Former Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN (2nd right), Chairman and Founder of the Fate Foundation, Mr. Fola Adeola OFR (2nd left), Chief of Staff to Senate President, , Mr. Gbenga Makanjuola (left) and the former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Alhaja Lateefat Okunnu (right) during the launch of three New Titles – The Great Leap, In Bold Print and The Lagos Blow Down, edited by Hakeem Bello and Dapo Adeniyi in honour of the former Governor of Lagos, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, at the Shell Hall of the Muson Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Tuesday, August 18, 2015.
This is my first post-retirement assignment.
I cannot think of a more agreeable way of entering into this new phase of life which began yesterday than lending a helping hand to a dutiful aide’s public presentation of a chronicle on the time in office of his luminous principal.
The luminous principal is Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, Governor of Lagos State. The dutiful aide is his media adviser of eight years, Hakeem Bello. The chronicle comprises a judicious selection from more than 1000 speeches Governor Fashola has delivered at home and abroad on four continents during his eight years in office. Titled The Great Leap, the compilation comes with a companion, In Bold Print, a pocket book of quotations distilled from the speeches.
When Hakeem Bello invited me to deliver a “prefatory essay” at the presentation of the two publications, I accepted without hesitation, despite the tight deadline and the crush of prior commitments.
For one thing, the request came from a younger colleague whose quiet competence and efficiency I have admired since his days as a rising star in the Daily Times. For another, the day’s honours would devolve most worthily on exceptional achiever. To be asked to play a part in the ceremony, surely, was an honour in itself.
Soon enough, I began to wonder whether I had not been too rash in granting Hakeem’s request. What is a “prefatory essay?” Stripped of its elegance, is the term not at bottom a book review? Is it not a case of unnecessary dignification, of literary inflation? What exactly was I expected to do at the event?
I turned to some friends for help, but none of them was the wiser. One of them said he suspected that Hakeem wanted a review but thought it would be presumptuous to ask me to do it; so he settled for a fancy term, hoping that I would not see through the subterfuge.
Bereft of proper guidance in this matter, I have chosen to draw on the two publications to sketch Fashola’s approach to governance and the lessons that flow from it, for the benefit of the political class of today and tomorrow.
Fashola’s accomplishments as Governor of Lagos State have been universally acknowledged. Most recently, the global conflict prevention organization, International Crisis Group (ICG), named him one of seven outstanding personalities worldwide to be honoured with its annual Stephen J. Solarz Award “for his commitment to resolving social, economic and security challenges in one of the world’s most challenging urban environments.”
Previous recipients of the award have included former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; former Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
For further perspective, hear this, from the International Crisis Group: “The award goes to a pioneer of peace, to a relentless fighter for the improvement of people’s lives, to someone who has built bridges, believed in change and mobilized others in the name of justice.”
This is the rarefied company to which Governor Fashola belongs.
There is yet another perspective worth remarking. In the United States, the job of Mayor of the City of New York is considered the second most demanding and difficult, after that of the President. For all practical purposes, Fashola combines the office of the maga-city that is Lagos, with that of state governor. Based on projections by the best authorities, the population of the Lagos megalopolis should reach 25 million this year.
If Lagos were a sovereign state, it would have the fifth largest economy in Africa – and that is without any re-basing.
It is therefore no exaggeration to assert that if governing State is not as demanding and challenging as governing Nigeria, it comes a close second. And, since the Second Republic, the task has been rendered much more difficult by the fact that Lagos refused to dissolve itself into the mainstream of Nigerian politics. For that very reason, every government at the Centre has sought to teach Lagos a hard lesson.
I was reminded of this long-running animosity by Governor Fashola himself the other day when I called to congratulate him on the APC’s hard-won battle to retain Lagos, and on his having ramped up a string of sparkling achievements, despite the active hostility of the Federal Government.
Shehu Shagari’s NPN-controlled Federal Government in the Second Republic blockading Lateef Jakande’s UPN administration on every front. In the aborted Third Republic, Ernest Shonekan’s mercifully Interim Government and General Sani Abacha complicated matters for Governor Michael Otedola’s minority administration.
President Olusegun Obasanjo impounded statutory allocations to Lagos State because Governor Bola Tinubu dared to create local government development councils to minister unto the needs of the people. The Goodluck Administration would not repair broken federal infrastructure in Lagos State; neither would it refund expenses incurred by the State in fixing it.
But in fixing it and executing other projects for the benefit of the people of Lagos often incurred the armed wrath of the federal authorities.
Like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu before him, Fashola took in his stride every attempt by Abuja to cripple his administration, never losing his focus, his temper, and his tempo
What is the secret of his spectacular success in an office he never sought – an office into which he was literally dragooned? Answers to this important question are strewn here and there in The Great Leap and In Bold Print.
First was his conviction that if you seek public office, you must prepare for it. And if even you are dragooned into it as he was, or stumble into it, you still have to prepare yourself to discharge that office creditably. You cannot take office hoping to muddle through. Settled polities where relative contentment reigns can afford the luxury of muddling through; polities in a hurry to meet the basic needs of the people, develop and modernize cannot afford it.
This conviction was backed by a fundamental article of faith: If you attain public office, you must use it to serve only the public good.
On taking office, he set out on a comprehensive tour of Lagos State to identify and define the problems he would have to tackle. First, what were the underlying cause of the difficulties and frustrations of living in Lagos? Why would motorists, at great risk to themselves and other road users, drive against the flow of traffic? Why would petty traders turn pedestrian sidewalks into markets? Why would people clog he drains with refuse?
Were the residents inherently lawless?
Fashola commissioned a poll to find out how far his definition of the situation coincided with public expectations. “You do not own the facts” is one of his guiding principles. Thereafter, he set out on another tour of the state in an effort to validate the poll findings, to know what is “on ground” as our people say.
From all this it was clear that infrastructural deficiency was a major constraint on living in Lagos. Consequently, he devised a budget plan to set aside 60 percent of revenue for capital projects, and 40 percent for recurrent expenditure.
Thereafter, he drew a road map showing very clearly how to get from Point A to Point B. He marked off the map into blocks for implementation and sought an answer to the critical question: Who are the best people for the job?
Wide consultations followed on costing, strategies for implementation, and sustainability.
Not for Fashola the glitzy showpiece guaranteed to be as evanescent as rainbow gold.
So, planning, diligent and meticulous planning, is one of the hallmarks of the Fashola Style.
Efficient time management and fidelity to the people are crucial elements in the Fashola approach to governance. Deadlines have to be met and promises made to the people have to be kept.
Following through is another key element in Fashola’s way of doing business. In many states but most notably in Abuja, contracts are awarded with fanfare and the mere announcement of a project is celebrated as actual accomplishments. For the most part, one rarely hears anything again about the projects.
The Fashola approach is to start a project unobtrusively, monitor it diligently to completion, and commission it just as unobtrusively. It the project is stalled for one reason or another, the public gets to know. It is not about Fashola or even his administration; it is about service to the people, about keeping faith with them.
From the moment he took office, Fashola has sought the best practices from all over the world. He traveled to Singapore, Dubai, and New York not as a tourist, and certainly not on a shopping expedition, but as a city manager out to study and learn.
He not only devoured Lee Kuan Yew’s memoir From Third World to First, he gave copies to all of his colleagues and aides for their edification.
He also burrowed into the book Leadership, by Rudy Giuliani who, as Mayor of New York, steered that city through the horrors of September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre
The city manager’s approach has redefined Lagos as a place where transformation is not a slogan but a lived reality. We see transformation in the expanded and still expanding network of roads, the manicured green lawns, the well-tended parks, open spaces, the clean streets, the city rail service that will commence operations soon, commence operations soon, expanded ferry service, clearance of slums to make room for housing that affirms human dignity, clean streets, improved health care delivery system that saved Nigeria from the scourge of Ebola, better drainage, school buildings that provide a healthy environment for learning, reduced crime rate, and in expansion of business and economic opportunity. We see it in the vast promise of Lagos Atlantic City.
Fashola’s tenure offers us an example of engaged leadership driven by purpose and design, a leader who does not wait for the future to happen but makes it happen. He has led by personal example, guided by Gandhi’s admonition for all ages: “Be the change you want to be.”
Fashola reminds us of something that many of his contemporaries never learned or have long forgotten: Public service is no tea party, no picnic. It demands the highest degree of discipline, sacrifice, commitment, and determination.
He is probably the only governor who does not use a siren to clear the path for his motorcade. Sirens, he says, aggravate rather than solve traffic problems, and their use is “uncivilized.” Were it left to him, only ambulances, fire engines and police on lives-saving missions would use them
What drives Fashola? What fires him?
The answer to this question is to be found in his 2008 Budget Presentation Speech delivered before the Lagos State House of Assembly on December 17, 2008: “. . . I remind myself always that one day, I will no more be in office. One day, I will no more be young. Surely, I want to live in a clean and secure environment in my old age. Whatever good I can do today, therefore, let me do it .If we do not do what we need to do today, ours will become a tragic tale of failed and unutilized opportunities, which will come to haunt us when it is too late. Let us seize our opportunities now.”
On that same occasion, he challenged the state legislators:
“Shall you and I leave this earth with the black man still the humiliated universally symbol of poverty, underdevelopment and incompetence? Or will we do all we can now to showcase, within our lifetime, our state and our country as undeniable evidence of the black man’s genius? Surely the choice is ours and the tine to act is now. . .”
The time is now. Not in the year 2020, not in some nebulous future.
An optimistic agenda, to be sure, but what is leadership if it is not rooted in optimism, in faith and confidence in the capacity of the people to rise to the challenge of the moment?
Five years ago, only the most optimistic in the ranks of the progressive believed, and fewer still could openly assert, that the ACN would in due course supplant the PDP as the governing party at the Centre. The PDP advertised itself as the largest political party in Africa, and it was no idle boast when its senior figures proclaimed at every opportunity that it would govern Nigeria for 60 unbroken years.
Fashola was one of few to declare openly that the PDP’s days were numbered. With proper planning and rigorous implementation of its people-oriented policies, he said in a speech marking Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary, “it is only a matter of time before we take charge of the Centre and decisively pull Nigeria up to its rightful place in the comity of rapidly developing nations.”
Today, five years later, the progressives are set to take charge.
The Fashola Administration has set Lagos firmly and decisively on the path of achieving its destiny as one of 19 global mega-cities, a city that works for all its residents, now estimated to number 24.5 million. I do not envy his successor, Governor-elect Akinwumi Ambode.
It is necessary to acknowledge that much of the infrastructural development for which the Fashola administration is justly celebrated has come at a price, especially to the more vulnerable sections of the population. You hear it said on the streets, especially by those used to a way of life Fashola rejects as an affront to human dignity and wants to change, that he cares only for people like himself.
His answer is that a leader must see the future and, with courage act proactively to save the people from future dangers. But he has done so with compassion, providing as resources allow, a more decent environment for communities whose shanty homes fell to the bulldozer, or communities displaced by natural disasters. We have not always seen such compassion in Nigeria.
It remains to add that one reason has Fashola succeeded so spectacularly is that he did not have to play politician. He was never mired in the horse-trading, the pandering to entrenched interests that often undermine the most clearly- formulated plans. He was splendidly insulated from that treacherous threshold by his predecessor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who did the political work, thus freeing Fashola to continue changing the face of Lagos without undue distractions.
They had their disagreements, but on the whole, this arrangement, which Fashola rarely misses an opportunity to acknowledge in public, has served the people of Lagos State and could well serve as a model for other states.
We all are in Hakeem Bello’s debt for making available in The Great Leap forty speeches that define a unique experience in the art and craft of governance in Nigeria, and the singular driver of that experience, Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Public officials will read it with great profit, as will serving and in-coming governors and I have resisted the temptation to end this presentation by welcoming Governor Fashola to the rank I joined just yesterday – the rank of retired persons. Something tells me he will be summoned again to work his magic on a national scale.
Your Excellencies, your Highnesses, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your time and attention. And I thank Hakeem Bello for giving me the opportunity to present what I hope has not been too flagrant a departure from the “prefatory essay” he had in mind.
Remarks prepared for the public presentation of The Great Leap and In Bold Print, edited by Hakeem Bello. Shell Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos. May 15, 2015.
*Professor of Journalism, Emeritus, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois.