The Secret Of Our Success and Awolowo’s Influence’—Gov Fashola
THE NEWS MAGAZINE
February 09, 2009 11:45, 1,212 views
Q: Even members of the opposition have acknowledged the way you are working in Lagos state. This is to the extent that one of them said the PDP will not have a chance here, in 2011. How do you feel about this kind of appraisal?
A: It’s a positive sign that the opposition acknowledges that something is being done, that some progress is being made. Positive in the sense that, as I have always believed, the opposition intends to take power only because it wants to serve. Therefore, if it feels that progress is being made, it must be honourable enough to acknowledge it. Of course it is refreshing for our politics because what we seem to be used to is never to see anything good in each other. As long as you have people, the challenge of leadership is defined by the desire to provide a better standard of living for them at a time you have the opportunity to serve them. And so, to that extent, there is still a lot of work to do. I am my own worst critic and I think there is much more work to do. But 2011 is premature as far as I am concerned now. We have a four-year mandate and we are just approaching half term and our desire is to do more than we have done in the first half in the second half.
Q: You listed Chief Obafemi Awolowo as an influence. How much has he influenced the way you are doing things?
A: First, the influence has been in his works, his books. I first read his autobiography in my first year in the university and a few things sat in me from reading that book. The odds he had to fight in his childhood, people who bullied him, how he responded and his challenges going to school and of course, what he did with his life after school and qualification and his commitment to develop and serve his people, to give as much of his talent and ability in order to promote what he famously called the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Of course since I became governor, I had to attend, I think it was the 20th anniversary thanksgiving of his demise. Something moved in me that if this man died 20 years ago and he left office about 25 years before then and the only thing we could point to as a people are largely things that he had done, I felt that our generation has very serious questions to answer. That was in 2006. This generation I believe is the generation of Nigerians that has been the most educated, which started school in the advent of primary and nursery. We are the generation who had the privilege of travelling on holidays rather than in search of the golden fleece. We didn’t have to stow away to get an education as our parents who have done that saw the need to make that investment. And I felt that we needed to do a lot especially as 20 years after, the only monument, the only development we can point to, GRA Ikeja, Ikeja Industrial Estate, Cocoa House, Premier Hotel, even the mainland are legacies of a man who left government 25 years ago. The reclamation of outer Marina was started when he was in government. It was part of the national development plan which he wrote when he was federal commissioner for finance. I said to myself, something must be wrong with us. And I watch us as a people carving up estates like Ikoyi, Victoria Island and I said to myself that this won’t happen under my watch. Where is our own Victoria Island? Let’s go and build ours. What did the people who built them have that we don’t have? Where are our new estates? Where is our own UCH, University of Ibadan? To that extent, I began to read more extensively his works and it is amazing the kind of industry he had committed to ensure that there was a legacy that he could leave behind in terms of development for this country. All of the issues that challenge us today, that confound us today, he had seemingly anticipated and foretold, how our destiny ultimately lay with us as nobody can love us more than ourselves. That is why when all of the development agencies come here, I have questioned myself and asked that we are an oil producing country. If any developmental agency wants to help us grow, they will be investing in loans that will help us develop our petro-chemical production capacities, not in boreholes. For me, they are writing for us an agenda of development which to me, no matter how well-intentioned they are, will not take us to development. The quicker we are able to sit down and ask ourselves where are we going, the better for us. I look at Nigerians and I see extremely gifted and naturally talented people and in an enormously blessed country. And the few travels that I have made have continued to make me go back to some of his works, Voice of Reason, Path to Nigerian Democracy etc. All of the issues that have confounded us today–instability, rule of law, travails of democracy, electoral malpractices–are things he seemingly had dealt with. And it became imperative for me to think it is better for me to read more of his books, listen more to him and find guides that set clear principles which wholesale may not be applicable today, but provide a useful road map because theses that were written 30 years ago cannot contemplate the complexes that will take place over three decades but will certainly be relevant as a useful road map for doing things. The problem of poverty, which is global today, is the same problem which Awo set out to combat – free education, agricultural development, health care facilities, housing. Even the four cardinal programmes of the UPN at that time were written by him and they centred essentially, around reducing the impact of poverty. If 30, 40 years ago those problems are still with us and we are writing new names for them – Millennium Development Goals – it is still poverty. When I decided to run for office, one of the things I did was to go away for a week and the things I took with me were the Millennium Development Goals and the constitution and programmes of our party, the Action Congress, including the 10-point agenda of the previous Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration. They were all saying the same thing. And in that respect, it set me clearly that this is the way to go. I was particularly desirous of an example and that was the example of Awo’s impact and it makes a lot of simple sense.
I was looking at Badagry, looking at so many things, how to open up the tourism potentials of the state and country. Nigeria is such a blessed country. The Yankari Games Reserve is there, the Olumo Rock, Ikogosi Warm Spring but the question is, can you get there? Can you get to Abeokuta from Lagos in 40 minutes? The answer is no. Can you get to Yankari in Bauchi in two hours? The answer is no. Can you get to Badagry from Surulere? The answer is no. And Awo said in one of his books that you cannot create tourism without infrastructure because tourist sites are destinations and people must be able to get there. So if you don’t build roads, build rail, if you don t provide water transportation for people to get there, why should I go there in the first instance? I may as well sit down in front of TV and watch those sites. This, to me, made eminent sense and these are the things that informed my decision even at that time, that we must expand Badagry Expressway if we want to harness the tourism potentials of Badagry. People must be able to get there. It even brought home to me that Badagry was a pristine beach. When I was a teenager, I remember I used to spend every weekend on Badagry beach and it took us 30 minutes to drive to Badagry from my father’s house in Eric Moore when that road was new. The life experience I had as a child, what the man had written about 30 years ago and the reality of what we face today began to make sense. This really began to make sense because we went there then only because we could get there and come back quickly. We used to leave Badagry at 6pm and were back at our parents’ houses and sometimes they didn’t even know that we went to the beach. These are some of the basic influences I derived from reading some of his works. There was a time the country was making so much from produce, groundnut, cocoa and the rest. The centre was keeping the money and they said no, that is absolute rubbish. You have to distribute this money to the regions which are now the states. Don’t go and keep it for any rainy day, let us use it now for development. That is about 52 years ago and today we are still fighting the same fight–how do we manage the proceeds of oil? You keep it in excess account for a rainy day when it is already flooding. The states are saying, bring that excess crude right now because there are no schools, no roads, so let us spend the money now. We are practising a beggar type economy. That is what we are doing today and as Awo said, a beggar has no productive capacity. He just waits and hopes that somebody will look favourably at him and give him some money. It is only when he has collected that money that he makes plans on how to spend it. And this is analogous to what happened to our oil windfall. The money has come now but we don’t know when the next windfall will come. The last one was during the Gulf War. The money came but we didn’t do anything tangible with it. This one has come and we’ve kept it and we are looking at it. Even the beggar Awo referred to, had a plan, at least on how to spend his money. Now that oil money is already depreciating, the reserves are depreciating and it is possible that all of it may be wiped out by the global crisis and then we will fold our arms again. Now we want to diversify our economy but how do you diversify the economy if you don’t want to invest? You want tourism but you don’t want to build destinations, routes to those destinations and more airports? You must do all that and more. Open up the waterways, build roads, fast trains. That is how to spend money. Today, Dubai is saying that by 2015, they will be dealing with a passenger traffic of about 170 million people a year, tourists. In order to signpost that intention they have expanded their airports, roads, built a mono-rail facility that nobody is using presently. They are building houses, hotels and preparing for that day from the oil that they have. They said the other day that recession or no recession, they can decide to stop now because they have over-provided for the people. These are basic principles which as I said, were relevant over 50 years ago and will be relevant even in 100 years to come. The solution as always is invest in infrastructure. Even when the economy is down, build. If the 1970 to 1976 regimes did not build there would be no Eko Bridge. Carter Bridge was rebuilt at that time because it was a metal bridge. They started the plan for the Third Mainland Bridge. That was the time they built Festac Town, Satellite Town, Games Village, Bar Beach Towers and that was when they started the reclamation of Victoria Island. So close your eyes and imagine that time when we had the oil boom, when the administration was quoted as saying that money was not the problem. At least they built some things. That was when they started planning Abuja. Akinola Aguda Commission started in 1975. That was thinking ahead and you cannot disconnect all of it from Awo’s influence. What have we built in nine years when oil prices moved from $9 per barrel to a sustainable all time high of $147? I don’t understand that.
Q: Is it reasonable to assume that Awolowo is the biggest influence on you?
A: There are so many such influences but you see, I haven’t tried to measure them. Let us put it this way. I have never been a governor before. One of the things that also influenced me was a trip I took to Singapore, a place I have read so much about. I went to the Bar Conference there and it afforded me the opportunity to visit the town, meet some of their leaders and see what they were doing. One of the most challenging things that I saw is that the worst slums in Lagos were better than the worst slums in Singapore because they showed me photographs of where they were coming from. You need the transformation that had taken place there. There was a place called Trapaio in Singapore. It was a slum and they showed me the photograph. Trapaio has become better than any modern downtown you can find in West Africa and I have been to a few parts of West Africa. They showed me reclamation and redevelopment exercises that took place there that even people resisted when the bulldozers first came. But they rebuilt it and those who resisted are living there today. There was no housing plan but today 80 per cent of the population live in their own houses. On my way from that trip, I passed through Dubai and I passed through a construction site where they had 4000 people working. They explained to me that every day apart from building, they have to provide 4,000 bottles of water for breakfast, 4,000 for lunch and 4000 for dinner. They have to provide 4,000 packs of food morning, afternoon and evening. I saw the economic impact of construction. I came back two months after I became governor and I told myself that this was exactly what I was going to do – start construction, reduce crime, create jobs and opportunities for people, spend the money. That was why I was in the forefront in the agitation for the release of excess crude oil funds at that time, going back and forth for several meetings with my fellow governors in Abuja to get some money to start. But that was a big influence on me because it showed that many people had done it and therefore it wasn’t a story of Britain of 600 years or that of America of about 230 years. It was a story of 30 years, because even their former Prime Minister was asking me about Idumota, Marina and the State House because he came here for help when Malaysia expelled them in 1965. So I came back annoyed that if these people can do it, we can do it too. I sat down with my team and told them what I had seen and this is the way to go and of course, there are other influences because I spend a lot of my time watching documentaries on National Geographic, Discovery channels and seeing what other cities and countries are doing in terms of construction, including how Malaysia rebuilt infrastructure, put one of its main traffic underground and designed a drainage system that carries the whole network of the city transport and also a drainage channel to take water out to the sea in three years. I have seen the Big Deep project in Boston which was a very congested city and they decided to build a tunnel that they called the Big Deep. They anticipated that it would take three years but it didn’t finish until 12 years, but today Boston is better for it because all the highways now are underground.
Those kinds of things show you that people like you and I have done it before. We don’t have to invent it, just copy it. I read a lot of books by other leaders, people like Rudi Guiliani–his book on leadership and the kind of New York he experienced. New York was a failed state when he came in. Businesses were leaving New York because the city was not safe. But as Mayor, he returned New York to prosperity. And those things continue to tell me that you have no right to remain commercial capital unless you do those things. This informed what we did at our economic summit in Igbeti that we were no longer for the problems. We had found the problems and were looking for the solutions and people who have done it before. That informed the kind of people we invited to the summit to come and share their experiences–the mayor of Bogota, Energy minister of India. I used to visit Ghana regu larly and I saw the gradual transformation and rebuilding of Accra and I said to myself that if these people who came to Nigeria on exile could go back and rebuild their own country, then we can build our own country.
Q: Still on Awolowo, you mentioned some of the things he did. Are there some things you took from him in trying to increase the internally generated revenue of the state?
A: In terms of the conviction to pursue aggressive payment of taxes. That was one because there are very few political figures, if any exists, that have been bigger than him in this part. And we realised that traditional government, even monarchies, were built on taxes. First principle, taxation and borrowing, and these things come back to taxation because if you borrow, you must still pay. A state is like a commonwealth and everybody must play his or her role. Taxation is the primary source of public expenditure. Even the Baales and Obas used to tax. That is why you say go and pay ram, kolanuts, yams etc. As government transformed from monarchies to a more formal structure like democracy, they didn’t change that source of public expenditure. What they did was to formalise the form of payment into currency, gold reserve and what not. Yet you still have to pay tax. Awo was one of those who very early in the life of this nation, even before we started extracting oil, condemned his opponents who were telling people that they don’t have to pay taxes, everything you want, we will do. He said that was dangerous politicking. He said that a promise by any leader to his people that they will not pay tax but get anything they wanted was not only deceitful but also would lead to perdition. He said he was going to remain courageous based on clear evidence that there was no alternative to taxation in order to fund public expenditure because it was commonwealth. And he said to them that the road through taxation is a road of sacrifice, but clearly one to prosperity. And we have seen it. Immediately we found oil, we immediately stopped collecting taxes. There was now one basket – manna from heaven and everybody goes there to take his or her own. We didn’t feel the need to ask our leaders who misspent them because it was like nobody’s money, as it literally came out from the ground. So whatever they did with it, we were not overly conscious enough to ask, what are you doing with this money? But certainly if I collect N10 from you, you will be more concerned to ask me why there is no water or road. Oil money is nobody’s money. That is the mentality and that is why when people started waiting for when the thing would come, they told them that it is in the pipeline. They went into the pipeline according to my friend, Adams Oshiomhole, to look for it there. But if people pay taxes, I have seen this happen in small clubs, old boys assoc iations. You pay your dues otherwise you can’t talk, you can’t contest elections but you can question the president if you pay your dues. That is the way to promote accountability, which is one of the first steps to fighting corruption and fraud. In that sense therefore, those his views made 50 years ago, become relevant to say you are on the right course, just stay there. It may be an unpopular course but it certainly is one that leads to success and progress. People must begin to realise that government is not Babatunde Fashola but that it is the people who actually put him there. We are only representing them.
Q: The last time we interviewed you, you said you haven’t decided what to do with Oshodi. Now you have decided and the treatment it got has been extended to other places. But there is an argument that the people whose shops went down should have been provided an alternative before your government took the action it took. How would you respond to this?
A: I received a petition from residents of Oshodi that the rate of crime being launched from that axis was getting out of control. They specifically pointed at certain places where they believed the perpetrators lived. The other reason is that during our planning period, we realised that traffic on Ikorodu Road was very bad and we realised too that the traffic volume on that road had exp anded beyond the contemplation of those who built it. In our enquiry, we found out that Ikorodu Road was a bye-pass as Lagos was growing and that the main road itself was Agege Motor Road. We had all left the main road because some people converted it to a trading centre. Therefore, for the last 20 years or so, a lot of traffic abandoned the road, concentrating on one road. Yet we are complaining that traffic is very bad. I got complaints every day that I should do something about traffic. When we went to check, we found out that if we removed the people who were trading on the street, traffic would move. Indeed, it pointed out to us that if we did that, up to 20 per cent of the problem on Ikorodu Road and Lagos would be solved with that move because that is the road that connects Ilupeju, Town Planning Way, Mushin, Jibowu, Surulere and other areas. Therefore, people wanted crime tackled, traffic moving and as a government, we had to respond. We actually simulated these movements on a computer, built a model and found out that if we freed the place, Ikorodu Road would be free. This is what has happened. Beyond that, we have all gone out looking for foreign investors. But 80 per cent of the investors that come into Nigeria come through the Murtala Muhammed Airport and through that route. The first thing they see upon arrival is Oshodi. I don’t think as an investor I would want to come back once I see that. I would be very nice to you and spend a few days with you but I know that I am not coming back to that chaos. We buy houses abroad not because they are chaotic. I want to see any Nigerian for example who will go and buy a house in Zimbabwe or Darfur. It is that simple. If we didn’t do what we did, we will be wasting money looking for investment without actually doing what will attract investment. And Oshodi was one of them.
I did not remove shops from Oshodi because there were no shops there apart from contraptions of wood. Another reason is that it is our rail corridor, from Lagos to Ogun State. I am not going to build the rail on air but on ground. So people have to leave the corridor. The truth is that if you clear Oshodi, you adapt. If you don’t clear Oshodi and people can’t move and they are attacked by robbers, and you can’t build the rail, you are damned. We weighed the options available to us and asked, who will gain more? We know for sure that there is no government action that satisfies everyone. I could sit down here but I said that houses of failures are built on the foundations of excuses. I won’t sit down here and make excuses. My conscience is clear about what must be done and we are already looking at how to make provision for them.
I will tell you something interesting. We enumerated the people that were trading on the streets, not shops, because they were not approved markets. What did we find? We found about 595 people making life uncomfortable for millions of others. An estimated six to eight million people commute on Lagos roads everyday. Let us for the sake of the argument say that one million people use the road. Can it be right for 595 to deny one million.