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That Ambode May Do Well With His Budget - By Mufutau Egberongbe

On December 17, 2015, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, the Lagos state governor, just a few months old in office, visited the state House of Assembly which was also few months old. His mission? To present the financial proposal needed by the executive arm to carry out its activities for 2016.

It only took the state House of Assembly under Speaker Mudashiru Obasa a few days to iron out any grey area that would have dented any good intention the state government would have had, but which the residents of the state might not have seen. It is a known fact that in any society, the bad side of any issue swallows up the good part of that issue. Where there are the optimists, there are the pessimists.

But little is actually known of the groundwork that must have been done with the budget and even before its presentation. Weeks before the governor was a guest of the Assembly, Speaker Obasa came up with the idea of sustaining the town hall meeting of the House. Of course, he is not the original owner of the idea, but with him, the stakeholders meeting is now annual and simultaneous.

As the new Speaker, Obasa had vowed to ensure that the House, under him, would bring the people of the state, now speculated at over 22 million, into governance. It would no longer be a top-bottom government, but a bottom-top one. Thus, he kept the idea of a town hall meeting, but in this case, each member of the 40-man House had the responsibility to organise his people, get them to speak their minds as to the mode of governance and make useful suggestions that would help bring the dividends of democracy to them. He believed it would reduce time since it would be held simultaneously across the state.

It was the speaker's argument that since the lawmakers were sent to the House by the people, then there was need for them to go back for a feedback. To him, it is better to do the town hall meeting so that the people would not reject them in 2019 when the next election should hold. “We have to go back home to hear from the people so that we can have a good relationship with them. We are inviting all the people from all spheres of life for the programme, but we will need only the representatives of the people so that it would not be rowdy. We have invited leaders such as traditional rulers, politicians, traders, marketers, CDAs, CDCs, transporters, physically challenged people, students and others as it would be advertised in the media. All the reports would be put together and submitted to the Governor for implementation,” he had said.

It worked!!!
The members held the town hall meeting. They all returned with their suggestions to be compiled into one document for presentation to the House. Some spoke about the need for Lagos to be granted a special status. Others listed out roads and the infrastructures the government should put up in their various areas.

Ambode confirmed the people's desire while presenting the budget. “Fiscal federalism and according Lagos a special status will benefit the state as we implore the Federal Government to look into this as soon as possible. We look forward to an early refund to enable us utilise the fund on other infrastructure that require attention," the governor had said at the floor of the House.

It is of note that the presentation of the report of the town hall meeting was done in the hallowed chamber of the House of Assembly by Obasa. Yes, there were arguments that it should have been presented to the governor before the budget presentation. But it was just the first and would further provide opportunities to better performances in the nearest future.

From the budget performance of Lagos state in 2016, it can be argued that the evidence of that first town hall meeting is obvious. Governor Ambode now has a lot of testimonies arising from the success he recorded within the last one year and seven months.

It is not only Lagos residents who know this fact. Other states are beginning to catch up with what has become a trend in Lagos.

Speaker Obasa understands that aside the many other achievements since he was elected to lead the House, the town hall meeting has been unique. Speaking about his achievements within the first one year in office, he said: "We held our Town Hall Meetings simultaneously, the first of its kind which was successful. Even, the Federal Government has taken a cue from us to organise its own town hall meetings."

Very true. Not long ago, President Muhammadu Buhari's cabinet members embarked on a town hall meeting across the zones of the country. The town hall meeting has now given the administration a clue of what the people want.

It is almost the end of 2016, but it is worthy of note that Obasa has again fulfilled that promise he made on that first day he presided over the House as speaker. The House has held another edition of the town hall meeting ahead of the 2017 budget presentation.

With the theme: 'Community/Neighbourhood Policing Starts With You’, the House received commendations from many of the participants who are happy that government is not from bottom to top rather than the other way. The demands, this year, included, rehabilitation of roads, construction and clearing of drainages, provision of more schools and markets, provision of employment and empowerment for women and youths, provision of potable water and general infrastructure.

Obasa already understands the challenges faced by his Agege constituency 1 people because he lives in their midst. He also knows, that the state government which he serves, is doing well in the area of infrastructure. What is really needed is for the people to have a maintenance culture so as to enjoy the benefits of such projects for a long time. 

“While the government is doing all this, the onus lies on our people to ensure that they take proper care of these projects and ensure that they are properly maintained for them to last long,” he said.

He was also able to show his people that he is interested in their growth. Six major roads have been constructed in Agege and five others are ongoing since he took the reign of speakership of the House. "Apart from these, there are ongoing Abule-Egba and Pen-Cinema fly-over bridges as well pedestrian bridges at Cement bus stop, Dopemu (under bridge) and Iyana-Ipaja." he said. The people's feedback on government activities is part of the report that has been presented to Governor Ambode for consideration at a recently held Executive-Legislative parley organised by the state government.

Obasa told the governor: "We decided to feel the pulse of our people through the constituency stakeholders’ meeting and what I’m presenting to you today is their aggregate demands and recommendations collated by our field officers who worked in the 40 constituencies."

Is the document important to Governor Ambode and his government? Hear what the governor said as the answer to the above question: "These are the wishes of Lagosians and these will help us greatly in preparing the 2017 budget. 

These reports will save time because they are the direct requests of the people so we have something to work on. 

This is a very unique initiative which has been complementing the efforts of the government to improve the welfare of our people and bring dividends of democracy closer to them."

By 2019 when it would be time for reckoning, Obasa would be able to beat his chest and tell Agege people, nay Lagosians, that he means well and has done well.

Egberongbe is the Special Adviser to Speaker Mudashiru Obasa on Political and Legislative Matters.


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