This Day (Lagos)

20 November 2012

Nigeria: What's Fashola Got to Do With It?

opinion

Smarting from the humiliation suffered in the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State, there is a growing perception now that the popularity rating of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), may have further depleted as a result of some of the policy initiatives of the Governor Babatunde Fashola-led government in Lagos State, being the party's poster state. Ironically, such misconception shares no bearing with the reality in the state, writes Olawale Olaleye

The defeat suffered by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State is obviously devastating. The effect is yet to wear off and of course, not in a hurry. That it also came at a most inauspicious time is another misfortune the party has had to deal with. For a long time, ACN will ponder this experience, perhaps, without genuinely dissecting and analyzing what went wrong and why. For reasons not unconnected with ego and self aggrandizement, the quintessential ACN will never admit to poor assessment or inaccurate projection into the Ondo political scenery.

Ironically, an ugly side to the Ondo rejection of ACN is the growing tendency to generalize the ignominious rebuff. The fact that governorship election is due in both Osun and Ekiti States by 2014 appears to have provided the platform to spreading the hate game. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the development has further unearthed the level of resentment that the political audience has nursed against the nation's main opposition party, majority of which is hinged on alleged pseudo-progressivism.

But as the hate campaign progressed, Lagos, from all indications, seems the ultimate target. And because it is critical to the nation's economic entity, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any other political party at that would give anything just to have Lagos. Indeed, like some had noted, with Lagos in the hands of the opposition, the ACN can have the rest of the states in the region.

But the much coveted state is not in the hands of an archetypal politician. From the first day he resumed at his desk, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, was neither cynical about his attitude to work nor mealy mouth on his mission in office. He has a goal and it is to live the dream of Lagos as a mega city and whatever this would take, he would give. While his party sometimes indulges in seedy politics, he remained undistracted in his grit to deliver. "I'm an administrator", he often notes, pulling bank from the brink of politics.

His mark as a distinctive administrator was soon underscored by the clearing of Oshodi in the early part of his first time in office. The old Oshodi which featured a series of glitches that were elevated as standard is today history. Typical of life in the jungle, traders had converted the rail track to stalls where different wares were displayed even as thugs reigned supreme with incessant violent clashes that further made that part of the state dreaded. The highway, particularly, was a no-go-area. It was shutdown with filth as its insignia.

Fashola, however, changed the story. He waltzed his way through the illegal blockages and paved the way for a fresh breath on the otherwise dead dual carriageway. That 'mean' but developmental move ended many years of pains suffered on that road. Suffice it to say that the governor naturally came under intense attacks from sympathizers of the "displaced traders"; today, virtually every progressive-minded resident of the state has a word of prayer for the governor on his mission in Oshodi.

Despite this, the reality that establishes and affirms any mega city status is huge and cumbersome. This is identifiable more by how well organized is the transportation system of such cities. Much as the Fashola administration has continued to invest in the transportation sector of the state, of particular concern has been the need for basic laws and order to firm up that sector and by extension, other critical spheres of the system.

While the problem has really not been that of lack of laws or relevant legislations to guide in different areas, the question of enforcement and compliance have remained crucial. This is why Fashola is believed to have stepped up the campaign for a new Lagos of law and order, bearing in mind the overall effect of an organized society. Thus, the need for laws that will ensure safety of the environment as well as maintenance of such infrastructure became sacrosanct.

Since coming into office, the Fashola-led administration has executed several road rehabilitation projects while many road expansion projects are still ongoing in different parts of the state. The creation of Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), which had recorded successes in delivering the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Scheme thereby affording Lagos commuters access to a better bus transport system in the state is noteworthy.

To compliment the BRT Scheme is the rapid rail transit system. The need for this is pivotal because of decades of neglect of the Nigerian rail system. LAMATA has consequently developed a Rail Master Plan with an extensive network of rail lines connecting different parts of Lagos and will be implemented by Public Private Partnership arrangement (PPP) initiative.

This framework, informed sources said, would provide passenger rail services on the most heavily travelled corridors in the state with Red and Blue Lines being developed already. While the two lines will be developed on a PPP basis, government will provide the requisite infrastructure.

Also, as part of moves to addressing the transportation challenge in the state, government is making effort to accelerate inter-modal transportation through the extensive use of the state's waterways. As a result of this, Fashola was recently in far-away Brisbane, Queensland in Australia to sign a Ferry Manufacturing Agreement for the state, between Aluminium Boats Company of Brisbane and a consortium of water transportation practitioners, Eko Water Buses Limited.

The Agreement signing event which was reportedly preceded by an inspection and a ride on one of the prototype ferries, being manufactured for the State, by Fashola and his entourage, is for the initial batch of 60 ferries each with a 200 passenger capacity to be deployed on various routes. The ferries, reports say, look like water buses because of their passenger carrying capacity.

The inspection and agreement signing also followed another Memorandum of Understanding between the Lagos State Government, represented by the Private Public Partnerships Office and the Lagos State Waterways Authority, LASWA and the consortium, Eko Water Buses Limited. With the Agreement and production schedule, five more of the purpose built and fully fitted high capacity ferries will be deployed by this December, making a total of six.

Expectedly, more attention is accorded road transportation because of its importance in the scheme of things. Hence, the recent regulation of the operations of the motor-cyclists popularly known as Okada through an act of the state House of Assembly is a part of the whole. Side-by-side with this is the ongoing retraining exercise of men of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to enhance investment in that area of transportation.

Since the outcry that trailed the Okada episode is believed in many quarters as being politically instigated, it is yet to be seen how the clearly progressive policies of the state would turn out to be the party's undoing in the entire region. To say that the Lagos Governor remains the poster boy of the party therefore means the Okada debacle may as well remain a distraction that is yet to be dignified with any serious attention, observers have noted. Others have also argued that if ensuring sanity through laws and order is what is being interpreted as depriving people of their means of livelihood and a minus for the party, it is not enough for any serious and forward-looking government to lose its sleep.

As the administration marked its 2000 days in office last Sunday, there are increasing concerns about the enforcement of the laws, especially given the excessive and sometimes, high-handedness of the police and their allies, such cannot form the basis to jettison what is right, more so that if the enforcement fails, the whole essence of introducing sanity into the system has failed.

It is therefore expected that as the situation stabilizes through the now 'forced enforcement' since the plea for compliance has failed; curtailing the excesses of the security agencies would be inevitable. That way, both the government and the people would have won on each side without a winner or loser. But the political misreading, observers say, will never fly.

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