NIGERIA: How the governor and his men rule Lagos – Raji Fashola Unscripted (1)

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*Exco in sessionThis is the story of the Lagos State Executive Council, EXCO! More importantly, however, it is the story of a state governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, and how the state EXCO takes decisions that affect the millions of people living in the state. It is a story that is at once compelling and revealing.

From the very serious to the very mundane and sometimes ridiculous, spending about 11hours observing the EXCO members and their chairman invokes a feeling of appreciation regarding what it takes to govern the complex state called Lagos. This is a first part in what can be described as a fairly formal environment. Another session, open-ended, would be presented.

“E mi-o ni gba o” (I no go gree-o, I won’t allow it)

Abraham Lincoln once said that “if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend”. That, perhaps, is what has kept Lagos State together under the governorship of Babatunde Raji Fashola. At first, it was like a very difficult pill to swallow for Lagosians – his style, the need to change Lagos State and make it a mega city, the demolitions, the new rules he created on how to operate and govern; the apolitical posturing, sometimes bordering on the stiff-necked – because the old style, the affable, politically induced aura of inclusiveness and tolerance that his successor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had created, was seen by many as a template for success in governance.

But here was a man, a gangling lawyer, thrust upon a polity of clashing socio-economic-religious and political interests, in a manner most shocking; and pushing an agenda that was considered alien and finicky! It was so bad that even between Fashola and Tinubu, there was a disagreement on matters of style.

However, today, because Fashola took Lincoln’s admonition to heart, that there was need to first convince Tinubu and Lagosians that he is indeed a sincere friend, he has been able to win many, very many, to his cause. Decisions thought to have been rash and anti-people appear to be yielding results. The catch-phrase in Lagos is, Eko o ni baje (conditions in Lagos will not be allowed to degenerate)

Therefore, when Fashola told members of the EXCO, last Monday, that “E mi-o ni gba o”, he was insisting that he needed to make his position clear about the need to “keep faith with the promise and commitment made to the original shop owners of the burnt Tejuosho market”, by allowing them the right of first refusal – that is, allow them to come forward, make a bid to buy the shops and then be disqualified by their own incapacitation to comply.

This was at the 106th Lagos State Executive Council meeting.

A Council of Equals

The observation of the EXCO meeting was up close.

The meeting started at exactly 9:20am: 2011-2015, 106th LSEC MEETING.

The EXCO chambers, on the first floor of the Governor’s Office, is well laid out. With 71 chairs, arranged on two simple terrace floors, it was a packed chambers and any form of lateness is not tolerated. The EXCO members are 43 in number (see box)

Indeed, there are fines for infractions on the established rules of the EXCO meeting. As is always the case when Fashola has a private, close-knit public function, telephones are either kept at bay or totally switched off. So, at the security entrance in the buildings, all phones – including commissioners’ – had to be deposited.

Anxiously, you expected the governor to come in through a designated back door that links his office to the chambers but he was not forthcoming.

While you expected him, it was Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the female deputy governor, who called the meeting to order.

And contrary to some views about her lack luster persona, she acquitted herself with enviable dignity and decorum. She took charge.

“This meeting is called to order”, she bellowed into the microphone.

While a few of the commissioners were still bantering, she called them by their designation – “Works, please sit down; Agric, please the meeting is called to order”.

Within seconds, there was pin drop silence in the EXCO chambers.

From where she sat at the head of the arrangement, to her immediate right was a vacant red leather chair; to her left is another woman, the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Dr. (Mrs) Idiat Oluranti Adebule.  At the other end of the five-seat arrangement sat the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye, and to his own left sat the Chief of Staff, Lanre Babalola.

Before the commencement of the meeting, the deputy governor announced the presence of the duo of Sam Omatseye (Chairman, Editorial Board of The Nation) and I! We were warmly welcomed.

Businesslike, Adefulire started the meeting, she moderates while Fashola chairs.

“Let’s have a look at the minutes of the last EXCO meeting”, Orelope Adefulire announced – after an opening prayer.

Because you are not a member but a first time observer, the next thing you heard from the presiding deputy governor was a bit confusing: “Page 1, 2, 3, 4…….10, 11, 12, 13”.

At that point, one of the commissioners noted an observation in the minutes on page 13.

That was when it dawned on you that fast as she was reading out the numbers, the deputy was not merely engaging in numeral recitation. The commissioner noted a correction on page 13. After the formalities of making the correction, she continued counting. There were other observations on pages 20 and 27.

It was a 34-page minute, printed on yellow papers.

Enter Raji Fashola

At exactly 9:34, Governor Fashola cames in, dressed in a black bow tie, grey suit and a sky-blue shirt.

Devoid of any formality, he simply took his seat at the middle of the five seats at the head of the siting arrangement and the meeting continued as if nothing had happened. His only interjection was to say that Omatseye and I were in the gathering to observe and “you can behave and conduct yourself as if they are not here”. The governor added: They have earned their stripes and should know what to publish and what not to publish”.

That statement, coming from the governor, transferred the responsibility of censorship to us.

As he warmed his way into the meeting, he threw banters with the Economic Planning Commissioner, Ben Akabueze, the only non-Lagosian in the EXCO – he was inherited from the Bola Tinubu administration.

His entry did not in any way alter the course of engagement.

Perhaps, dwelling on the fable that the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, meetings, when Olusegun Obasanjo was President, played out no more than a very powerful king holding court with subordinates, the EXCO meeting of Lagos State can be engaging.

Of importance is the quality of the discussion as would be discovered later.

There was an update on the issue of a pedestrian bridge that was reported to experience an “imminent collapse”.  To this, the Works Commissioner insisted that there was no “imminent collapse” but that the bridge was distressed..

“When you say imminent collapse”, the Works Commissioner charged, “it means the bridge would collapse today or tomorrow but when we inspected it, it showed that the bridge was distressed and we are already on it”.

Fashola and a few seconders made the commissioner understand that the observation that the mail he got read “imminent collapse” and that it was for the commissioner to explain and address the house on the correct status of the bridge. The commissioner’s contention was that the use of the phrase imminent collapse was inappropriate.  This engagement lasted for some four minutes.

Putting the people first

The health commissioner made a presentation on the virus presently giving concern to the Saudi and French authorities; the Saudis, moreso, because of the up-coming Hajj. For an EXCO that is religion-blind, every contribution during the discussion was how best to protect the pilgrims from Lagos.

Therefore, the advisory from the Saudi authorities about not sending terminally ill, elderly, pregnant women, children (12 and under defined as children) on pilgrimage this year, was extensively discussed.  Conclusion: High-level consultations with the clerics and some stakeholders would be held with immediate effect.

But the EXCO members were also concerned about other sources that would supply pilgrims, if they would take the advisory as seriously as the Lagos government was doing.  In terms of ratio, the World Health Organisation, WHO, and the Centre for Disease Control, CDC, are hopeful that with a globally recorded case history of 77 with 40 fatalities, the virus, contracted from bats, with a common symptom of cold, “is not as deadly as the SARS global pandemic which struck in 2003.  Indeed, the EXCO made a resolution to possibly buy the machines for detection at the state’s major entry point – the airport.

Incidentally, last Monday was Tunji Bello’s birthday.  A special cake was brought in and, at about 10:06, the meeting was broken for Bello’s birthday cake-cutting ceremony.

That done, business resumed.

The virtual governor

After the meeting resumed, the pace changed.

Fashola disclosed that he needed to make some points which he “had picked up in the course of the previous week”.

Mind you, these points he “had picked up” are products of the e-mails, the letters, the telephone texts, postings on Facebook and twits from you and I, as well as personal on-the-spot informal assessment of some assignments.

The governor pointed out that in the Abraham Adesanya Estate, Lekki, some of the roads therein were going bad. He ordered immediate remedy. He also said he noticed some abandoned ambulances at the entrance of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH. He wanted to know why the situation existed. He had one issue or the other to discuss and seek remedy for.

Next was the exchange over the Central Business District, CBD.

Fashola said while he was driving through Nnamdi Azikiwe last Sunday, he discovered that the refuse points were overflowing. He charged the Adviser in charge of CDB to be more functional. She, in turn, made it clear that the solution was already in a memo she’d recently sent to the governor.

The exchange was both revealing and instructive. The Adviser would not succumb to the suggestion that she was taking a back foot; just as the governor stuck to his gun that whatever needed to be done should be done to clear the mess.

At a point, the Adviser requested for privacy to which the governor retorted that there could be no other private forum that the one they both already were in. She then told Fashola point-blank what needed to be done. At that point, a pall of silence fell on the chambers. But because here was a governor who had set tasks and deliverables, he did not push to argue against the Adviser’s suggestion which is going to be very drastic. This exchange lasted for almost 10minutes.

A stickler for details, Fashola took on the Commissioner for Physical Planning. He said a building appeared to have suddenly sprouted in-between two others somewhere on the same street. He found it curious that people could build on the space.

He said he could vouch that his dependable commissioner could not have approved such; worse still, he said he “noticed that the building contractor was just stacking blocks on the road, thereby obstructing traffic”. He needed the ministry officials to go there and check; and he believed the building would have to give way.

Still on things he picked up, he said he’d observed that Molue and other commercial buses were already filing on the Carter Bridge again and causing congestion.

He touched on almost all sectors from health to social welfare, the aged and underprivileged, et al.  In the health sector, Fashola said, “Rwanda is stealing medical tourism from Nigeria”. Though he admitted that “war throws up opportunities for fresh breakthroughs” and “I also think our own challenge with terrorism can also help build our own doctors without borders”.

Demonstrating that if “you do not constantly evolve for the better, other people would catch up with you, he stated, “Just look at Spain yesterday against Brazil. The world has caught up with Spain and there ticki-tacki style and that was why the two teams from Spain were roundly defeated during the Champions League competition; the same happened yesterday”.

“My people”, he continued, “the lesson for all of us is that we cannot rest. We need to keep striving to break new grounds. That people are saying we are doing well is not enough. Other states are also striving”.

Akabueze, buckets of cold water and a gov to the rescue

But if you think that the earlier exchanges were heated, what transpired when Akabueze and his team presented the Lagos State Development Plan, SDP, was something else.

The LASG EXCO is not an easy place to be. The EXCO meeting is not a place to try to flaunt your intellect. If you think you are intellectually grounded, try bamboozling your way through the presentation of a memo. It is also not a place where you pull wool because there are people waiting with buckets of cold water – they would pour the water on you and your wool.

After what appeared to be an admirable presentation by Akabueze on projections and prospects for a Lagos in 2025, his colleagues took him to task. He took their observations in good stride.

The plan, for the overall development of the state, would be driven by public and private sectors as well as civil society. It is for all and organized in three parts – Lagos today, Lagos tomorrow and then the implementation. It has a 15-year life-span programme with development pillars.

The vision to strategy is hinged on the following:

1. Economic development

2. Infrastructure development

3. Social development and security

4. Sustainable Environment

For each of these, there are objectives/outcomes; policies and strategies; and MDA sector policies.

By the time his colleagues punched holes in some of the projections you could not but feel sorry for Akabueze. For instance, the projection that today’s unemployment rate of 8%, which is expected to become 5% by 2025, was thought to be unrealistic.

There is expected to be a 40% access to homes for the population.

In some cases, the plan was short on details.

Fashola, who excused himself and later came back to rejoin the meeting after about 90mins, would occasionally interject or amplify a question or response regarding the plan.

Akabueze was, however, up to the task. He took his colleagues’ reservations one after the other. Firstly, he pointed out that “Nigerians delude themselves that ‘in Nigeria there are good plans but it is a problem of implementation”. That can’t be true, he said because every good plan must be implementable because implementation is part of a plan.

In any case, if a plan is simply about little vision, then you can as well continue to do the routine.

Waterfront Commissioner’s intervention about the enormity of the problem of coastal erosion in terms of its financing was cut by the deputy governor because it was becoming a seminar on its own. Even as he attempted to continue, Orelope-Adefulire said he should present a paper on that to which the Waterfront Commissioner said “Ben, I will come to you so we discuss this later”.

Some of the commissioners also believed that with the challenge of power and finance, actualizing the plan would be very difficult.

To this, Fashola admonished all to think locally and be more creative in raising funds.

He maintained that a vision needs to be very ambitious.

In 1999/2002, there were 34committee reports; by 2004, they were compressed to the 10-point agenda. All these were diagnostics and from 2007/2008, “we began to solve the problems”.

Now, the governor said, we have three, four, five year plans. “Physical and economic planning is the back bone of what we’re doing and both will determine our success or failure”.

Then came a strange but ingenious suggestion. From Fashola and Akabueze came the idea that commissioners should look inwardly for funds that may not be of priority utilization that can be consolidated in a pool for the purpose of taking care of the housing needs of the people of Lagos.

Come and make your case

This is not about pork-barrel. You must earn that allocation.

Though it was not the operating rule, you could discern that the aggression to have more resources for your ministry so that you can perform played a role in the arguments and debates. In any case, there was also the seemingly unwritten brief that your points of view had to be grounded in intellect and logic. That way, pouring cold water on you would not be an easy thing.

Then you had the chairman of EXCO, Fashola himself, who kept engaging his commissioners like a lecturer dealing with a bunch of precocious students. Not that he always had his way – because there were a few times when presentations were being made and you could see Fashola nodding or taking notes.

Left handed though, part of the governor’s luck is that his parents did not force him to change and become right-handed – it is thought in this part of the world that being left handed is not good for children and, therefore, in their formative years, they should be forced to become right-handed.

A medical report, decades ago in the United States, found that students, who were naturally left-handed possessed some very unique qualities. Forcing them to become right-handed, alters the natural thought process and patterns. So, all thanks belong to the senior Fasholas.

In terms of style, briskness was it. You may miss the sequence if you are not attentive:

“Motion moved for adoption, seconded; counter? If none, by consensus?

Okay moved”. Then the governor reaches for the gavel and hits it on its receptor. That is how motions are moved after exhausting the debate. When he intervenes, he does so to save both arguing parties from one another.

He does not allow time to be wasted. As the meeting was going on, he was attending to files.He called the man in charge of PPP and admonished him to cut the needless bureaucracy in signing agreements in the power sector

“Be hung for taking initiative; let me be the one to complain that you are too fast”, Fashola charged.

At about 3pm, there was lunch break. By 3:30, the EXCO chamber was filled with members to continue.

Is the EXCO just a rubber stamp for Fashola’s agenda? Not at all.

From what the eyes could see – apart from the deputy governor and the chief of staff, the EXCO members did not know of our participation – the members, too, have earned their stripes a la Fashola. The governor had insisted that the meeting would come to a close by 6pm. It didn’t. The meeting ended by 7pm. And to think you arrived Fashola’s office from 8am.

But there was a Whitepaper on government views and decisions on the report of the committee to examine sources and management of IGR of state owned tertiary institutions. The examination of the Whitepaper took so much time.It was Bill Cosby who said: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody”.

Throughout the meeting and, as issues were being debated, you could decipher that these were people who were not interested in pleasing one another. Some who had been cracking jokes before the meeting started began to tear one another’s points of view to shreds.

And Fashola, who does not appear to suffer fools at all, cannot be described as infallible.

He cannot also be described as a saint because once he doesn’t agree with a point of view, he remains adamant – he only evens it out by ensuring that a superior argument is presented. But just as John Craig had said, that “no matter how much work you can do, no matter how engaging your personality may be, you will not advance far if you cannot work through others”, the governor, working through his EXCO members, cannot but be appreciated.  And that is why he appears to be very popular in Nigeria.

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