20 March 2017

Nigeria: Is Fashola Representing Lagos?

MURTALA Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, Lagos, is Nigeria's number one gateway. Abuja may be the political capital of Nigeria, but Lagos remains the nation's alpha city; its economic melting pot, cultural epicentre and "Big Apple" (Governor Akinwunmi Ambode says 86 people enter Lagos every hour without intention to go back to where they came from).

If you want to get the first impressions of a country you are visiting, the place to start is the international airport. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, NAIAA, as small as it is, is a pride to the nation as you drive into the federal capital city. But MMIA Lagos is a shame of Nigeria. Woe betide you if you are coming to Nigeria for the first time and you land in MMIA at night. Apart from the poor air-conditioning, smelly toilets and scrappy furnishing, you get the shock of your life when you are driven out of the airport towards the town.

Once you are out of the immediate vicinity of the airport, you will zoom into a dark, narrow driveway just five hundred metres down the road. Fear will grip you as you remember stories of armed robberies, kidnapping (especially of expatriates) and 419 crimes that Nigeria is often infamous for around the world. This is unlike Abuja, whose wide boulevards of well-lit road networks prepare your mind for a city which is like others in the developed world.

For decades, the road from Oshodi to MMIA has remained neglected by the Federal Government which has the statutory franchise to construct and maintain it. The Federal Government has a very poor track record of maintaining its vast infrastructural possessions nationwide. Lagos, being the former political capital, obviously has the largest trove of Federal property compared to any other state. Therefore, Lagos suffers more than any other state in Federal neglect of its roads, ports, railways, military and police/security facilities, the Federal Secretariat, coastlines, waterways and what have you.

The MMIA access road stands out as a reference point of national disgrace because this is where visitors to Nigeria get their first impression of the country. In the past, the Lagos State Government, LASG, has always taken great comfort in heaping the blame for the neglect of this corridor on the doorsteps of the Federal Government because the state had always been ruled by political parties that were in opposition to the parties in power at the centre. Former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, took great pleasure in castigating the Goodluck Jonathan regime for federal neglect, even though that regime made more effort than any other government past and present (since the seat of government moved to Abuja) to reconstruct expired Federal roads in and around the metropolis (especially the Apapa - Oshodi Express).

From May 29th 2015, the story changed. The All Progressives Congress , APC, took over power in Abuja. For the first time in history, Abuja and Lagos came under the same political party control. It was not a coincidence at all. The APC was a political party successfully forged with the active effort of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the father of contemporary Lagos politics.

Tinubu also played decisive roles in giving the presidential ticket of the APC to Muhammadu Buhari whom he later co-sponsored to emerge as the elected President of Nigeria. In recognition of this contribution, Buhari conceded the Vice Presidency to Tinubu and picked Tinubu's godson-turned-rebel, Fashola (a Lagos indigene and its two-term Governor) to man the most strategic infrastructure-related portfolio: Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (PWH). The perfect stage was set for Lagos to receive a major lifeline in infrastructural revival from Abuja, or so it seemed.

However, that has not happened. Fashola appears to be keeping his native Lagos State at arm's length. Fashola has been in office as the PWH Minister for sixteen months, and not a single bulldozer belonging to the Federal Government has set wheel on any patch of Lagos. Instead, we see his ministry very active on the Lagos - Ibadan Express to complete the reconstruction which was started by the immediate past regime.

One would have thought that by now, work would have resumed in the reconstruction of the Lagos - Oshodi - Oworonshoki Express which Jonathan took from Tin Can Island to Cele Bus Stop before he was voted out. It took the noble response of Governor Ambode for the collapsed section of the road at the Berlet/Ilasa stretch to be restored for easy motoring.

The Apapa - Oshodi Express is not just another road. It is the nation's most important economic highway because this road leads to Nigeria's two major seaports at Apapa and Tin Can, from where we derive our largest non-oil revenues. This is the nation's main import-export corridor, where trailers, oil tankers and trucks from all over Nigeria come to cart away cargoes to the hinterland. It houses at least, five industrial estates, numerous tank farms and media houses.

With Abuja and Lagos now under one political "umbrella", you would expect that the old demons that made it impossible for this road to be unblocked for easy economic activities would be laid to rest, more so as a son of Lagos is in charge of road infrastructure. But that has not happened. Instead, Fashola, the Minister representing Lagos in Buhari's cabinet, is alleged to have become a stumbling block even in the voluntary efforts by Governor Ambode to shoulder some of the Federal Government's financial burdens.

Ambode last week told newsmen that Fashola's Ministry of Power, Works and Housing was "frustrating" his efforts to reconstruct the Oshodi - MMIA road into a 10-lane marvel, which the Lagos State House of Assembly has already approved and appropriated financing for. Even the Presidential Lodge in the Lagos Marina, which President Buhari promised to hand over to Lagos six months ago, has not been accessed because of difficulties the Governor laid at the doorsteps of Fashola's Ministry.

Fashola, however, has denied being a stumbling block as charged. In a sharp repartee after Ambode's media allegations, he said the Lagos State Government's requests were still undergoing due processes. Could it be that this "process" is so slow because of problems back home between Fashola and his estranged political parents? Supposed President Buhari wakes up tomorrow to reshuffle his cabinet and Fashola finds himself reposted to where he can no longer be directly useful to Lagos or even sacked, what will he tell his people that he did during the time he occupied the juiciest ministerial position in Abuja?

Fashola's explanation is not enough. He is sitting in his exalted office in the name of Lagos State. He is expected to push for Lagos to have its share of the nation's commonwealth, more so, as the state is the non-oil revenue powerhouse of the economy and the nation's Big Apple. Lagos is not reaping the benefits of the alliance that produced the Buhari regime, and the fault may not be that of a President Buhari who is willing to cede the Presidential Lodge and the National Stadium (among others) to the Lagos State Government.

We know there is a huge rift between Fashola and the political stable that produced him and made him governor for eight years in Lagos. This much was evident in the fact that Governor Ambode, early in the day, allowed information about alleged corrupt deals under Fashola's watch to be leaked, thus nearly truncating the latter's screening as a ministerial nominee at the Senate.

Fashola should use his privileged position to benefit his people rather than offer mere excuses. He should fight for Lagos. A fight for Lagos is a national fight because virtually every Nigerian is a Lagos stakeholder. Power is transient; it can come to an end suddenly. All eyes are on him.

When it comes to issues that will benefit the generality of the people, politicians should learn to bury their petty differences and work together. They can always go back to their quarrelling after.

Nigeria

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