Fashola: Servant of the People

Don Adinuba

“…he has come to serve, and not to be served”  (Mark 10:45)

|  By C. Don Adinuba  |

CHIBUIKE Amechi, Rivers State governor, and his Akwa Ibom counterpart, Godswill Akpabio, who are the leading dramatis personae in the feud, which has engulfed the Nigerian Governors Forum since May, have at least one thing in common: they both have private jets. A number of Nigerians seem not to have issues with the acquisition of executive jets for the exclusive use of the Rivers and Akwa Ibom governors because both states earn so much revenues from Nigeria’s oil sales. True, these states are reaping fortunes from unearned income, or what economists call transfers, from the federation account . But neither Rivers nor Akwa Ibom is as rich as Lagos State which makes money from truly productive ventures and regenerative endeavours. Interestingly, the Lagos governor has no private jet or even a helicopter. And there are no plans to get one in the foreseeable future.

The stark difference in the lifestyles of the Lagos State governor and his counterparts is no happenstance. It is fundamental. It is revealing of their mindsets. Apart from Peter Obi of Anambra State, Babatunde Fashola of Lagos is the only governor in Nigeria who goes about with no sirens blaring away or long motorcades complete with a platoon of fierce-looking and heavily armed security officials. He is the only public officer since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999 who has bluntly refused to accept any kind of award, including the national honour, because of the conviction that honours should be bestowed on office holders only after they have left office. In a country where high office holders use stupendous public resources to bribe and lobby for accolades, the Lagos governor has provided us all food for thought.

Fashola will on June 26, mark his 50th birthday anniversary and, characteristically, there will be no squandering of public funds on any razzmatazz. There is in him a deep belief that every high public officer is a servant of the people, and not their conqueror who must at all times lord it over them. In other words, leadership is all about service. In the language of the scriptures, the son of man has “come to serve, and not to be served” (Matthew 20:28).

Very few things illustrate the profound failure of leadership in Nigeria at every level as the rash of private aircraft at our airports in the midst of growing mass misery and collapse of infrastructure as well as ruination of institutions. Whether in the private or in the public sector, our people equate leadership with ostentation and vanity rather than service and sacrifice. This is why Nigerian evangelical pastors, whose congregations are overwhelmingly poor, would consider it infra dig to fly on anything less than a private jet while the pope, who leads the world’s biggest and wealthiest church, always travels by Alitalia. Why should the Taraba State governor insist on a private aircraft when American state governors , for example, drive themselves to work daily because their states cannot afford to procure the services of official drivers?

Olusegun Obasanjo, who popularised “low profile” in Nigeria in the 1970s when he was the military head of state, was regrettably the person who, as Nigeria’s democratically elected president between 1999 and 2007, led an assault against the concept. By the time Obasanjo returned to office in 1999, Peugeot, which Obasanjo made the official car from the mid 1970s was still the official brand for public officers . It was assembled in Nigeria. But Obasanjo quickly jettisoned it in favour of Mercedes and very expensive Japanese SUVs imported into Nigeria by a handful of Indian traders and Nigerian merchants. Ministers and state governors followed in his footstep. Consequently, the Peugeot Assembly of Nigeria, PAN, is now moribund, with the local engineers, other employees, consultants and suppliers out of work.  The same fate befell ANAMCO, the Mercedes truck assembly plant in Enugu.

In his world famous memoir, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, expresses shock at the sight of presidents of poor nations like Nigeria and Kenya arriving at the 1980 Commonwealth summit in Canada with presidential planes. Some of the African rulers were at the summit to solicit for aid from countries whose leaders came by commercial planes! Not long ago, the King of Swaziland, a tiny and very poor country in the belly of South Africa, insisted before parliament on the acquisition of a presidential jet, arguing ferociously that he needed it to fly around the world in search of aid for his kingdom which depends on foreign assistance for survival. It does not matter to African rulers like this king that the prime ministers of prosperous nations like the United Kingdom and Singapore have no presidential jets, even though Britain is a major aircraft manufacturer. The Fokker brand, used widely in Nigeria and elsewhere, is British. And Rolls Royce of the UK is a key manufacturer of plane engines worldwide.

The false consciousness of Nigerian—nay African—rulers is the primary reason why development has, over the decades, eluded us. Therefore, it gladdens the heart anytime one sees a leader  like Fashola who is in a different mould;  he is purpose-driven. Fashola understands that leadership is about service to the people, and not self aggrandisement.  His performance in office has been sterling and inspiring. Lagosians, who are historically difficult to govern because of the robust tradition of activism, have been star-struck, charmed. At the President Goodluck Jonathan’s  launch of Road Map for Power Sector Reform  at Eko Hotel in Lagos on August 26, 2010, the governor made other top government officials look very unpopular, almost making them cut the image of personae non grata. Immediately Fashola was called upon to speak, the large audience comprising leading entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bank executives, manufacturers, international and local media went into a long frenzy of adulation. The master of ceremonies could not stop the audience. It even took the governor himself  time and effort to stop the fawning audience. The first sentence President Jonathan uttered when he got up to speak was “I can see clearly that the people of Lagos State are very happy with their governor”. And the audience responded enthusiastically as one man, “Yes oh!”, followed by another sustained round of applause.

The inimitable thinker, Obafemi Awolowo, has said it all: “The greatest legacy a leader can bequeath is to etch his name in gold in the hearts and minds of his people”. As I happily and proudly welcome my great friend and brother, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN– a Nigerian without bile, a Nigerian not held hostage by the errors of the past or by such primordial sentiments as regionalism, ethnicity or religion–into the golden age, I say:  Not even the sky will be your limit. Ad multus annos.

Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting. 

— Jul. 8, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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