Of Fashola and sword of Damocles
DAMOCLES, a member of the court of Dionysius 1 tyrant of Syracuse was, according to the classical orator and historian, Cicero, invited by Dionysius to eat a splendid dinner with a sword suspended by a hair over his head to illustrate the tyrant’s life of luxury at the cost or expense of insecurity or of a creeping loss of reputational capital or character.
“A sword of Damocles” has since become proverbial and its meaning has been extended to denote the decline or deterioration which commonly marks the end of a great period even as the invitation to table looks more like an entrapment.
There is, in our circumstance, a declining seriousness of purpose combined with an increasing skill and virtuousity of technique in the mismanagement of the public sphere.
Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, the erstwhile Governor of Lagos State was, in 2007, metaphorically invited to a sumptuous meal. His hosts however held a tight rein round and about him. For four years, Fashola endured the indignity of a nominal governor – one who looked less of a de facto ruler of Nigeria’s prime state.
Aided by his background of a generally submissive and only once-in-a-while mischievous schoolboy from Sunnyside Nursery and Primary School through Birch Freeman High School, to his little-talked-about period in Eko Boys High School [where he providentially obtained his WASC], Igbobi College, including his little known involvement in any form of populist activism in his university days, Fashola was the perfect candidate for the scheme or design of his sponsors.
A second term tenure is provided for in the Constritution presumably as a way of making the good works that may have been initiated or begun to continue even as the people are targeted as their ultimate beneficiaries. But the second term tenure is often haunted by the spectre of poor performance, un-imaginable smugness and banality.
The case of a single-term tenure is fortified or made compelling by the recklessness exemplified in second-term tenures of many of our public office holders. Many atrocities of our elected public men are observably committed in their second tenures.
Fashola’s supreme political hour peaked in his first term particularly in the re-minting or re-shaping into a state-of-the-art panorama of the cesspit or dungeon that was Oshodi [that unflattering commentary on the political and social life of our country]; the execution of the largest ever school and hospital building improvement programme; civil partnerships [or PPP initiatives]; the provision of functional [though grossly in-adequate] infrastructure for schools, etc. A master of witty riposte, his public speeches are spontaneously delivered in a free colloquial style. He was less political but more pragmatic that he almost shared the accolade of “Action Governor” with inimitable Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the first civilian Governor of Lagos State. All the above can be safely said regarding the first term only of Mr. Fashola’s tenure.
There is a seeming hubris in the way public office holders carry themselves; an obvious overweening pride which results in the misfortune of the protagonist of a tragedy. Hubris leads the protagonist to break a moral law or ignore a divine warning with attendant calamitous results or consequences. This flaw is most observable where the holding of a public office prescribes or permits of a second term. But there is a moral law inherent in public office holding. It is to the effect that the public office holder will act only in the best interest of the public always. It is however not in the public interest to personally appropriate the opportunities available to the people. It is also not in the public interest to tinker with the public till or otherwise mis-apply or mis-appropriate the public revenue. It is the un-abashed breaking of the moral law or the smug disregard of the divine warning respecting the effectual holding of the public office that is the Achille’s heel of many public office holders. There is also the irreverent requirement to do the will or bidding of sponsors or “godfathers” even where such predilections conflict with the moral code or divine instruction.
At his first coming in 2007, Fashola’s party leadership boasted of him as pristine, untainted and unproblematic [another usage for unquestioning obedience or “Oga so ‘pe” in Lagos politics lingo]. He emerged to the discomfiture of many party captains who visibly bore their grief with restrained equanimity. In one of his early public appearances whereat the readily-mobilisable Lagos Market Women & Men Association in their large number met the Governor with drumming and effusive dancing, he quietly reminded them concerning a new order in Lagos State: all political issues or challenges were to be channelled to Bourdillon Road – a subtle reference to Ashiwaju Tinubu’s residence – he firmly advised. Only “governance” matters should be referred to him or would concern him, he reportedly intoned.
From then on, Fashola lost his tenuous grip of the machinery that was used to instal him. One wonders what school of political thinking the former Governor belongs to that downplays the place of the political platform while naively promoting the elusive act of governance. What else suggests the direction or prognosis of a government if not the ideology, structure or complexion of the party that forms it? For reasons that are not difficult to surmise, Fashola managed to escape several inchoate impeachment attempts. The saving grace: his original sponsors or promoters feared that if they allowed any successful impeachment process against him, it could foreclose any attempt in future or in the coming elections to single-handedly nominate for the people who their new helmsman should be. Pained or grieved as they were regarding the un-acceptable situation, Fashola was allowed to waffle on.
Cast in the mould of an austere and severe personage who typifies certain time-honoured virtues, values or quality, Governor Fashola’s mien or public perception tends to deny the truth-value or the legitimacy of the critical questions raised in the barrage of allegations touching on impropriety or the abuse of his exalted office.
Allegations concerning corrupt transactional panoply, under-the-table or shady dealings, an iniquitous spending spree, etc. are being freely levelled against his tenure: N1.2b inflated contracts for pedestrian bridges along Eti-Osa/Lekki/Epe Expressway, N139m to construct 2 nos. boreholes, N78m to upgrade a personal website, etc. are some of the unsettling details of the yet-to-be-proved allegations. It may be argued in Fashola’s favour that the hoopla attending the alleged wrong-doings is coming from known adversarial political direction even as its purpose or intendment is clearly in the public interest. It is beside the point to finger putative enemies as being responsible for the Governor’s predicament.
The “enemy” action, in fact, properly situates the requirement to do everything possible to ensure that the luminescence of a prime rising star is not dimmed or otherwise put out by unscientific conjectures, unfounded assumptions or unscrupulous insinuations.
Fashola should himself do the needful by replying point by point, figure for figure, etc. to the disturbing allegations in the true tradition of the fine and distinguished profession of the Bar of which he is a Senior Advocate. By so doing, he will not only be doing a deserved honour to his period in office popularly believed to have been marked by the scope, scale and speed of change representing Lagos State’s most defining characteristic, he will also have confirmed his place among the legendary Titans – or demi-gods.
Mr. Fashola should step out boldly with an empirical denunciation of these damaging statements in the public sphere and thereby re-connect with practices that are congruent with ideals, best governance regimen and classic progressive values.
•Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, contributed this piece from Abuja.