Image: Babatunde Raji Fashola
On March 2, 2013, The Economist of London, arguably the world’s most influential magazine, published a special issue on Africa, a follow-up to its “Africa Rising” series run in 2011. In an article entitled “Governance in much of Africa is visibly improving, though progress is uneven”, the magazine cited two Nigerian state governors as outstanding. One was Kayode John Fayemi of Ekiti State, regarded as sophisticated and IT savvy. The other was, of course, Babatunde Fashola for his stunning work in Lagos State.
Said the conservative weekly which often holds critical views on Third World leaders: “Lagos, (Nigeria’s) commercial capital, long a byword for chaos and skullduggery… Already home to 20m people, the city is expected to double in size within a generation. When most of the infrastructure was built in the 1970s, the population was perhaps 2m. But help is on the way. The governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, has begun an impressive campaign to clean up the city…
“Now, there is an orderly queue for taxis. The Chinese are building a vast modern rail network. Public buses have been assigned separate lanes. When the governor heard that they were being used by unauthorized vehicles, he strode one morning and made a citizen arrest of a colonel. …the transformation of Lagos is worth trumpeting. Its economy is now bigger than the whole of Kenya’s. Tax revenue has increased from $4m to $97m a month in less than a decade. Tax rates have remained the same, but the amounts being collected have risen dramatically”.
Interestingly, both Fayemi and Fashola have been nominated to become ministers in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. It shows that the forthcoming cabinet is most likely to work in a way which will impress not just Nigerians but also the international community. There is a general belief that Fashola will be the next Minister of the Federal Capital territory.
In other words, Buhari is set to make history by becoming what literary scholars call a mythmaker. No southerner has ever headed the FCT Ministry. Therefore, Buhari will be setting a precedent by appointing Fashola the FCT Minister. He will break a major political taboo in Nigeria, thus casting the new president in the image of a true nationalist, a pan Nigerian leader of the finest hue. Yet, it would seem that Buhari’s reason for wanting to send Fashola to the FCT is not so much to break any political taboo as to make Abuja a truly international territory. Fashola is a perfect fit.
If Fashola is deployed to this ministry, he will go fully prepared, as Professor Chinua Achebe said of Nigeria’s current literary star, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I told a correspondent of the Voice of America (VOA) in a recent interview that anyone who could turn Oshodi from a bedlam and eyesore which caused traffic gridlock of epic proportions into an orderly, beautiful spectacle, complete with a garden and recreational facilities, could easily make Abuja an international tourist destination where people go for business, as is the case with Dubai and now Abu Dhabi.
No one should be surprised at the transformation Lagos underwent under Fashola’s leadership. Right from the day he took to law practice, Fashola, who had all his life been too playful, decided to turn a new leaf by putting all his mind, heart and soul into everything he set out to do. He thus became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) at almost the callow age of about 40 years. Everyone who ever met or worked with him when he was the Chief of Staff in Lagos State testifies to his clarity of vision, solidity of character, integrity and organizational skills.
Fashola approached his work as Lagos State governor with unusual fervor; he felt challenged and inspired by the examples of global transformational leaders. He devoured various books on leadership, including Leadership by Rudy Giuliani, New York mayor from 1994 to 2001 who restored competitiveness to the city and displayed greater leadership than even President George Bush W. Bush during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Fashola also studied From Third World To First: The Story of Singapore from 1965 by Lee Kuan Yew. He went on a study tour of these phenomenal cities. He actually took time out during the International Bar Association conference in Singapore in 2008 to have a private meeting with Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the legendary Lee Kuan Yew, on leadership.
So, when Fashola began the project to turn Lagos into a megacity, he meant business. The result today is out for all to see. His impressive record has attracted the attention of international media like the CNN International, BBC, Financial Times of London and many others. Daily Telegraph of the United Kingdom described him on October 24, 2014, as the “the man who tamed Nigeria’s most lawless city”. In April, 2015, as he was preparing to leave office, the International Crisis Group, one of the world’s most respected research organizations, honoured him as one of the seven outstanding personalities around the world for tackling security, economic and social challenges in a very imaginative way.
Earlier on January 1, 2014, another globally influential think tank, Lo Spacio della Political (LSDP), based in Italy and Belgium and composed of natural and social scientists as well as writers had named him, alongside the economically creative Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, a Global Thought Leader for 2013. In Nigeria, practically every newspaper and magazine has honoured him with the Man of the Year award. The same goes for other organizations.
Fashola came into office with concrete ideas about high public office. He never used siren, most unusual of a Nigerian state governor. He never moved in long motorcades, with security detail relating menacingly to the public. He never accepted any chieftaincy title, as he preferred to be known as simply Mr Fashola. He rejected the award of honorary doctorates from different universities and also politely turned down a high national honour from Dr Goodluck Jonathan when the latter was the president. He is convinced that it is not right for public office holders to accept all manner of awards while in office. After all, we have seen high public officers fall from grace for scandalous conduct.
As has been pointed out several times, Fashola’s stellar performance helped to revive the dying progressive politics of the South-West. He was from 2007 the only Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governor in the whole country until stolen mandates were recovered in Osun, Ekiti and Oyo states. People in the Southwest voted ACN in 2011 because the electorate was promised governance resembling that of Fashola’s Lagos State.
Consequently, the considerable number of states under its control made it possible for the ACN to play a decisive role in the emergence of the APC, which made history last March by defeating, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, a ruling national party.
Mallam el-Rufai, the current governor of Kaduna State, displayed courage and vision while serving as the FCT minister from 2003 to 2007 during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. If Fashola assumes leadership of this ministry, Abuja will in not too distant future begin to compete with world cities like Dubai. It will be ceaseless transformation all the way. Mark my word.
Audu is chief executive of an indigenous engineering consulting firm in Victoria, Lagos.