Fashola served in pursuit of public good – Dr Wumi Raji

Babatunde Fashola

FasholaA Review of The Great Leap and In Bold Prints edited by Hakeem Bello presented during the public presentation of the two books at the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, on Tuesday, August 18, 2015.

All Protocols observed.

In Pursuit of Public Good, the words which I have adopted as the title of this review come from page 26 of The Great Leap: Speeches by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), one of the two books being presented to the public today. It was the last page of a speech titled “How it Came to Be”, constituting the only one in the first part of the book, and which the governor had originally presented to the MBA students of the Lagos Business School, Pan Atlantic University, Ajah, on February 10, 2011. In the speech, Babatunde Fashola gives an account of how he found himself running as the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) much against his own expectation, and how he went about preparing himself for the responsibility of the office after having agreed to take up the challenge. Fashola winds up that speech with words of admonition for his listeners: “My advice to those of you who take public office or seek to do so,” he says, “is that the best way to seize that opportunity is to prepare for it and plan to use it for only one purpose – the public good.”

In the introduction to The Great Leap, Hakeem Bello describes Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) as belonging, arguably, among the most successful individuals to have held the governorship position in Lagos State.

Interestingly, he got into the office by chance – and this has earlier been indicated. Following his call to the Bar in 1999, he had deliberately shunned public service, preferring instead to pursue a career in private legal practice. In 2002, he was summoned by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the then governor of Lagos State and asked to take up the position of Chief of Staff, following the resignation of Alhaji Lai Mohammed who hitherto had served in that capacity. He continued with the job when Tinubu was re-elected for a second term in 2003, and was preparing to return to his law practice four years later when again Tinubu decided to throw his weight behind him as the ACN governorship candidate for Lagos State.

Fashola made sure he prepared himself well for the responsibility attached to the position of the governor of Lagos State once he accepted his nomination. He took a copy each of the manifesto of the party, the document spelling out the ten-point agenda of the government of Lagos State, and the charter of Millenium Development Goals, and, having studied them closely, designed a roadmap titled “My Contract with Lagosians”; undertook a tour of all local governments in the state to obtain first hand information on the areas of need in each of them; read books on leadership and transformations of city-states, travelled to New York, Singapore, Dubai and such other places that he felt represented models of development to see for himself how things work; and constituted a team of advisers comprised of serving public officers, technocrats and experienced politicians together with whom he held meetings on a regular basis. Here, problems were defined, goals articulated and methods of implementation deliberated upon.

Fashola started running immediately after he was sworn in on May 29, 2007. Today, having completed two terms of four years each, he has arguably become of the best known political figures in Nigeria. Fashola took on the governorship position with a great sense of mission, and has recorded changes in many areas of life in Lagos State. The areas he has touched include infrastructural development, education, health, security, housing, transportation, employment creation and environmental design. The two books being presented today serve more or less as a record of some of his legacies.

In Bold Print: Thoughts of Babatunde Raji Fashola is a small pocket book representing a compendium of quotes extrapolated mostly from the over one thousand speeches delivered by Fashola during his eight year tenure as governor of Lagos State. The Great Leap on the other hand is a careful selection of forty of the speeches grouped into ten uneven parts. The smaller book presents Fashola as a man of vision and ideas, and an inspiring leader. The thoughts documented in it cover a vast gamut of fields including leadership, ethics, the plight of the people of the African continent, governance, education and globalization. Some of them clarify the basis of some of Fashola actions while in office. The concern may be why he had to give account to the people every one hundred days as he did throughout the eight years he spent in Alausa as can be seen in the very first quote in the compendium; why, much against what has become standard practice by public officers in Nigeria, he decided to totally jettison the use of siren; or, as a last example, why he kept on agitating for state police throughout his eight year period of tenure as governor. Hear Fashola’s stirring words to the children of Lagos State in the following quote:

We are here today because we realize the significance of our childhood in determining the kind of adults we become. This is why we take each one of you, our precious children, very seriously. Inside each of you lie the seeds of greatness waiting to be discovered and nurtured; an inexhaustible mine of infinite potentials waiting to be excavated and deployed for the benefit of humanity.

Listen also to his perspective on education in another one:

In the 21st century, education will remain the most valuable currency that every nation will desire but which no Central Bank can print. Every nation must decide for herself how much of this currency she requires and set about how to acquire it

And in this last example, I challenge you, dear guests, to answer the question Fashola has posed on the desirability or otherwise of family planning?

Can a family with one bedroom (apartment) rise out of poverty if they make six children live in that one room, only on the basis of hope that life will get better?

Clearly, every single quote in In Bold Print provokes thought, destabilizes what otherwise are considered as settled positions or seeks to make the reader jump up and break into a run. It presents Fashola as a thinker and the compiler and editor as a loyal, attentive and thoughtful aide.

The Great Leap being the bigger of the two volumes presents the governor in action. In it, the man, Fashola is seen at work. The two speeches in part two are the addresses he presented during his inauguration for the first and second terms respectively. Parts three and four together have close to half of the total number of speeches published in the book. Rightly so because it is where the talks he gave while actualizing his plans of governance are concentrated. Part three specifically is sub-titled “Setting Agenda” and has as number one the address which provides the title for the book. “Setting Agenda for Credible Governance”, the speech the governor presented at a Nigerian Union of Journalists lecture makes it clear that Fashola conceives governance as a social contract whereby citizens elevate a select group of people to a higher pedestal, investing in them certain powers and responsibility in expectation that those so elevated will devote themselves to the achievement of public good, which “good” will include security guarantee, education, infrastructural development, health care delivery, electricity and more. As Fashola says, “where the government consistently fails to perform its constitutional obligations, the people become dissatisfied and this creates credibility problems for the government.” An awareness of the need to retain people’s trusts seems to be what drove Fashola throughout his tenure, as evident in the rest of the speeches in the section: The speeches are either given while working with stakeholders on taxation, brainstorming on how to check incidences of collapsing buildings, agitating for state police, inaugurating Lagos State Education Summit, or while launching security trust fund or delivering public health lecture. The focus of the speeches in part four overlaps with that of the ones in part three as already implied, the slight difference being just that while the former deal more with addresses delivered while projects are just being initiated, section four on the other hand concentrate on those presented while they have been completed and are either being commissioned or delivered. They include ones given at the launching of the Lagos Housing Mortgage programme, the investment forum for the Lagos Rail Mass Transit, the commissioning of Awolowo Museum at Lekki and the handing over of the Lekki Ikoyi Bridge. The speech titled “Corporate Social Responsibility” and published on pages 138-140 of the book deserves special mention in my view. The address was presented during the commissioning of the 1.3 kilometer Ajose Adeogun dual carriageway, the rehabilitation of which was undertaken by Zenith Bank. As Fashola says during the concessioning, the project underscores the great benefit derivable from public-private partnership.

Through The Great Leap, Hakeem Bello has cleverly documented for posterity the vision that animated his boss’ actions and activities and the project he executed while serving as governor of Lagos State. Primarily, and as the speeches in part seven of the book make clear, Fashola wanted to turn Lagos into a mega city. It is this vision of Lagos as a huge urban agglomeration with functioning facilities that explains the infrastructural projects the former governor delivered while in power, the roads he constructed, the light rail project that he initiated, the beautification programme that he launched and the hugely ambitious Eko Atlantic City project he started. The ideology that powered Fashola vision is no doubt neo-liberal and this is evident in the kind of books he read while preparing to take office and, as well, the cities he visited. Since neo-liberalism itself projects profound contradictions, it may then become clear the reason while Fashola has sometimes found himself at the receiving end of public criticism. There, specifically, has been a clash of metaphors in the papers in recent times, as readers were treated to the propriety or otherwise of fighting or wrestling with pigs. What is important here is not the motive behind the attack or the details of the allegations. Fortunately, and going by the evidence in some of the quotes in In Bold Prints, Fashola is himself aware that decisions taken by those in government can affect people either positively or negatively, and that leaders themselves are far from being perfect, that they sometimes make mistakes. Since it is not unlikely that he finds himself holding public office yet again soon, Fashola may wish to give a thought to the fact that advanced neo liberal economies of the world have ways of cushioning the harsh effects certain policies exert on ordinary people. There are, for example, living allowances for unemployed people, material support for the old and infirm, grants or loans for students who cannot afford tuition fees or sustenance allowance, generous subsidies for health care and massive investments in public transportation.

But saying this is not to take anything away from Fashola’s achievements while in office as governor of Lagos State: the bold steps he took, the sense of mission and commitment he demonstrated and the courage with which he took on challenges. The Great Leap and In Bold Print represent veritable testimonies to all this. They are both well-edited and beautifully produced. Both indeed are books that those currently holding, or aspiring to hold, public positions need to procure and read. I salute Hakeem Bello for having the presence of mind to put them together and congratulate Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) whose vision and accomplishments the books preserve for posterity. Eko o ni baje o.

Dr Wumi Raji

Department of Dramatic Arts

Obafemi Awolowo University

Ile-Ife, Osun State