Friday, 28 June 2013


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Governor Babatunde Raji Akanni Fashola

Fashola: Not Yet Nigeria of My Dream

Preparatory to his 50th today, the handlers of the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Akanni Fashola, had agreed to requests by some media houses for an interview with the governor on his reflection about life, growing up, worldview and philosophy. The combined session featured eminent media executives from respected national dailies. Coming on a significant day, June 12, Fashola was obviously in his typical element with reminiscences that constantly enlivened the atmosphere. Olawale Olaleye and Nkiruka Okoh present the excerpts:

What are your reflections at 50?
Well, nobody knows what day he was born, so I’m going to take the question of reflection from perhaps, the time when some consciousness began to form in my mind about the future and in that sense, the kind of country I had so much faith in has really not materialised. So, it’s an anniversary of mixed blessings for me, if you like, positive in the sense that there is life, also in many respects of some of the things I wanted personally for myself in terms of my career has largely materialised.
Although in my profession, I still believe that there is an unfinished business there but when I look back at some of the decisions I took as a young person, the opportunity to study abroad that I rejected; I rejected it because I felt that I could never be all I could be in a land where I was not a citizen. That was one reason.
I look at the decisions that presented themselves when I left the university, close to half of my friends when I left the university after graduation, left out of frustration. I was one of the few who said ‘no, I think the promise of this nation will be fulfilled; that is where my best opportunity lies’.
In that sense again, that Nigeria has not materialised and I see so much that we can do and sadly, I see some of the unimportant things that distract us from setting firmly on our course. So, it is a season of mixed blessings for me. Personally, I can't say there is the kind of fulfilment I desire.
You’ve warned against a loud birthday celebration, what informed your decision?
My birthday has always been a private thing and in the last six months or there about, there has been, for want of a better expression, a building excitement- people planning all sorts of things, committees being set up. And I have said no don’t do this to me, not this time. For me, I think the best birthdays were 10. It was the last birthday that my mum celebrated for me. I celebrated every birthday and cut a cake. I still think I can find some old pictures. I remember wearing a French suit, after that I think she focused more on my younger ones’ birthdays.
The next birthday that I remember was 18. I did that myself. I saved money for about six months and I went partying with my friends. I really enjoyed myself. The next one I remember was when I was 21. I was in the university then, my friends and I were on campus. As difficult as it was then because there were no telephones, my mum had a sense of duty to ensure that I get a birthday card. I still keep it till today; a very touching birthday card. After that, there were really no birthdays in that sense.
After I got married, on my birthdays, I get home early. If it fell on a working day, I get home early, we don’t cook; we order food, people come in- my mum, dad, siblings- each one at his own time and really at 7 or 8 o’clock, I drive every one away or I leave them at home with my wife and go to play snooker or tennis at the club. And there was no ceremony about it. I don’t like these formalities. I remember then, when I was Chief of Staff and I turned 40, my friends said, you are going to have a party and I said, if you do it, I’m going to run away.
Somehow, somebody brought the idea of Sunny Ade, knowing that I like Sunny Ade a lot. But I remember we printed an invitation card, how they got me to do it, I can’t quite remember. But what I remember is that I had to wake up very early and I was thinking this shouldn’t be; I should be sleeping. So, in the morning, as early as 7am, we had started prayers, breakfast and I must confess; it was a day that I enjoyed. I felt so many people around. The Governor came, the Chief Judge came, in fact, everybody was there, including Mama Mogaji (of blessed memory).
But the party went on beyond my birthday because we were still there at 3a.m the following day. We were still there and I said, no, this is not how it is supposed to be. And I remember that in the course of greeting everybody, I think somebody had conjunctivitis and I picked it up and when I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t open my eyes. But I think the fun that I had the day before more than compensated for my discomfort.
So, I had to send for my optometrist because it was very painful. This time, with all of the things I have said, if this is my day, those who really love me must allow me to do this my way. It didn’t cost me that much to receive my visitors. I funded my 40th birthday myself but I’m not quite sure I can do the same now.
How do you mean?
As governor, you know, I’m not even sure I want to spend that kind of money on a party. So, if we can't eat small rice and chicken in the house, I don’t even know if I want to dress up and see people. If there is something going on, on the Television, I will want to watch. I don’t think I am mentally prepared for that and I don’t want to offend people.
I ask myself, we have had these discussions before, some of my aides have come up with other ideas and I have said, come don’t other governors in other countries have their birthdays? Is it such a loud thing? And the idea that I will have a birthday at the expense of tax payers is something that doesn’t sit quite well with me. And it is only 24 hours.
What exactly do you want the day to be like?
A very quiet and simple day! It will be nice to have my friends around, they know themselves. If they want to get here, they know how to get here but also, I don’t want to cling to things that are not real. I try as much as possible to keep my feet planted because there are two people here. There's Tunde Fashola and there is the Governor of Lagos. There are many people willing to celebrate the governor of Lagos’ birthday and in 2015, I will be left to carry on with my birthday. So, let me get used to that as I have tried to carry on with my birthday.
And if you look at it, that is what I have tried to do since I took office and there is the other argument. But really, we are all inheritors of a joy we did not experience. On the day a child is born, he doesn’t know what happens; the only people celebrating are his parents. They invest the anniversary on him and it becomes a cross for life. And I think the ideas of an anniversary are things that we experience and we want to relieve like the wedding anniversary, graduation anniversary, and those kinds of things.
But the way you are talking, you don’t seem to be celebrating anything?
I celebrate every day of my life. Every morning when I wake up, I pray. At my very private moments, I sing to God and even sometimes, people who live in the house with me do not know that I sing. I sing sometimes in happiness. For me, everyday that you live is a celebration. So, it can’t be one day.
Let’s hear you sing
Ahh (General Laughter) I said that I commune with my maker. I will tell you about that later. You want to break into that? That’s the inner sanctum Santorum, the inner inner.
We can’t talk about the present without talking about the past. Let’s go down the memory lane; what was childhood like for Babtunde Raji Fashola?
It was fun; a lot of fun. I grew up in Surulere. I lived in Surulere all my life. The first time I lived on the island was when I moved here (Marina). It was fun. I did everything that young people did. I also grew up with my grandparents and that was really instructive. God bless their souls. They spoilt me. My grandmother used to trade in Oyingbo market. She went every week and I remember every Tuesday, it was market day. I will wake up with her at and help her tie up with my tiny hands.
She used to sell Tower Aluminum pots and pans and she will carry it at 5am. She believed that my sixth digit was a sign of prosperity and she would tell me to put my hands on her wares. She was not very literate but she could count her money in pounds. So, when we moved from ponds to naira, it became a problem. I had to do the multiplication of the number of pounds to get the naira for her. I will get a bar of chocolates and cow biscuits for reward and it meant that on Wednesday morning, I would be a hero in class sharing biscuits.
We flew kites and on Sundays, we went to Church, St Jude’s church in Ebutte Metta. She threw me in Sunday school with my cousins then after church; we looked forward to Uncle Bens rice, and chicken and those of us who lived in that era remembered the perpetual fight over Fanta and who was to get the bottle. There was a feeling that whoever had the bottle had the most content- just regular things; played street soccer. I was a little difficult to raise. I played truant in school a lot. I didn’t like school. There were too many interesting things to do.
Go and watch Cinema and my mum used to take us to go to the cinema that was when the cinemas were popular. The one at Ikorodu road, Onipanu, Metro Cinema, was where I saw James Bond’s Gold finger. I think it was the last Sunday of every month she used to make sure she took us to the cinema. That was the kind of childhood I had.
I lived in a regular middle class home.
My mum was a nurse and my dad, a journalist. I also remember my affinity for Juju music came from my grandparents because then, Sunny Ade and Obey were at their very best and my grandfather used to buy the records. We had a Grinding player and that was where I learnt all the Sunny Ade music from.
It was always blaring and I learnt how to change the records and I still got a lot of strength from the deep philosophies in those songs and there is a lot of rich philosophies in you when you bother to listen to the lyrics rather than the music and you will see their own stories of tribulations and success and if you look at them now and listen to their songs, you will see that every success story is founded on adversity. They faced their own adversity.
Obey was once accused of carrying drugs and they had bitter rivalries. He was accused of supporting criminals when he sang for an armed robber and he quickly had to do “e ma f’oju buruku wo onileesi” and their supposed feud which helped bring more converts. Those were the building blocks of my childhood. I was a member of the boys scout.
I didn’t see the civil war per say but my knowledge of the war can be summed up in a word, “moto gagara” and I’ll tell you the story of moto gagara.
Now, I must have been around four when the war broke out. Our brothers from the east were moving back home and big trucks conveyed them and for a four-year-old, the sound of the big trucks was scary. So, anytime I heard the trucks, I always wanted to go out and play and my grandmother was always saying stay indoors. So, the only thing that kept me in was the sound of the trucks and I would rush back into the house. So, every time I wanted to go out and she didn’t want me to, she would say “motogagara mbo” and I would scamper back to the house.
Post war was a reconstruction of Lagos and many parts of Nigeria and running through the streets of Surulere seeing the stadium being built, National theatre, the sand filling that took place, I rode bicycles through these places and the Badagry expressway. I remember Yinka Folawiyo was the major supplier of cement to the sites. Riding bicycles, of all these, I used to do. I remember accompanying my grandmother to her house in Oshodi to collect her rent and then I was very young. She had a lawyer who managed her property in Oshodi and I recall after every visit she always complained that the lawyer had cheated her and the final word was that I promised her that I would be a lawyer so that I could manage the property for her for free.
That only happened after she had died. I took over the property, but now my younger brother who is also a lawyer took it over from me and we still manage it. We are trying to renovate it now. But that gave me a very strong knowledge of Oshodi because we used to walk through all of those places and I knew how it was as a child then. It gave me a good knowledge of Lagos. My aunt lived in Bariga, so I would take a bus from Oshodi to Bariga and then from Bariga to Akoka. That was my
Was that why you chose law instead of Journalism like your father?
I think that first of all, our parents are the mirror through which we see life. So, maybe somewhere down the line, my grandmother’s exhortations struck a chord and more importantly was the fact that I was very horrible in mathematics. Maybe horrible is not the word. Let me explain it. The primary school I attended, we used to study arithmetic then and I think in 1972, Nigeria turned decimal. Some schools started doing mathematics but we remained with arithmetic because we were getting ready for common entrance.
I think the school thought that it was difficult to change us, so I think they got the National Common Entrance body to set two sets of questions. In the front, there was mathematics, but there was a footnote that read: if you did arithmetic, turn to the next page. I just managed to score about 50 or 60 to pass arithmetic. I had classmates who scored 99. By the time I got to form one, it was straight mathematics.
I remember it was an American who taught us and I just couldn’t hear what he said in class. First, because of his accent and second, because all the signs on the board were new, so I hardly stayed in class. I didn’t stop initially; I just sat down there and found something else to distract myself until he left the classroom. But my physics, biology and chemistry were quite good. I was taught by two Indians, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews. Mr. Mathews taught us physics and chemistry, Mrs. Mathews taught us biology.
I desired at that time to be a doctor. I wanted to be a surgeon and I was very conversant with my biology. I’m enamoured by nature. But in form three going into form four, we got to choose subjects. They called my parents and told them my biology was good, but the chemistry I didn’t solve any equation. I just answered the theory questions and left the rest blank. So, they said I had to withdraw and leave the science class and move to the arts class. I said I was ready to do that because there was no point arguing, but that they would allow me continue with my biology and they agreed.
I focused more on history, bible knowledge, literature, geography and by the time I was all done, the only professional course I could do without mathematics was Law. But it is not something I didn’t want to do. So, in a sense, there was a little bit of mixed choices of a long term and I enjoyed every day I spent in a law class. I enjoyed it and I think that I am better for it because in the course of my practice, it has enabled me to know a lot more about other disciplines because you are a client to doctors, you are a client to patients who sue doctors, engineers, people claiming compensations for building damaged and so on.
You have to know quantity survey; you have to understand basic engineering to prove negligence. It is a continuous learning. There are areas of life that you have never heard about but you have to learn about it otherwise you give up the brief and you give up the money.
Still on growing up, you once told a story of how your dad had set educational standard for any of you to travel abroad on vacations and you couldn't meet up until one of your aunts intervened. Now, there’s a different BRF. What happened then?
At that time around 1976/77, my father decided apparently that part of the education of his children was to travel. For us, it was fun but for him, it was education. We didn’t know that and we used to think that he was a rich man. It was quite some time we realised that he borrowed money to send us on those trips but the qualification always was that you must be amongst the top 5 in your class. I was always the one who didn’t make it. They dropped me like twice, then one my aunts came and said “Broda e je ki omode yi lo (brother, please, allow this boy to travel), maybe he would be inspired”.
So, my father gave in and said although I didn’t earn it, I should go anyway. So, that was his style. For me, school was too much of a problem. There was football to be played. I didn’t learn how to study until I was in A Levels class. Sometimes, I would stay out of class and two days to the exams, I would stumble into class, look at someone’s note and say what are you people studying, then just get the minimum pass and go away.
At what point did you change this attitude that school was stress?
That was when I failed School Certificate. I wrote school certificate when I was 14 years and half and I just didn’t understand what the big deal was about it and why everyone was reading when we should have been playing. So, all my playmates had left me and I didn’t now know what to read. So, I just went into the exam hall, wrote what I knew and I got a grade 3. I had three credits. One A in Biology and the rest were P7, E8 and mathematics was outstanding- I had an F.
My dad came, but the teachers were congratulating my dad. They were congratulating him because this boy did not come to school and had three credits. But my dad said you know what, I am not paying for another exam again, you have decided that you don’t want to go back to school. Then he said he had booked an apprenticeship for me with his mechanic, so I broke down in tears. He said no, that I should go and think about it. I should go and discuss it with my mum and come back to him to decide what I was going to do.
One week after I went back to see him and I said well, I still want to go back to school and he said, are you sure; that the mechanic was still waiting o? I went on to write the exam again and I passed. Then I got into A Levels class. I was very good the first year and everybody was happy. But my dad said “ko ti mo ibi ti won ti’ngba ball ni” (that he is yet to discover where they play football) and in a sense, it was true. At the end of the first year, I had gotten into the school football team and the grade loss started.
I have told everybody who cares to listen. First of all, I am a product of many chances which is why I give a second, third and fourth chances to anybody I see. Those are the lessons for me. I also acknowledge unreservedly that my parents, apart from God, owe the credit for what I have become. They just didn’t give up and I don’t think that any parent should give up on any child.
By the time I entered the university, all of the freedom I wanted was an anti-climax and there was nobody to tell me to go and study but by the first week in the university, I was the one waking up students to go and study. I don’t know how that transformation came about, but I was able, through the university, to still combine football and tennis with my academic work. What I simply did was that 600a.m, I was up. I would go and do exercises. I used to jog in the morning, after which I would be in class till 4pm and by 4 pm I was at sport complex till 7pm.
From 7pm, I would be cleaning up till 8pm and ate dinner. From 8pm to 9pm, I studied one hour everyday till I left university and it worked for me. I was always ready for exams long before the time. Same thing I did when I was in law school. I played tennis, despite my law school exams everyday and it didn’t affect, well maybe it could have been better. I left school with a 2:2 and I left the law school with a 2:2 and I think that was enough effort.
My dad wanted me to do masters but those were his plans. My own plans had become different. I was not going to argue with him. He collected the form, I filled the form but I submitted it late. I was tired of school. I had become a lawyer. I wanted to practice. I didn’t want to become a company secretary where I would need a higher degree to get a promotion. I knew what kind of law I wanted to practice, so I didn’t need a master’s degree.
At what point did you develop interest in public service?
Public service is perhaps another stepping stone in my life’s journey. I didn’t like public service, make no mistake about it. I didn’t think government worked. Government had become dysfunctional. It was unlike the way government was when I was a child. Government used to care for animals; they used to come around to pick stray dogs. Those are some of the things we are trying to recreate; build a specialist veterinary centre in Lagos. We have started work on that because I know that if we can care for animals, we can care for people.
As an adult when I started law practice, I was posted to the Ministry of Justice in Benin as a youth corper and I was posted to the Solicitor General’s office. She was away attending to some other things in Benin and for three days, nobody could attend to me and something said to me “this is not the place you want to work”. If the solicitor general is not around, then it means this is not the place I want to work. So by the time she came back on the third day, I said “Ma, I have been waiting for you. I don’t want to work here, please just transfer me.”
And she said, how can I just transfer you without even trying you and I said ‘ma, I am not going to work here. A very nice woman, Mrs. Omodion, she later became a judge of the High court in Edo state and she said, ‘don’t you have a wig and gown’ and I said, yes I do and she said, ‘why don’t you want to work here’ and I said, ‘I was here for three days and you were not around and nobody seemed willing to take on responsibility.
The impression I get is that I don’t get to do anything except you approve of it and that means if you are not around, no work and I don’t want to be in an environment where I can’t think on my own and take decisions and she said no it’s not like that. But I said, well the evidence I have is like that and I remember her words, she said, “young man, your mind seems to be made up and I am not going to stand in your way. Where do you want to go? Do you have another place?” I told her yes although I didn’t. I just wanted to get out of the place.
She let me go and I started prancing the streets of Benin looking for my seniors in the university or a place where someone could accommodate me and by nightfall, I had got a place and that was where I did my youth service. That was my impression of government. Coming back home, I saw that If you wanted to get anything done in any department of government, it could go on for weeks and weeks and I said no, this is not funny.
I used to be very critical of government in my own small corner but one day, Governor Tinubu sent for me and said “Tunde, Lai is going to Ilorin, he wants to be governor; I need help. You are part of the people who supported my campaign, you can’t leave me to do the work alone, so come and join me. That was on a Wednesday, we had scheduled the meeting for 4pm on Wednesday but I didn’t get to see him until 1am in his office. We were all there in his office.
I got home around 2am or so, went to my office in Igbosere later in the day. I think the GSM had come out. I got a call from the head of service asking for my address and before the end of the day, I got a letter asking me to resume at Alausa the following day which was Friday 16, 2002.
I called my partner in the chambers and I said I won’t see you in the office tomorrow; I am gone. And because of the way we ran the chambers, everybody knew what everybody was up to. I was head of chambers and managing partner, so all the cases we tried, we prepared them in a conference type of setting and I told them, I would be one phone call away if you needed any help and that happened for not more than a month and after that, they found their feet.
I didn’t plan to be in government, I went into government with some air of arrogance which was quickly deflated. I must say this, I thought that those of us outside knew more than those inside and I was proven wrong. There is a lot of talent in government, not just in Lagos state and the power of government is so much that we do ourselves a great deal of disservice. I joined at 39 and I thought it was too late and we must encourage more people to join very early. There is no use in us continuously criticising. That is the easiest thing to do, complain.
Getting things done, getting people to agree is the work. Just imagine you having a party, maybe it will give you a sense of government. That is the easiest example. If you are having a party for ten people, it is easy to serve them. When the party becomes a thousand people, some people will come and will not eat and for some people, the food would have become cold. So, when the people you have to serve now multiply to 21 million, you see how difficult it is to please everybody?
With the way you have gone about your childhood, are there things you picked up that have helped you in taking certain decisions?
My knowledge of Lagos I picked up from my childhood days- playing football across virtually the whole state. Where I didn’t play football, I went to swim and I lived in many parts of Surulere. I lived on Sam Shonibare, I lived at Ayilara but I don’t quite remember the address of that one again. I lived at Aina Street off Lawanson, behind Idi Araba and I lived at Ijeshatedo.
I also lived at Aguda as a Bachelor, but at a time I remember we used to go from Aina Street through the canal to go and cut bamboo to make cages to trap birds. So, I knew the flood at the canal in Idi Araba. It helped me ultimately to address the flooding problem in Idi Araba. I knew Oshodi as I told you. Apart from going with my grandmother, when we started living in Ijesha, I used to take the bus from Odo-eran to Oshodi bus stop. Then, from Oshodi, we would trek to airport hotel because we were coming to swim and we would save the money for transportation on our way back because we would be hungry after swimming to buy puff-puff on the road.
That helped me know that area. In a sense, places like Akerele, I used to go and rent bicycles at Bankulemo. There was a deep working knowledge. In Isolo, for example, we used to go and play soccer at SOS children’s village. Where the Surulere central mosque is, at Alhaji Masha around-about on Akerele junction, there used to be a big open field, we used play soccer there and at Soleye crescent, we used to go to Rowe Park to play table tennis and the only place where you could get good bats was in a store, I have forgotten its name now in Apapa, so we would go to Apapa, take the ferry across or a canoe, go and walk behind flour mills to go and get the bats, so in that sense, yes.
Then, in my home, there was freedom; there was love and there was the fear of God and you couldn’t steal. It was unforgivable. You can’t forget your classmate’s biro in your bag, you will see my parent’s anger and you will never forget it. You couldn’t go to a neighbour’s house and go and eat even if you were hungry, my mother will be staring at you. They will say are you hungry, you will say, no. You may say that they were extreme but many of my generation went through it. It curtailed greed, it built discipline and it reinforced self-denial.
So, no matter how sweet that food is, if they asked you outside “are you hungry? You will say “I have eaten” because my mother will be looking at you. So, those were the building blocks that built me and many people of my generation. I don’t think any of what I am saying here can be new to them. I remember once my younger brother and I were walking through a path and we found a three pence coin. We found it in the sand. It was aging and we cleaned it up and of course, we couldn’t take it home. So, we saw these Nupe/Kanuri women who had all these red henna on their hands; they used to sell roasted peanuts.
We just gave her the three pence to give us ground nuts and it literally bought everything she was carrying. Now, we sat at the corner of the bush there, ate as much as we could knowing that we couldn’t take it home. As stupid as we were, we wanted to keep it but we couldn’t take it home. So, we dug the sand and buried it inside and we went back home.
Of course, when we got back there not only could we not find it, it was better to lose that than for my mother to find it with us. In that sense, there was value of human life. We didn’t see dead bodies on the street; there wasn’t that much violence; there was respect for the dead; there was a sense of sobriety; we were not this loud. And I think that is the critical missing content and when we talk about WAEC and students didn’t pass, they didn’t pass in my time as well. If all the students were passing at that time, why did we have FSS? It was a remedial college. Every school was a remedial college, so the problems remain there.
All the students in the UK (United Kingdom) didn’t pass but constantly, something was being done about it; another decision was being given, so those are the things that still help me in decision making. There were extra-classes and that was why we decided to do Saturday classes in our public schools. Let’s do extra classes for the children and we are seeing the results gradually but it is not enough to continue to see headlines: “Oh, 80 per cent failed”, what do we do? I think those are some of the things we can look into. There was a lot more order; it was a better plan and it was not this populated.
It may not be completely out of place to describe you as an accidental governor. But events in the last few years have shown that here is a man who actually knows his turf and has displayed it at his best. Could you say this has been informed by your philosophy and leadership as you see it?
I don’t think I am quite accidental. An accident is something that you have no control of in its entirety and that is not quite my case. I didn’t plan to run for office but I still had a choice to say yes or to run away and from the day I made the decision to accept the offer, I knew that it came with consequences.
The first thing was to begin to prepare myself to deal with those consequences as best as possible. In that sense, I think there is nothing esoteric about government. I think that if you find the right people, the right attitude, a clear understanding of why you are there, you can make it work. Now, I don’t buy that suggestion that there is any expertise here, but we’ve decided to do very simple things. We have tried to involve people and let’s take something as simple as maintaining roads for example. I don’t want to discuss government only in terms of people in the public service, no. They are a very small part of the government.
I want us to discuss government in a democracy as something that all of us own and how much leadership we have shown. I didn’t understand then. I didn’t know then as I know now that words have a lifespan and there is a barometer especially in these parts for measuring how well government is doing. For me, that a governor must come to a road before it is fixed was very offensive because how many roads could I possibly visit? So, the idea was, let us have a database of the roads that we have and which we now have.
We know all our roads but we can’t visit all the roads- over10,000 roads. So, we set up a public works organisation to deal with those problems. It has a helpline that we have set up but do our people use it? That is not to say that if you call today, they will come this night but we will have it on their log- the log of a bad road. So, they know. When they are making their plan in a budget, then they can fix it in.
Recently, I drove through the Malu road, going to the Kirikiri and I noticed that at the railway junction, we had to slow down significantly because the road had failed at the end of the tracks and the first thing that came to my mind was that if at off peak period, we had to slow down, what will happen at rush hour? How much pains will our people must have been going through? And the next thing I did was to call public works that this road must be fixed before this week is over, give me your report and I am going to check.
But how difficult that is, how many of such roads am I going to fix? But luckily, as I was going for the June 12 meeting today, I got a text on my phone that that road has been fixed. It gives me a very good feeling that the discomfort of the citizens in that area has been attended to. But will it be like that always? No! There are so many things I didn’t see yesterday but even if we know all the problems, we don’t have all the resources. But I think that in a sense, that if people feel that if they ask, the government will respond, then, we are on our way.
The most prosperous nations still have disgruntled and unserved citizens and that is why I feel most comfortable with an action government than an action governor because the former is institutional. You don’t need to see me; you don’t need to know me as long as someone can serve you. We have received your complaints, we will come to it. There is a feel-good-factor that someone has spoken to me politely and those are the kinds of things that we are trying to promote. Again, our help lines, what do we get? Sometimes, they are used for purposes for which they are not designed.
So, there is need for all of us to restrain ourselves to moderate our expectations because, I think also that we are asking government in some cases to play roles that they are not designed to play. You know, somebody wants to set up a foundation, his own idea and he comes to government to come and support his vision. I think those who want to set up foundations are those who have succeeded and want to give back. You can’t do that with other peoples’ money and you become the bad guy if you don’t do it and if you do, you become fraudulent.
When Asiwaju invited you to government, did it ever occur to you that you will stay this long in public service?
In fact, I remember as I said that I joined in 2002. The campaign for the re-election was already building and I remember after his re-election, the Governor was reconstituting his cabinet. Myself as the Chief of Staff, the SSG and the Head of Service were the only three people that remained after the end of the first term and there was a lot of horse-trading about who and who were going to remain in the cabinet. I recall one night I was in the club and one of my friends rushed in and said, you are just sitting down here, they are already reconstituting a new cabinet and your name is not on it.
I said so what is your problem? He said how can you, you have just spent nine months or something like that and I said, that was a momentous breakthrough, if the governor felt that he wanted to change his chief of staff, I will go and thank him for giving me the opportunity to serve for a few months and move on with my life. So, that was my attitude because being his chief of staff wasn’t fun. Before I was chief of staff, if it rained I slept more. As I came into government, rain meant a different thing to me. Then I had lost my evenings; I lost my entire social life. I was working for about 17 hours a day. I was aging very quickly. So, I mean anybody who wants the work is always welcome to come and take it.
It was not something that anybody planned for the long distance at least, not with government. Nobody wanted to be here forever, not if you are doing the work. I remember that 2006 January, I went to meet the Governor and I said to him that this thing is finished, I need some money for some books to set up my practice and he said ok that he would see what to do to assist me. In the event, he bought the books and they are still locked up. My plan was office, furniture, come back to practice with a bang and then the bombshell about governorship and here we are. I didn’t plan this thing; it was not on my radar.
What is your biggest challenge as Governor of Lagos?
You don’t give me options to choose from, do you? (general laughter). In this kind of journey, if you see what is going on in other parts of the world, you will be able to dimension what your responsibilities are to come to terms with them. The way I dimensioned that is that I am responsible for 21 million people, whether they smile or cry to bed depends on what I do.
Now, you don't even know what their desires may be in the morning. You know the world issues, Education, healthcare, traffic, security those ones you can dimension. How can I console the woman whose child died in the building that collapsed yesterday (June 11)? What could I have done differently to save that child? Those are the difficult responsibilities. Yes, an aging building, if you pull it down, you don’t appear to have compassion; if people die, you didn’t do your job. How many buildings are we going to actually test because the buildings that are coming down are the ones that were built many years ago and if we understand this terrain very well, we can only correct them from now?
That is why you will see in all our housing estates now, we are paying much more attention to foundations, most of Lagos is flood-prone and that’s why you won’t see, except you pass Ikeja which used to be part of the water region, most of these parts especially Surulere, Mushin claim to be part of the western region. Mushin through Aguda is largely swampy. That is the terrain in which we have built. If people don't deal with professional advice, the foundation begins to respond to seismic movements and in the end, the building will come down.
So, how do you think I feel when I see the trailer that collapses on a vehicle and kills the people? I always tell people that it could have been me because the trailer doesn't know that it is the governor’s car. But you know what. Trailers just don't collapse; somebody acted improperly and further still, is that how we should be dropping responsibilities? Why is the rail service not working? But you know what, it is all so easy to just blame the people in government, what about the common man with which the trailer business is being conducted? Is it a business that cares little about life?
Why must LASTMA be chasing people not to over-speed with a trailer? It is the human issues that are the most challenging but I think there is a sense in which the people who seek for a better life are becoming more amenable to embrace new ideas or what seems like new ideas. The voices of those who fail to comply, unfortunately, are louder than the voices of those who want to comply. That is why again you must persuade those who don't want to comply that it is everybody's interest and that is the only way everybody can win if everybody plays by the same rules.
You see, in that driving, I have asked that investigations be done. I want to see what happened because for me, if you don't stand up against that kind of conduct which I think is impunity, you have failed. The persons who died in that accident didn't plan to die and the fact that you want to do business doesn't mean that you should take my own life.
And who are the operators or the owners of that kind of transport fleet? How do they feel when they go to bed? You see, once we ask these little questions and or begin to tell your driver, that there are accident-free bonuses as incentives and the next person tells his driver and everybody begins to police the next person, then we are on our way.
But we must restrain and fight impunity. One of my dispatch men when I first became governor had no license plate and he thought that was fine; that he was a dispatch for the governor. Your motorcycle is a vehicle, it must be registered and I had to sit them down and talk to them that if somebody else does something wrong and you cannot identify them, they will say, that is the governor who did it. That is why I insist that I must have a licence plate on my own car not a seal of governor so that, that one car can be identified if it did anything wrong.
Or when people ride vehicles and they don't register them, it is an offence; it is wrong. But have they thought deeper that even if they get into trouble that is the only way we can find them? When you get into an unmarked vehicle consciously, who knows what will happen in that unregistered vehicle? That is what should raise your suspicions first that this is not where I should be but it seems that some people are willing to take that chance with life. You know if anything happens there and you get into one chance or no chance, we can't find you; it becomes difficult to find you.
Now we register taxis and we give them carriage tags but some people have decided that it is the unregistered taxis that they like and I say, if they kidnap you, how do we know? So, it is the people/human issues that concern me- how to keep them alive. They are, perhaps, the biggest issues because I think that all things being equal, we should live very healthy and normal lives and people should live old.
And if you look at it, the health indices are doing well. We are not loosing as many people to malaria and immunization; we are losing our people to violence and accidents, utterly avoidable deaths. So, sometimes, I just wish that I could be in every home but it is not possible.
How does it affect you personally?
Have you been following the US and the Obama scenes? Well, one must carry his own cross. You know, I got re-elected before him, so it was easy for me to follow his campaign and in his first few months in office, I saw him trying to dye his hair and I said, you are going to lose this battle. Some of my friends and I watched him and they will say ah, your friend is dyeing his hair. I think in a sense, the way to put it is that when I was entering government, I was counting the whites on my hair now I am counting the blacks in my hair.
What of the next 50 years, what is the plan?
Well, nothing cast in stone yet. I plan to live very long and there are so many things I want to do. I want to write, I want to teach, I still have a strong desire to practice law. I also want to know my world better. There are so many places I don't know yet especially across Africa, there are so many places I want to visit. I have seen some parts of Southern Africa, Central Africa but there are still a few places that I want to visit. Those are the things on the horizon and generally continue to make myself useful.
What’s your worldview?
I think I will like to see a world where there is much reduced violence, a happier world, a peaceful world, a world without violence. In the very early times, there were no guns. There were battles of axes and so on. There has been constant conflict in societies and there was a point in time in history that society resolved through gladiators. Now, if you go back to the Roman, the gladiators came from a tunnel into in the arena. Look into today- are those gladiators and arenas different from the best stadiums you see in the world today- 11 players coming out from similar tunnel? Why can’t we just resolve our conflicts over a game of football? As seemingly unscripted as the world is, wars have rules itself.
So, if we have been playing from the days of gladiators when prisoners were hardly ever taken, they fought to death. We have now evolved to proper warfare where prisoner can be taken and they have rights. Why can't we move one more level because at the end of the day, we are just passengers here! The world will remain and we will go. Why can’t we now enjoy our times here and come to the realisation that the world exists for us to enjoy.
So, why should the children be captured as slaves? Why should women be raped? Why should women be sold into slavery? Why does one nation want to own everything? These are some of the contradictions. Some nations feel that it is okay to tell others what to do. If everybody just gives each other a little space, you know, it will be a better world. That is the kind of world I want to see. Competition without bloodshed!
Culled from This Day

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