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LogoDaily Independent Online.         * Thursday, June 17, 2004.

Pains, anguish of Ogunlewe/George Army on Lagos roads

By Tolu Olarewaju

Senior Correspondent, Lagos

Mayhem was unleashed on Lagos roads on Tuesday, June 8, 2004 as Federal and Lagos State government officials clashed in a most vicious manner, leaving innocent Lagosians at the receiving end of the attack. The clashes, which were akin to drunken street brawls, allegedly took place over who controls highways said to be federal roads. On that fateful day, persons claiming to be agents of the Federal Ministry of Works attempted to dislodge officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) Brigade as well as the Lagos State Emergency Medical Services, operators of the state ambulance services LASEMBUS.

Throughout that Tuesday, the eve of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) strike action against increases in the pump price of petroleum products, all personnel of the state agencies left their points, leaving the road with a heavy traffic jam. But perhaps the most disturbing was the sacking of LASAMBUS ambulance services located at strategic points across Lagos metropolis to save motor accident victims. When journalists visited the LASAMBUS points, the tents had been vandalised. It was however not clear whether any of the ambulances was destroyed or damaged. Those affected included the one on the Old Lagos - Ibadan Express Road Toll gate, and others at Oshodi, Anthony, Mile 2 and Marina, Lagos.

Over 150 persons  operated at Marina, Lagos and the Tollgate at the Lagos end of the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. They arrived as early as 7.30am ostensibly to dislodge LASTMA and KAI officials while taking over the roads. In the tollgate operation close to the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) Office, bottles and cudgels were freely used. A LASTMA official, Mr. Dennis Olusegbe, said the operatives in FERMA reflective jackets, forcibly took over traffic duties after attacking the Lagos State officials on duty there, arrested vehicles, issuing fine tickets to them.

Speaking with journalists, a commandant of the KAI Brigade, Mr. Dayo Williams, said one Saheed Salawe, PDP local government chairmanship aspirant, led the Marina attack and that it resulted in the brutalising of no fewer than two LASTMA officials and two KAI marshal personnel.

Speaking with journalists at the FERMA Annex Office at the Tollgate, Chief Tunji Ilelaboye and Omotayo Banwo of FERMA’s Directorate of Transport and Parking, alleged that their action was based on a court injunction/judgment. Ilelaboye said their action was directed specifically at the LASTMA and LASAMBUS, adding that FERMA will "continue to dislodge them from federal roads. " Banwo said their grouse with LASAMBUS, KAI and LASTMA is based on the fact that they are state agencies operating on federal roads.

As at the time of going to press, it could not be confirmed whether there was any court injunction barring Lagos State officials from operating on federal roads or not as alleged by Ilelaboye and Banwo as they were unable to support their claims with any document. It would however be recalled that the Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, had earlier issued a stay-off federal roads order on Lagos State outfits which he now seems to be implementing.

There are several highly pertinent questions to ask at this juncture. Is this distinction over control of traffic on federal roads by state officials the same all over the federation or peculiar to Lagos State? If so, why?

There has not been any reported case of similar tussle between the Federal Government and other state governments not because there are no federal roads in those states but because the traffic situations in those states do not warrant the states’ governments setting up special agencies to control traffic there. It is an established fact that over 50 per cent of vehicles in the country are in Lagos. That Lagos metropolis has a reputation for perennial traffic congestion leading to the establishment of these various agencies by the state government is obviously because of this fact.

Now that the Lagos State government has taken the initiative of setting up these agencies, why would the federal government be averse to the control of traffic on federal roads? Why would the federal government be disinclined to the provision of ambulance services on the ever-busy Lagos roads? Why would officials of the federal government not encourage and in fact complement Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s innovations, particularly the free ambulance service?

Looked at from various angles, it is apparent that the muscle flexing by federal and Lagos government officials over who controls what roads in Lagos is an extension of the political feud between top political public office holders of the federal and Lagos state governments controlled by the Peoples democratic Party (PDP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) respectively. And that is the crux of the matter.

In other climes, it is not unusual for political opponents to trade words as a result of conflict of ideas. This usually happens during electioneering campaigns. However, it would never degenerate into physical combat. But the 2003 general elections are past and gone. Party political bickering should therefore be left until 2007. Election or no election, why would federal and Lagos state government officials be involved in fisticuffs, against every sense of decorum?                                     

Perhaps a peep into the political history of the gladiators would give an insight into why top government functionaries would be involved in this embarrassing show.

Lagosians believe that the recent actions of FERMA officials is a fall-out of the political bickering between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled federal government and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) government in Lagos State. Since the 2003 general elections, the PDP is fighting a two-prong attack on the Lagos State government: one from the PDP National Vice Chairman (Southwest), Chief Olabode George, and the other from the Minister of Works, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe. The two assaults are not only borne out of the intrigues of party politics but also a vicious, bitter power play.

It is a matter for deep regret that the fight between the two elephants is having a crippling effect on the socio-economic life of the people of Lagos. Although many have argued against the establishment of these agencies by the Lagos State government because of the excesses of these officials, many would agree on their positive impact on the traffic situation on Lagos metropolis. For instance, as the battle started raging, the traffic situation, particularly on Lagos and Victoria Islands, has degenerated, leaving people stuck in traffic jams on Lagos highways for hours.

The person of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is central to the on-going feud between officials of the two governments. Tinubu had been a senator of the Federal Republic in the early 1990s. He was a major financier of the Primrose Group led by former Information Minister, Chief Dapo Sarumi. The Primrose Group is another name for the Lagos arm of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) led by Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Tinubu was also actively involved in the struggle to de-annul the June 12 1993 presidential election. He was one of the financiers of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). During the General Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) transition programme, Tinubu contested the Alliance for Democracy (AD) primaries against Engineer Funsho Williams. Tinubu eventually emerged as governorship candidate of the party after the deadlocked primaries. Supporters of Williams, including Ogunlewe, believed Tinubu was merely compensated for his activities during the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) struggles. Tinubu's offence is that he dared to resist the PDP onslaught on the South West in last year's elections. For this, a war has been declared on him for punching a big hole in their calculations. Specifically, President Olusegun Obasanjo resents Tinubu’s closeness to Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

The causes of political enmity between Tinubu and George has been well documented. Put in a nutshell, George believes Tinubu is not a son-of-the-soil.

During the campaigns leading to the 2003 general elections, George had always boasted that PDP would capture Lagos State. For instance, in an interview with a national newspaper, George, a retired naval officer, threatened to even use military strategy to overrun the state. It would be recalled that Tinubu responded by saying AD would use the people’s strategy to forestall PDP’s military strategy.

The PDP went into that elections with everything at its disposal: money, federal might and character assassination against the incumbent governor. But at the end of the day, PDP failed to clinch the state, leaving the party and its chieftains emotionally frustrated. Tinubu was the only one who could resist PDP’s onslaught. For George, AD’s victory in Lagos State was an unpardonable political misfortune.

But George is not the only PDP chieftain that is embittered. Scholars of Lagos State political history say Ogunlewe has been resentful of anything that has the remotest link with Tinubu even before the present democratic dispensation. He backed Funsho Williams during AD’s governorship primaries in 1999. Ogunlewe believed that Tinubu was given the AD ticket on a platter of gold. Like most people in that school of thought, Tinubu was merely compensated for his activities during the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) struggles.

But while the likes of Kemi Nelson, a former commissioner in the state; Aro Lambo and Leke Pitan, Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and health commissioner respectively, made it up with the governor, Ogunlewe did not forgive Tinubu. He was elected a senator on the platform of AD only for him, along with Alhaji Wahab Dosunmu, to trade away the mandate by decamping to the PDP. But when the duo re-contested the 2003 general elections, they lost their senatorial seats. In the Lagos East senatorial District, Olorunnimbe Mamora defeated Ogunlewe, losing in his ward to the medical practitioner turned politician.

All these must have deepened Ogunlewe’s bitterness against the Tinubu administration in Lagos. But while Dosunmu clinched an ambassadorial post, Ogunlewe was made works minister. And Lagos State government officials have been saying that rather than use the portfolio to help the people of Lagos, Ogunlewe believes that it can be used to take out his bitterness against the people and government of the state.

How is Ogunlewe doing this? Lagos Government officials alleged that apart from the arrest and torture of Lagos State Government agents by officials of the federal Ministry of Works, the Minister of Works has refused to release funds due to the Lagos State Government for expenditure incurred on the maintenance of federal roads.

During the first tenure of Tinubu, the Lagos State Government was said to have spent N6billion on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of federal roads. They included Akin Adesola Road, Victoria Island; Awolowo Road, Ikoyi; Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun; Obalende Round About; Yaba/Ojuelegba/Itire/Lawanson Road and Agege Motor Road. These are federal roads in strategic parts of Lagos metropolis abandoned over the years after the seat of government had moved from Lagos to Abuja. President Olusegun Obasanjo was said to have encouraged doing the roads with the promise that the federal government would later reinburse the Lagos government. Officials of both governments- specifically, Federal Ministry of Works and Lagos State Ministry of Works- monitored and verified the construction works. And under Chief Tony Anenih, the Federal Ministry of Works was   already reimbursing the Lagos government only for Ogunlewe to stop it.

Other acts of sabotage the AD has accused the PDP of perpetrating include the boycott of the local government elections in the state; the seizure of local government revenue allocation in states where new councils have been created; and the refusal of the Federal Government to give guarantee for foreign loans needed by the state government for important developmental projects. There is also the alleged deployment of agents of the PDP's shadow cabinet to collect tolls and levies in certain parts of the state and the appointment of PDP local government chairmanship candidates in the state as representatives of the Federal Ministry of Works.

Although Abuja will not accept it, the AD government in Lagos believes that the activities of the federal agencies in the state are borne out of a sense of frustration. In fact, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, AD national director of publicity, research and statistics, in a statement on related issues, alleged that since the 2003 general elections, the PDP had never missed any opportunity to sabotage the programmes and policies of the Lagos State Government.

 “There is only one government in Lagos State and that is the one led by Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the Alliance for Democracy who was elected by an overwhelming majority of Lagosians. That is the only authority that can legally impose and collect levies in the state. The PDP by the illegal action is trying to impose itself as an alternative government in Lagos State. This is tantamount to treason,” Adeyeye declared.

Whichever way one looks at it, recent events have left no one in doubt that the PDP leaders are not happy that the PDP is not in control of the Lagos State government after the 2003 general elections. Political observers say that perhaps explains why PDP chieftains have been devising one means after another, not only to make things difficult for the Alliance for Democracy (AD) government in Lagos, but if possible to bring it down. This, they also say, is not good enough. They insist that once elections are concluded, governments therefrom should be encouraged to settle down to face the onerous task of day-to-day governance. They also argue that there are more positive things the Federal Ministry of Works officials should be doing than trying to control traffic on federal roads in all the 36 states of the federation. Perhaps, rather than allow political bickering over who controls traffic on which roads unleash pains and anguish on Lagosians, federal officials should seek cooperation with their Lagos counterparts.




Copyrightę 2002. All Rights Reserved Independent Newspapers Limited
Block5, Plot 7D, Wempco Road, Ogba, P.M.B. 21777, Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria.


























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