Fashola’s Grand Failure

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Babatunde Fashola is a man after many people’s hearts. He is loved by many for his “performance” during his time as the governor of Lagos State. It is hard not to begrudge him for his incredible streak of luck in capturing the imagination and love of the people for his supposedly “good work”.

But he is also loathed by some critical and discerning minds for leaving a legacy of mismanagement, inflated contracts, misplaced priorities, and alleged abuse of office in using public money to feather his nest. He has been held to no account since he left office; instead he is celebrated by his supporters and his party as the wonder boy of his generation. In saner societies where accountability is taken seriously, he would have been made to account for his stewardship in Lagos.

Even his mentor, Bola Tinubu acknowledged recently that he was worried the huge debt Fashola left behind would hamstring his successor from delivering on his campaign promises. Such is Fashola’s legacy.

If I may ask, how many Nigerian public servants can boast of Fashola’s luck to be showered with such effusive love and affection after such incredible mismanagement of public resources? How many can boast of his eloquence – even when he is uttering lame and rubbish excuses for his poor performance, still manages to convince his devout supporters to excuse his grand failure? How many can boast of his diction, his self-assured righteous posture – just to gain acclaim from less discerning Nigerians? Not many. As a matter of fact, I know no one. He is one of those who got away by exploiting his gift of the gab, and has been busy assaulting our sensibilities with crimes allegedly committed by others.

Following the allocation of three critical portfolios, viz. Power, Works and Housing to him to head, he was rightly or wrongly described as the prime minister and the actualiser of Buhari’s change agenda. Many celebrated this designation, thinking he would be the lightening rod of the Buhari administration.

However, I had looked forward to his ministerial tenure with particular indifference, knowing full well that his accomplishments as a governor were grossly overstated by every stretch of the imagination, when matched with the resources that were at his disposal, while his failings were dismissed with a wave of the hand as fabricated falsehoods to undermine his brand by hack writers and revisionists.

But somehow, there was a tinge of hope that his appointment might just be beneficial to Lagos in their convoluted change. Of course his appreciation of the enormous challenges facing this mega-city (or should I call it mega confusion?) was a factor in that hope, and that he would do much more to give the state some federal lift, considering that he was scathing about the Goodluck Jonathan government’s performance in Lagos. Nearly two years after, and under Fashola’s watch, federal infrastructure in Lagos is in worse shape than ever. It is puzzling as to why someone who repeatedly told the public that Apapa, especially, was a mess because the then PDP-led federal government deliberately wanted it so – would now forsake the same Apapa under the APC-led federal government. Was all that rhetoric on the stump just the good boy playing dirty politics? We need answers from Fashola now.

With criticisms swirling around him for the unpardonable neglect of Apapa, Fashola, ever adept at finding excuses, pulled another reason to buy some respite for his unedifying performance. He promised work would soon commence on Apapa road, but that the government needed N100 billion to fix the road. My questions for Fashola are: What kind of road does he want to build with N100billion? Is it going to be paved with gold or diamond? Was the road design done in heaven? How many roads are being targeted for fixing and what is the total kilometre stretch?

Looking at how he ran Lagos, I am worried about this outrageously offensive cost being peddled by Fashola to fix Apapa road. This is a man who built the 1.358 kilometre Lekki-Ikoyi bridge on a shallow part of the lagoon for over N29 billion. Only recently, the Bureau of Public Procurement was reported to have queried Fashola (you can see his double standard regarding Lagos’ request to reconstruct Oshodi/Airport road) over the award of contracts worth N166 billion in violation of the laws guiding contract awards in the country, particularly the manner Fashola’s ministry was said to have selected contractors for the projects.

The cost of the Apapa road must be subjected to a thorough investigation. It is even more so, considering that it is to be constructed with concrete which we are told is cheaper alternative to the asphalt option. While we desperately want the roads in Apapa fixed, we must not allow the fleecing of taxpayers in the name of constructing Apapa road.
Fashola also disclosed that the design and other requirements needed for the reconstruction of the road were ready, adding, “I just want to appeal to the residents of Apapa and to people whose livelihood depends on Apapa, that Apapa is one of the priority roads under our Ministry of Works to solve roads that lead to critical ports.” I don’t believe this man. And please let no one believe him or be fooled by his persuasive eloquence.

Come to think of it, his ministry gave this same response over a year ago and up till now, there has been no meaningful action. They even mobilised Julius Berger to site to carry out repairs at the foot of the Ijora bridge when the situation became embarrassingly unbearable and became a death trap to a record number of trucks and their huge containers. Beyond that, nothing serious has been done on the roads. And since then, the situation in Apapa has progressively deteriorated with huge losses to the economy. It’s now so bad that residents and a few remaining businesses appear to have resigned themselves to fasting and prayers for God to touch the hearts of all those connected to fixing the roads.

Who would have thought that right under Fashola’s nose, federal roads in Lagos, particularly in Apapa, the port city of the nation’s premier sea ports, Tin Can Island and Apapa ports, would be in these deplorable conditions? Access to the ports either through the Ijora bridge or the Oshodi/Apapa expressway is a hellish preposition. From Ijora bridge, you are immediately confronted by a nightmarish gridlock that stretches kilometres in all directions as a result of the huge craters right in front of the Forte Oil filing station inwards Apapa, stretching past Flour Mills of Nigeria on the very strategic artery.

Descending into the once beloved ports city, you have two choices, depending on your destination. None of these choices is palatable. You either take the Liverpool diversion or drive straight through front of Flour Mills of Nigeria. And of course the Oshodi Apapa expressway axis from Coconut bus stop is a disgrace to this country.
From near impassable craters to the sheer nuisance of massive haulage drivers, Apapa writhes in agony and urgently needs to be rescued. The entire stretch from Airways bus stop to the Liverpool roundabout is a complete mess, with craters substituting for potholes everywhere. The flyover bridge above the roundabout leading to Tin Can Port, right up to Coconut bus stop is in a criminal state of neglect and dilapidation.

Let’s even leave the unacceptable state of Apapa roads for a moment. Take a look at the state of the maze of flyovers owned by the federal government snaking all over Lagos and tell me whether what you see makes you happy and proud as a Nigerian? They are in such a state of total neglect that you are left to wonder whether our leaders have any sense of shame or feel revulsion at the sorry state of infrastructure in the state. All the protective barrier railings on nearly every bridge or flyover are gone, leaving motorists and other road users to frightening consequences. The asphalt on most of the bridges, especially the Ijora bridge has eroded from wear and tear, exposing motorists to bumpy rides. It is high time we called out our leaders for their failure. We must hold Fashola to account using the same standards he set for others.

Fashola is in a unique position to help Lagos but he hasn’t done much in that direction. In March this year, Lagos formally accused Fashola’s Ministry of Works of sitting on its request to allow it carry out a total reconstruction of the Oshodi/Airport road. Can anyone out there spot the tragic irony here?
As a governor, he was always running his mouth about how the PDP was deliberately neglecting his “beloved Lagos” because it was then an opposition party state.

Fast forward 2017, this same Fashola as a federal minister was being accused of sitting on the progressive vision of Lagos by the Lagos State government for refusing to grant it permission to take over the reconstruction of Oshodi/Airport road.

The minister’s response to the allegation was not only telling but revealing. Here are excerpts: “The ministry has presented the memorandum conveying the request of the Lagos State government to the federal executive council as was done with a similar request by the Kaduna State government in 2016. Due to the fact that two of the roads also connect Ogun State, the federal executive council could not reach an immediate decision on them because it requested the input of the other state government…

“Federal executive council memoranda are debated and commented upon by all members and in cases of roads, surveys, maps and other materials have to be provided to assist members understand the location and connectivity of the roads, (in this case four roads), in order to assist how they vote on the memorandum.”

Frankly, it’s been a long time I saw such drivel written as an official government response to justify failure. The argument that two of the roads also connect Ogun State, it requested the input of the state, is an excuse to do nothing because it is neither rational nor logically persuasive. Where action and substance was needed, Fashola gave us a spectacle.

I am very convinced Lagos State will not embark on the construction of the section of the road that is outside its territory. Why does Ogun State have to be consulted before federal roads within Lagos are handed over to Lagos State, even if such roads connect Ogun? If Ogun is interested in constructing the section within its state, then let it apply to the federal government just like Lagos did, period!

Fashola went further in that statement to lecture the public on the “workings of government”, saying that it is an intricate sequence of processes, consultations and collaboration, even requiring a debate and voting to decide the fate of projects. “Equating processes with a lack of cooperation is therefore akin to creating a storm in a tea cup,” he said.

Can you believe that Fashola was the one lecturing us on the “workings of government”? He was telling Nigerians that members of the federal executive council would have to debate and vote on the memorandum on a matter as ordinary as granting permission to Lagos to reconstruct the airport road neglected for a long time by the federal government. Fashola was somewhat oddly boastful of his new-found knowledge of the “workings of government”. It was even implied in the statement that since it took 10 months for the federal government to reach a decision when the Kaduna State government applied for permission to take over two federal roads in the state, Lagos would probably have to wait for that length of time, or even longer, to also get a decision.

I must confess I am talking as one who doesn’t know the “workings of government” like Fashola. But 10 months or more to take a decision as routine as granting permission to a state to take over a federal road in such a disgraceful state is a general reflection of the lethargic decision-taking process of these self-righteous change agents. One can imagine the many critical issues waiting to be debated and voted by the federal executive council before decisions are taken. If you are looking for one more proof why the economy fell into recession, look no further.
Did members of the council need maps and surveys to understand the fierce urgency to fix that road – the international gateway into Nigeria? If yes, then shame on them all.

The question for Fashola is who in the federal executive council doesn’t know that the Lagos Oshodi/Airport road is a disgrace to Nigeria? Who in that council hasn’t passed through that road and let out a sigh of disappointment when returning from abroad at the state of the road? Maybe, the honourable minister has not.

Now that acting President Yemi Osinbajo has by executive order granted Lagos State permission to fix the road without Fashola’s drama, or strict adherence to “debate and vote” by council members, will it diminish or enhance the way government works? Did the acting president even review the maps and surveys before granting Lagos permission to reconstruct the road which had been awaiting debate and voting for months? Why didn’t the minister just write a recommendation to the president, with justification, seeking expeditious approval of the request by the Lagos State government? Would that not have been a more pragmatic approach?

What if the voting had taken place and gone against the request, does it mean the road would have been left in the same state of disrepair? Or perhaps, a narrower form of it which Fashola’s ministry had proposed would have been built? Who loses in such a scenario? Is it not ironic that under Fashola, access roads to two critical premier infrastructure – the international airport, Ikeja and Apapa and Tin Can ports – that investors need to do business are in an unpardonable state?

In the conundrum of what these people say and what they do, or lack of it, I probably may have lost my sanity to this season of anomie where one can hardly distinguish between facts and fiction, truths and falsehoods, realities and propaganda. In many great cities around the world, bridges and flyovers form the architectural allure that give urban landscapes character and form. With advancement in engineering possibilities and innovation in technology, designs have become more spectacular and ever more daring and aesthetically beautiful – a testament to a city’s progress. They have become the cynosure of all eyes. They receive regular checks and top-notch maintenance to keep them structurally fit and safe for vehicular traffic.

But here, the managers of our cities lack the maintenance culture. It is absolutely vexatious for our leaders to utter patriotic urgings to citizens of this country when they can’t fix such ordinary basic infrastructure as roads. Their appeal for understanding in the face of failure has become a constant irritation to us.

Many of us are even struggling to understand the motivation that drives our public officials, and what they mean when they exhort us to be patriotic and make sacrifices for the betterment of the collective. These officials of state usually regale the world at conferences – local and foreign – with tales of how opportunities abound here and the certainty of huge return on investments. They promise all sorts of enabling infrastructure to further the Ease of Doing Business for investors to risk their capital. It has become such a boring routine only meant for the cameras.

Let me send them a message if they claim not to know: No one takes them seriously anymore because nothing ever happens after the applause at the end of their posturing.