I delayed this piece till the end of the tenure of the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN. I was to write it on the occasion of his 50th birthday, but I thought that I may be misunderstood by the write up whilst he was still in office. There is now no doubt, that Lagos has affected the fortunes of Nigeria and indeed democracy, in Africa. And by 'Lagos' I mean the geographical entity called Lagos State.
Lagos was the natural choice of the British colonialists, partly because of its geographical location and its huge potentials. Upon independence, it naturally assumed its rightful status, as the seat of government. It remained so, until the early 90s, when the federal government moved the seat of administration, to Abuja.
Lagos has in turn been blessed with wonderful leaders, from Mobolaji Johnson, to Lateef Jakande, Buba Marwa, Bola Tinubu and now Fashola, just to mention a few, of the erudite people that have shaped Lagos. In all, the regime of Bola Tinubu, has become a turning point as reference for progress, in Nigeria.
Tinubu came first as a Senator, embracing progressive politics and a little of activism. By the time of the MKO Revolution, he had become a notable figure, in Nigeria's political landscape. Then came June 12. Tinubu had to go into self exile, using his base and resources, to support the democratic movement, abroad. Eventually, military rule was conquered, by the will of the people, in 1998 and it was now time for politics again. Given his credentials and performance in NADECO, Tinubu became the bride of the progressives and a natural choice for the Lagos job.
Upon his victory at the polls, he set himself at work. His mind was very broad, gathering technocrats and experts together, to define and design the Lagos agenda. He had no respect for age, gender, religion or tribe. He chose to work with trusted hands, loyal associates and committed democrats.
The choice of General Olusegun Obasanjo, as Nigeria's President, threw some initial challenges, for the Lagos agenda, temporarily, especially Obasanjo's quest for a second term.
There was also crisis within the progressives, which led to the break in ranks. The decision to support Obasanjo's second term, turned out to be a political albatross, for the progressives, but Tinubu read the game and played it very well, emerging, ultimately, as the seat of opposition. Of course he had to pay dearly for it, with persecutions, frustrations and deprivations. But Tinubu kept on and indeed survived.
Tinubu then decided to expand, posting his trusted allies, back to their home states, to establish themselves. Lai Mohammed, who was then chief of staff, went to Kwara; Rauf Aregbesola, then Commissioner for Works, went to Osun; Bamidele Opeyemi, a shining star of the Tinubu era, went to Ekiti, etc. Tinubu also partnered with Lam Adesina, Segun Osoba, etc, to form a collective. But by far the greatest task before Tinubu was to choose his successor. It generated so much rancour, but he stuck to his choice of Fashola, then his chief of staff. I was later to hear the true story, which indeed is the basis of this write up.
I'd been following Tinubu's Attorney-General, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, very closely. His decisions and actions were revolutionary. Lagos judges and magistrates became the envy of the judiciary, nationwide. He was talking of verbatim recording, of an anti-corruption network, of prison reforms, of enhancing the welfare of judges and general overhaul of the judicial sector. I then discovered that he had an excellent academic background, and was a great man of faith, as an ordained pastor, in the Redeemed Christian Church of God and a close confidant of its General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adeboye. I also discovered then he was already at the height of his career, a professor of law, the height of academic attainment, a pastor, the highest spiritual office in RCCG, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the highest title in the Nigerian Bar and now Attorney-General. I got quite so very close to him, his church then, the popular Jesus Center, Ikoyi and other activities and discovered that he was such a simple, easy going fellow, who had silently influenced the Lagos Team, with his transparency and commitment to excellence. So he was our natural choice, as guest speaker, at our church anniversary, in Lekki. And then he told the Fashola story, which I summarize here.
Over the years, Tinubu had some investments and assets, and when it became apparent that he had to flee Nigeria, away from the Abacha holocaust, he handed over all his assets to his uncle, K.O. Tinubu, who had a flourishing law office, in Lagos. Fashola was then a young lawyer, in that law office and he was assigned to oversee Tinubu's assets. So it was that every year, without any demand, Fashol would list out all the items comprised in Tinubu's vast estate, his property assets, rents collected, dividends on shares, etc, without touching a penny, even as his own personal expenses. And he did this consistently, for all the years that Tinubu was in exile. In that way, he earned Tinubu's trust, and became his natural choice, for continuity of the Lagos agenda.
Upon assuming office, Fashola himself went to town, gathering a team of very young and erudite technocrats, to pilot his reforms. He challenged the status quo and rendered purposeful leadership, at least to the best of his ability. It was told then that the weekly Executive Council meetings at Alausa had become an intellectual session, where serious brain storming and clinical dissection of ideas, was the order of the day. Commissioners had to prepare well ahead of the meetings, to defend their proposals rigorously and stand the test of Fashola's probing mind.
By the third year of his administration, Lagos had become a model state and a reference point for development, in Nigeria. His personality, his erudition, his candour and boldness, attracted serious minded people to reconsider their stand, on political involvement. And we had the Dele Belgores, the Adams Oshiomoles, the Fayemis, all throwing their harts, in the political ring. Fashola took far reaching decisions, made landmark impacts, even though he was considered elitist in his approach. But now, no one is left in doubt that Lagos has bequeathed for Nigeria, a legacy of good governance, progressive politics, principled opposition and human capital development.
Of course this is not to forget the side kicks, toll gate extortion, primitive acquisition by leaders, overbearing tax regime and the painful omission to invest in power generation, early enough, by Fashola. They come with every regime; which is why I and other well meaning Lagosians, have been holding up the correction board, to define the limits of extremism.
The purpose of this write up is to encourage those who have just taken up the mantle, to aspire to impact lives, through purposeful administration. I can just imagine what a Fashola would do, with the federal ministry of justice, or of works and infrastructure, for this nation Nigeria. Just my thought.