At the root of the great plaudits democracy as a system of government has drawn over the ages is its capacity to make those that emerge through the democratic process work for the people that elect them. Because democracy is built around the people, meeting the desires and interests of the people remain the very soul of democracy and it functions best where there is reasonable interface between the performance of a democratically elected government and the expectations of the people.
So it has been in Lagos, especially in the last four years where Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, suave and urbane lawyer and reluctant politician has presided over a great rejuvenation of faith in the flailing concept of democracy in Nigeria. He has done it so well that he is conveniently seen as a poster boy of functional democracy in the largely dysfunctional democratic space Nigeria has been saddled with for the past twelve years.
Hewn out of the rugged school of practical progressive politics ably led by the erudite former Governor of Lagos State and first class political strategist, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, not a few people strained their necks to actually find out about him when he suddenly emerged a front runner in a tightly packed race of political heavies and accomplished political aficionados. Not even many people knew he was by then the Chief of Staff to the Asiwaju, after the inimitable Lai Mohammed because he was self effacing and quiet on his job. So his emergence was like an unheralded comet that shook the political calculations prevailing in Lagos as at that time. With the signature of ‘the best man for the job’, the then governor was to engage in a very difficult but efficient mission of selling Fashola to doubting Lagosians that were yet to live down the surprise factor that encased the emergence of someone that was seen as not only aloof but politically disengaged over a bevy of war tested political gladiators that had lined up for the plum but tough job of governing Lagos. At the time these were happening, the task of fitting in to the big shoes the Asiwaju was leaving behind was seen as a task only a matured political player and astute administrator would fit into so Fashola, though promoted as a meticulous administrator, missed on the political issue as he was seen as a greenhorn with a discernable aloofness to politics.
I was present during some of his pre-election meetings with strategic interest groups, especially the Igbo interest groups like Ndigbo Lagos and Aka Ikenga. What struck me most about Fashola’s queer politics was that he was not campaigning like a politician but was candid, simple and straight. I played my small role in facilitating his meeting with Ndigbo Lagos and was curiously asked to make a presentation on why Aka Ikenga should chose him at a meeting in Ikoyi where a decision was to be taken on whom to back among the competing candidates. I did state then that to me, Fashola has demonstrated better faith in his insistence that he will not pander to peculiar problems of Ndigbo or any other interest group in Lagos but the interests and well being of all Lagosians, whatever tribe, tongue or creed. I did state that such was enough for us to know the sincerity of purpose of the political gladiators for the Lagos governorship stool and should nick Igbo support for Fashola than promises of giving each and every Igbo an aero plane, as is normal with politicians and their pre-election promises. That, and of course the fact that he was seen as the best among the contending gladiators, nicked it for Fashola as the election dawned and he was to coast home to a resounding victory, thanks to the solid political base backing him and the tremendous goodwill he garnered as he sold his candidacy in quite laconic and candid ways to various groups in Lagos.
That Fashola has, in office, turned to be such an instant success has further inflated the confidence of those that never initially supported him even when faith wore thin in his capacity to give Lagos, that complicated, sophisticated hot spot for Nigeria’s most literate and most enlightened, the needed government that would reflect its metropolitan outlook. It is trite to say that Fashola has achieved tremendously in the hard task of governing Lagos. In fact, he has shown of the yet unexplored but limitless newer grounds in the art of governance in Nigeria. He has gone farther by giving governance a needed facelift in the face of blistering performance that has reduced democracy to a Sheol of tears and regret in Nigeria for twelve years. He has shored the sagging image of democracy by his stellar performance and many are wont to give that misused system some benefits of the doubt just because it had succeeded in churning out such good products like Fashola.
Much has been said of Fashola’s ground breaking achievements on such gigantic spheres as infrastructural renewal, urban transportation, health, education, security, environment, justice system, job creation, etc. but I think he excels equally in giving the much needed attention to the little things that matter. These are the oft neglected areas that should serve as glue that holds the society together. He ensures that wastes Lagosians generate from their homes disappear as they come up. A mental calculation of the volume of wastes Lagos generates could be enough tasks for governors in many states, just a reminder. He ensures that Lagosians sleep soundly in their homes. He ensures that traffic gridlocks are managed to the extent that their nauseous effects on Lagos roads are reduced to a great level. He makes sure that street traders do not block off streets and roads while road users sweat through their shirts. He ensures the environment is kept clean and has used an aggressive greening culture to bring out the unknown natural beauty in Lagos. He makes sure that the poor and defenseless accesses justice without cost through the Office of the Public Defender and the many conflict resolution organs that are littered all over the state.
I am just mentioning few areas many Lagosians are oblivious of and which many people may underestimate but which play critical roles in ensuring that group living is enhanced and the society functions with less pressure on individuals and the entire society. Taking care of these often negligible essential problems encourage business, enhance community living and promote the general standard of living in a given space. But Fashola’s superlative outing these past four years in Lagos sparkles in the big and gigantic projects that are easily seen by all and which often, form the attention focus of most citizens. The sparkling roads, the big and well equipped hospitals, the BRT buses, the model schools, the gigantic water projects, the huge drainages, the cleansing and refurbishing of the many dark spots and dangerous alleys, the upgrading of critical infrastructures, equipping the security agencies with functional modern equipments, etc are the big signage that advertise his achievements. Fashola has ensured these and has also taken care of the little things that reach down to the commonest inhabitant of Lagos and these have rewarded him with many accolades from all and sundry, admirers and foes alike.
But then, we are not overlooking the fact that Fashola is doing tremendously well because he has a solid foundation he is building on. His worthy predecessor cleared the soil, tilled the ground and planted and tended the sapling of growth in Lagos and he is nurturing them to full grown plants where they have started bearing fruits. What is needed now is to get a groundswell of endorsement for the trees to bear full fruits. In asking for this endorsement, one takes cognizance of the fact that Fashola has garnered favourable accolades from disparate groups, interests and peoples, including political opponents and rivals who have found his flavor too strong to ignore. It should be noted that several international agencies, foreign governments and even fellow PDP governors have openly endorsed Fashola for the tremendous transformation he has brought to bear on Lagos for the four years he has been on the driving seat. I don’t think it will be much to ask that these be translated to a groundswell of votes for Fashola on Tuesday, April 26, a date that has been christened a Super Tuesday.
Most Lagosians and indeed most Nigerians may underrate the enormous challenge governing Lagos poses but a state that houses most of Nigeria’s educated youths, job seekers, artisans, professionals, and serves as the commercial nerve of the country, the transportation and industrial hub, with the negative flipsides, with such rapid influx of people, competing for little space and scarce resources provides greater challenge than the central governance of Nigeria. It is a 24 hours, 365 days-a-year’s vocation and requires a deft combination of the most astute minds to work out. This is a fact most Lagosians and of course most Nigerians may take for granted but they are real and must form the necessary grounds to access whoever aspires to govern. Fashola has proven his capacity for the job, he has performed and he has delivered where most Nigerian politicians have woefully failed. He is the statement we must make to show we approve of the main reason why democracy is desired over other forms of government; performance! I believe a vote for Fashola will go a long way to encourage those who work to continue and serve notice that Lagosians, nay Nigerians know what they expect from democracy.
Peter Claver Oparah.
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