27 April 2009

A Few Good 'MAN' - Babatunde Fashola, Lagos State Governor

I never thought I would ever have to write a full article about a Nigerian politician, a very positive review for that matter. This was not for lack of optimism on my part, but for the lack of vision and purpose on their part. The reality is that a good Nigerian politician is difficult to come by. The vast majority of the politicians elected into government are self-serving, corrupt and worse of all visionless. They are corrupt nationally, regionally and locally. They are corrupt in the South and in the North, in the East and in the West.

The Governors in the North marry multiple wives, in the South-West; they publicly stick with one wife but go through young mistresses faster than mach 2. The Ibo Governors ingratiate themselves with royalty; the Yoruba ones think they are royalty, the South-South Governors lobby to become Knights, the Hausa Governors have too much time on their hands and Yar'Adua, the President, gives his daughters to two of them as third and fourth wives respectively.

Worse still, the legislators are clueless. Their main pre-occupation is junketing abroad on endless fact-finding missions. Yet they are concerned with how they are perceived at home and at the ready to threaten with arrest anyone that challenges their plain-to-see indolence and hopelessness.

Nigerian politicians are ego driven; they will commandeer an honorary doctorate degree from Universities to which they are the ‘Visitor’ and get their friends and families to congratulate them with full page newspaper advertisements. Annoyingly, they assault our intelligence and overwhelm reason with false eulogies in these congratulatory advertisements, many of which often share the same message. They celebrate 47th, 56th and other meaningless birthdays; they collect meaningless titles from any monarch. The Nigerian politician gives the impression that theirs is a gadabout government, purposeless yet whirling in self congratulation.

After the era of visionary and selfless leaders like Awolowo, Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello, we are lumbered with the misfortune of having so-called usurpers who believe they are doing us a favour by carrying out what they are elected to do. So State Governors have their ugly photos plastered over the covers of notebooks distributed to school children, majority of whom have to contend with window-less, teacher-less schools. Some of the politicians also erect massive billboards with their photos and political slogans beside every road repaired and every well sunk. On being sworn to office, the vast majority of them took to corruption and the euphoria of office like a pig to filth. They stink to high heavens and they carry a lot of innocent blood on their hands and heads.

Refreshingly, Babatunde Fashola, the Lagos State Governor is a departure from this filth. He is a breath of fresh air compared to anyone who has held any executive position in Nigeria in over 40 years. He is so different that you can hardly believe he is one of us. He is genuinely and determinedly interested in changing the lives of his constituents for good. Like many other Lagosians, I have developed an air of breathless excitement as I watch Fashola transform the hitherto impossible city.

The recently introduced commuter bus systems have made travelling affordable and easier for a good number of people. Major road works are being carried out, drainage systems are being rebuilt. If you go on Mobolaji Bank Anthony in Ikeja or Akin Adesola in Victoria Island at night, you may think you are in London. Many roads in the Lagos metropolis now light up at night powered by solar energy. Fashola must have realised that the environment affects people’s behaviour, and has therefore engaged in a massive drive to beautify the city, left, right and centre. Lagos roads are now being swept almost round the clock.

The Lagos State Signage Agency has seen to it that posters and overhead fliers that hitherto deface Lagos roads are now a thing of the past.

Wherever you go in Lagos, you can see the government of Babatunde Fashola at work without seeing his face. He is rebranding Lagos State without making any noise about it. He just lets his work speak for him. Unlike many Nigerian politicians, he is not involved in any populist, short-term projects; he appears to be planning ahead for the next 100 years. Fashola genuinely has the interest of the people at heart.

Do not get me wrong, if you are visiting Lagos for the first time or have lived abroad for a considerably long period, you may not notice much. However, having lived in Lagos for over a year, the transformation is truly astounding. Fashola has proven that good governance is possible. He is also governing from a position of service. Never has he once made Lagosians believe he is doing them a favour. Fashola has class.

He is also very wise. He shows deference to traditional and religious leaders, but he does not 'collect' titles from them. He received an award from a newsmagazine as one of the best performing governors in 2008 but returned it when he realised it was a Greek gift.

Fashola is also a cultured person who is not carried away by power. He is one of only three Governors in Nigeria who still carry the title of ‘Mr’. In an interview he gave a few months after he became Governor, he said he does not use the signature siren favoured by politicians and the ‘powerful people’ because he is not only averse to noise but also considers it in bad taste to live in a government house, drive government vehicles, yet terrorise the same people that pay for the luxury he enjoys.

Some people will argue that he is only able to do what he is doing because his predecessor and mentor Bola Tinubu helps to handle the political side of things. My response is whilst this may be true; Fashola can not do what he is doing if he does not have it in him.

I will like to share a story that in my view sums up the effort of Babatunde Fashola and showcases the new Lagos that he is trying to build. A man had been lying for consecutive days at the same spot on the central reservation of the road that leads to our Estate. I decided to stop and on enquiring from a nearby shop-keeper, I was informed that the man had been drunk and was hit by an Okada (motorbike).

On Friday 17th April, I placed a call to the Lagos State emergency telephone number ‘767’ to request for assistance for the man. This was my first time of using this service which is in itself a first in Nigeria. I was amazed when I got connected and I was afforded the utmost courtesy by the person who answered the phone. When we got disconnected shortly afterwards, I tried again, and yet another person answered on the first ring. She listened to my report asking for the full details of where the man was and promised that an ambulance will be sent forthwith. I was joyful not only for the man, but that something this good was possible in Lagos and in Nigeria. Without any deliberate prompting, my heart blessed Fashola.

A few days later, I noticed that the man was no longer there. My wife later informed me that she saw an ambulance parked at the same spot to ferry the man away for treatment as she drove past one evening.

Of course Fashola is not doing more than what he was elected to do, however, when the vast majority of our politicians care less about the electorate, Fashola should earn our admiration for differentiating himself so fantastically.

I have watched Fashola on the sidelines for over a year and I know he is no fluke. He has surreptitiously dragged us, Lagosians, to develop confidence in him and increasingly in government. I have come across many people who have chosen to pay their tax because they believe that Fashola will use it responsibly. This agrees very well with the proponents of the theory that Nigeria’s problem is a leadership one.

Fashola has proven that you only need a few good people to change the course of a nation; in his case, a few good ‘MAN’. Lagosians know that what is happening in Lagos is due to the determination of a single man and they truly appreciate this man and have come to trust him. Fashola is a leader, a responsible man, a genuinely good person. He is a few good ‘MAN’. And we all can learn from him.PostcardfromLagos