I have always wished the day would come when the people of Lagos will call their leaders to account for the way they managed the state’s resources, when the people will sit in judgment and punish the unrighteous servants who took them for granted. Well, that day hasn’t exactly come yet. But we have been served a few simple appetisers of what is to come. The preview gives the people some insight into the long held suspicion in some quarters that the righteous posturing of former Governor Babatunde Fashola and his administration was a smokescreen that shielded the immeasurable mismanagement of public funds. It is a story being told bit by bit, but which will ultimately come together one day to reveal the truth that has for long been hidden from the public.
But beyond anything else, is the lesson for many Nigerians who were just too sentimental, hence, could not see beyond the façade of the “glittering stewardship”; impressionable Nigerians who got easily carried away by small results, pathetically displaying their shallowness – surprisingly, even the otherwise well-informed ones among them chose to be willfully blinded to the extent of even making excuses for the looting that went on in Lagos under Fashola. Except they reverse their moral philosophy, they will continue to be deceived, misled and mesmerised by the superficial appearances put up by those entrusted with public office who have found strength in the peoples’ weakness, to mismanage public resources for their personal benefits. The people will continue to end up terribly disappointed in the so-called “heroes”. Unfortunately, the real and true heroes are yet to be born. Yes, we are a nation without heroes and I mince no words in saying that.
The official figures released in the Lagos State Public Procurement website, paint a grim picture of the looting of Lagos State through contract inflation. The more I look at the figures, the more my hair stand up at the back of my neck.
Despite this, some career publicists have risen to defend the unexplainable mismanagement of the commonwealth and tried to pass off the revelations as the fallout of the grudge match between the godfather and his godson. Whether true or false, I am not interested in that usual Nigerian tactic of imputing politics and ambiguity into clear and unambiguous facts to confuse the people. This is because this well known tactic does not provide answers to the issue at hand, which is the wholesale mismanagement of public trust. Instead, it usually gives the accused a wall to hide behind. But if actually there is a grudge match, let it break into the open, because such a fight would be beneficial to the people of Lagos.
You don’t need to be kicked in the gut to create a maelstrom of emotions going by what we have been fed about the government Fashola ran. Please, save yourself the agony of imagining for a moment what might have happened in much bigger contracts in the last eight years. If the revelations coming out of the government official website about his administration does not shock your sense of prudence and probity, then nothing ever will. For these publicists however, their sense of right and wrong is clouded by sentiment and not reason such that they will not accept the truth even if “hell freezes over”. But there is a saying in the land of my fathers that somewhat buttresses this situation: “When desire overtakes reason, the human mind can unleash deadly obsession.” We are seeing evidence of this all around us as some people have chosen to be blinded to the truth, and live in denial of the stark realities we face.
Fashola, the postal boy of good governance, the shining star and pride of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Performance, Mr. Clean (these were just some of the sobriquets that had prefaced his name) – has struggled unconvincingly to extricate himself from mind-boggling allegations of corruption and mismanagement of taxpayers’ money. Fellow Nigerians, What a fall from grace by the one “who could do no wrong”! He increased the fees paid in Lagos State University (LASU), attended largely by the children of the poor by a whopping 400 per cent from N50,000 to N250,000 on average on the excuse that the “state government does not have the money to continue to subsidise the school” and then casually shelled out N78.3 million of public funds for the upgrade of his personal website.
It is one of the contradictions of our leaders that keep one awake all night in pain and anguish. And because they have become so cold, unfeeling and detached from their own personal circumstances not so long ago, they can’t remember how they went to school. It is a shame that he even tried to defend such expenditure on the grounds that it went through public procurement and was approved by the state House of Assembly. It is appalling that we have lost our sense of collective outrage at the carefree manner public resources are handled by the “heroes” of our time.
Was it not hypocritical of Fashola, or was he merely playing to the gallery while speaking at the 16th Bishop Mike Okonkwo Annual Lecture a fortnight ago when he urged Nigerians to ensure they “hold their leaders accountable always”, but moments later, refused to be held to account while answering questions after he spoke so glowingly about the need for accountability? What kind of apostle of accountability is that who does not practice what he preaches?
The questions we should all ask Fashola are: why should the taxpayers pay for his PERSONAL website? Will he spend his own hard-earned N78.3 million from law practice on the upgrade of a website? Why was the upgrade such a priority?
According to him: “One of the services was an upgrade quoted for N12.5 million but awarded for N12 million. There were other services that were new; like a handover countdown clock, mobile Apps for Google, IOS and iPad for Microsoft and Research in Motion (Blackberry), which the existing website did not have, as well as the annual maintenance cost for managing the website.
“It was all these services that the contract was issued for N78 million, which the Lagos State Procurement Agency gave a ‘No Objection’, based on the advice of the Ministry of Science and Technology, which is the government 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 an ‘upgrade’ without detailing the other services and this has been distorted by the agents of hate as their suspected ‘smoking gun’. For those who are familiar with mobile applications, they will attest that the users either pay for them online or download them for free. Since these applications were to be made available to the public for free access and to assist government communication, we decided to pay for them.”
Oh yes! It is a “smoking gun” – that gives a peep into how he managed taxpayers’ money. It is a “smoking gun” because it confirms suspicions that under him, public money was carelessly used to advance personal benefits. So let him not threaten or abuse anyone who is demanding accountability. He was a public servant who held office in trust. His analogy of “wrestling with a pig” does not hold water here. More than anything else, it showed an arrogant sense of entitlement. Not even his beautiful diction can fool discerning minds on this issue. He should just answer the roaring question.
Why did he spend taxpayers’ money on the upgrade of his personal website? This is the simple and yet difficult question Fashola has failed to answer. No matter how one looks at it, this is a personal website in the name of Fashola. It has no official bearing that indicates that succeeding governors can use it. It is personalised www.tundefashola.com or can the current governor use it? If yes, did he hand it over to the state on May 29? As at the time I checked yesterday, Fashola was still using the website which confirmed that public money has been used to upgrade a very private venture. The introduction on it now reads, “Babatunde Fashola (SAN), former governor of Lagos (2007 – 2015).” And let’s even think for a moment – of what use is the famed state Ministry of Science and Technology if it could not set-up or carry out a mere website upgrade?
I was particularly unimpressed with that silly excuse that it passed through “due process” in justification of his action. In this clime, when “His Excellency” speaks, who will challenge him? His claim that the website had a handover countdown clock (countdown clock my foot!), mobile Apps for Google, IOS and iPad for Microsoft and Research in Motion (Blackberry) was just technical jargon designed to fool and deceive the public. And in the absence of a plausible deniability of the responsibility blame, the ex-governor should be held personally liable for spending our money outlandishly on his personal website, and must be made to refund it to the public treasury. Or is a personal website listed in the huge pension “takeaway” a governor gets when leaving office in Lagos? And now that he has left office, is the state government going to continue paying for the maintenance of Fashola’s website? We need answers urgently. If he didn’t know, let him know now that there is a statute of limitation on peoples’ gratitude for a less than average performance embellished in glittering propaganda, especially now that the exorbitant costs of those projects are coming to light.
The public was still absorbing the shocking revelation about Fashola’s website when another bombshell was delivered by the same procurement website of the state government, which ironically was created by Fashola to promote transparency. That transparency is what is now being frowned upon and interpreted as attempts to undermine his “personal integrity” by his supporters. But these very same supporters have been busy cheering and celebrating figures dished out randomly by Governor Adams Oshiomhole and Lai Muhammed as evidence of the rot left behind by the last administration.
Fashola was reported to have spent N139 million on the drilling of two boreholes at the Lagos House, Ikeja. Now, can anybody justify such huge expenditure on just two boreholes? We all have a pretty good idea how much a borehole costs in Lagos, and drilling of two boreholes for that sum was simply outrageous and scandalous to say the least. Or do the boreholes also have the de luxe version of “mobile Apps for Google, IOS and iPad for Microsoft and blackberry”?
In 2013, the Fashola administration, as published by the official website of the state government, spent N640 million on the reconstruction of a car park and other associated works at the Lagos House, Marina. About N510 million was also spent on “remodeling and equipping” the official residence of the state Chief Judge by a governor who claimed he could not continue subsidising the education of youths. Students in secondary schools sit on bare floors to learn in classrooms with neither doors nor windows.
Recall that Patricia Etteh, former Speaker of the House of Representatives was forced to resign on October 30, 2007, barely five months after she was elected as the speaker. Why? A group of lawmakers under the umbrella of the “Integrity Group” had accused her of gross abuse of office after it was alleged that she unilaterally approved the sum of N628 million to renovate her official residence as well as that of her deputy, Hon Babangida Nguroje. This was sensationally reported in the press, even though funds had not been released for the projects. The hypocritical social critics, lawyers and all manner of groups in cahoots with the then Action Congress (AC), which later became known as the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – one of the legacy parties of the APC seized the moment, eventually hounding her from office
What about Stella Oduah’s N255 million bulletproof cars that caught fire in the media?
But since the website scandal broke, our loudmouthed activists, and intellectual colossi cannot find their voices to speak up, in the spirit of equity, justice and impartiality to condemn the impropriety of the expenditure, or call for an investigation into what was clearly a rip-off!
In the fullness of time, Fashola will have to explain to Lagosians why the 1.358 km-long Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge, a bridge across a shallow part of the lagoon cost the state over N30 billion. How can a 1.3km bridge cost that much? Obviously this is the most expensive bridge in terms of cost per square meter on planet Earth. Some people call it “Cable Bridge”, and a monument to “good governance”. Well they can say what they like. But to me, it is a monument to inflated contracts and associated economic crimes against the people. It is only in Nigeria that this sort of thing can happen and the people behind it will get away without consequences.
Our leaders all across the country lack creative energies; they are not radical dreamers. And you cannot achieve anything you cannot dream. The sad part of it all is that they travel a lot abroad to rest and indulge in their vanities. They see the wonders of human imagination and dreams as landmarks of human possibilities all over the world. Yet, they cannot come back home to replicate those wonders here. Instead they loot the public treasury to secure the future of their families.
The troubling reality is that a lot could have been achieved in Lagos State given its huge resource base and potential for more, but for the mismanagement that has taken place. For instance, why has the state not built the Fourth Mainland Bridge? The lazy excuse was that there was no money. But why would there be money when the state treasury was mismanaged?
Now, can anyone tell me why the state has not optimised its geographical possibilities, and built projects that will wow the world, thereby claiming a spot on the register of tourist resorts? This no doubt, would be a big revenue earner for the state. In contrast, see how visionary leadership and “daring to dream” big have transformed the dusty desert land of Dubai to an oasis of prosperity and a glittering financial hub, with many first and biggest landmarks; likewise Abu Dhabi and Qatar, both bankrupt lands about 15 years ago. Where is Nigeria? It has been sitting on a barber’s chair swiveling in motion without movement for the past 20 years. Oh where is Lagos? The supposed city of excellence has yet to grapple with broken and dilapidated infrastructure, filth-littered streets, utter chaos and confusion as a result of total indiscipline on its roads. Fashola shot to fame overnight because in the land of the blind, the one eyed-man is the king.