By Segun Ayobolu
Nothing in recent times has impressed better upon the human consciousness than the Coronavirus pandemic the enduring lesson of history, which is that the leadership factor, more often than not, makes the difference between flourishing or atrophying human societies. Over 500 days ago, the administration of Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu (BOS), the governor of Lagos State, was sworn into office riding on the wings of great expectations like any new government. Yet, almost immediately it ran into a hailstorm of fierce criticisms and vehement condemnations. The administration assumed office amidst the rainy season with prolonged heavy down pour daily resulting in severe flooding of the roads, the resultant traffic lock jam in large swathes of the state and the attendant hardships and inconveniences endured by the citizenry.
An impatient public was unprepared to give the administration time to settle down insisting on instant ‘action’. Wisely, rather than giving excuses and endlessly lamenting the severity of the challenges it inherited such as a virtually collapsed waste management and disposal system as well as the blockage of most drainage channels across the state, the administration focused on fixing the root causes of the problem while pleading for patience from the public.
Given the sterling credentials and private as well as public sector managerial experience of the governor, his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, and other key officials of the government, this column entertained no doubts that the administration would quickly surmount its teething problems and indeed ultimately surpass expectations in the actualization of its ambitious THEMES agenda. However, the unanticipated Coronavirus pandemic crept in like a thief in the night distracting governments across geo-political spaces and holding the world in a vice grip from which a beleaguered mankind is still struggling to extricate itself.
In Nigeria, steering the affairs of Lagos, the county’s population hub as well as economic capital, BOS was particularly under pressure especially as the state understandably emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic.
But every crisis, it is said, almost always invariably also provides an opportunity. This troublous, rampaging virus brought to the fore the leadership dexterity and acumen of the governor. There was the calm, confidence and surefootedness in action, which went a long way in reassuring the public at a time of great uncertainty and fear. There was the efficient mobilization, deployment and utilization of resources in response to the crisis. There was the daily communication with the public led by BOS himself from the grounds of the State House, Marina; briefings at which he exhibited remarkable emotional intelligence. There was the inspirational example the governor gave his team of commissioners and heads of extra-ministerial agencies many of whom rose to the occasion and contributed exemplarily towards containing the scourge.
It would have been so easy and tempting for the BOS administration to utilize the distraction of the pandemic as an excuse and justification for non-performance. After all, huge unbudgeted sums have had to be diverted to contain the crisis particularly the procurement of medical equipment, construction of emergency health facilities, payment of allowances to health workers on the frontline and the provision of material and financial palliatives to succor large numbers of vulnerable members of the society. Beyond this, the BOS administration gave extensive tax and other fiscal reliefs to businesses, waived payment on property land use charges and offered other concessions that had negative implications on its revenue inflow.
Yet, in spite of this, the administration has made a positive and impressive impact on governance over the last 500 days beyond its management of the Coronavirus pandemic. One indication of this is that the heavy flooding and debilitating traffic congestion that caused so much uproar against the administration last year has significantly abated even though the rains have been heavier. This has been as a result of continuous, intensive palliative works to fill pot holes and repair damages on inner roads, massive rehabilitation and reconstruction of over 500 roads across the state as well as ongoing de-silting, reclamation and restoration of clogged drainage channels throughout the state in addition to the construction of new ones.
The Ministry of the Environment has within the short period substantially restored the efficiency and functionality of the state’s refuse disposal and management system, enhanced the efficacy of the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) and also restored normalcy in the operations of the Private Sector Participant (PSP), operators which is critical to the environmental health of the state. There is hardly any part of the state where the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure is not constructing new roads and bridges or rehabilitating and constructing new ones. This has, of course, created its own problems especially with regard to frequent traffic congestion on key arteries. I will not bog down the reader here with details of these roads, drainages and other projects as the state’s Ministry of Information and Strategy diligently and continuously provides all such information, including pictorial evidence, in the print, electronic and social media.
In a discussion before writing this piece, a colleague was of the view that there is not a single major legacy infrastructure project that the BOS administration has initiated and completed since its assumption of office 500 days ago. This kind of perspective reflects a major problem with governance in Nigeria whereby every new administration tends to abandon uncompleted projects inherited from its predecessors and to commence entirely new ones for which it can take sole glory. Furthermore, there tends to be an emphasis on grandiose projects with phenomenal cost implication even where smaller projects with less visibility will add much more value to people and communities. The BOS administration has so far offered a refreshing departure from this unproductive and unhelpful inclination.
Thus, it has placed primacy on completing most of the ongoing projects inherited from the preceding administrations of Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) and Mr. Akinwumi Ambode. For instance, it has completed the 13.68km Oshodi-Abule Egba BRT corridor while work is nearing completion on the Pen-Cinema Bridge, Agege, inherited from the Ambode administration. Similarly, the administration has recommenced construction work on the critical Lagos/Badagry Expressway started by BRF and the first phase of this road from Agboju to Trade Fair is already completed. In the health sector, the BOS administration has completed and commissioned the 149-bed Igando Mother and Child Care Centre in Igando; the 110-bed Eti-Osa Mother and Child Care Centre in Eti-Osa and the Mother and Child Care Centre in Badagry while the Epe Mother and Child Care Centre has reached an advanced stage. These projects were initiated by BRF.
There is no space to reiterate here the BOS administration’s attainments in the education, job creation, Information Communication Technology, housing, justice and other sectors over the last 500 days. Let me thus just briefly refer to one example of the strategic innovation in policy focus by the administration, which is its emphasis on water transportation to make ample use of the state’s ample water endowment. Thus, it commissioned eight new ferries which commenced commercial operation in February 2020 and have so far conveyed 25,000 passengers. In addition, it has completed the channelization of four ferry routes; channelized the Mile2-Marina route; completed the Baiyeku waterfront jetty construction while work is at different stages of completion on jetty construction projects in no less than ten communities.
Understandably, the BOS administration is not indifferent or insensitive to the need to bequeath to posterity its own legacy projects that will help to redefine and elevate the landscape as well as enhance the quality of life. It is noteworthy in this regard that it has short-listed 8 contractors for the construction of the path-breaking 38km 4th Mainland bridge while also recommencing work on the 27km Lagos light rail project from CMS to Okokomaiko. If the administration is to deliver on these massive projects in its life-span, however, it must at least make significant progress on them in its first term. BOS’s briefing of the people on the activities of his administration over the last 500 days, which holds on Tuesday, could not have come at a more appropriate time when Nigerian youths, through the #EndSARS/SWAT protest movement, are bringing the demand for responsive, responsible and accountable governance, once more, to the forefront of Nigeria’s evolving democracy.
As BOS and his team continue apace on their journey of governance in Nigeria’s megacity, the governor will surely continue to bear in mind his memorable words at his inauguration: “We are but human beings. Our time on this earth is finite and shall one day pass. At some point, we shall all enter the book of history. This is inevitable. But we can choose how we walk into history. Shall we do so as masters of our fate, or as slaves to things that seek to suppress us? When the history of our time is written, let it not be told in tears of defeat, rather let it resound with the anthem of collective victory…While one cannot help but hear the kind words of friends, I must pay even closer attention to the voice of my critics. In constructive criticism lie the seeds of improvement”.