Lagos State has always been a unique state in the history of Nigeria. Apart from being the very first port of call where slaves were shipped to the western world from Africa, it is today Africa’s most populous and rapidly expanding city. The first mega-city on the continent of Africa. In terms of political leadership, it has never been found wanting. Very few states in Nigeria could compete with Lagos in terms of producing “action governors”. Mobolaji Johnson did not share in this dubious appellation, but he held Lagos like a colossus. His words were almost law in those dizzy days of Yakubu Gowon. Raji Rasaki was, of course, the most “actionful” of the action governors. With his total disregard for the basic tenets of the English language, not borne out of contempt but basic illiteracy, this wonderful man from Ibadan, entertained and performed in Lagos. Lateef Jakande, who could be considered in those days (before the era of his sudden turn-coat) as one of Nigeria’s untapped revolutionaries, was almost a colossus in this unique state. He brought, arguably, unfettered radicalism to education and health in the state. Many Lagosians today, nay Nigerians, are grateful to the policies in education initiated by this radical politician. Then came the era of our Lagos “serubawon”, the man from Osun state who found political fortune and dominion in Lagos state. There is no need for further introduction. I am referring to the one and only Bola Tinubu of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and lately Action Congress (AC) fame. To date, Lagos remains firmly in the grip of this flamboyant but rather evasive politician. And to Bola Tinubu remains the honour and glory for the current occupant of the government house at Ikeja.
Babatunde Fashola, the Senior Advocate of Naira (sorry, Nigeria) remains a very interesting study in the history of political leadership in Nigeria. Here is a man who came in quietly into power but unlike the usual phenomenon in our dear country, remains faithful to his benefactor. He continues to maintain admirably personal qualities as demonstrated by his refusal to be bogged down with our craze for titles. To this day, he remains Mr Babatunde Fashola, not Chief, Otunba, Okanlomo or what have you. In terms of policy initiations and executions, he maintains perseverance mostly bothering on rigidity and stubbornness. His determination and zeal to transform Lagos to a mega city is almost maniacal, while rigidly focussed on demolishing houses and social infrastructures to create space for industry and other things, remain short on compassion and understanding of the sufferings of the people and the historical significance of Lagos to a lot of Nigerians. He continues with his personal vision of what Lagos should be and refuses to dilute this vision by reasonable inputs from concerned Nigerians. Babatunde Fashola is a phenomenon that is yet to completely unfold in Lagos. Another of the action governors, albeit a rather non-boisterous one.
However, at a recent appreciation dinner for a group of Nigerians under the aegis of Eko Club, who were on a medical mission to Nigeria, something went out of colour as far as the Fashola we knew was concerned. Fashola, on this occasion, charged Nigerians in the Diaspora to return home. On this surface of it, there is nothing presumably wrong with this call. This is a call that has almost turned to a sing-song in our country. Every Nigerian politician mouths this sentence to achieve relevance, especially when on foreign visits. Recently, our dear go-slow president, Yar’adua, came to Britain and spoke in the same vein. When they talk this way, one gets the impression that it is only Nigerians in Diasporas who could solve the ever-multiplying problems of the country. In this presumably champagne-laden ceremony, the Nigeria Tribune newspaper reported Fashola as saying that:
“It would be a great disservice to the fatherland if Nigerian professionals would stay abroad while the country seeks elsewhere for the services which they could easily provide.”
Noting that some Nigerians abroad sometimes hide behind the argument that there might not be anything for them to do in the country if they returned, Fashola said “it is no excuse to ask us what you would do when you come back home because there was no promise when you left the country.
“I recommend to all Nigerians in the Diaspora, the time to come back home is now. The Asians are going back home. No one else can fix this country for us. We had a choice also, we could have left, but we stayed back”.
The essences of political leadership are demonstrable actions backed up by motivating speeches. In this regard, Fashola was in tune with the general clarion call for Nigerians to return home. However, in his usual frank manner, he went further and touched on that particular topic that others have beautifully skirted or completely left untouched. That is the issue, amongst others, of what to do on returning home. What to do to maintain economic prosperity and keep body and soul together. This, as it is generally known, is one thing Nigeria has no answer for. It is true that many Nigerians, professionals and all have left home. It is equally true, that many Nigerians, professionals and all still remain at home. Every year, the numerous Nigerians universities churn out graduates in various disciplines. It is not as if Nigeria is in dire need of professionals, the question is, what have we done with those who remain at home? Nigerians scramble for the few available jobs and most times, such have been shared on political, family and other connections. This is not to disregard the fact that many Nigerians in the Diaspora would simply be unemployable by virtue of the fact that the country has not yet advanced to the level of providing jobs at their level. Nigerians function at high scientific and technological set-ups of most western countries and the United States.
It is the simple, one-statement answer that Fashola has for these groups of Nigerians that is very disturbing – “it is no excuse to ask us what you would do when you come back home because there was no promise when you left the country”. Pretty amazing coming from a political leader. Someone who by virtue of his position could be a catalyst for job creation and technological advancement of his state and country. This sort of statement makes one wonder why one was born a Nigerian. To Fashola, the call to return home is simply just that – come home, do not bother about gainful employment, just return and join the melee! Was this rather dry call a way of further inflating the burgeoning Nigerian population? Nigerians left the country precisely because of lack of promise for their future. They left because the country could not guarantee social security and economic prosperity. The problems that warranted Nigerians leaving in droves still persist, if not multiplied. And by the statement of this governor, the political will to tackle these problems is still missing. Fashola threw a dry and insulting gauntlet to Nigerians in Diaspora and this fact should be made clear in no small terms to him.
The tirade did not stop there and I quote again: “I recommend to all Nigerians in the Diaspora, the time to come back home is now. The Asians are going back home. No one else can fix this country for us. We had a choice also, we could have left, but we stayed back”. To the statement that Asians are returning home, I must say that I do not have the studies, research or facts to counter this. What is of concern here is the egregious statement that he (Fashola) had the choice of leaving the shores of Nigeria but decided to stay. Perhaps, if most Nigerians who left had the possibility of being a Senior Advocate or even a state governor combined, many would definitely have stayed! It is so easy to sit on a glass throne and preach sanctimonious nonsense to the people. By this unguarded statement coming out of a state governor, one wonders what the stakes are for this country. Fashola unwittingly touched a raw nerve by this bland and insensitive call. I can boldly say this, given a conducive and right climate in Nigeria, there would be very few Nigerians left abroad.
Nigeria is a country in throes of political mismanagement and confusion, economic mismanagement and instability writhing in the grips of armed robbers who have made life unbearable for the citizens. Only this morning, I commiserated with my in-laws who luckily survived brutal and agonising armed robbery attack at Abeokuta. They are still battling with the aftermath of this insidious attack, what is known in medical parlance as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The town is in the grips of a particular hooded group of night marauders whose various descriptions are well known to the police. The Nigeria Police Farce (sorry, Force) as expected, feels incapable of tackling this menace. Citizens are left to prayers as otherwise security measures that could have been utilised are rendered useless by the incessant interruption of power supply in the country. The problems with armed robbers are general in the country and our police force that has been prolific at demoting out-of-favour officers could hardly do anything. No government, whether state or federal, has seriously sat down to tackle this social menace.
Nigerian roads are death traps. So many lives have been lost on the death contraptions called roads. At the end of the day, the national assembly was informed that billions of naira was spent on constructing and maintaining these monstrosities. Life remains very cheap and almost meaningless in our dear country. If one does not die on Nigerian roads, the likelihood is that armed robbers may attack and kill one in the sanctuary of one’s house. This is the Nigeria Fashola is asking us to return to. If for a while, one is lucky to escape from these waiting tragedies, getting a meaningful job to keep one going is an impossible task. The nation rolls from one story of massive corruption to another. Fellow Nigerians, I can go and on. The country rumbles on like a rudderless ship without a captain. It is thus odious for Fashola to enjoin us to return to Nigeria without thinking of what do on returning. If he had meant to paraphrase the popular American saying: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, then his statement was misplaced and came at a time when we felt the country should have gone further than it is. What can we do for Nigeria? What have we been allowed to do for Nigeria?
I have said my bit. It is now over to fellow Nigerians outside the shores of the fatherland. Nigeria is a country we all love (presumably). It is a country I personally missed so much. Nevertheless, I keep on wondering whether it is right for me to be true to my conscience and labour where I stand to reap the reward, than to demonstrate false “petro-patriotism or crude-patriotism” in the midst of abiding poverty and joblessness. I wonder if my choice of seeking economic, social and intellectual emancipation and social security elsewhere from my fatherland is wrong. I wonder if I should just pack my bags and hop into the next plane to honour Governor Fashola’s clarion call.