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Fashola and Responsive Leadership


“Frankly, Fashola is not a politician, as he often seeks to under-promise but always over-performs. He probably loves to spring surprises.” – Author

There is a pervasive belief that African leaders are anything but predictable. Who could have predicted in the heady independence struggle days that the generation of African nationalists who waged a determined campaign on the principles of freedom, equality and life more abundant for their people would in no time decree the one-party system into existence and cause their political opponents to disappear? 

Take Sekou Toure, the man who led Guinea to independence in 1958 and is still beloved by pan Africanists. When he was in the 1970s asked by journalists about the whereabouts of Diallo Telli, his foreign minister who was to become the first Organisation of African Unity (OAU) secretary general, President Toure replied curtly: “Dialo Telli is in prison, and all those who are in prison are dead”. Telli was reported to have been fed to crocodiles as a warning to other critics of the Toure regime.

But there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. There is a new generation of leaders in Africa who understand that leadership is really about service to the citizens, and not about lording it over the people. They draw inspiration not from Mansa Musa, the emperor of the old Mali Empire and one of the richest rulers of all time who went on a two-year pilgrimage to Mecca from 1324 and caused inflation everywhere he passed because of the stupendous quantity of cash and gold he was dishing out to all manner of people. 

The new African leaders are rather inspired by the example of leaders like Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who within a generation transformed their backwater nations to first world status. Both Mahathir and Lee were easily predictable when they were in office because they set their sights on history and were at all times guided by enduring values. 

A contemporary Nigerian public officer who is predictable is the immediate past Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, who is now the Minister of Power, Works and Housing. It is easy to predict Fashola once public interest is involved. He will respond with swiftness, solid judgment and foresight, going far beyond the call of duty. In an article published in January, I predicted that the Okija-Ihiala-Uli-Egbu-Oguta-Egbema-Omoku Road which traverses Anambra, Imo and Rivers states and which has not been completed since 1982 may well be one of the first roads Fashola would fix, despite the fact that the people in these places did not vote for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 general election.

The prediction was predicated on the following: Fashola is urbane, liberal and truly detribalized; he would like to end the “ogbanje” or “abiku” status of this road which has defied all governments in the last 36 years; the horrible state of the Ihiala section of this interstate road has earned the road the unenviable status of arguably the worst federal road in the country; and the degrading status of the road has now been brought to the attention of the minister.

It says a lot about the character of the minister that he could have asked an aide to inform me that the letter from the leadership of the Ihiala Progress Union, the town development union of my hometown in Anambra State, was receiving attention, but he chose to call me directly. He tried to reach me on the phone many times, but I wasn’t with them; I was immersed in some urgent task. 

Yet, he kept trying my lines. The minister was compelled to send me a text message which I saw much, much later in the day. Fashola can be so giving of himself and so humble. I am only a year older, but he refers to me as “sir”. I wonder how many state governors or ministers, let alone a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), to boot, could be so deferential to an ordinary citizen to whom he owes no obligation as an individual.

It was apparent my call woke him up the next day, causing me to be remorseful. But not wanting me to apologise, Fashola pretended that he had been up for a while! He took time to explain the challenges he met in the new and expanded ministry and his plans for grappling with them before discussing the extremely bad federal road which cut off my people in Ihiala, Anambra State, from the rest of the world during the last rainy season.

Typical of him, he tried to play down my expectations. He did everything to conceal from me the fact that he was sending on February 16 a large party of engineers from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing led by a director to the site. Even when he sent a party from the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) on Wednesday, March 2nd to the site to see if anything could be done to salvage the Ihiala section of the road before the rains set in this year, Fashola made sure I did not know.

The whole drama is reminiscent of my experience when in 2008 I requested him to construct the road leading to my First Unity Estate in Badore, Ajah, in the peninsular part of Lagos because of its criticality. Not once did he promise to build the road, as he kept on saying “we hope to look into it” after reminding me that “it is not in this year’s budget”. Yet, he built the road the same year! He even had to look for more money from different sources to give the contract to an international firm because of the treacherous nature of this water-logged environment. PW of Ireland did do a great job. Frankly, Fashola is not a politician, as he often seeks to under-promise but always over-performs. He probably loves to spring surprises.

There is so much the Nigerian political class has to learn from leaders like Fashola. One of the most important lessons is responsiveness. Timely response to emergencies and the needs of the people generally is a true mark of great leadership. By sending within one month two high-powered teams from the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing as well as from FERMA to a place in which he has no vested interest, Fashola has gone a long way to restore public confidence in the Nigerian possibility. In fact, he has just completed a nonstop of basic federal infrastructure in the North Central political zone of the country, and is about to start a tour of another zone. He will always be a rewarding study in responsive and authentic leadership.

Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.

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