The announcement, Tuesday, August 27th, that the Lagos State House of Assembly had inaugurated a committee to probe the administration of ex-Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, was the climax of the vociferous outcry by well-meaning Lagosians at home and abroad, civil society groups and the media among other stakeholders that Lagos, under Ambode, retrogressed, degenerated and had its finances mindlessly pillaged. As at 2015, Lagos was rated the fifth biggest economy in Africa. Four years later, the state is struggling to rise from the ruin and rot engineered and engendered by a vicious, visionless and vindictive government headed by Ambode. The House of Assembly has now mandated a committee to probe the purchase, without budgetary approval, of 820 mass transit buses by the Ambode administration. As things stand, the bus scam may just be a footnote in the catalogue of corruption perpetrated by the Ambode administration.
Craneburg Construction, which prides itself as a leading civil engineering company, was established in 2016. Without any previous construction experience, former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode awarded the company a $300million deal for road projects in his Epe constituency among other high profile contracts around the state. The ownership of the company, which cornered some of the juiciest construction contracts during the Ambode administration, is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in Lagos State.
From a civil servant who rose to become the Accountant-General of the state and by luck, the governor of Lagos State, Ambode is a blessed man. He, however, seemed to forget his trajectory so much that when the power came, he went on a take-no-prisoners fiddle with the state’s treasury and disregarded and disdained wise counsel.
A major complaint of well-meaning Lagosians is Ambode’s romance with Herbert Wigwe, the Group MD/CEO of Access Bank Plc. In 2016, Wigwe was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for allegedly helping former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, launder millions of dollars. It is therefore befuddling that against sustained dissuasion, Ambode still chose to do business with him.
Therefore, thorough investigations must be conducted to ascertain the volume and variety of businesses Ambode did with the bank; why it was both a banker and a contractor to the state; whether the businesses went through due process and why Access Bank was the sole bank of the state for four years.
The good people of Lagos State would also like to know, among other things, how the state’s commonwealth was diverted to private accounts in countries like Seychelles and Mauritius; and the ownership of some prime skyscrapers in Eko Atlantic City linked with Ambode.
Ambode introduced the Bus Reform Initiative designed to bequeath a world-class transportation system and enhance connectivity across the state. As part of the initiative, new buses and terminals were conceived to redefine public transportation in the state. Then, Ambode said that 5000 buses would be purchased by the government to drive this initiative. Unbeknownst to Lagosians, it was an initiative that did not have the backing of the House of Assembly.
During plenary last Tuesday, a member of the Ninth Lagos State House of Assembly, Gholahan Yishawu (Eti-Osa II), recalled that Ambode briefed the Eighth Assembly about his intention to establish a bus reform programme. Yishawu said Ambode lied that the state government would only commit 30 per cent of the cost of the buses supplied while the operator would amortise the remaining cost on instalment payment basis until the 30 per cent paid by the government was liquidated.
However, in 2017, Ambode, in an attempt to outfox the legislature, proposed a supplementary budget of N17bn for the purchase of the buses, but because it was not in consonance with his earlier presentation, the House refused to approve it.
Despite seeking clarifications on the discrepancy, Yishawu said, “The executive did not come for clarification and the House did not approve the proposal in the subsequent budget proposals of 2018 and 2019.”
Yet, Ambode budgeted for the purchase of the buses at N24bn and N7bn in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and the proposal suffered the same fate as that of the 2017 budget proposal.
Shockingly, he went ahead to procure the 820 buses at the cost of N45bn, way above his earlier budgetary proposition and without the approval of the House of Assembly. Alas, out of the 820 buses, about 520 units are still at the bonded warehouse of the importer while 50 are still with the Customs, all of which are accumulating demurrage to be borne by the good people of Lagos State.
The member representing Ifako-Ijaye Il Constituency, Rasheed Makinde, said, “The 8th Assembly rejected the proposal on the buses, yet, they (the Ambode administration) went on to spend N45 billion on the project. Since we did not approve the contract expenditure, the money should be refunded.”
Likewise, Yinka Ogundimu, representing Agege 2, stated that the House needed to investigate every transaction that had to do with the procurement of the buses because “A huge amount of money still needed to be paid on the purchase of these buses. Whoever has erred should be brought to book.”
The Speaker, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa said that the House needed to prevent waste because the expenditure had been done and, therefore, directed the committee to invite the Accountant General of the state, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and others that were involved to explain their roles in what is unfurling as a monumental rip off of Lagos State.