The Rise and Rise of Lagos by Uche Ohia

No Comments » November 24th, 2009 posted by // Categories: Positively Naija: All News Positive About Nigeria

The Rise and Rise of Lagos

by Uche Ohia

Of all the political jingles that were aired on national radio during the 2007 electioneering campaign, one stuck to my memory. It may not have been the best but, for me, it was a very pleasant one. I cannot now recall the exact wordings: all I can remember is the refrain which went something like “Fa fa fa fa F-A-S-H-O-L-A!” The jingle was catchy, simple, and effective. It usually came up just before or after the FRCN 7am network news. Each time that jingle came on air, I found myself singing along. My kids were equally delighted by the song. When they saw that I was enthused by the tune, they ganged up and began to ambush me with “Fa fa fa fa F-A-S-H-O-L-A” every morning. It was such fun.

I imagine that a lot of people also enjoyed that composition – including those who, like me, are not persuaded to vote for any candidate merely on account of the pleasurable melody of their campaign jingle. When the candidate of that campaign, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), won the election, I felt endeared to him. I cannot say whether it was because of the jingle or the fact that he is a learned gentleman and a senior member of a noble profession to which I have the privilege of belonging. Whatever, my interest went from the jingle to the man. I also felt so sorry for him. Governing Lagos is not a tea party.

The story that any first timer is told on arrival in Lagos is that the inscription on the signboards that usher visitors into the state from any direction does not have the prefix “Welcome to …” as is the case everywhere else: it just says “This is Lagos”. I have never been able to verify that story. Regardless, it served to illustrate the indifference, the heartlessness and recklessness that are associated with Lagos. The lesson that every new comer -or JJC in local parlance- learned was that in Lagos, you are on your own. In Lagos, anything goes.

As a city-state with a multi-ethnic population of close to 20 million persons, Lagos presents as much challenges as any mega city with weak leadership, a tough terrain and aggressive residents. The unending stream of humanity, chaotic environment, traffic jams, criminal gangs, street urchins, unruly drivers and touts, illegal structures, roadside hawkers, combined with prolonged neglect and compromise to make Lagos the ultimate nightmare. Even Ikoyi and Victoria Island that were like oases in a desert of madness gradually became sucked in. 

Now, the situation is changing:Lagos is changing rapidly. The man who has wrought the magic that has earned him and Lagos the attention of Nigerians is Governor Fashola. Born in 1963, Fashola is probably the youngest governor in Nigeria today – and certainly the youngest man that has ever occupied the governor’s office in Alausa under a democratic dispensation. But it does not take the age of Methuselah or the wisdom of Solomon to transform a society. All it takes is a man with a vision, a mission and an unwavering commitment to both.

Until Governor Fashola broke the jinx, no one believed that it was possible to sanitize, to reform, and to transform Lagos in a civilian dispensation. Everyone seemed to think that only a military administrator vested with military discipline and bestial force could compel red-eyed Lagosians to abide by rules and regulations. Part of Fashola’s mystique is that he has proved that the illusion that Lagosians are ungovernable is, in fact, a bogeyman of our imagination.

One lesson that Governor Fashola is teaching his contemporaries – albeit, unwittingly – is that leadership is not about noise making. Many state governors revel in praise singing and self–adulation. They surround themselves with sycophants and lay claims to achievements that exist only on the pages of newspapers. Fashola barred the use of sirens by public officials and private persons in LagosState. The Lagos State Governor goes about his duties silently – the same way that public officials operate in all civilized societies. Before Fashola, it was bedlam as siren blaring cars and convoys sped in all directions leaving confusion in their wake. In most state capitals noisy convoys are still the vogue.

What is the magic that has enabled Fashola to achieve such incredible results in 900 days? How has this young man that was not even born at the time Nigeria secured independence from Britain in 1960 been able to transform Lagos, a city that had almost been written off as a failed city? Simple! Fashola not only expressed his desire to bring about change, he demonstrated his determination through proactive initiatives. Two and half years into his administration, Lagos has leaped forward in terms of physical and infrastructural development.

Driving around Lagos, what one sees is a state that resembles a massive (re)construction site. The concentration is on the areas where Lagos has suffered the greatest public infrastructure deficit: roads, bridges, drainage, improvement of market environment and development of commerce, schools, hospitals, rail transport, and water transportation. The focus has been on the renewal of critical infrastructure to reduce the pressure on existing infrastructure. Fashola harps on attitudinal change which he dubs development of infrastructure of the mind.

Before Fashola, many Nigerians had given up on Lagos. Those who knew the Lagos of old remembered the city with nostalgia. Their favourite pastime was to recall the scenic layout and alluring landscape of a city that was once the pride of the nation. With great emotion, they lamented the deterioration of an iconic city that held so much promise but ended up as a symbol of failure. Calling Lagos “Centre of Excellence” seemed so ironic when it resembled the opposite.

Today, the city state that defied older, wiser, and stronger administrators has succumbed to a determined, visionary, young man. In a country yearning for role models, Governor Fashola has become the epitome of leadership: a person that brings about positive transformation of his environment, a person that dares to be different in an age filled with predators and heartless brigands who plunder the people’s patrimony and parade their loot without remorse. Nigeria yearns for such leadership. The performance of people like Fashola, Peter Obi and Sullivan Chime fan the embers of hope in a better tomorrow. Men like them nourish the hope that with the right leadership – focused and purposeful – the transformation of Nigeria can be achieved in our lifetime.

Reading the lips of Lagosians, the silent prayer seems to be ‘God bless Fashola’. Now when you see me driving down the road and humming under my breath with my head bobbing up and down or from side to side, chances are that the song is Fa Fa Fa Fa F-A-S-H-O-L-A.; 0805 1090 050

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