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Sanwo-Olu: Visible leadership

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Babajide Sanwo-Olu

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt the 32nd President of the United States who coined the term “first 100 days” during a July 24, 1933 radio address. During this period he pushed 13 major laws through parliament and brought major transformational reforms in what came to be known as The New Deal. Since then, the first 100 days of a presidential term has taken on symbolic significance.

This period is regarded by Americans as a benchmark to assess the early success of a President. It is, for them, a way of saying that the morning can determine the day. Since March 4, 1933 when this symbolic milestone started American leaders have been hooked on to it. Some Nigerian leaders at the Centre or in the States have adopted it and tried to show that they were ready to hit the ground running. Mr. Joe Biden, America’s President-Elect is already naming members of his cabinet and by the time he will be sworn-in in January next year he will be good to go.

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The governance of Nigeria hardly benefits from that sense of urgency. It took President Muhammadu Buhari about six months to set up his cabinet. That leisurely approach can be a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records. But frankly 100 days is a short period within to assess the performance of any government particularly in our setting where election battles often spill into the courts for months and deprive the winner of the full attention that he needs for governance.

The Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu aka BOS for short had planned to mark not his first 100 days but his first 500 days in office. Five hundred days is a healthy period within which a government’s performance can be realistically assessed. However, the Governor never had the chance to put his record on display because the EndSARS protests which started very peacefully degenerated into a hellish orgy of unmitigated disaster that took our breath away, thanks to the intrusion of anarchists, nihilists and other sundry rascals. Before the protests I had marked him down as a leader who rules with his heart and head, with mercy and method especially in how he rose stoutly to the enormous challenge that the invisible enemy, COVID-19 pandemic posed to a society where there is abundance of iconoclasm and foolhardiness even in matters that affect their lives. In the Covid-19 battle I admired endlessly this young man whose gold rimmed glasses frame his boyishly handsome face and whose tooth gap completes the picture of sexiness.

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He delivered leadership with verve, tackling a ticklish existential problem with pragmatism and symbolism. He rolled out quickly, very quickly, administrative, security and health policies that were to combat and contain the spread of the pandemic. That is pragmatism. He didn’t just tell people to wear their face masks. He wore it himself anywhere he went to. He wasn’t a leader who only preaches but does not practise what he preaches. He showed that he is both a preacher and a practitioner, a leader who leads by example, a leader who tells his followers to do as he does, not merely as he says. That is leadership at its finest. As Napoleon I said: “A leader is a dealer in hope.” He gives hope to his people by his words and his actions. No leader can solve all the problems of his community all by himself but the example he sets enables the followers to believe in him and to seek to solve the problems that they can because they believe in their leader. Some months ago, Governor Sanwo-Olu received in audience and gave an award to a police woman named Celestina Kalu.

Kalu is a Divisional Police Officer where an armed robbery incident took place. A two-man robbery gang had shot one Friday Ojabor and fled, leaving him in a pool of his blood. Kalu led her troops to the scene and found that the robbers had fled but Ojabor’s life was hanging between survival and death. Kalu rushed him to the hospital, raised money for his treatment and generally took care of him, giving the police force a sparkling image of a caring, compassionate organisation. As I wrote at the time: “The Governor showed appreciation for her courage and invited her to the State House and gave her an award. During the ceremony he described her as a “humane officer, one with a matchless trait of compassion.” It takes courage to recognise courage and compassion to recognise compassion. So Sanwo-Olu gets full marks in my book,” I said. I thought he did something outstanding because he could have said arrogantly that she was just doing her job and moved on. Mr Sanwo-Olu reacts sharply and quickly to issues of governance in a proactive fashion.

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When there was a helicopter crash at Opebi, Ikeja on August 28 this year, three people died, the roof of a building was damaged and two cars destroyed. Promptly BOS went to Opebi to comfort an elderly woman whose building was destroyed. He might not have an idea how much his visit meant to that elderly woman because we live in a country where leaders rarely show empathy to their citizens in distress. They hardly visit the victims. They merely ask their media personnel to issue sterile messages of sympathy that sound like the zerox copy of the one before that one, and the one before that one. The messages sound hollow, wooden, impersonal, detached, deficient and empty. They do so simply to fulfil all righteousness. There is no depth of human feeling involved. The message could as well have been written by a piece of wood. And during the EndSARS protest and the killings that took place at the Lekki Toll gate, the Governor moved from hospital to hospital comforting the wounded despite the barrage of criticisms hurled at him for inviting the Army to the Lekki Toll gate.

Now he has set up a trust fund that aims at rehabilitating the facilities destroyed in Lagos and giving a new life to Lagosians. I have access to a long list of what the Governor has reportedly done in the last 500 or so days. They include road rehabilitation, traffic management, training of 8, 207 primary school teachers and 2500 secondary school teachers trained in scenario planning based on remote learning and teaching classroom post COVID-19 measures.

He has built 21 adult literacy centres bringing the total to 1, 284. He has also launched the state master plan. As an urban city that has been largely unplanned and whose inhabitants display bad manners blocking drainages, building shanties everywhere and causing traffic gridlock it is a monumental challenge for any government to score full marks in the management of this city which a former President described as a “jungle.”

Because of the huge population the facilities are stretched to breaking point and despite the best efforts of governments, past and present, to make Lagos a decent city to live in the problems multiply almost daily. Badly built buildings collapse; tankers fall on their backs and explode; Ill-maintained cars break down in every corner of the city; reckless drivers bring traffic to a halt with their madness. All of these largely man-made problems make the governance of Lagos a herculean task and the efforts of the various governments at renewal difficult to appreciate.

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Some time ago, the government contemplated the seizure and crushing of cars belonging to people who violate traffic regulations. There was a howl of protest. Next the government decided to send serious traffic defaulters to the psychiatric hospital in the hope that defaulters will turn a new leaf. It didn’t seem to work. Now Sanwo-Olu has found a formula that has the potential of delivering soberness to the city’s traffic madness. Cars of defaulters are now auctioned. It is drastic but a wise step to take in the management of the irrationality and wackiness that confront road users. Lagos has the largest gathering of educated elite who run the many big industries and professional outfits that dot the Lagos landscape.

It also has the largest collection of serious-minded personnel who practise their journalism with gusto. Therefore the Government of Lagos State is at all times subjected to the severest scrutiny. Every action taken, every word spoken is a subject of regular, consistent and almost intrusive intervention. Mr. Sanwo-Olu has not been spared of the rough tongues of analysis especially in the aftermath of the Lekki Toll gate shootings. However, I believe that all things considered he, in the discharge of his responsibilities, in getting to grips with the existential problems of Lagos has been able to transform some stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

He will not solve all the problems of Lagos. No government does. But he has shown that he is capable of being a peak performer. Eventhough he has been struck by the COVID-19 pandemic he goes on working, showing resilience, issuing directives on the direction that the state must go. That is admirable leadership, displayed through the twin forces of action and symbolism. I admire him.

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