The Making of an Action Governor

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Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu

Segun James writes that his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lagos State has made a hero of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu

Usually, a honeymoon implies two people celebrating their mutual love and affection and avoiding crowds and other people as much as possible. So, it is in the Nigerian political firmament between the people and political officeholders as reality bites and everyone settles to regular everyday existence. Avoiding themselves.

But in today’s Lagos, the love affairs between Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the people is becoming long lasting. To the effect that the Governor is now being called “Action Governor.”

Lagosians don’t give this epithet out easily. It has to be earned. The last Governor who earned it was Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola. Before him, it was Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Brigadier Raji Rasaki, Brigadier Buba Marwa and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who also earned similar accolade.Today, Sanwo-Olu has joined the exclusive club of ‘action governors’ barely one year after assuming office.

When he entered the governorship race, his victory seemed assured given the power-block behind him. Soon after he was named the presumptive All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate for Lagos state, the opposition started calling him a stooge of the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. He was portrayed as a ‘yes-man’ who had nothing to offer the state. The opposition said that he will be governor in name only as the “real governor” will be the Asiwaju. He was given no chance.

For a state like Lagos that prides itself as the Centre of Excellence, it was not the smoothest of starts for Sanwo-Olu. As the days move into weeks, the people started to complain. He was accused not only of being slow but without any idea on how to move the state forward. To his critics, he was making their assessment of him come true. But when he finally found his rhythm, the Governor started receiving the accolade from Lagosians.

It is said that in life, the margin of victory can sometimes be measured in inches. That saying of the elders seems to have rang true in the life of Sanwo-Olu as in less than one year, he has proved his critics wrong that he is simply a pawn in the hands of a political chess master.

That was until he started fixing the roads. A simple task of filling the potholes on the roads of Lagos all of a sudden started making the difference in the traffic gridlock of the city-state. While many people expect him to announce a series of grandiose projects that will take years to complete and which have no bearing to the needs of the people, he simply started fixing potholes! And what a difference it made.

Not surprising, this simple action has eased the proverbial Lagos “go-slow” trafficjam. Not done, he opened up the waterways to marine transportation, a situation that help reduced pressure on the road and has helped many Lagosians to get to work on time. A simple solution to complex situation.

Another point that has helped endeared him to the people was that he never stopped work on any of the projects began by his predecessor, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode even as he returned contractors to projects embarked upon by Governor Babatunde Fashola that were abandoned by Ambode, a move that has ensured continuity in governance, something rare and unheard of in the country’s political system. Normally, what you hear is that all blames regarding financial atrocities bedeviling the state are heaped on the previous government.

But today, what has earned the Governor his epithet is his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic in the country. Few things command attention like a pandemic such as COVID-19. Just as the Ebola pandemic made Governor Fashola a national and international celebrity, COVID-19 has made Sanwo-Olu the rave of the moment.

Unusually, an impressed President Muhammadu Buhari, who is known for his taciturnity, moved by the actions of the governor had to donate to the Lagos State COVID-19 fund while heaping accolades on him.

As the Chief Incident Commander on the COVID-19 pandemic in the state, Sanwo-Olu took the battle against the disease head on. At the beginning of the pandemic in the country, only Lagos was ready with a standard facility to house victims.

Since the outbreak, he has increased the number of isolation centres in the state to eight, each with no less than 100 bed capacity. He updated the people daily on what is happening and what efforts the government is taking to manage it.

For his efforts, corporate organisations, individuals and the federal government have donated cash and medical materials to the government, all in appreciation of how Sanwo-Olu has handled the situation. He has since become a roll model for other Governors in the country.

In a country where titles are taken as a mark of achievements, Sanwo-Olu, a few months into his administration ordered that he should no longer be addressed as “His Excellency”, a title taken for granted by every other governor.

In a statement he personally signed, he said he should simply be addressed as ‘Mr. Governor’. He insisted that only God is excellent. This was another first among title loving Nigerian political office holders. At functions outside the state, when he is addressed as His Excellency, he is quick to correct it.

Sanyo-Olu lives by examples. After he flagged off the 40 kilometer Access Bank Lagos Marathon, he stopped his convoy at the Lagos Marina where he ordered his aides, top government functionaries and security details to jog alongside him on the 7 km road to the Eko Atlantic City terminal point for the marathon.

At the end, only him and a few security aides completed the exercise. Others fell by the waysides. As he jogged along the streets, he was greeted with applause and praises by impressed Lagosians who joined him on the trail.

As Lagos state comes out of a devastating lockdown ordered by the federal government over a month ago which has had a profound effect on the nation’s socioeconomic landscape, Sanwo-Olu continues to be a role-model.

Models simplify. They are supposed to. Their style may be complex, they deliberately leave out some things in order to focus on others. They also leave out factors that cannot be modeled satisfactorily. For Sanwo-Olu, his focus has been on governance instead of politics. It has paid off handsomely for him. And it has made a huge difference to the outcome.