Opinion

Tinubu colloquium, the ‘Benching’ of Fashola as a spectator

Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), Immediate past governor of Lagos State, as a football enthusiast understands the pain a star player goes through when benched for a less skillful player. While the star player would be concerned about his career, millions of fans around the globe would be grappling to know why the coach fails to show ‘Messi’ when the game became unbearable.

Most often, in the game of football, team handlers and their managers have genuine altruistic, not a self-serving motive of resting their bests. But in politics, it is a jungle game. Treacherous intrigues and use of fiery darts are part of the rules of the games. The foregoing aptly captured what I observed at the 10th Bola Tinubu Colloquium held at the Eko Hotels on last Thursday.

It was astonishing to watch an erstwhile poster boy and the beacon of hope of the opposition, Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN), which later morphed to APC reduced to an ordinary spectator in a state he governed for 8 years. Fashola, an arguably super performer who raised the bar of service delivery in governance in Nigeria watched the event from his seat at the second row designated for ministers.

But Fashola didn’t belong to the second row at such a historic event. Despite his shortcomings, he stood to be counted when it mattered most for Lagos ruling political class. The bellwether minister who should be a proud host of President Buhari was mistaken for a grade-B guest in Lagos, his home state.

If the position of his seat was immaterial, the none-role for Fashola at such an epoch event which had the President in attendance was a rift taken too far. He was not even graced with honor to supervise the cutting of the cake nor given the task for the vote of thanks. Yet, Fashola is the actualized of modern Lagos.

If Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo unwittingly grouped Fashola among the ministers while saluting dignitaries, it was obviously not an oversight for the celebrator, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu not to specifically recognize his successor. For Tinubu, there would not have been a better opportunity to demonstrate to the people who scorned and expressed doubt about his role as chief peace missioner in APC that he meant business.

This systematic degrading and humiliation of the former governor didn’t start last Thursday. On the occasion to celebrate Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s 100 days in office, similar treatment was meted to Fashola who was said not to have been invited by Lagos State Government but for Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo who prevailed on him to join his entourage to Lagos. He was not accorded the honor to commission any of the projects not even the LASEMA Emergency Centre in Cappa, Oshodi, which he (Fashola) had completed before he left office as the governor.

The political stature and influence of Tinubu would have shrunk like other governors in class 1999 if Fashola had not been a great successor. The lion of Bourdillon could roar and expand his political conquest to other terrains because his successor was succeeding at home.

The former Chief of Staff turned governor was a political bulwark for Tinubu. Tinubu perhaps would have ceased to be Jagaban of Lagos, not even the touted Africa, if Fashola was like Theodore Orji, the successor of Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State who schemed out the boss of relevance and retired Kalu politically turning him to a statesman without a state.

There were ample opportunities for Fashola to retire Tinubu. But he was benevolent to his benefactor. In 2006 in the run-up to 2017 general elections, when the speculation of stopping BRF for the second term was rife, Fashola had the best chance to forever cage the lion of Bourdillon politically but he deferred to Tinubu.

The popularity of Fashola occasioned by his sterling performance in the areas of infrastructure, education, environment, health and his respect for a social contract that existed between the governed and those in authorities was palpable and could not be denied by his most vitriolic critic. Fashola became a strong brand, a mass movement peopled and driven by Lagosians.

If he had jumped ship, victory was certain and that would have signaled the political eclipse of Jagaban Borgu. For this singular honor, Tinubu should be eternally grateful to a loyal and competent protégé despite the recent fallouts. Former governor Fashola was a great asset in dislodging the behemoth PDP. He modeled a seemingly working template for other aspirants in the then opposition to market to voters in their respective states.

Many rode on the crest of his popularity and exemplary leadership to power. Again, despite the wrangling of the APC governorship primaries, in 2015 Fashola enlisted to campaign vigorously for a former Accountant General in the state, Akinwunmi Ambode as the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress, APC in Lagos. He took Ambode round Lagos assuring Lagosians of his credibility and ability to deliver. They mounted rostrum together to canvass for votes. Unlike Ambode, Fashola was a match for the PDP’s Jimi Agbaje who is imbued with great charisma and gift of gab. Fashola did the most of the talking all through the campaign trail.

Fashola fantastically marketed Ambode as yet another performer who will consolidate his achievements and chart greater development path for Lagos. While Fashola was firing darts at PDP-controlled federal government led by Goodluck Jonathan, the former governor and the campaigner in chief was hitting Jimi Agbaje below the belt in Lagos. Shortly after Ambode emerged the winner in a fiercely contested election, an agenda and campaign to totally alienate Fashola from the political landscape of Lagos were afoot.

The first salvo was the revelations of alleged odious multi-million Naira deals Fashola cut while in office. The Ambode-led government regaled the public on how Fashola dug two bore-holes for a whopping N139 million and designed a personal website for N78 million. The alleged sleaze alarmed Lagosians who had earlier adored Fashola as a saint. The image and reputation of the former governor were irreparably shattered while he strove in vain shrug off the stigma of a treasury looter. Against all expectations, President Buhari ignored the ‘glaring’ allegations of corruption against Fashola and made him the most influential and powerful minister in his cabinet saddling him with an onerous duty to oversee three critical ministries of Power, Works, and Housing.

As Fashola moved to Abuja, political associates and friends of the former governor were wielded out of the Lagos State system. Permanent Secretaries and heads of agencies perceived to be loyal to Fashola including the sister of the former governor were rudely shown the door. In the same manner, structures at the grassroots suspected to be sympathetic to the minister were either dislodged or coerced into the new emergent force.

In furtherance of the campaign to run the former governor out of relevance and obliterate his achievements from the consciousness of Lagosians, there were systematic efforts to undo Fashola’s feats. The PSPs waste management scheme set up by Fashola was disbanded for Visionscape, a foreign environmental services firm which is enmeshed in controversies.

Kick Against Indiscipline brigades was replaced with Lagos Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC). The Ilubirin Housing Scheme which was under construction before the former governor left office is abandoned. No single brick has been added since Fashola left Lagos. This writer also gathered that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is yet to allot parcel of land for Fashola to build Federal Housing Scheme for Lagosians which many states have plugged into.

The consequence of the Ambode/Fashola faceoff is dire on Lagos. A bustling city plagued by huge housing deficit should not be denied of a Federal-government housing scheme because of a rift between two leaders within the same political family. Enitan Olukotun, a journalist wrote from Lagos

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