Despite orchestrated misgivings, former Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State has an immutable record in the court of public opinion, writes Olawale Olaleye
Some days ago, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria and his team paid a private visit to the residence of Mr. Babatunde Fashola, immediate past governor of Lagos State. It was an interactive meeting designed to rub minds on mutual possibilities. Not just the US alone, everyone as well as great institutions of sound reasoning knows that Fashola is a material to be proud of as well as flash anywhere. This was further confirmed at this august meeting with the US team, three months after leaving office.
But a few minutes into the discussion, it turned out a lecture being delivered extempore by the vintage Fashola as the US officials resorted to frantic note taking. Quite expectedly, they were awed by his knowledge of policy, grasp of national development and his articulation in terms of administration and its complexities. They could not but take notes. That’s what is referred to in advanced quarters as “notes for the file”.
Without having to recycle the facts, Fashola’s cerebral deposits are enough to last a century of developmental reporting. He is both a child of circumstance and a product of many chances. He is wont to admit this too easily. Challenged by his father’s dismissal that he might not do well academically and the proposal for a vocational training (an automobile apprentice), Fashola wanted more from life and took the initiative to indulge in personal development. He thus remade himself. It’s still a classical case study.
Basking in the success of his chosen career as a lawyer, who would later become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), strutting through his unarguably sound mind, Fashola’s invitation to serve in a government that was deficient in credibility was strictly on personal recognition with a clear brief to help in administration, however operating from the office of the Chief of Staff.
For about five years that he served in that capacity, it was essentially administrative. He stayed away from “politics” which didn’t seem anything like his thing because they played it pretty dirty in the part of the corner he was called to serve. He excelled still.
Therefore, asking him to man the driver’s seat was arguably on merit but without any inkling that a bigger job awaited him. Those who settled for him knew they merely gambled for obvious selfish extrapolations. But on the contrary, it was a gamble that paid off. Fashola resolved immediately he took up the challenge to not make a name but do the job for with doing the job comes the name. And so it is.
Whilst the fact of who the pathfinder of Lagos has always remained a debate between two classes of people – those who reckoned it is Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the first civilian governor of the state and those who would stake their fortune on Senator Bola Tinubu – there can never be any such debate as to who the actualiser of the new Lagos is. It is and will always be Fashola. It is just another fact of public record.
Unfortunately for Fashola, he soon became a threat to his “makers” and unto himself with too much to offer. They probably thought it would be just another guy in the saddle, who would mess himself up in four years and thrown out afterwards on the grounds of non-performance. But Fashola turned out a game changer. In two years, he had decimated whatever was the record of the latter day pathfinder and set Lagos on a highway to its mega dreams. With Fashola, Lagos worked. He was responsible, sensible, sensitive, sensate and effective. He typified the cosmopolitan ilk of the breed required for everyone’s Lagos.
Whereas his record should have turned out a collective pride, it started to threaten the existence of some in the Lagos cabal. And then, stories started to fly – unpalatable stories of first, alleged corruption and then, character deficit and when those would not yield desired result, they resorted back to their allegations of corruption, which they had concocted to stall his second coming ahead of the 2011 elections.
The sudden emergence of a group, “The True Face of Lagos” in 2010 reeked of hate campaigns and a clearly thought out plan to destroy the vintage Fashola. The group that was later identified as faceless with sponsors traced to insiders – both in the party and government – was unable to do the required damage because of the likely effect it could have on the collective. They sucked it in and tolerated him for another term of four years, painfully though. Indeed, they were helpless, else, it would have been their loss as Fashola had grown in stature and rating beyond what a majority of them may never attain.
However, in the twilight of his second term, allegations of character deficit started to swirl. They accused him of promiscuity and alleged that he was responsible for a certain set of twins. What a-no-brainer! They could have done better. Interestingly, Fashola knew the sponsors of the stories and their motive but ignored them because as far as he was concerned, God had given him victory over them and doing a dogfight with them would only equate him with the no-do-wells.
The emergence of yet another group, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) further exposed the desperation of those behind the “Pull Down Fashola Project”. This time, it is a consolidated approach. They have brought together their previous charges in addition to new ones and are daily churning them out to decimate the incomprehensible BRF rating.
The latest being the N78million website contract seems to have enhanced what many now regard as hatchet job. They had celebrated the information with their counterparts in government and the party. But that celebration was tainted and short lived. Fashola’s unexpected reply seemed to have dented the flow and life span of their project as they still battle recovery.
Having dismissed the allegation of fathering the controversial set of twins, Fashola explained the website contract thus: “As far as the website contract is concerned, yes there was a contract. It went through procurement and was approved by the government agency authorised to do so. One of the services was an upgrade quoted for N12.5m but awarded for N12m.
“There were other services that were new like a handover countdown clock, mobile Apps for Google, for IOS and Ipad, for Microsoft and for Research in Motion (Blackberry), which the existing website did not have, as well as the annual maintenance cost for managing the website.
“It was for all these services that the contract was issued for N78m, which the Lagos State Procurement Agency gave no objection based on the advice of the Ministry of Science and Technology, who are the government’s adviser on ICT matters.
“In publishing this contract award, which was the government tradition under my watch, the procurement agency’s website summarised it as ‘upgrade’ only without detailing the other services and this has been distorted by the agents of hate as their suspected smoking gun. It is regrettable that a summary of the contract has been deliberately distorted to misinform the public.”
Although the hate campaigners are said to have dismissed the explanation as insufficient, what stops them from coming up with a different quote by professionals, explaining away the facts given by Fashola.
Suffice it to say that those driving the anti-Fashola project have a clearly marked out destination. The idea, it is believed, is to blackmail President Muhammadu Buhari from giving Fashola an appointment, apparently sensing that the man seems disposed to the former governor. They however failed to realise that everyone, the president inclusive, can also read through their feeble and lowly mind; they also failed to realise that the presidency has a more reliable means of running checks on people as well as institutions and will never resort to their indecent hollow, however desperate they get.
Whether or not they like, Fashola has become a phenomenon they cannot compel to grovel before their defiled shrine. He would not even stoop to cheap conquer. It takes the cheap and small minds to want to decimate an asset like Fashola. Although he has not announced that he was looking for an employment anywhere, the truth is that a legion of his traducers cannot stop his career progression, if God pleases.
It is common knowledge that the era before him was branded difficult for business and businessmen in the state. Approval for constructions was literally impossible, let alone some other government consent required for a thriving friendly environment, except for some face-saving propaganda. But all that changed with the coming onboard of Fashola as Lagos started to work. And that is their pain, really.
They may choose to run him down and attempt to alter the facts of his record, it does not change what the public already knows about the BRF years. No matter how much harm they do to his person, they cannot obliterate the many roads he constructed across the states. Their hate notwithstanding, they cannot claim the hospitals he built are no longer in existence. They can label him whatever name; it won’t change the fact that he lit up Lagos and reduced crime to an appreciable level. That Fashola built institutions and not individuals like the era before him is another feat they cannot trample underfoot.
They can continue to concoct their yet unfinished lies against him, it would not change the fact he was one governor that visited places that no governor had visited in the political history of the state. They can pretend he never existed; it won’t change the fact that he was efficient, effective, responsible and responsive in the running of the state. They cannot pretend not to know that he understands policy, development and governance. They cannot feign not to know that he was the one that changed the face of administration in the state and brought its way, the mega status.
Above all, it is also public knowledge that it was on the basis of his stellar performance and outstanding record that the party succeeded in installing another governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. Therefore, whatever are Ambode’s misgivings – whether founded or perceived – it would take more than running some ignoble executive errands to step up to Fashola’s intellectual credentials much less trump his sterling record. This is a fact already established in the court of public opinion. It is certainly not some misguided debate on the meaning of ocean economy.
But whilst it will be gladdening to see an Ambode run on his own record some four years from now – living above petty cravings and outgrowing his overweight infantile exuberance – no one sure needs a reminder that Fashola has already graduated from that school and with distinction. Indeed, he has moved on and cannot play in a pig league.
*Olaleye is the Political Editor of ThisDay