PoliticsNews & AnalysisGovernor of Lagos is"temperamentally" not a politician


Posted on Friday, 08 June 2012 13:33

Governor of Lagos is"temperamentally" not a politician

Monica Mark in Lagos

The Action Congress of Nigeria is getting more attention on a national scale as governor Fashola and his allies change the face 
of Nigeria's densely packed and poorly built economic capital.

BABATUNDE RAJI FASHOLA GOVERNOR, LAGOS STATE/PHOTO/JACOB SILBERBERG/PANOS-REAIn flowing agbada or tailored three-piece suit, there is something ever so managerial about Lagos governor Babatunde Fashola. Although he's one of Nigeria's most popular politicians, Fashola comes across as the quintessential chief executive who has just taken over a troubled company, hamstrung by debt and with doubts about its earning potential.

Yet Fashola is absolutely hands on. He is known for driving through the streets of Lagos at all hours of day or night, testing on the ground whether his transport plans are working. 
"By going around Lagos, the most important thing [you see]," he told The Africa Report, "is that if the people don't change, then the value is lost. If you build the best roads and people decide to drive in violation of traffic rules then you've lost a lot of value."

After five years in office, Fashola extols the power of ideas and – despite his technocratic demeanour – the importance of political will. "If you put the best waste-collection team together and people don't put the refuse in the designated places, there's no value," he says.

He quickly got on top of his brief after coming to power in 2007 and presented a credible recovery plan for Lagos to international banks. Impressed, they subscribed to bonds issues to rebuild the city's road, rail and bridge network. "We got approval to issue a bond for N275bn ($1.7bn)," explained Fashola. "We've issued two tranches of N50bn each and we're hoping to issue the third tranche of N80bn. The process has commenced, we couldn't conclude last year, but it's working."

Fashola is changing the face of Lagos. Two overhead mass-transit railways – the red and blue lines – are under construction. Within a few years they will be taking millions of workers each day from the distant satellites of Okomaiko in the west or Agbado in the north to the centre of the business district on Lagos Island. As the cement mixers get busy, Fashola and his team are redesigning the city or rather spreading it out across Lagos State with a new network of roads and shopping centres that should further cut traffic jams or the signature 'go slow' in Lagos. 
"We are dividing the state into eight distinct cities, developing master plans for them and integrating them into a regional plan ... the Lekki master plan, the Ikoyi and Ikeja master plans are completed now."


Fashola speaks in long sentences, showing his legal training, as he quietly makes his case. Not for him are the demonstrative gestures of the politician on the stump, seeking votes.

His much trumpeted Lagos investment conference in April showed how far he has been able to turn around the city's image. By 2015, Lagos will be the third-biggest city in the world after Tokyo and Mumbai. Its current population is just more than 21 million and growing at 3% per year, according to Fashola. That makes it a mega-city already. "What we are doing now is to project for this place to be liveable and sustainable for 40 million people, should it ever reach that level," Fashola says calmly as the enormity of the enterprise becomes apparent.

Another revolutionary Fashola project is the comprehensive digital register of land and property rights. The casual visitor to Lagos will come across many cordoned-off plots of prime real estate: they are in dispute and subject to interminable courtroom wrangling. The new register, Fashola explains, could resolve such disputes and would allow people to use land to raise finance: "It's to create a credible database for people seeking to do business, for people seeking to take security on title."


Nobel Laureate poet and playwright Wole Soyinka told local journalists he is a fan of Fashola's cool approach: "Temperamentally, he's not a politician at all." A division of labour has been established, according to a senior figure in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN): "Fashola does the business of government ... he lets his mentor [Bola] Tinubu get on with the politics."

Fashola emerged as the ACN governorship candidate in 2007 because Tinubu had hired him as chief of staff and selected him against strong opposition party loyalists. The lack of a political camp to appease, apart from Tinubu himself, initially, gave Fashola a freer hand. His first term was arguably one of the most successful four years any state has seen since the return to civilian rule in 1999.

Lagos is a great platform for an ambitious politician. Fashola pushes through his projects because Lagos is economically viable and can be fairly independent of federal allocations. The nationally dominant People's Democratic Party (PDP) has been shut out of Lagos, and its supporters insist they were rigged out of the local government elections in the state last year.

Inevitably, Fashola looks headed for more political hurly-burly. His friends are divided about whether he will run for the Senate in Abuja in 2015 or whether his sights are set on a presidential ticket. On that matter, Fashola and Tinubu have taken vows of silence.

There are doubts that their party is ready for national leadership. For now, Fashola would rather talk about infrastructure bonds and city master plans; taking on the PDP juggernaut in Abuja is a project for another day. ●

This article was first published in the May, 2012 edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

Last Updated on Friday, 08 June 2012 14:48

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