Will Fashola spring back? By WALE ELEGBEDE

Ambode, Tinubu and Fashola at a public

During his rein as governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola stood tall by all standards of assessment. In his conducts and carriage, he obviously had no patience for indiscipline and lethargy in the business of government.

Like the biblical King Solomon, Lagos State under his watch became the model state for governance as other states in the country sent different emissaries to understudy the knowhow of the state and replicate same in their respective states.

But like a pack of cards, the reputation of integrity and accountability earned by the former governor in the course of his eight-year stewardship in the state, came crashing in the very eyes of those who had sang his praises to the high heavens, less than three months after leaving the plum Lagos job. What began like a silent tale became an open battlefield where war of words, allegations and counter-allegations began to fly.

Scathing documents and records were obtained online by the media against the Fashola-led administration, and it was hard to unveil the face behind the mask against the former governor. The sign of a gathering storm against Fashola, who was already appearing infused with a new sense of national politics at the time, started few days after he handed over to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who incidentally was a member of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The first of the arrows against Fashola surfaced on the social media few days after leaving the Lagos House, the seat of government.

He was alleged to have fathered a set of twins outside matrimony and in the blink of an eye, the story started trending among followers of social media but got few mentions in the traditional media. With the smoke of the alleged marital infidelity against the former governor still thick, information about some dealings done by the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was ‘released’ by the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency and this time around, he was alleged to have paid N78.3 million to a firm, Info Access Plus Limited, for the upgrade of his website through the Office of the Chief of Staff to the Governor.

The expenditure published on the state public procurement office’s website, and first exposed by foremost budget analytic firm, BudgiT, indicated in the contracts awarded in 2014, Fashola approved N78.3 million from the
state’s treasury for the upgrade of his personal website, www. tundefashola.com.

Though the IT firm named by the procurement office as receiving N78 million for the upgrade of Fashola’s personal website, denied being paid the claimed amount, most observers believe the various developments about the Fashola issue was a direct offshoot of the cold war between the former governor and the leaders of the APC in the state.

With the outrage that trailed the disclosure, the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), a coalition of anticorruption organisations in Nigeria, petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the expenditures, saying that the allegations against the former governor be thoroughly investigated and the falsity or verity proven,” In a petition dated August 10 and addressed to the EFCC Chairman, the group through its chairman, Olanrewaju Suraj, stated that, “We would like to believe that this petition would be given utmost attention as speculations in the media and among the general public is that members of the governing party currently enjoy special consideration and therefore not investigated by the anti-corruption agencies.”

For Fashola’s loyalists, the wave of attacks against their principal was primarily aimed at ruining his political prospects especially at the federal level. With the venom of outrage and disbelief that greeted the disclosure from the state against Fashola, the former governor decided to pen his reaction to the allegations hanged around his neck.

The opening part of his rebuttal, which was a quote from Irish author and playwright George Bernard Shaw, saying, “When you wrestle with a pig, the pig gets happy and you get dirty,” has now become a street parlance among politically savvy Nigerians. Acknowledging that there was a contract, Fashola added that the procurement process went through the right quarters and was approved by the government agency authorised to do so.

“It was all these services that the contract was issued for N78 million, which the Lagos State procurement agency gave a No Objection based on the advice of the Ministry of Science and Technology, which is the government adviser on ICT matters. “In publishing this contract award, which was the government tradition under my watch, the procurement agency’s website summarised it as an ‘upgrade’ without detailing the other services and this has been distorted by the agents of hate as their suspected ‘smoking gun’.”

Of course, his repudiation met with different reactions. While some believe that he was right with his defence, others simply read a tone of arrogance from his statement, and to some of his party men, his response was a veiled affront against a former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in some measures.

The perception that the onslaught against Fashola was initiated by members of his own party especially the Tinubu- Ambode camp was reinforced when the governor, Tinubu and their supporters were conspicuously absent at the launch of three books written in honour of Fashola by his former Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Hakeem Bello.

Though Tinubu sent a representative, Prof. Tunde Samuel, to stand in for him, Governor Ambode and other APC governors shunned the event without any known excuse. Also along the line, another issue that raised eyebrow was the decision of the Ambode-led administration to cancel the 50- year lease Fashola granted to Afriland Properties for the redevelopment of the Falomo Shopping Centre, Ikoyi, saying they discovered that the decision was “grossly detrimental to the interests of the people of the state.”

With the ‘pigs’ not ready to give him respite yet, another sets of allegations on how the former governor mismanaged the state’s treasury and inflated contracts surfaced in the media through a state government website. Chief among the allegations was the award of contract for the drilling of two boreholes at the Lagos House, Ikeja for N139 million. As pressure continues to mount and many fingers pointing at him as being the ‘tormentor’ of Fashola, Tinubu broke the long silence and distanced himself from the recent attacks against Fashola, saying the attacks were being sponsored by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Tinubu said the allegations against him that he was behind the attacks against Fashola were the handiwork of mischief makers sponsored by the PDP.

The statement partly read: “The PDP is just recently out of office at the federal level and it built a vast, unprecedented financial war chest to contest the elections. The residual of that war chest is still at work, buying media space to plant rumours in hopes of spreading discord through the APC. “Thus, the enemy camp may be a minority but it is a large and well-funded one that knows its only chance lies in us attacking ourselves.”

While noting that he had nothing against his successor, he condemned those calling for Fashola’s probe, insisting that any criticism of Fashola was an indictment on him because he was instrumental to making Fashola governor. “I want to declare clearly and categorically that these rancid attacks do not come from me nor do I endorse them. Neither my hand nor my heart is in these mean submissions. I deplore them.

“An attack against the performance of Governor Fashola is indirectly an attack against me and the edifice of achievements we have constructed in leading Lagos State out of a protracted time of stagnation and into an era of sustained progress and development “Our political opponents now try to steal victory when their only entitlement is resounding defeat. Having fared woefully with the electorate, their game plan is to sow discord within the ranks of the party the people had chosen to lead them. The PDP hopes to strike a division in the APC, in that way weakening us and our ability to govern.” But, not satisfied with Tinubu’s intervention, the Lagos State chapter of the PDP, averred that the former Lagos is the brain behind the attacks on his successor, stating that his defence of Fashola is laughable, diversionary and obvious show of jitters. In a statement signed by its publicity secretary, Taofik Gani, the PDP noted that “the defence of Tinubu at this time is belated, mockery and cowardly,” adding that the APC leader is the actual sponsor of the attacks and that his denial is not only disgraceful, but also an afterthought to avoid his own attacks. “It is laughable that Tinubu can now blame PDP for disseminating information which no doubt emanated from the office of the state governor and which was made public by the anti-Fashola elements within the APC. Indeed, bringing PDP into this is a deliberate act to divert attention from the real issues of fraud in the state. “Tinubu and the APC should rather face the accusations and not the accusers. We know well that Tinubu is behind the attacks. Tinubu and Fashola should both be probed and called upon to account for the near N1 trillion debt owed by the state even as the state’s IGR stands at least N27 billion every month.” While alleging that Tinubu was bent on making Fashola walk on a tight rope for initially refusing his choice of Ambode as governor during the APC primaries, the party noted that the former governor was also keen in ensuring that Fashola does not get any federal appointment in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. “The whole world knows this. He is now jittery and denying the attacks because of the rumoured plans by Fashola to release classified information of frauds and assassination during the administration of Tinubu. This is why Tinubu is now jittery and telling lies that we are behind the attacks,” PDP said. Meanwhile, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has set up a task force to probe Fashola and some other eight former governors. According to a top operative of the commission, the task force was set up following petitions written against the former governors. It was learnt that the operatives have started carrying out probes on their activities while in office. Aside Fashola, other former governors said to be on the microscope of the anti-graft agency are Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State; Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, Ibrahim Shema of Katsina and Sullivan Chime of Enugu State. Others are Godswiil Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State and Sule Lamido of Jigawa State. As it stands, it is left to be seen whether the submission of Tinubu will keep the ‘pigs’ off the back of Fashola. The power play in the APC and forces against Fashola were said to have been responsible for his loss, last week, of being appointed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) or Chief of Staff to the President. But the crucial question is whether the former governor, who was in 2011, used to market his fellow defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governors to the South-West, would make a rebound from his present travail and keep his highly revered political clout. Only time will tell.

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