Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?

One of the earliest instances of the ubiquitous act of haggling in West African markets is recorded in Christian mythology. The iniquities of the city of Sodom having reached the ears of the Christian God, he decided to terminate the bacchanals by destroying the city. Fortunately, he had the good mind to seek the counsel of Abraham, his faithful servant. Abraham reminded God of the unfairness of destroying fifty righteous people along with the iniquitous majority. God answered: "if I find fifty righteous people, I will not destroy the city". Sensing opportunity, Abraham began haggling. What about forty-five? Forty nko? E no gree thirty? Baba God, how about twenty now? By now a Nigerian trader would have lost patience and exclaimed: "you dey craze? You wan spoil my market dis early morning? Go price your mama market like dat! Oloshi!" Not God. He was in the mood to indulge Abraham. Ten? Five? We know the rest of the story. Apart from Lot who was already on his way to safety, God found none. No not one. This story comes to mind as I try to account, tentatively and extremely cautiously, for the mind of Babatunde Fashola, the current Governor of Lagos state, against the backdrop of the kalahari of the mind we call leadership and public service in Nigeria.

Let me enter some notes before I proceed. I am one of those intellectuals who harbor total contempt for the quality of the minds in power – and in government – in Nigeria. Lest I be accused of trying to carve an Archimedean space of non-implication in the morass I critique, I am the first to admit that my constituency, broadly defined as the knowledge industry, bears enormous responsibility for either vacating the space of governance and leadership for minds only slightly equal to orangutans – the orangutans I encounter in my subscription to National Geographic are better organizers and envisioners of orangutan society than Nigerian leadership is of Nigerian society - or participating in governance in a much more disastrous fashion than the obtuse rulers who invited them to "come and eat" in the first place. Harvard and Yale-trained minds return home only to drink the strange water they drink in the corridors of power in Nigeria and become unrecognizable tragedies. They mostly become belly-driven jobbers, carrying important-looking briefcases all over Abuja. Professors "join government" to profess nothing or profess rubbish: a long list of Professors and public intellectuals professed a patina of legitimacy for moronic military despots in the 1980s-1990s; some were intellectual servicers of Obasanjo's third term agenda. Others still are currently professing theories to rationalize President Yar'Adua's personal philosophy of governance as an extended siesta. We – my constituency – have a long history of complicity in the rot that has become the lot of the state of Denmark.

We are thus saddled with a situation in which ideas and matters of the intellect are permanently banished from the space of governance and public service in Nigeria. Ideas. Matters of the intellect. We once had those. In the space of governance. As a teacher of African thought, it has become very difficult for me to teach the writings of the generation of Mbonu Ojike, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mallam Aminu Kano and so many others. These were men who read. A lot. They read the books that must be read, to borrow a phrase from Odia Ofeimun. They fed and nurtured their minds. To enter into the epistemic world of these men is to stand in awed contemplation of the power of erudition and ideas instrumentalized for public service and the envisionment of society. It is to be in painful contemplation of the tragic aridity of the minds now in charge of our lives. Whenever I go through 1950s and 1960s issues of the influential journal, Présence Africaine, and encounter the powerful minds of Nigerian leaders and public officials exchanging ideas with the best from the rest of Africa and pan-Africa, the contrast with what we have now becomes insufferable. I squirm in pain at the huge joke we now present Africa and the world as the mind of Nigeria's leadership. The past generation authored books and trafficked in sophisticated ideas that were indicative of the level of their personal development. The current generation's romance with the intellect is always about hiring people in my profession to author degenerate hagiographies, which they proceed to launch with fanfare. Hence you have the tragic case of what used to be one of Africa's best critical minds making the transition from The Theory of African Literature to Prince of the Niger! This contrast is what makes it so painful for me to teach the works – and the minds – of our heroes past. To put it crudely, how did we transition from Ambassador Simeon Adebo to Ambassadors Sam Edem and Musiliu Obanikoro?

Reading was a subject of predilection for Chinua Achebe who once famously asked: "what do Nigerian leaders read?" If one's frame of reference is Nigerian leadership after the aforementioned nationalist generation, there is only one sobering answer to Achebe's question: nothing. They read nothing. Or so I thought until I encountered an essay on Babatunde Fashola authored by my good friend, the novelist and poet Tolu Ogunlesi. Published in The Guardian early this year, the essay tells the story of Ogunlesi's chance ‘encounter' with Fashola's car. Ogunlesi somehow got close enough to the Governor's car and was able to take a peep inside. He did not see a bevy of beauties requisitioned for night duty from the female hostels of the University of Lagos in the Governor's car. He did not see hundred-dollar bills stuffed in Ghana-must-go bags, ready for shipment to the Governor's Godfather(s). He did not see bottles of champagne struggling for space with bottles of imported French wine. He did not see a cache of Ak 47s sourced for distribution to political thugs. No, he did not see any of the trademarks of Nigerian government officials. He saw – wait for it – books! Books in a Nigerian Governor's car? Unbelievable! Ogunlesi was so pleasantly shocked by what he saw that he rushed an article on Governor Fashola's "reading list" to press.

Unlike Ogunlesi, I was not shocked, pleasantly or unpleasantly, by the possibility of the existence of a state Governor who reads in Nigeria. I was alarmed. Considerably. Ki lo de? Se ko si? "Hope no problem?" as we say in Nigeria. A Governor reading in an anti-intellectual national context where the average Nigerian "party chieftain" or "big man" can't even be trusted to spell the word "manifesto" correctly, let alone being expected to have read his political party's manifesto – where the Party even bothers to have a manifesto? Didn't a Governor in one of the southern states wonder what a Faculty of Arts was doing in a University owned by the said state? He was of the informed opinion that his subjects did not need frivolities like the Arts and the Humanities. Could it possibly be true that God would find one reader, one cultivated mind that feeds constantly on ideas and traffics in matters of the mind if he paid an unscheduled visit to Nigeria's Sodom of leadership and governance? I quickly called a few contacts who would know in Lagos, half expecting them to tell me that Ogunlesi was imagining things. They confirmed it! Governor Fashola reads. A lot. As folks gave me information on the phone, the expression "reading culture" had a strange ring to it, almost unnatural when placed in the same environment with our government officials. I decided to cautiously classify Fashola as one of the extremely rare public officials in contemporary Nigeria worth studying closely. Soon enough, I began to notice his articles in the op-ed page of The Guardian.

The Governor's Guardian essays offer not only an auspicious window into the quality of his mind but also into his philosophy of governance. As I read each essay, the teacher in me swings into action – I can't help it – assessing, evaluating, and gauging the quality of the intellect. Needless to say, these actions, borne of a pedagogic and scholarly instinct, have nothing to do with whether I agree or not with the Governor's submissions. What the essays I have read thus far reveal is an erudite mind in a love affair with ideas. This mind has been able to map out contact zones between governance, leadership, and the production/consumption of knowledge. To offer one's ideas for public consumption in the op-ed pages of The Guardian is to submit oneself to the critical judgment of the segment of society that is sophisticated enough to grapple with the opinion pages of a newspaper.

To trade ideas with the public – I am told that Fashola meticulously reads responses to and critiques of his essays – is indicative of a mind that sets considerable store by the instrumentalization of knowledge for public good. It takes a thorough grasp of the essence of the social contract for a governor to produce thought and submit it for consumption and evaluation in a public space that has become so hostile to intellection. Perfunctory noise about the notion of servant leadership may come from those who cannot tell pot from kettle in Abuja, it seems that the essence of that philosophy is currently being actuated in Lagos. That Fashola is a lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is beside the point. Nigeria offers far too many examples of trained minds rendered intellectually impecunious by the soporifics of power, intellects gone prurient after feeding continuously on offal in the corridors of power. Besides, President Yar'Adua's University training is sufficient indication that formal education is not always coterminous with visionary, progressive, and refined leadership. His somnambulistic and lackluster presidency is a tragic indictment of the University in Nigeria. Those of us who had argued for years that things should begin to change once a mind that has been humanized and instructed by the University got a shot at the highest office in the land now gnash our teeth and make animadversions in contemplation of Yar'Adua's unbelievably sloppy and visionless presidency. And lately, he was woken up from his slumber to continue tyranny from where Abacha stopped.

This is the context which makes the idea of one Governor's reading culture and quest for a cultivated mind worthy of more than passing interest. It also, sadly, raises the fundamental question of modes of access to and movement within political space in Nigeria. There are legitimate questions to ask about Fashola's road to office. It is a photocopy of Yar'Adua's route to Aso Rock: the route of brazen, nepotistic, and muscular godfatherism. Former President Obasanjo was the caterpillar who cleared brambles and every obstacle on Yar'Adua's path to a purloined mandate. For Fashola, the bulldozer was his immediate predecessor in office, Alhaji Senator Chief Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. In essence, there is currently no clean and decent way for a refined, cultivated mind, singularly enamoured of service, to accede to political office in Nigeria. Ask Pat Utomi. Ask Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti State. Herein lies the tragedy of ethics in Nigeria. Nigeria hardly ever presents a situation where you could engage reality on the basis of good and bad, ethical and unethical. There is room to rationalize only between bad and less bad, unethical and less unethical. For instance, had Tinubu not had his way by nepotistically godfathering Fashola into government house in Lagos and subverting democracy in the process, that state would have faced an even worse and and absolutely more corrupt scenario of an Obanikoro/PDP hijack. Of two venomous snakes, Lagos state is lucky in essence to have been bitten by the less venomous. Does one celebrate observable results and close one's eyes to the corruption of the paths taken to those results? The challenge lies in forging a scoiety where the decent, informed, and humanized mind, enamoured of service, does not have to travel on morally-challenged and ethically-tainted routes to office.



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Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Olivio posted on 10-28-2008, 14:14:03 PM
great read and so true. i had a long discussion with my brother after reading the same article and we shared many of your observations. i was particularly impressed, being an architect an planner, that he had the humility to include a planning for dumies book in this list. the idea that a nigerian governor would acknowledge the limit of his knowledge in an area (being a lawyer), much less pick up a book with dummies in the title speaks a lot (a great series by the way), and reflects his understanding of how difficult and complicated the technical issues presented by rehabilitation goals for a city as populous and vibrant as lagos are, even if he has the political will and skill that must be drawn upon to render implementation possible.
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Ike Amadi posted on 10-28-2008, 15:56:58 PM
This is an elegant essay, beautifully articulated, of a kind, I have n't read in a long while now. I couldn't agree more with your luminous submissions, Mr Adesanmi.
Thank you!
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Ike Amadi posted on 10-28-2008, 16:03:16 PM
That last paragraph was particularly telling,so true. It was just spot-on, germane, apposite, perceptive, perspicacious...... etc. I'm indeed impressed.
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Dapxin posted on 10-28-2008, 16:42:43 PM
Terrific read.

So good I lost track of the Newcastle v West Brom Footy match playing away on my PC, while engrossed on this superbly written essay.

The concluding parapgraphs are simply 5 stars in depth, assertion and counter-assertion.

Again terrific read!

Its so relaxing to see, one thing, one topic, one leadership reference, in the whole of Nigeria, that has one positive angle, one progressive facet, one intellectual signpost, to engage with/about - without the usual head-banging brain reaction one suffers, soon as "Nigerian-leaders" are in the news.

I have just had a great night, reading this. Thumbs up to Mr. Fashola... and I have to read this again....
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Akuluouno posted on 10-29-2008, 03:15:18 AM
Dear PA,

It is a well known maxim that if you want to hide a secret from a Nigerian, publish it as a book. Many thanks for your soul stirring article. Many people of conscience are indeed bothered. Fashola, I told a friend only yesterday, reminded of the way that governance used to be in those days.
Your quote below among others captures the challenges faced by leadership in Nigeria
Let me enter some notes before I proceed. I am one of those intellectuals who harbor total contempt for the quality of the minds in power – and in government – in Nigeria. Lest I be accused of trying to carve an Archimedean space of non-implication in the morass I critique, I am the first to admit that my constituency, broadly defined as the knowledge industry, bears enormous responsibility for either vacating the space of governance and leadership for minds only slightly equal to orangutans – the orangutans I encounter in my subscription to National Geographic are better organizers and envisioners of orangutan society than Nigerian leadership is of Nigerian society - or participating in governance in a much more disastrous fashion than the obtuse rulers who invited them to "come and eat" in the first place.

Let me also pledge my total agreement with you on the Orangutan leadership and organisational abilities. I have in years past told a small audience that with the way we are going in Nigeria, one day a chimpanzee, gorrilla or one other species of our kins will take over the control of traffic in our major cities in the first instance. I was reminded then that even certified mad men were already doing that in most big cities and that Nigerian drivers obey them.
Thanks oncemore for your lucid article
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Izonboy posted on 10-29-2008, 07:30:44 AM
Phew! This is an intellectual 'best seller'. Very well written and sweet to consume. The truth of it? So very true! By mistake of a bad guy, a some how better, bad guy comes in to office. And then, it turns out he is a genuine intellectual. So, the weight is on Fashola's shoulders to prove to the 'un-believers' that intellectually sound leadership is what we need in this country. The likes of Fashola and Yar' Adua, if they fail, will make it extremely much more difficult (dont mind the English) for people with sound education to get near the corridors of power in Nigeria in the future.

If it is the only thing they achieve, those we classify as ' properly educated' who now have power, should sanitise the electoral system to allow for the entry of decent Nigerians into the political space. It is impossible for all the change that is needed to happen 'now now' but sanitizing the political space is a sure banker towards national recovery.
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Agbonizuanghwe posted on 10-29-2008, 08:01:53 AM
Sheesh! I doff my hat. Not just for the topic dealth with, but in the style of telling! Would you, pray tell, provide some lessons to journalists in Nigeria, who are so lamentably inept in the language and methods of their trade, it makes buying a newspaper a total waste oof money?
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
MrOneNaija posted on 10-29-2008, 09:41:44 AM
THE CHALLENGE OF DECENT DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP

A well articulated commentary!

I quite agree with its conclusion that the challenge for Nigeria is to have leaders who are the products of the sovereign will of the people. Those leaders will most likely submit themselves to the legitimate aspirations of the citizenry. That Fashola did not emerge through such a process does put a big question mark on his moral choices. This in no way diminishes the relatively good job he is said to be doing in Lagos. Yet, one must ask the inescapable question: Is Fashola a dedicated democrat? Has the current Lagos governor truly weaned himself from the apron strings of his godfather and what that entails as far as participatory democratic governance is concerned?
The local government polls of a few weeks ago would sadly confirm the suspicion that Fashola may be quite happy playing the role of surrogate, not to mention active partner to Tinubu in his (Fashola's) determination to maintain the stranglehold of their party, the AC, in Lagos.

It is interesting that the incumbent Lagos state governor actually reads books. It is equally interesting that he can write in newspapers. But all that is only incidental. Beyond what may be a carefully crafted façade, the point needs mentioning that what truly matters is to what extent the man is able to put to practice the useful knowledge he must have acquired from both his writings and readings. Crucially, he should demonstrate through his actions that he is truly committed to the ethos of democracy. He should show us that he is different from those past military governors who were also seen as goal-oriented by the people of the respective domains where they held sway.

P.S. I find rather intriguing the following passage (in bold):
QUOTE:
Those of us who had argued for years that things should begin to change once a mind that has been humanized and instructed by the University got a shot at the highest office in the land now gnash our teeth and make animadversions in contemplation of Yar’Adua’s unbelievably sloppy and visionless presidency. And lately, he was woken up from his slumber to continue tyranny from where Abacha stopped.

In terms of both sequence and extent, the ghastly and tyrannical Obasanjo regime (1999-2007) enjoys greater proximity to the current Yar'Adua government. So, why Abacha instead of Obasanjo?
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
Dapxin posted on 10-29-2008, 10:00:49 AM
QUOTE:


In terms of both sequence and extent, the ghastly and tyrannical Obasanjo regime (1999-2007) enjoys greater proximity to the current Yar'Adua government. So, why Abacha instead of Obasanjo?


Your excellency,

Wrong Inference Sir.

Although Obasanjo created him Yaradua, Mr. Yaradua has within the space of 2years literarily outdone emperor Obasanjo - the height of inaction, idi0cy and tyrannical tendency.

Apart from Obj killing his bossom political-friend - Bola Ige and countless other Nigerians as his 8years unfolded, I hardly remember him shutting down a station, or arresting journalists all over the place. He even brough Murray Bruce to the then NTA - and the channel suddenly became watchable, although promptly got him sacked (not arrested) when the ol boy took his cameras' into VIP areas or started making the presidency to award contracts ! (whichever story you believed.)

Be rational with your assessment, obasanjo was/is a devil, but the ongoing Yaraduanism shocks the-very-notion-of-education...
Re: Babatunde Fashola: the Loner of Sodom?
MrOneNaija posted on 10-29-2008, 11:21:14 AM
THE FRUITS OF DIVERSION?
QUOTE:
Your excellency,

Wrong Inference Sir.

Although Obasanjo created him Yaradua, Mr. Yaradua has within the space of 2years literarily outdone emperor Obasanjo - the height of inaction, idi0cy and tyrannical tendency.

Apart from Obj killing his bossom political-friend - Bola Ige and countless other Nigerians as his 8years unfolded, I hardly remember him shutting down a station, or arresting journalists all over the place. He even brough Murray Bruce to the then NTA - and the channel suddenly became watchable, although promptly got him sacked (not arrested) when the ol boy took his cameras' into VIP areas or started making the presidency to award contracts ! (whichever story you believed.)

Be rational with your assessment, obasanjo was/is a devil, but the ongoing Yaraduanism shocks the-very-notion-of-education...

And the above is a rational outburst?

One would have thought that, in reaction to the statement in my "P.S.", you would attempt an analysis of the tyrannical regimes of Abacha and Obasanjo, respectively, and proceed to compare them to the current Yar'Adua administration.

At any rate, the scope and extent of the last Obasanjo tyranny were indeed frightening. From the premeditated and criminal massacres of hundreds of innocent civilians in places like Odi, Zaki-Biam and surrounding communities, the wanton murders of percieved political opponents, to the reckless and lawless trampling on the nation's democratic structures, including the persecution of journalists ( a case in point is the mindless hounding of journalists of the Abuja newspaper called Leadership), Obasanjo and his fellow gorillas did inflict untold atrocities on the country and its people.

And it is the height of irrationality to claim that the criminal and depraved despotism of Ali Baba, a.k.a. Olusegun Obasanjo The Chief Thief, was better than the current lacklustre Yar'Adua regime.

For an enlightened view of Yar'Adua and Obasanjo, please go to the commentary (by Aonduna Tondu, that is my humble self) at the following link:
http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/articles/aonduna-tondu/contemplating-nigeria-without-yaradua-and-jon.html
This nugget:
QUOTE:
Let it be made crystal clear that compared to the backward and kleptocratic Obasanjo dictatorship of 1999-2007, the current Yar’Adua administration can be said to provide a sharp contrast. The lawlessness and reckless impunity that characterized the loud and hypocritical ‘born-again’ profligacy of the ex-soldier have largely been replaced by a sober, more subdued, if tentative style of governance that nonetheless suffers from a serious credibility crisis, thanks chiefly to the electoral illegitimacy conundrum alluded to earlier....
It is a stark statement of our collective self-indictment that the characters most responsible for the sorry state of affairs in our country are laughing their way to the bank, at our expense! Obasanjo and his sordid cast of fellow buccaneers whose criminal impunity has inflicted so much suffering on the nation and its people must be very contented with what is going on today in Abuja in the name of governance.

In June 2007, shortly after the tragedy that was the criminal imposition of Yar'Adua on the nation by Obasanjo, I wrote to denounce the travesty by suggesting that the only way the ex-Katsina governor can hope to redeem himself in the eyes of fellow citizens is for him to consciously and transparently repudiate the rotten legacy of his godfather from Ota whose selection of him as his replacement was clearly done out of spite toward the man, but mostly toward Nigerians in general. Titled “The Illusion of a Yar’Adua Presidency”, the article in question is also widely available elsewhere and on the Internet...
These days, thanks in part to a compromised local press and its allies, the ex-dictator, Obasanjo, and key elements of the ancien régime seem determined to have our public discourse diverted and focused on those tactics and issues that are largely divisive and bound to perpetuate ignorance, the surest guarantee for their continued political survival...
A chronically ill and distracted Yar’Adua is good news for Obasanjo and his gang of fellow predators as well as all those who wish evil and underdevelopment upon our society. A spineless and illegitimate President Jonathan may even be better news for the ex-dictator. In 2003, shortly after the “419” selections of 2003, this author was one of the few voices who cautioned the nation regarding the “dangerous fantasies” of the ex-tyrant, that is, his crazy determination to ensure his political and economic survival, that of his acolytes, meaning the determination to be left alone, beyond 2007, to enjoy the unprecedented massive looting of the country’s collective wealth by himself and his associates.
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