But before one could register Dapo as the governor’s middle name on inquisitive minds, many Lagosians themselves are already unanimous in their agreement that the governor has now acquired an acceptable middle name – Compassion – by virtue of his people-oriented style of governance.
They are correct. To address the man at the helm of affairs in Lagos State as Mr. Compassionate is indeed stating the obvious, because Ambode’s administration in the last seven months has brought verve to the art of selfless service, by neatly coating his policies and direct interventions with what he terms ‘compassionate governance.’
It is not difficult to see why Lagosians have acknowledged that a man with a kind mien is now steering the ship of this state at a time that the rest of the country says belt-tightening is the only option for survival in these very austere times. This Ambode’s trait became unmistakable from his first few days in office. And it wouldn’t matter to this Epe-born, cerebral administrator whether he is personally attending to an accident victim whose car skids off the road during rush-hour traffic or giving succor to a family in distress.
Which woman will ever forget the joy on the face and in the life of Mrs. Ruth Uche, who was given a home and financial assistance by the governor after she was abandoned by her husband for giving birth to a third set of twins? Or who will not rejoice with Mr. Godwin Odia, who in one day lost four children in a landslide disaster in the Magodo area of Lagos in November but who has now been rehabilitated with N5m donation from the state governor?
Nor, would the story of Pa. Alfred Ilenre escape Lagosians.
The 76-year-old activist and Chairman of June 12 Coalition of Democratic Formations had sustained a disorder in his left lung as a result of a fatal accident he had in Ghana in 1998 during the NADECO crisis. Governor Ambode had noticed the man’s frail condition at a ceremony in Lagos to commemorate this year’s June 12 anniversary and had subsequently directed that the man be given the best of medical attention. It was a grateful Pa. Ilenre that returned to the Lagos House in Ikeja a few months later to bear testimony to Ambode’s caring nature and large heart.
Yet, private individuals are not the sole beneficiaries of Ambode’s generosity. The governors and people of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states are not likely to forget him in a hurry, for his kind donation of N50m to each of the states. It was the governor’s way of showing compassion to those three states mostly affected by acts of insurgency and terrorism affecting the North-Eastern part of the Nigeria.
If Ambode has done well investing in the security of lives and property in Lagos, a city-state that is witnessing a large daily influx of people from states affected by insurgency and harsh economic realities, his donation in October to those states also confirmed the governor’s firm understanding of the leadership role that is expected of Lagos as Nigeria’s most prosperous state and Africa’s sixth largest economy.
All these evoke the import of the governor’s inaugural speech on May 29, 2015 when he stated without equivocation that “compassionate governance” would be the hallmark of his administration.
To the civil servants and other public service workers in Lagos, who consider Ambode their biggest icon, being the first career civil servant to be elected a governor in this cosmopolitan and multi-cultural state, the compassionate content in the current administration rings true indeed. Prompt payment of salaries, through which most other state governors are assessed, is the least of Ambode’s worries. In fact, the buzz around the civil service these days is that the alert from payment of salaries comes in such an unbelievable good time that some people have to pretend that the alert is not on their phones so that they don’t start spending before the month actually ends.
Not only has the governor streamlined the annual disbursement of ‘Christmas rice’ to workers, he has actually favoured a 25% tax-free bonus, which has since been paid with the December salaries to every staff, over the sharing of rice and other edible items that often leaves junior workers short-changed.
However, in Ambode’s compassionate world, man shall not live by bread alone. As part of his effort to improve the welfare of workers, the dynamic governor has extended the Accident Insurance Policy for its workforce to cover accidents recorded outside working hours. In the past, the policy covered only accidents recorded during working hours. It covers every employee and every forms of accident during the active service years of the concerned staff regardless of the period of occurrence.
For sure, there is a sense in giving workers the necessary incentive to go the extra mile as employees of the state throughout their years in service if the state wishes to get the best out of them. This indeed is a welcome addition to the provisions of the Lagos State Pension Reform Law 2007 which stipulates that the life insurance policy will be made mandatory for employees through the appropriate insurance company to pay compensation that is up to three years basic emoluments of the concerned staff, comprising of basic salary, housing allowance and transport allowance as benefits for the relative in case of an employee’s death while in service.
Yet, the Ambode administration has started the review of the payment of additional 20 per cent of accruable rights to the families of deceased staff, outside the basic entitlements under the State Pension Law. This proposal sure speaks volume about a government that is sympathetic to the plight of families of deceased personnel and the need to provide them with succor.
Reading Ambode’s lips, the direction of his administration is also to seek the harmonization of the career progression of officers in the Lagos State Public Service, which suggests the need for a review of the career progression of officers in the Local Government Service, parastatal organizations and other government-owned agencies with a view to harmonize them with what obtains in the mainstream civil service. For a governor who spent 27 years in the public service, a good chunk of which was recorded in the Local Government sector as Treasurer before rising to be Auditor-General for Local Governments, nothing short of this type of fairness, equity, global best practices and the fact that no one should be left behind is expected of him.
The need to bring relief to his workers, both serving and retired, according to this compassionate Governor, therefore, is very paramount; which is why he has expended more than N11bn on payment of pension arrears alone since he assumed office. In addition, retirement seminars are organized for officers about to retire so as to assist them in their retirement while the Post Service Directorate in the Office of Head of Service is efficient in providing information and assistance to workers and retirees on their welfare and other needs.