Although quietly focused on his primary beat, Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, remains a star of this administration, writes Adedayo Akinwale.
Summing up his success as a Lagos governor in an interview with Graeme Blair at the National Academy of Public Administration, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, Princeton University, Babatunde Fashola was modest and forthright.
“I think it has been people, really: my team, the electorate, our political party leaders, all the people of Lagos State, who have given us their support without question,” said Fashola a couple of years to ending his second-term tenure.
“That really has been it. Of course, one must acknowledge—being a religious person, I believe that some of these things have divine intervention, and I think that God has been particularly faithful in steering one through, experiencing this very, very great privilege to lead a state like this.”
Born on June 28, 1963, in Lagos, Fashola will be 58 years old tomorrow. The current works and housing minister is an indefatigable technocrat and politician; suave and selfless; forthright and futuristic. A gamechanger, he hardly leaves anything to chance. Unhesitant, he ran with the dreams of transforming Lagos (that once cut the image of rot and decay) into a megacity with the foundation laid by his predecessor, Bola Tinubu.
Fashola adds panache to passion. He makes hard work to look like leisure. His mental and physical stamina have, over the years, remained strong. Though he will soon be two years short of clocking 60, it appears he is not interested in slowing down. His birthday will follow that of another former Lagos governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, his successor.
For eight years, Fashola governed Lagos with deliberate vigour, “under-promising” and “over-achieving.” Among his various achievements were tax and educational reforms. Fashola followed through on the Eko Mega City Project and cleaned up the otherwise intractable Oshodi area, notorious for high crime rates, grinding gridlock, and overcrowdedness.
The “biggest task” Fashola faced as a governor was his visionary project to transform Lagos into a megacity, the first of its kind in Lagos history. Although initialised under former governor Tinubu, in June 2002, the megacity project task accelerated under Fashola’s governorship. Both private and public sectors were involved in the project.
The crucial part of the megacity project is the rehabilitation of Lagos’ infrastructures and districts taken care of by the federal government until 1991. According to him, the Lagos Rail Mass Transit, proposed light railways would consist of the outskirt blue-line and inner red-line destinations. As part of the project, the Badagry Expressway, which links Lagos directly to the south-eastern border of Benin Republic, began witnessing rehabilitation, with BRT and railway networks established.
His other ambition was to recover lands at Victoria Island, lost to erosion for decades. This artificial terrain is the location of the then-proposed Eko Atlantic City, including a housing project that would accommodate up to 25 million Lagosians by 2015, a population growth from 15 million that could turn Lagos into the world’s third largest city.
In October 2009, Fashola posthumously dedicated a garden personally, in honour of the memory of the late professor Ayodele Awojobi at Onike Roundabout, Yaba, Lagos, with a statue of the famous academic erected at the centre. As a man with an expansive, philanthropic heart, Fashola, as soon as a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, launched an appeal to raise $1 million using the funds to assist the quake victims.
President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Fashola the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, newly created through an unprecedented consolidation of the three hitherto distinct ministries, on November 11, 2015. Fashola comes to the job with high acclaim as the immediate past governor of Lagos. Elected the 13th governor of the state on May 29, 2007, and overwhelmingly re-elected for a second term on April 26, 2011, his second term tenure came to a glorious end on May 29, 2015, with the swearing-in of Ambode. Currently, he is the works and housing minister.
Fashola was called to the Nigerian Bar in November 1988. He cut his teeth as a barrister in the law firm of Sofunde, Osakwe, Ogundipe, and Belgore, as a litigator specialising in chieftaincy matters, land disputes, intellectual property, commercial and criminal law. In August 2004, he became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Nigeria’s highest legal distinction. He is the first member of the 1988 Law School set to attain that legal status and the second University of Benin Faculty of Law graduate to be so honoured.
Throughout his tenure as Lagos governor from 2007 to 2015, Fashola demonstrated a commitment to excellence in public service and an uncommon dedication to his avowed pledge to lead the change that will transform Lagos into Africa’s model megacity. Both nationally and internationally, he was acclaimed as one of the bright hopes for the future of Nigeria and one of the very progressive Governors determined to reclaim Nigeria’s past glories through competent and transparent leadership.
His dogged pursuit of renewal of the infrastructure of Lagos as the critical strategy for economic growth and poverty alleviation won the State honours from as far away as Australia, where he was lauded for undertaking the fastest infrastructure renewal ever in Africa. Indeed, his unflagging spirit led the government to explode many negative myths about Lagos.
Fashola is the recipient of the prestigious Stephen J. Solarz Award of the International Crisis Group for 2015 for his commitment to building a peaceful and vibrant society and improving social and economic conditions in Lagos, including preventing the Ebola outbreak from becoming a crisis in Nigeria.
He was listed in 2014 as one of the 100 Top Global Thinkers for 2013 by a global personality assessment organisation, Lo Spazio della Politica (LSDP), based in Italy and Brussels. TIME Magazine has commended him for “the overhaul of Lagos infrastructure” while The Economist Magazine acknowledged him as “a rare good man” and a governor “who does his job well.”
He also won the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) 2011 Award for Commitment towards the global promotion of Public Transportation, among numerous others. In Nigeria, Fashola is the recipient of the popular Man of the Year Award of The Guardian (2009), The Vanguard (2009), The SUN (2009), the Champion (2010), and the City People (2012). He also received the Corporate Governance Award 2012 from the Governing Council of the Institute of Directors and was equally honoured the ‘Most Labour-friendly Governor’s Award 2012’ by the Lagos Zonal Council of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG).
At the 2014 Awards organised by the Newswatch Communications Limited, publishers of Newswatch Magazine and Daily Newswatch, Fashola won three Awards – Governor of the Year (Internal Revenue Generation); Governor of the Year (Internal Security), and Governor of the Year (Health).
In his days as governor, he served in various federal government ad hoc committees in different capacities. He was a member of the Presidential Committee on the Review of Tariffs charged with reviewing the current tariff structure and fiscal incentives in Nigeria, identifying barriers to investments, and recommending strategic initiatives that would promote foreign direct investment and ultimately stimulate economic growth.
Fashola was the chairman of the Governors’ Forum committees set up to formulate the rules and regulations guiding succession to the forum’s leadership. His role also included reviewing the revenue allocation formula for Nigeria and make appropriate recommendations by which state governments would engage critical stakeholders to find an equitable revenue formula for the country.
As chairman of the Strategy Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which drafted the party’s manifesto for the 2015 general election, Fashola also headed the Fund Raising Committee for the Buhari-Osinbajo Campaign Committee.
Fashola is a patron of the Institute of Arbitrators (CIA), a member of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and International Bar Association (IBA). He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) and notary public of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He is a recipient of several awards and certificates of merit. You can call him a legal practitioner, administrator, management consultant, and a detribalised Nigerian.
In 2009, then Plateau governor, Jonah Jang said of Fashola, “I must say here openly that, honestly speaking, I must rate you the best of us in terms of development.” Little wonder, his colleague governors called him the class captain or skippo.
Fashola has always stood for the best, with the best, and it is always about the people for him. At 58, the best interest he has for the people and Nigerians is a fire rekindled.