Seven Years of Fashola By Hakeem Bello
Criticism, especially constructive ones, are meant to ginger or inspire the subject of criticism to greater achievements, or make him see the folly of his actions or policies, when he is going wrong, in order to make the desired adjustment for the benefit of the people. Unfortunately, however, not all criticisms are constructive and objective. But whether they are constructive, objective or subjective, criticisms also expose intensions and level of knowledge or ignorance of the critic on the subject of criticism. It is against this background that I wish to examine Shaka Momodu’s “Seven Years of Fashola: My Take Away (1)” published on page 9 of Saturday November 8, 2014 edition of THISDAY.
While thanking Mr. Momodu, however, for his breezy, albeit grudgingly, but deserved acknowledgement that something has changed, it is important, for the sake of posterity, to conduct a root and branch examination of the major points upon which Shaka Momodu shouted his mischief to the rooftops. My summation: Fashola could have done more with the “staggering resources at his disposal”; what with a “whopping debt figure of about N600 billion”; “Lagos, in spite of Fashola’s exertions, remains a far cry from the dream city we all yearn for”, for after all, with a magic wand he should have commanded the transmogrification of Lagos to Dubai ; unending infrastructure issues and, of course, the refusal of Fashola to attach the tag “snow white” to black patches in the polity for which the Governor was pronounced “graceless”.
Perhaps before going ahead, one could briefly deal with the issue of attitude implied in the insinuation that, “Fashola continues to bask in the praises showered on him with a chip on his shoulders and now walks with a swagger.” For a man who wants to get his job done ,as quietly as he can, who has put his only mobile number in the public domain, pushes everyone around him to the limit to promptly respond in their service to the public and has stoutly resisted any offer of national honours, honorary doctorates, or chieftaincy, while in public office, Mr Shaka Momodu could as well have been referring to another Fashola.
Indeed, given the pattern of Mr Momodu’s mud splashing, he has somewhat earned himself an odious specialization on Lagos and All Progressives Congress leadership, even if, this does no good to his integrity or the stable in which he edits a title.
To return to the “issues”, Governor Fashola will be the first to admit that there is still a lot of work to be done and that the infrastructure deficit engendered by years of military dictatorship and a growing population without corresponding growth or renewal of the infrastructure will take a while to sort out. From the outset, he laid out his vision to run a government of method and not a government of quick fixes.
One very important feature of the present administration in Lagos State led by Governor Babatunde Fashola, SAN, is that it has remained transparent and accountable from the first year to date. How better can this be demonstrated than in the 100-day initiative by which the Governor gives account of his stewardship to the people of Lagos every 100 days, affording every segment of the society the opportunity to have an update of the activities of Government and to air their views and express their impression of the administration. It is an initiative that has brought government to the doorsteps of Lagosians and conferred on them participatory status in the governance of their State. This is the secret of the voluntary payment of taxes by the citizens, who are not witnesses but participants in the regeneration going on across the State.
I am particularly touched by Mr. Momodu’s reference to Dubai. While not claiming that the State has become like Dubai in the last seven years, it is very obvious that the State is heading North given the very laudable projects already accomplished and those still on-going. It is not a matter of grandstanding to say that this City will definitely become a unique one when all the projects on-going by this administration come to completion. I will name a few of these projects for the benefit of Mr. Momodu and his likes who are seemingly bent on seeing the cup as half-empty instead of half full.
There is the Lagos-Etiosa–Epe Expressway, which has now freed that axis from a traffic gridlock that had hindered development and investment for over a decade. Today, as a result of the expansion of the road, multi-billion investments are heading to that axis. Such investments include the Lagos Free Zone which continues to attract investors from both internally and across the globe and boosting employment. Before I quit that axis, let me also explain to Mr. Momodu that the State Government decided to buy back the expressway because of the fact that the concessionaires wanted to increase the toll on the road as a result of the falling exchange rate of the Naira. By buying it back, the State Government takes full control and has stabilized the toll. If the axis is reputed to be fastest growing real estate corridor in Africa today, it is because of the sustained infrastructural investment being made there.
There is also the 10-lane Lagos-Badagry Expressway, complete with a Light rail, which will certainly boost a trans-regional and continental trade within the West African sub-region and unlock the Tourism treasure hidden in the ancient and historic town of Badagry. There is also investment in water transportation which will incidentally dovetail into an inter-modal transportation system comprising rail, road and water to deliver a comparatively safe, reliable, efficient, sustainable and integrated system that will remove the various transportation bottlenecks being experienced in the State. There is also the Eko Atlantic City, a promising business and tourism district rising out of the Atlantic Ocean which will certainly make the skylines of Lagos comparable to, if not surpass, the most modern cities of the world. All these projects, which arose from the visions of a pragmatic leadership, cost money and that is where the billions of Naira referred to by Mr. Momodu, are going.
As for the debt profile, let me explain to Mr. Momodu that debt is part of governance. Every progressive government borrows. Today, the United States of America is the biggest debtor nation in the world yet the most powerful. That country dictates the global power equation yet it owes trillions of dollars. So, dear Momodu, the problem is not the debt profile but the ability to service and pay such debt as and when due and what the money is being used for. Lagos State has consistently demonstrated, since 1999 that it is able to pay its debts. When it raised a bond of N25 billion under former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the opposition shouted to high heavens that the State was being mortgaged. But that bond was over-subscribed and debt fully paid when the succeeding administration took over.
In 2009, the present administration again raised a N50 billion bond and again the opposition shouted foul. But that bond was not only over-subscribed but fully paid. Maybe more light needs to be thrown into this explanation. As a Government of methods, this administration set up a Consolidated Debt Service Account (CDSA) in which it pays N15 million monthly to service debts. The good news is that the State has not only paid up this debt which matures this year but it has recorded a balance of 82.3 billion in the CDSA. The amount will now be rolled over into the growing Account from which Government hopes to pay the three outstanding bonds of N57.5 billion, N80 billion and N87. 5 billion, which will, variously, mature in 2017, 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Perhaps, there is no other part of the Momodu writing that exposes his mischief than in the case of the Lagos State University fees incident. To say that the Governor “displayed such crass insensitivity” is to stand the truth on its head. The increase and final decrease of the LASU school fees followed a process which every resident had the opportunity to know. Perhaps, I should begin by telling the writer that it was the students of LASU themselves that stoke the fire. They went to complain to the Legislators at the State House of Assembly that their institution had become a glorified secondary school in terms of infrastructure and learning and teaching aids. It was based on their complaint that the Governor was mandated by the House as Visitor to the University to set up a Panel to make recommendations on how to raise its standard. That Panel submitted its report later and government issued a white paper on the recommendations which included increase in fees among many other good recommendations.
When the brickbats started falling on account of the increase, the Governor summoned the students to a meeting and explained the idea behind the increase and to reiterate that only the in-coming students of that academic session would pay the new fees while the old ones would continue paying the old fees. When this did not douse the growing protest, he again invited them and they were asked to set up their own committee to recommend the amount of money they could pay. The committee came up with the recommendation which was considered by the State Executive Council and from which the fee was further reduced by some percentage. It has never happened before in this country where a head of Government would sit with students to negotiate fees they would pay. Momodu should please verify this because the records are there. The truth remains that good and quality education costs money. The fact that Government finally reverted its decision has not deterred it from going ahead with the multi- billion Naira academic and infrastructural upgrade of the institution.
Final, perhaps, let me say that if some parts of the State still do not yet have good roads (or have pothole filled roads) it is not because the Government has forgotten them. Road construction and rehabilitation began with the highways and major roads leading to Central Lagos and other Business Districts of the State where majority of Lagos residents work and earn their living. The Governor explained then that it was deliberate as it would make transportation to places of work and business easier for residents.
He promised to concentrate on inner city roads during his second term. Now there are over 9,000 roads in this city with inner-city roads constituting over 80 percent. During the last commemoration of 100 Days of the administration the Governor reported completion of rehabilitation work on 81 roads in spite of the inclement weather, and work going on on 284 roads cross the State. This is in addition to hundreds of others either completed or on-going across the State in the last seven years. If this development has not reached some parts of the State then it must come because the whole State has been captured in the developmental agenda of the Government.
Let me end this piece by imploring Mr. Momodu to please be conscious of the fact that we shall all give account of our roles in the on-going nation building when all is said and done. If foreign trade delegations and investors are daily flooding this State to seek for partnerships and investment opportunities, if world leaders are coming to Lagos and negotiating trade and investment deals on behalf of their countries, if great and distinguished personages like Professor Wole Soyinka, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Mr. Walter Carrington, Chief Ojo Maduekwe and the scores of other great men speak well of Governor Fashola; , moreover, if the people of Lagos are happy today and are paying their taxes voluntarily while cheerfully acknowledging their Governor at every opportunity, then there must be something great happening in this State. It is left for the likes of Mr. Momodu to look well and dispassionately too around them to see what is going on. Government is a continuum and whatever is left by this Government will certainly be completed and improved upon by the incoming government.
- Bello, is Special Adviser on Media to the Governor of Lagos State.
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