The celebrated Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, is in his second term in office. The governor, who came into office in 2007, has spent six years of his eight-year tenure. But the lawyer turned politician does not like to count his years in office. He has since assumption of office preferred to measure his stewardship as the chief executive of Nigeria’s most important state in the days he has spent as governor.
Although it appears Fashola is cruising comfortably as the state’s number one citizen, it has not always been a smooth ride…
In 2007, against all opposition from all the major contenders in his party, the governor emerged to fly his party’s flag in the governorship election of that year.
He, of course, owed his emergence to his predecessor and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, who stood his ground and fought off other candidates. Tinubu practically imposed the incumbent on the party. Many had thought then that the unknown Fashola stood no chance in the highly volatile political terrain of Lagos both as a candidate and as a potential governor. But he won the election and no sooner did he settle down to business of governing the state.
Within 100 days of his assumption of office, residents had begun to feel the positive impact of his leadership. Before the expiration of his first 100 days, the entire Lagos had been turned into a huge construction site. The city, which had suffered systemic decay for several years, seemed to come alive again. He consolidated on the development blueprint of his predecessor. Everywhere one turned, the impact of the government was felt. In his first term, Fashola governed with passion. He seemed like a reconstruction leader after a major war. He was seen everywhere in the city. If he was not breaking ground for a new project, he was inspecting a road construction.
All the major roads started by the Tinubu administration were completed under his administration. The Lekki-Epe Expressway, the Badagry road expansion and railway project were started. At a time, the governor visited Canada to inspect rail coaches. Many road projects were completed and old ones refurbished. Potholes were filled through direct labour. One symbolic image of Fashola’s first term was his trademark safety helmet and rain boots. If he was not trudging through mud and flood water to empathise with a flooded community or dredging of canals, he was seen touring remote areas to gain first-hand insights into problems faced by the residents.
Fashola also transformed the once filthy Lagos environment. Before 1999, the city had, apart from being notorious, become the world’s dirtiest capital. But Fashola soon began the re-designing of the entire landscape with flowers adorning roads and major highways. Another notable achievement of that era was the recovery of public space. Public parks, which had become havens for criminals and the destitute were restored. In Oshodi, for example, the space under the bridge of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and airport bypass was home to the cannibal, Clifford Orji. The Fashola administration has since turned the spaces into reaction parks. The innovative waste management policy of Fashola’s first term also ensured that waste disposal became an important priority of the government. The administration collaborated with the private sector to manage the huge volumes of waste generated daily. Also, dumps like the one in Ojota which had become health hazards to residents were cleared and turned to recycling centres.
Many also praised the governor for making Lagos largely habitable. No one who lived in this city pre-1999 would be quick to forget how dangerous Lagos roads had become. Driving against the traffic was the norm. But the introduction of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency and strict traffic regulations ended the reign of impunity. Observance of pedestrian walk, zebra crossing and other road signs was strictly enforced. The governor also addressed the chaotic transport situation. The Bus Rapid Transit and taxis and demarcation of lanes made commuting easier. The construction of flyovers and rehabilitating of old ones reduced pedestrian deaths. The governor himself had several encounters with traffic rules violators whom he personally apprehended. Fashola was your quintessential action governor
Fashola’s first term also saw a drastic reduction in the crime rate. The Lagos Security Trust Fund initiative with the private sector made resources available to the police. This helped to effectively combat crime in the state and the listing of Lagos as a crime free state. The image of a hard-working and visionary governor captivated the imagination of residents and other Nigerians. Fashola cut the picture of a leader who rather than stay in the comfort of his office preferred to visit project sites. Legends had it that the governor often drove himself surreptitiously at night to inspect project sites. His first term also earned him many accolades and awards both nationally and internationally. His achievements became the benchmark to assess other governors. There were also tales of fellow governors who sought his advice on how to replicate his successful models in their states. At the National Council of State meetings, Fashola was said to be the darling of his colleagues.
It has been widely acknowledged that Fashola’s exemplary performance stood him out in his first term. But can that be said of his second term? Is he still as passionate as he was in his first term? Does he still possess the drive to transform Lagos into a dream megacity comparable to some of the best in the world? In 2007, it took him just a few months to begin the overhaul of this city. In his second term, he was criticised for his slow approach. Were his critics justified? In my own view, while acknowledging the impact of his visionary leadership on the state, I believe the governor needs to do more in his remaining years in office. For example, there is no excuse why Lagos roads, especially the inner city roads, should be this dilapidated. The rainy season has exposed the harsh reality of plying the roads by residents. The state of roads in some communities seems like a throw back into Stone Age that you would hardly believe you are in Lagos. The condition of Lagos inner city roads is an affront to its mega city dream. The rising crime rate should also be urgently addressed. He should do more to dismantle the perception gaining ground that his initiatives and projects are elitist and anti-poor.
There is no doubt that Fashola has so far been a success story. I also believe the governor still has his vision of transforming the state intact. He must be commended for his hard work and vision in the last six years. But governing a state like Lagos also presents daunting challenges of its own. In recent years, the city has grown exponentially in population. Existing infrastructure built only six years ago are being burdened by rapid population growth.
For example, the BRT System introduced just a few years ago has become grossly inadequate for millions of commuters. There is also pressure on the road networks which need constant expansion. These development challenges make it imperative to grant this city the much needed special status. The Federal Government must support the state to achieve its mega city dream. Lagos is Nigeria’s window on the world. The city is of global importance to Nigeria. There is no doubt that Lagos has many challenges but residents believe the governor can still do more. He has proved this already in his first term.
It is on this basis that they compare his current performance with his first four years. Has the governor truly slowed down?
By Bayo Olupohunda