Give it to Fashola: he is urbane through and through, free of the parochial encumbrances and hypocrisy which define the Nigerian political firmament
C. Don Adinuba
Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s most engaging political thinkers, once declared that the greatest legacy a leader could leave behind is to have his or her name etched in gold in the hearts and minds of the people. I have in the last one month observed the truism of Chief Awolowo’s statement as regards Babatunde Fashola, Lagos State governor from May 29, 2007, to last May 29. On Thursday, June 4, Babcock University in Ogun State bestowed on him, along with two other state governors who left office with him the same day, an honorary doctorate.
Each time his name was mentioned during the ceremony the entire large auditorium roared into an uncontrollable applause. And on Thursday, June 25, the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Bar Association held a special dinner at City Hall to honour him for exceptional performance for the eight years he was saddled with the leadership of Nigeria’s wealthiest state but acquired no jet. It was touching to see old men and women, fellow Senior Advocates of Nigeria, clap so excitedly any time his name was mentioned, and these people, known for ultra conservatism, would go on to punctuate almost every sentence of the former governor with a thunderous ovation. Judges were not left out.
For instance, Mr Justice Balogun, whose father was also on the Bench, recounted how he shelved his ambition to become an SAN and rather opted to join the Lagos State judiciary because Fashola restored honour and prestige to the Bench. Layi Babatunde, SAN, disclosed that since he began publishing Law Briefs in 1999 his firm has been donating books to law faculties and institutes but not to individuals; Fashola is the first and only individual to be given a set of his law publications in appreciation of his exemplary leadership.
Anytime Fashola has been honoured, he insisted on sharing credit of his leadership with his aides. He would call them out one by one to present to the public and take a group photograph with him, beginning with Ben Akabueze, his commissioner for budget and economic planning who served as the longest member of the state cabinet. This practice is reminiscent of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s habit in her book, Reforming the Unreformable, where almost on every page she attributes her achievements in office as minister of finance from 2003 to 2006 to the economic management team, rather than to herself. Scholars have in recent years grown critical of the traditional one-man hero approach to leadership studies where only one person bestrides the stage like a colossus while others who worked with him or her seldom count.
Leadership writers and scholars now subscribe to distributed or shared leadership which recognizes the contributions of other people. Back to the recent awards to Fashola. If the honours had come when he was in power, the awarding bodies could be accused of sycophancy or of being guided by pecuniary considerations.
For example, the preeminent economist, Pius Okigbo, accused Nigerian universities in his 1992 graduation lecture at the University of Lagos of awarding honorary doctorates to only “men of power and money”. But the awards to Fashola came after he ceased being a governor and became just another citizen. This now brings up a vital point Fashola has for years been making about values in leadership: leaders should not receive honours when they are holding official positions. He walked the talk.
Throughout the period he was governor he rejected, out of principle, all offers of award, including the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) from President Goodluck Jonathan and honorary doctorates from first generation universities. He even kept in abeyance while in office two honours from the Catholic bishop of Nnewi Diocese in Anambra State and Christ the king Church at Umuezeawala, Ihiala, also in Anambra State.
Unknown to most people, Fashola is one of the highest personal donors to both the local parish and the Catholic diocese, even though he is a Muslim. Give it to Fashola: he is urbane through and through, free of the parochial encumbrances and hypocrisy which define the Nigerian political firmament. When in 2009 Uzoma Okere, a female banker, was beaten up on a Lagos street by naval ratings attached to Rear Admiral Harry Arogundede, it was Fashola who personally led the protests against a fellow Yoruba, directing the state Ministry of Justice to sue the military officer.
Ms Okere was to be awarded N100m by the Lagos State judiciary in damages. When Ebola last July hit First Consultants Medical Centre established by Dr Benjamin Ohiaeri from Imo State, Fashola was the only senior government official who visited the hospital. (Even the then Minister of Health, Onyebuchukwu Chukwu, a professor of medicine from Ebonyi State, did not bother to go there, nor did he assist the hospital in any way, despite being given billions of naira to fight the Ebola pandemic).
Fashola invited all Ebola survivors to Government House in Alausa and pleaded with patients who had stayed away from this high-profile health facility on account of the Ebola attack to return because the hospital had become free of the disease. He later donated N76m to both First Consultants Medical Centre and all Ebola survivors, including those who contracted the debilitating disease in far-away Port Harcourt like the widow of Dr Enemuo from Anambra State. When Brown University in Rhode Island, United States, organized a symposium in honour of Chinua Achebe in 2013, Fashola was the only governor who attended the event and paid robust compliments to the great author.
This was at a time many Yoruba were very angry with the great man of letters for publishing There Was A Country, his civil war memoir which is not flattering to Chief Awolowo. Fashola responded to his Yoruba traducers in the following words: “My generation has gone beyond the civil war and its consequences”. Needless to add, Fashola gave the Biafran leader, Emeka Ojukwu, a near state burial, the only governor outside the Southeast to do so.
The biggest housing estate built by his government in upscale Ikeja GRA is named for Emeka Anyaoku, the erstwhile Commonwealth secretary general who is from Anambra State. The commentary box of Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere is named after Ernest Okonkwo, the inimitable sports commentator from Anambra State. That Ngozi Nwosu, a talented actress from Imo State, is alive today is by Fashola’s generosity.
He picked up most of the expenses of her treatment in the United kingdom three years ago when she was afflicted by a life threatening liver ailment. When a senior civil servant in Lagos State, an indigene of Ichi in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, was diagnosed of advanced diabetes which resulted in her amputation and replacement of her legs, the Lagos State government paid the bill. Even in her crisis, she was promoted to a director.
Two years ago when fire consumed an Igbo dominated market at Apapa, it was the Fashola government which rebuilt it and handed it back to the traders free of charge. In consideration of all this, isn’t it baffling to see some elements say that Fashola is hidebound? The anti-Igbo propaganda was orchestrated by the former Peter Obi government in Anambra State who was determined to stop Chris Ngige by all means from returning to Government House, Awka, during the 2011 gubernatorial vote in the state.
When some destitute persons were sent back to their states of origin by the Fashola government as part of the Lagos Mega City project which had earlier seen a lot of “area boys” sent away from Lagos Island and hundreds of Yoruba people back to Oyo and Osun states and thousands of Northern beggars back to the places of origin, Obi saw in the so-called deportation of some Igbo people an opportunity to kill off Ngige politically. He took the low but effective road of portraying Ngige as belonging to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a “Yoruba party which has been deporting all Igbo people from Lagos”. Radio and television stations as well as Igbo-leaning newspapers were mobilized in the mind poisoning crusade.
Obi’s government also mobilized town unions led by Chris Elumuno and traders associations to demonise not just Ngige and ACN, but also the Yoruba. While Obi was accusing Fashola of Igbo deportation from Lagos, he had “deported” indigenes of Ebonyi and Cross River states from streets in Anambra to their home states.
Truly, the greatest challenge facing the Igbo people is the manipulative leadership provided by their current political class. Manipulative leadership has since 2002 been of great interest to researchers of leadership around the world when it was realized that Enron and Worldcom, among other large American firms, collapsed because their top managers were manipulating one group of employees against another and punitively transferring conscientious in-house auditors, lawyers and other professionals who dared asked questions out of relevance.
While the corporate leaders were manipulating their followers, they unconscionably engaged in creative accounting and other terrible malpractices which were to lead to the crash of the firms once thought too big to fail. As Fashola turned 52 on Sunday, June 28, I join millions of Nigerians in celebrating him for providing authentic and transformational leadership. I salute him for demonstrating appropriate leadership values. He is a worthy representative of my generation.
•Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.