By Steve Osuji
Let me first raise a mug of my favorite beer (no brand name dropping now) to our dear governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF) on his turning 50 last Friday. I welcome him to our club, the golden age of gray and wisdom; a great club if you know how to live it. Great guy yea; and the song has been sung ad nauseam, I bet even he doesn't want to hear it anymore.
But suffice it to articulate in a few words what one considers to be the BRF essence. He stands out clearly as the best governor in Nigeria today and perhaps the greatest leader of this age first because he has remained unaffected by power and second, he has exhibited leadership by sheer force of personal example more than any one else among his peers.
Put differently, bewildering grace under the enormous influence of power and such transparency that is self-accounting, self-evident and that seems to ring through and true. Let us add a work ethic that is alien to today's leaders. He has indeed been the real breath of fresh air in a Republic that is suffused with charlatans and power hogs.
We are daily embarrassed by governors and political leaders who seem to have no clue as to why they are in office, who are so excited by the office they occupy that it has become an end in itself and indeed, the end of the world for them. Many show such manifest greed that you can see currency notes sticking out of their ears and dangling from the neck of their spouses and family members.
While BRF has managed to put a handle on power, most of his contemporaries are virtually being storm-tossed in the rise and tide of power. And the tragedy is that they are not aware of that fact.
But while a book could be written on the BRF paradigm in this murky ocean of mis-governance, here are a few things not quite right in Lagos today.
LGAs AS ROAD TO NOWHERE: perhaps the most tragic phenomenon blighting the country today is that we have turned our local council governments into a mere concept.
Our LGAs have become an endless, worthless and mischievous argument while the hapless inhabitants languish.
All over the country – from Sokoto to Borno, from Bayelsa to Anambra, Edo, Ondo, one cannot find any glittering example of a 3rd-tier administration at work.
What we have now range from the most opaque system to sheer brigandage. And the result across the country: extreme impoverishment of the larger population which yields itself to extreme crimes like violent robberies, kidnapping, cultism, human trafficking, militancy and terrorism.
Because hardly any economic activities go on in our local administrative units, large swathes of our people and territory are left bare and barren.
This is the case in Lagos under BRF as it is in most parts of the country. This explains why the more BRF does, the more he has left undone.
For every one facility he provides, there are about 57 others, thus the need to work in tandem with the 57 administrative units for Lagos to lift from its morass of decay, crimes and slumhood.
While one does not wish to be embroiled in the constitutional debates and politics of it, the point remains that BRF has not been able to device a mechanism that would make the local councils work.
ONE MAN SHOW? Another point to ponder about the BRF era is a lack of robust delegation of responsibilities to cabinet members and aides.
Though it is a national affliction of Nigeria's leadership and not peculiar to BRF, we long for the day when our governors, presidents and heads at all levels would retreat to the background, to the quiet crannies where concepts and ideas reign while the aides are allowed ample initiatives to play the field.
I look forward to the day when a works commissioner for instance, would own his projects, run his projects, sell it to the people and commission it without the governor ever showing his face.
Most governors are busy building roads, culverts, gutters, classroom blocks and flyovers that they miss the most important point which is governing.
OTHER POTENTIALITIES OF LAGOS: There is a notion that Lagos State is so fortuitously situated; that indeed the gods had provided all the food the state needs and that she only needs to prepare it. That is true to some extent.
The revenue templates are there for instance and the dough would stream in in billion unhindered, no matter who is in the Round House.
The BRF government has particularly perfected taxation as its main stream of revenue (you won’t believe that one has been taxed off one's pants!).
We have not seen this government pursue the other economic potentialities of the state other than taxes and rents. For instance, tourism, her aquatic splendor which is largely dormant, agric export, ICT and entertainment could be catalyzed to be huge revenue machines.
REAL SECTOR IN REGRESS: Lagos State used to be the thriving hub of manufacturing and industrialization. Today, though there are still some machines rolling but they seem cranky, exhausted while many have simply packed up.
Recently no fewer than 70 companies were delisted from the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE); these were hitherto thriving entities mostly based in Lagos, providing quality jobs and impacting the state's economy.
A drive through Oba Akran Avenue/Henry Carr axis of Ikeja Industrial estate is sure to make your heart sink – vast industrial complexes have been converted to miracle churches.
Apart from picking juicy taxes from companies, when was the last time government engaged organized business groups with a view to ameliorating their challenges and ensuring their continued existence?
How many new major real sector operators have berthed in the state in recent years and what are the strategies for attracting and sustaining businesses?
HIGH-MINDED and HIGH-HANDED? BRF's obvious high mind seems to naturally breed high handedness and this has largely defined his style of governance. It is a style that earns bounteous results but it also draws its flaks. Examples abound: the doctors' strike palaver could have been better managed knowing that we are dealing with the high end of our society that could not be banished.
The reverse case is the commercial cyclists (okada) who were off-handedly banished just because we could do so. With a little more circumspection, they could have been better managed and contained to the benefit of all. The okada affair is ironically, to the benefit and ruination of the police in the state today.
The state university affair is also a point to note. The state must never be perceived to be profiting from public education. If subsidies are banished, if fee must be charged, it ought to be just enough to run well.
The suspended bridge toll too could have been priced at half the current rate and the economy of the state would never have collapsed in September or even the near future. If we have paid for the bridge to be built, why do we have to pay even more to use it?
Having made these points, we reiterate that BRF remains the best among his peers by miles.