Sometime in 2006, (I cannot recollect the exact date or month), some selected editors were invited to a suite in Eko Holiday Inn to have a parley with the then Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. As the then editor of THISDAY, I was also invited. Even though the reason for the invitation was not stated by Tinubu’s Information and Strategy Commissioner, Mr Oladele Alake, there were hints that the governor wanted to use the occasion to confirm the rumour already gaining grounds that he had endorsed his relatively unknown Chief of Staff, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, as the candidate of his party (Action Congress) for the gubernatorial election in the state and by implication, as his likely successor.
I will never forget what transpired at that intemperate meeting with Tinubu because it ended on a rather unpleasant note, with him declaring, before he left in anger: “Gentlemen, in this game, I am the donkey everybody wants to ride (he actually used an obscene word I would rather not repeat here) and I will determine who rides me.”
The bone of contention was that for a man who had an A-List cabinet in terms of academic credentials, professional experience and exposure, aside their expertise in different fields, it was strange to us that Tinubu would not find any of them suitable to succeed him and would rather settle for a personal aide. Therefore, having never interacted with Fashola, most of us believed the governor was only trying to impose a puppet who had no mind of his own, someone who would be easily susceptible to manipulation.
For the record, Tinubu’s commissioners included Mr Yemi Osinbajo, a highly respected professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (currently the vice president); Mr Olawale Edun who had worked in the Wall Street firms of Lehman Brothers and Chase Manhattan Capital Markets Corporation in New York and the World Bank/IFC in Washington DC; Mr. Olayemi Cardoso who started his career in 1981 at Citibank in Europe and is now Chairman, Citibank Nigeria; renowned architect, Mr. Lanre Towry-Coker and several other accomplished professionals like Dr. Leke Pitan, Mr Tola Kasali, Mr. Ben Akabueze, Mr. Tunji Bello and Mr. Alake himself.
It was surprising to us that Tinubu could not find any of these people (or some of the others who had expressed interest like his deputy and banker, Mr Femi Pedro) worthy to be his successor. But what led to the open hostility at the meeting was the fact that Tinubu was well aware that the opposition to the idea of Fashola was because many of the editors had taken sides with their friend and then Senator, Tokunbo Afikuyomi, who was also seeking the party’s ticket. In trying to convince us about the wisdom of his choice, Tinubu said: “I know all the people who want to succeed me because I have worked with all of them and I can assure you that in terms of temperament, competence and capacity to deliver, none of them comes close to Fashola.”
We took Tinubu’s words with a pinch of salt and the conclusion most of us could draw that day was that the governor was overreaching himself on the issue and would likely fail. We also made our point very clear to him in that respect. Of course, Fashola got the party’s ticket but that was the easier part. For the election proper, the early days of the campaigns suggested that the more known (and equally more popular among Lagosians) Mr. Jimi Agbaje might spring a surprise despite the fact that he was running on a weak political platform. Mr. Musiliu Obanikoro, a former commissioner of Tinubu and then sitting Senator, who was contesting on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform was also a formidable candidate who could also turn the table.
However, events took a dramatic turn in the course of the three live television debates organized between the three candidates by three different media institutions, including Channels Television. Perhaps because it was novel, many Lagosians watched the three sessions as one left-handed man jotted down questions before he would respond with poise and authority. Without any doubt, Fashola was the clear winner in all the three debates and that was the point at which Lagosians started paying attention, believing that a man who would exhibit such brilliance could not possibly be anybody’s puppet.
At the election, Fashola won and he literally hit the ground running. Helped by the foundation already laid and the political shield provided by Tinubu, Fashola also had an advantage. Whereas, his predecessor spent most of his time in office fighting with the federal government under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Fashola had a good rapport with Abuja. In fact, my late boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had a strong affection for Fashola whom he used to call “Governor Lagos”. Financially, all the local government funds withheld by the federal government under Obasanjo were also returned to Lagos at the beginning of Fashola’s tenure.
What all these mean in effect is that Fashola was opportuned from the beginning but that was not the basis of his success. He is also a visionary leader. I recall a conversation with him about three years ago where he expressed his fascination with the “Broken Windows Theory”, which he said underpins his attitude to governance. Based on a thesis by James Wilson and George Kelling which originally centred on crime prevention, the broken windows theory was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1982.
The moral of the proposition is that it is much more productive and far cheaper to fix a “broken window” (metaphor for any problem) before it escalates. And as one commentator puts it, “we’ve seen clean, functional systems deteriorate pretty quickly once windows start breaking…neglect accelerates the rot faster than any other factor.” That was the philosophical underpinning of Fashola’s stewardship in Lagos and all factors considered, he succeeded in restoring order to a chaotic city memorably dubbed “urban jungle” by President Obasanjo and that is no mean achievement.
However, I am also aware that with all his brilliance, Fashola could not have achieved much in Lagos without the support he got from Tinubu who watched his back. But as it so ever happens between godfather and godson, the relationship between the duo was, at some point, widely suspected not to be so cordial, to put it mildly. While there were never open confrontations, those adept at watching body languages had stories to tell about what was happening behind-the-scenes between the two.
Since I was away from the country between July 2010 and July 2011 and did not witness the election of that year as well as the events preceding it, all I know about the relationship between Tinubu and Fashola were only what I read in the print media. But to the extent that Fashola got the party’s ticket with which he contested and won his second-term mandate, we can assume that the disagreement between the two may have been somewhat exaggerated.
However, the problem began early last year when Fashola started thinking about his own successor. When asked about the issue, Fashola said he was not worried but at the same time concerned. “I hope, firstly, that the next person is a lot better than me. I hope that he can do in four years what we did in eight years, and that can only be beneficial to all of us. We want somebody who can do these things in a shorter time and make all of the things we have done child’s play. That is why I said I don’t want to be the best governor of Lagos State. The best governor of Lagos is a futuristic idea. Every governor of Lagos should be better than the last one. My innermost interest in the next election is for who will best protect and advance the interest and the course of the state,” he stressed.
At that period, the front runners in the race were Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, a former Accountant-General of the state, who was being tipped by Tinubu and Mr. Supo Shasore, a former Attorney General and Justice Commissioner, who was believed to be Fashola’s anointed. At the end, and as to be expected, it was Ambode who won the party’s ticket but the relationship between Fashola and Tinubu had taken a big toll in the process.
No doubt, the emergence of Ambode against Fashola’s preference had put the former governor in an uncomfortable position but he nonetheless campaigned for the man who is now his successor. The challenge of the moment is that Ambode’s handlers are trying to use Fashola as a distraction. The response of my friend and current Lagos State Information Commissioner, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, to a recent critical story published by “The Economist”, is to say the least, very unfortunate and rather unhelpful in the circumstance. I wonder why government spokespersons believe that abusing people would win the argument (or support) for their principal.
I have never met Ambode before but I have no doubt that he will eventually come good if he takes a lesson from Tinubu who himself spent the first year in office being compared to his predecessor, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (rtd) and falling short in the estimation of most Lagosians at the time. But Tinubu did not try to find fault. He accepted his mistakes, challenged himself and his team and he eventually did well. What that teaches is that Ambode should accept that right now, Lagos is not working, what with soaring crime rate and traffic chaos. But the governor has time on his side to fix the problems. That is the best way to respond to his critics, not by abusing them or taking potshots at his illustrious immediate predecessor. It is important for Ambode to see the bigger picture.
With the constitution of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet that has seen Fashola being handed a critical three-in-one ministry (Power, Works and Housing), the Lagos experiment is now a subject of interrogation in several respects. To the extent that we have too many “broken windows” in our country today, we need men like Fashola who would pay attention to details. My fear, however, is that the former Lagos State governor might have been saddled with too much responsibility. I had been hoping that he would be given either the Power ministry or that of Works. He has been handed the two combined, with additional responsibility for Housing!
I don’t understand why President Buhari would do that just as I fail to get the point being made by those who suggest that Tinubu is the loser in the exercise when in fact he is actually the biggest winner. Any objective assessment of the sharing of portfolios cannot but come to one conclusion: the South-west ministers fare the best in terms of the critical sectors they have been given to handle. Now, as the man who led the zone into the strategic political alliance that produced victory for the opposition, the disproportionate sharing of portfolios in favour of the South-west can only be to Tinubu’s credit regardless of the stories about the relationship with the people so appointed from the zone.
However, perhaps Tinubu’s biggest achievement is the subtle promotion of the Lagos model as the way to go for Nigeria if we are to fulfil our potentials as a nation. That for me is what the appointment of Mr Babatunde Fowler as the chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the three-in-one “Ministry of Critical Infrastructure” (for which Fashola is saddled) represents. It is an affirmation of the direction the administration intends to go and I consider it a very bold step by the president.
Before I go further, I need to state that I am quite aware of the sundry allegations that have for years dogged tax administration in Lagos, especially regarding who the actual beneficiaries are as well as other questions that border on transparency in the management of the state’s finances. Those are important issues that would have to be addressed. Notwithstanding, in terms of primacy of ideas for modern governance, Lagos remains the model by which Nigeria can work and due credit must be given to Tinubu as the pioneer in that direction.
When people complain about Lagos, it is because they have not paid attention to its huge population, the enormous challenges and what is no more than meager resources, even with all the internally generated revenues. The question really is how the situation would have been if Lagos was, like other states, dependent on oil revenues. One fact most people also ignore is that Lagos contributes significantly to the federal purse. On Monday, Governor Ambode said Lagos accounts for over 65 per cent of Nigeria’s non-oil Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 60 per cent of value added manufacturing while arguing that there was need “to look inward for alternative and sustainable revenue sources apart from oil. Already, Lagos has been in the forefront of generating non-oil revenues.”
As I stated earlier the Lagos model has its own contradictions that would have to be resolved in the overall interest of the people of the state and that of the actors themselves if they are not to ultimately lose out. But if Nigeria is ever to develop an economy that is less dependent on oil rent, the Lagos model is the way to go. That perhaps explains why when someone suggested recently that a synergy between the trio of Tinubu, Fashola and Ambode is necessary for sustainable development in Lagos, I could not fault the argument. The logic could be further extrapolated that it would also be in the interest of Nigeria for the three men to work together given Tinubu’s leadership role in the All Progressives Congress (the party in power at the centre); Fashola’s new national assignment in charge of strategic sectors of our national life and Governor Ambode’s duty to fix the problems of the nation’s economic nerve centre.
All said, it must be pointed out that the success recorded in Lagos under Tinubu and Fashola especially owe largely to their very keen understanding of the immediate needs of Lagosians– free flow of traffic, infrastructure that is tolerably acceptable, improved environmental sanitation and a reasonable level of security. They went ahead first to address these needs in a demonstrable and visible way before evolving taxation mechanisms. It would be recalled that as Tinubu set about fixing pot holes on many Lagos roads, there was always a signage that said “YOUR TAX MONEY AT WORK”. The same went with most other public work projects.
When the tax man eventually came calling, most people were able to see the relationship between the increased demand for taxation and the sense of responsibility of their government. This remains the clearest demonstration in recent Nigerian history of the dictum that dictates a correlation between taxation and representation. The lesson is simple: you do not tax people if they cannot see government as representing their interests. The Federal Government must embrace this process and the hard work it entails.
This Opinion piece was written by Olusegun Adeniyi/Thisday
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