Speculators may be correct about the existence of a wall in between two former governors of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Mr. Babatunde Fashola. But the specifications of the wall may well be beyond the scope of speculation. It is an instructive demonstration of changed and changing circumstances that the one who empowered the other has been linked with the demystification of power, but it is another matter altogether whether the power of demystification is potent enough to achieve its objective.
The August 18 Lagos launch of three books on Fashola’s time in power was like reading a book on power and its consequences. His memorable era as governor of the megacity was captured by his media aide, Hakeem Bello, and Dapo Adeniyi in the titles “The Great Leap”, “In Bold Print” and “The Lagos Blow Down”. But the celebratory ceremony had the appearance of a blow down of Fashola’s well-publicised pluses in governance, particularly because of the significative shunning by the cream of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Of course, there was a tokenistic representation of the party’s soul, but it was a presence symbolic of a parting.
The stage provided thought-provoking insights into the drama. Tinubu’s representative, Prof. Tunde Samuel, was quoted as saying: “Fashola acquired a lot of apprenticeship in a wired political engineering and this further helped his actions while in office. I am happy that your ruggedness in office has shown Lagosians and Nigerians that Asiwaju took a very good decision when he made you his Chief of Staff and later two-time Governor of Lagos State…We are happy about your success in office and we believe the sky is your limit.” It is unclear how much of what the speaker said was politically influenced, but the implications of his historicization were obvious enough.
On the same stage, Mr. Fola Adeola, a former chairman of Guaranty Trust Bank who chaired the occasion, painted a telling picture of things behind the scenes. He reportedly said: “I believe everybody that came here today considers Fashola as a friend, brother, cousin, so I greet everyone and welcome them. I will also say some people are here just because they are brave and not afraid. The people who are here are simply telling him that no matter what, they still remain his friend.” Adeola’s words were important more for what he left unsaid than for what he said. Questions: Who are those no longer friends with Fashola and why? Why would anyone be afraid to attend a book launch?
There is no doubt that the books and the launch were publicity stunts. The truth is that if gubernatorial grading is informed by fair-minded measurement of results, and devoid of the narrow-mindedness that comes with judging on extra-governmental grounds, Fashola cannot by any stretch of the imagination be qualified as undistinguished.
It was fitting that Adeola was quoted as saying at the event: “I was in Benin and somebody was talking about Lagos State and Fashola. I was surprised and wondered where they knew him from. Also in Kano State during Governor Kwakwanso’s tenure, a young man was saying his governor is trying to replicate what Fashola is doing in Lagos in the state. So in my dictionary, Fashola represents every good thing.” Indeed, so exemplary was Fashola’s administrative competence in a country used to mediocrities in power that ahead of the general elections held a few months ago, there was a serious public debate in his favour concerning his suitability for vice-president in a dream tag team with Muhammadu Buhari.
To the extent that he demonstrably left Lagos State a better place than he met it, even if he allegedly merely actualised the grand vision of his predecessor and sponsor, Fashola does not deserve a place in the hall of infamy. But the ways of politics and politicians are polyvalent, which is the central point about the aftergame that may prove to be an endgame.
While Fashola may have offended party hierarchs based on misapprehensions and miscalculations encouraged by power, it is indisputable that while the romance lasted he was an awesome advertisement for his party and its leadership. Fashola’s sins in the eyes of those he displeased by his failure to recognise his limits and limitations in the political game and the political space should not be considered too outrageous to be forgiven.
It is revealing that Fashola himself is under no illusion as to the plot to rubbish him and his achievements. In an earlier statement, he referred to “manipulated and unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing.” He said: “They range from allegations of extramarital paternity of children, to mundane and phantom conspiracy in the National Assembly, a debt profile for Lagos State and lately a website upgrade contract of N78 million, which is being distorted.”
The tragedy of Fashola’s apparent reduction within his party is that it provides ammunition to the opposition. Given the ugly picture of intra-party dissonance, it won’t be surprising if the opposition launches its own anti-Fashola campaign.
Ultimately, the biggest casualty may be Fashola’s political future. Now that his party is in power at the federal level, Fashola’s fans are realistically hoping he would play an important role in the central government on the basis of his impressive governorship credentials. It would be an unmerited anti-climax if his political ascent is forced to plateau at this stage, considering the great promise of his governorship years.
However, the APC cannot expect to go through the circumstances unscathed. Its progressive image will be badly dented by any dent inflicted on a rising and shining star in its firmament. As a symbol of the possibilities of developmental governance, Fashola just can’t be ignored. Those who appreciate that development always comes with a price tag acknowledge the great leap and bold print of the Fashola years in Lagos State. Nothing can blow these down.
If what looks like an after game develops into an endgame, it would be an unwelcome ending to a political interconnection that has benefited Lagos State and deserves to be replayed to the country’s advantage.