Babatunde, Raji Fashola, the dynamic ex-governor of Lagos State had an outing last week. It was to launch three books which were to give some account of his eight year stewardship as the Governor of Nigeria’s richest and most diverse state. In political terms, it should have been a big, showy event, coming as it were, after APC’s narrow victory in Lagos and, for the first time in 16 years, a major victory at the centre.
None, as in none, of the political heavyweights was in attendance. The Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu who normally loves these things could not find the time to honour one of his own. If the de facto Chairman of APC was absent for reasons best known to him, what about the de jour Chairman?Fashola is also—or should be—the poster child for APC. He set a bench mark for what governance should be and his achievements were recognised by friends and foes alike. Yet by all accounts, judging by the way political outings are rated, it was a dismal outing.
The esteemed Vice President who comes from the same legal background as Fashola and who had worked harmoniously with him in the past, chose to distance himself on this occasion. So did his fellow Governors, especially those who were in office at the same time with him; which makes me curious as to why even those who are not seeking elective offices did not have the liver to stand by him?
His successor, the same man he took by the hand and campaigned vigorously for (at least so it seemed) found State duties too tasking to find the time.
But the unkindest cut was from those who worked directly with him and yet left him in the lurch at a time he needed friends and associates around him. Could they have been that busy, that preoccupied that they could not have found the time to honour an associate, a friend and a fellow governor for a couple of hours? We know they were not. We saw the turn out that Rotimi Amaechi, another ex-governor, commanded when he launched his book just a few months before. Even Lai Mohammed who was never a Governor, who is not a Lagosian drew more political heavyweights when he launched his own book in Lagos.
So this was a political statement. One so eloquently made and so ruthlessly executed. The scales were so heavily tilted in this balance of power and it showed. Fashola lost out in this first round but that is by no means the end of the tournament. A group of people are probably gloating now that they have dealt with an errant son and put Fashola in his place. I hope it will not be a pyrrhic victory with dire consequences.
After all, those who have power must always be afraid of the usage of power because of the attendant fall out. This was beautifully illustrated by an eminent Nigerian with whom I am working on a project at the moment. When he was running a State, some sections of the state claimed he was not favouring their sections with political appointments and amenities. An allegation many of their leaders knew was false. Then their Oba over stepped his bounds and openly rebuffed him at a function. The hawks in his cabinet wanted the Oba dealt with ruthlessly.
He did not doubt his power as a Governor to deal with the Oba. But he also knew many of his loyal supporters within the section would not want their Oba humiliated. In the end he exercised discretion and chose not to cut his nose to spite his face. Those who are gloating over the purported downsizing of Fashola must realise that he has his supporters. Many there were who voted for APC in Lagos because of Fashola. He was erudite; he was knowledgeable; he was engaging. He was, simply put, an asset to APC and to Ambode.
The only people who stand to benefit from the humiliation of Fashola is the opposition. And those who think Lagos is a one man show have one more point to buttress their argument with. Fashola has been accused of being arrogant; of being stingy; of being ungrateful; of being corrupt; and of not being a politician. He may be all of the above. In any case, no consummate politician would have launched the books at the time he did knowing the stakes were stacked against him. To use the footballing language he understands so well, no good goalkeeper leaves the 18 yard box to go after a ball unless he is sure to get it.
He should not have gone out to launch the books if he was not sure of a good attendance given the feud on the ground. And those who assured him of attendance but deceived him will eventually meet their comeuppance. But nobody can doubt his competence. Nobody can doubt that he changed the face of Lagos. Lagos cannot be an easy State to run given its population and diversity but he did it admirably.
There is no doubt in many people’s mind that he would be an asset at the Federal level. Those who are trying to shoot him down are doing a disservice to the State, the Nation and to APC. Finally, Lagos state has been run by the same set of politicians for 16 years without proven cases of fraud and corruption despite several rumours and the huge sums at their disposal. It is not because it was run by saints or angels. On the contrary. It is because they have looked out for each other and protected each other. That has changed.
For the first time, an APC official has been publicly accused of corruption by its own government. Many fingers have pointed beyond Ambode to Tinubu. I don’t think it would be too difficult to smear Fashola with the brush of malfeasance if APC was so minded. But were Fashola to fight back, and many want him to, Tinubu would be an easier meat. Fashola was Tinubu’s Chief of Staff before he became his successor as the State’s Chief Executive.
Surely he has a good idea of the source of the stupendous wealth of his former boss. He should also know where a few skeletons are hidden. Many want him to sing. Common sense would dictate that the two gladiators should pull back before they mutually destroy each other. But that would not be in the interest of PDP or Lagosians who are baying for a roforofo fight. Maybe with it, true change will come to lagos. Finally.