It is already one year since Mr. Babatunde Fashola assumed office as the Minister of Works, Power and Housing after completing an eight-year stint as the governor of Lagos State. For the avoidance of any doubt, this is NOT an assessment of Fashola’s one year in office. We would soon take a comprehensive stock of his stewardship as a minister to see how well he has fared. However, his scorecard so far isn’t looking so good. The past 12 months have been long on excuses and blame, but short on delivery of roads, power and housing.
His time in Lagos is the central focus here for one simple reason that Fashola at the Wilson Centre, Washington DC recently, in a lecture titled, ‘Leadership and the Politics of Reform in Africa: Lessons from Nigeria,’ tried very eloquently and persuasively so to justify this government’s legendary penchant for blaming the last government for everything that is wrong with Nigeria while refusing to accept responsibilities for driving the economy into recession.
He said: “For those who say that today’s government should stop talking about yesterday, with due respect, I disagree. Yesterday will remain relevant in understanding today in order to make choices that make tomorrow different and better.” He further stated that practices where the government chose to distribute cash, rice and imported kerosene in order to win votes, rather than invest it in the payment of contractors, got them to build roads, power projects, housing and real infrastructure, as some of the factors responsible for today’s economic recession. Really? Was he kidding?
While Fashola would want to continue to dwell on the failures of the last administration, nobody dwells on his failings, or what he failed to do in Lagos. It is on this premise that I have decided to revisit Fashola’s Lagos to see what lessons can be learnt from how he superintended over it during his time as the governor.
He was largely celebrated by his supporters as the best thing to happen to the state in recent memory. But a few of us have always disagreed with that assessment and posited that when his performance was matched with the resources that were at his disposal, his cumulative grade assessment would be far less sterling than his supporters claimed. At best, Fashola was a below-average performer in a state that prides itself on excellence.
Unfortunately, many Nigerians have elevated this below-average performance to a measure of excellence. In a way, it reflects our poor appreciation of excellence, and feeds heavily on the saying that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So gradually, we have become accustomed to average grades as a mark of excellence.
While Fashola reigned with his nebulous strapline: Eko o ni baje, he benchmarked his performance against that of a horde of short-sighted, and corrupt governors. And for that, he seemingly shone like a thousand stars. That precisely is the reason we are where we are in the human community. He failed woefully to emulate great visionaries like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai and such other transformers of this generation despite the enormous resources he had.
Well, by the very poor standards peculiar to us, he did well indeed!
But can anyone point to any landmark achievement of his eight years in office other than the scandalously expensive 1.358 km-long Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge that cost the taxpayers over N30 billion? He left a legacy of poor vision, huge debts, shocking mismanagement and waste of public funds, inflated contracts, outright corruption, and an abysmal failure to transform the state’s infrastructure into world-class standards befitting a mega-city he constantly mouthed. He handed over to his successor, a state that topped the shortlist of the world’s worst cities to live in.
The man who regularly talked about tourism and its potential to generate mouth-watering revenues failed miserably to harness Lagos’ water assets such as its coastline beaches for tourism. If I may ask, what do we have in many of the beaches? Dirt, human faeces, polluted waters, etc. Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro is world-famous for tourism because of the foresight of its leadership. There are so many more around the world that Nigerians travel to on vacation and spend a fortune. Had Fashola the foresight to envision this money-spinner and the creative imagination to replicate Copacabana in the state, Lagos would have been in far better financial shape than he left it. Instead, he allegedly raided the public vault – used N78.3 million to upgrade his personal website, and dug two boreholes for a whopping N139 million.
In 2013, Fashola 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. Wow! Anyone who has been to this property would laugh their head off at this claim. The truth is that it was just another clever way of breaking into the taxpayers’ vault and stuffing one’s pocket with cash and dashing across the expressway in broad daylight. What about the N510 million spent on “remodelling and equipping” the official residence of the state Chief Judge? If remodelling cost that much, how much was the property itself? I am sure the judge would be shocked by the figure claimed.
These are just a glimpse into Fashola’s reign. More rot was filtering through before the state government shut down the website to shield Fashola from further scrutiny of the objectionable nature of how he superintended over public funds. Only God knows the full extent of the rot he left behind embellished in glittering make-believe performance.
His pretence to transparency and accountability is a hollow mockery of those virtues, and the height of hypocrisy. A full probe of his tenure will disgrace a nation of savages.
His record on education is a crying shame to his posture today. He inherited poor infrastructure in the primary and secondary school sectors and after eight years in office, he made little difference to the situation. In a great number of schools, many students still sat on bare floors to receive lectures in classrooms with neither windows nor doors. Some even took classes under trees in Fashola’s mega-city Lagos, believe you me! While he could not fix the schools for the children of the poor, his children attended private schools within the and outside the country.
Make no mistake, one must acknowledge Fashola’s small effort in Lagos. That is just what it was – small and lacking the radical bent of history’s transformers, even though it was embellished in glowing prose and superlative adjectives that have seen many people prostrate before him as the wonder boy of this generation. He represents neither the new age of ideas and radical vision we yearn for, nor does he possess the magical elixir to fix Nigeria. He is still struggling to find his bearing as the Minister of Works, Power and Housing. His agenda for delivering change is a lost cause.
In just one year, the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) poster boy for excellence has seen his famed magic wand unravel at the federal level. The “Lagos golden boy and actualiser of Buhari’s change” is nothing but a praise-singer, steeped in laborious excuses and blame game for his inability to perform. This man who was in the habit of pointing an accusing finger at the then federal government for the failure to maintain the federal roads in Lagos never knew he would be made the minister directly responsible for the critical infrastructure in the country.
Federal roads across the country, according to The Guardian in its editorial recently, are in worst shape ever. New Telegraph ran pictures of the deplorable state of the Lagos-Sagamu road at the Ikorodu axis, the Enugu-Onitsha highway by Orji River, and Aba-Ikot Ekpene highway linking Abia and Akwa Ibom States. What about the Uyo-Calabar road? What about Ogbulafor-Makurdi road and the Abuja-Lokoja expressway? What about Benin-Auchi road which has become a kidnappers’ highway? Of course there are so many across the length and breadth of the country.
Even in Lagos, Fashola’s pretty mega-city, most of the federal roads and flyovers are in an unpardonable condition. The situation in Apapa shows the tragedy of hypocrisy of these change agents. That all-important Ijora bridge leading in and out of the port city of Apapa is a tragedy waiting to happen; its structural integrity appears to be compromised on several portions and all the protective railings are gone. When descending the bridge, the roundabout right in front of Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc at Apapa is just impassable. The craters are so wide that they have become the graveyard of many cars and heavy-duty trucks. To show their displeasure, motorists have named them: Fashola’s craters.
Recall that he was particularly active on the campaign stump, urging Nigerians not to accept the excuses of vandalism from the last government for its inability to provide regular electricity. Only recently, this same Fashola came out to tell Nigerians that so long as vandals continue to vandalise oil installations, we won’t enjoy steady power supply. He still blames Goodluck Jonathan for not making Nigeria a paradise. But his tenure in Lagos remains a sour debate. The question is: Did Fashola fix all the problems he inherited and transform the state into paradise? If he did, there would be no need for his successor to carry on with the development issues Fashola left behind, including uncompleted projects.
The 2015 electioneering saw our “hero” resort to scaremongering propaganda, and even to that base instinct ingrained in the average Nigerian politician: ethnicity, which has denied the country progress and development since independence. I was taken aback, and probably in denial of the not-so-subtle ethnic colouration in the accusations he was reported to have levelled against the Yoruba leaders that their support for President Jonathan was a “betrayal” borne out of “blood money”, causing Yinka Odumakin to hit back saying that Fashola came to Alausa with a Mercedes Benz 200 flat boot and a Sagem handset when Tinubu appointed him as the chief of staff in 2002 but was now blinded with obscene wealth.
Obviously, Fashola has been morphing lately from the trumpeted “actualiser” of Buhari’s change, into an outspoken sycophant ostensibly to distract attention from his failure to deliver by his own standards – all the more so because he is the “prime minister”. But as he regales the public with tales of what the last government failed to do, or how its officials looted the treasury, housing is still unavailable, power supply is highly unstable, and the federal roads all over the country have become craters as motorists navigate them in pain and agony.