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Fashola: When ‘poster-boy’ of Lagos politics wobbles at the centre

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[FILES] Former Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola. Photo: TWITTER/FMPWH


Had Batunde Raji Fashola opted to return quietly to his private law practice after serving eight years as governor of Lagos State, many would still be idolizing and lionizing him as a man with the Midas political touch. But he didn’t, like all Nigerian politicians are wont to do, and aspired farther into the national space. Rather than play on a lone turf as others do, he chose to, well, was made to play on three massive turfs.

Like many of his ilk too, (and they are so many in President Muhammadu Buhari’s minister-designates) Fashola has created a vast political empire out of the Fourth Republic. In fact, if politics is a known industry with records of profit and loss (and some Nigerians actually think it has gained the currency of an industry), Fashola and many others like him would be competing with Alico Dangote to measure whose set up is bigger. Unlike poor Dangote and those in the business side of the divide, Fashola’s political industry has largely been raking in only profits on the balance sheet since his investments in electioneering ventures have not yielded a loss so far. He and his cohorts have won every election they contested since 1999. If that is not enough political investment profiteering of the highest order, then what is?

When Ahmed Bola Tinubu became governor in 1999, Fashola joined him as chief of staff and commissioner to the governor’s office, a double portfolio he held for eight years. So in a sense, Fashola is not new to holding more than one position at a time. But while Lagos seems a small turf to play on, aided by an opaque governance system that operates on maxim of ‘the more you look the less you see,’ Fashola’s, like the anus of the fowl, became exposed when wind blew on it at the national level as it appeared he’d chewed more than he could swallow and appeared to be choking on the excesses of his triple portfolios.

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In any case, having served as chief of staff and commissioner for eight years, Fashola seemed prepared for the top job as governor. And on May 29, 2007, he assumed office as governor of Lagos State. A man versed in sophistry and a certain kind of grandiloquence, Fashola smooth-talked his fellow Lagosians into acquiescence for eight years and equated eloquence with statecraft. No doubt, he made some modest strides, but he could have done more given what came into Lagos’ purse in his eight years at the helms.

However, by the time the Eko oni baje (Lagos will not go bad) governor left office, Lagosians were hard put to actually pinpoint his achievements. It seemed as though a wicked magician’s trick had been practised on the residence of the ‘Centre of Excellence’, as they cleared their eyes in an effort to really see what they were told had been achieved by their governor. Lagos is a city on autopilot as the business community, just like the state, contributes to the development happening all the time. The Lekki toll plaza stretched Fashola’s administrative acumen to breaking limits, but he muscled it through nonetheless.

Easily a stooge of his benefactor, Tinubu, the two, however, fell out just before his first term expired. Tinubu refused to renew his governance license, but Fashola deployed all the strategies he could muster, and unlike Akinwunmi Ambode, managed to get his second term ticket. But a frosty relationship had been established and the two men never walked the same path till his tenure ended. Fashola wanted to supplant his boss, Tinubu, and play godfather in Lagos, but Tinubu easily shot him down and threw up Ambode, who would later play a childish hand too early and was shoved aside.

Landing three ministerial portfolios in Abuja was obviously a way of robbing it in on his estranged godfather. He was, after all, the Lagos ‘poster-boy’ who was believed to have performed miracles in transforming Lagos from a mega city to a smart city! But it was all a sham; Lagos has not left its sprawling, unplanned metropolis status. It is just a city struggling to contain its own s elf-inflicted chaos, where its governments in 20 years, from Tinubu to Fashoa to Ambode, and now Babajide Sanwo-Olu, are failing spectacularly to rein in the giant called chaos reigning supreme. Or perhaps it is a script being played out so as to keep the state in the vice-grip of its godfather? Only perhaps…

Buhari, mainly deluded about the largely untested Fashola’s legendary administrative mystique, yoked him with three major ministries – power, housing and works – three vast areas Fashola has no known training or work experience, save being governor of Lagos State. Perhaps, Buhari knew what he was doing: he possibly wanted to demystify the man and cut him to size. If that was the intention, Buhari largely succeeded in his intent. He has shown that neither his government nor his appointees – past and possibly future – are not in the governance business of making any recognizable progress beyond how they met Nigeria since 2015.

And so Fashola’s failure is symptomatic of the class failure of the Buhari’s administration which he serves as a nucleus member. After four years, what Nigerians have to show from Fashola’s mega ministerial portfolio efforts is more darkness in place of electricity, more bad roads that kill Nigerians more than any disease, and more than 20 million housing deficit. For a man who chided the Goodluck Jonathan administration for its inability to fix Nigeria’s power problems in six months, it is such wicked irony that in four years, Nigerians experienced more darkness than usual. As blame game becomes the hallmark of the administration he serves, it has provided Fashola a ready tool to shirk responsibility to Nigerians. And so for a man who trained as a lawyer, but who found himself unequally yoked with three highly technical areas that have nothing to do with legalese, his failure became foretold and an abiding companion.

Well, since Buhari vowed to work with people he knows it could only be hazarded that he would maintain his known team and leave them they variously served in the last administration. So Fashola may also return to his three-pronged ministries. By which token Nigerians may well forget about having a semblance of power to light up their homes, offices, and factories. They should also forget about housing being provided, just as the roads will remain highways of horror. And with the rising cases of kidnappings on the country’s highways, Fashola may have unwittingly served Nigerians to the waiting hands of kidnappers as they travel from one part of the country to the other.

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That is the tragic verdict of Nigerian politics that thrives on monumental mediocrity amplified in the Buhari administration. Rather than admit to his cluelessness, Fashola had the opportunity to make some inane gesture the other day while defending his second chance as Buhari’s minister on the floor of the Senate that Nigeria needs to borrow more (N10 trillion) to bridge budget gaps in his triple ministries. Of course, a poor workman is adept at quarrelling with his tools in classic cases of ineptitude.

And so in 20 solid years and still counting, Fashola has successfully waltzed within governance systems from the state to the federal levels. Of course, he is not alone in appropriating government business as private industrial complex in the political recycling that has become the bane of Nigeria’s development processes. But how much has he put back in appreciation as his profit balance sheet keeps swelling?

Government business as private industrial complex by an elect Nigerian breed promptly invokes the telling title of Michela Wong’s classic book on corruption in Kenya, It’s Our Time to Eat. Indeed, it’s their time to eat. Perhaps, it is the only thing that could explain why a Fashola could still be in government from 1999 till today and beyond just as Nigerians have become more impoverished as ordinary roads, electricity and housing that should make modern life meaningful are grossly absent. Yet the man in question carries on with a mix of philosophic and aristocratic bearing. Indeed, only in Nigeria can this inanity be perpetuated and applauded.

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Batunde Raji Fashola
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