Babajide Sanwoolu, the Lagos State governor-elect and some of the other governors-elect across the country have been busy making promises and beating their chests out of what seems like an epileptic fit of triumphalism. I urge caution. The new wife is always tempted to put down the old wife – that is what African tradition and culture tells us and in modern politics or what we call democracy, this anthropological and cultural side of our nativist politics often shows up to remind us of the residual character of African democracy. But in the long run, the old ends up looking like the new in emergent African democracies because of the putative nature of our democratic institutions, the inchoateness of African states and institutions, the depressing crisis of democratic governance and the problematic recruitment of leadership across Africa. We are beginning to see a little of that after the 2019 general elections in Nigeria and I think concerned stakeholders should pay attention, and use some of the indications for the mapping and analysis of future outcomes.
Whatever may have brought Babajide Sanwoolu to power (still under investigation), he and others in his situation should be governed or guided by the Chinua Achebe paradigm that those whose palm kernels were crushed for them by benevolent gods should learn to be humble. I see a trend: the newly elected Governors replacing the incumbents who lost out in the power game have been behaving as if they are wiser and smarter. They should be reminded that that was exactly how their would-be predecessors behaved when they displaced the incumbents that were once in office. Even at the Presidential level, those who voted for President Muhammadu Buhari thought that under his watch, the Goodluck Jonathan administration will be put to shame and that Nigeria would fare better. The indicators have shown that Nigerians were much better off under Jonathan, but I will not comment further on this, and hence return promptly to the focus of this commentary.
Sanwoolu, the Governor-elect of Lagos State has been quoted making many promises, after the 2019 election in the spirit of the triumphalism of the moment. He says for example that he will employ graduates as BRT drivers and pay them N100, 000 as salary. Sanwoolu was speaking to his former classmates – the Executive Master of Business Administration class, University of Lagos, 1998/2000 set. He was asked questions by his own former classmates and all he could offer were promises. His incoming government will do this. And will do that. That is what most of these newly-elected Governors and legislators across the country have been doing. They are ever-ready with poorly considered, formulaic responses. Sanwoolu wants to pay drivers N100, 000? Has he checked whether or not the state can afford to do so?
At the same event, Sanwoolu boasted that he would put an end to the traffic gridlock on the Apapa expressway within 60 days of his inauguration. He should be careful about what he promises. One of his predecessors, as Lagos Governor, Babatunde Fashola once boasted when President Jonathan was in office, that the problem of electricity supply in Nigeria could be solved within six months. God decided to put him on the spot. He has been Minister of Power for four years. He has not been able to solve the same problem. In fact, he has been having problems with the private sector stakeholders who now play a dominant role in the electricity sector. They don’t see eye to eye, in a manner of speaking. Elected and appointed persons should learn to moderate their enthusiasm.
Babajide Sanwoolu represents a known type. The ambitious triumphalists of the psot-2019 general election in Nigeria believe, or perhaps they assume that they represent a new type, but they are at best products of an established stereotype: the same comprador-bourgeoisie responsible for the capture of the Nigerian state. But as Governor-elect of Lagos state, I want to give Babajide Sanwoolu of Lagos State a benefit of the doubt. For this reason: I served with him as a pioneer member of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (2007 – 2011). Governor Babatunde Fashola was our appointor. Mr. Remi Makanjuola of Caverton Helicopters, was our Chairman. Mr Fola Arthur-Worrey, former Solicitor-General of Lagos State was the Executive Secretary of the Board. It was our remit to build the foundation of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund. That remit was based on a foundation of service and contribution. Nobody on that board ever collected a penny for serving on it. Governor Fashola did not offer a penny and we too did not ask. We had a meeting over whether or not we should collect sitting allowances.
We all resolved that we did not need sitting allowances. When we held meetings, Mr Fola Arthur Worrey and Mr Makanjuola did not offer us refreshment or lunch. The Trust Fund could not afford it. We could not in good conscience ask the private sector and other stakeholders to donate vehicles and funds for the security of the people of Lagos State and use part of that money to have lunch. Babajide Sanwoolu was one of those members who supported the Chairman, Mr Makanjuola and the Executive Secretary, Fola Arthur-Worrey. He clearly understood the meaning of service and responsibility.
We were all glad to serve under the leadership of Mr. Makanjuola, and happy not to use donated funds for lunch or sitting allowances. We used the donated funds to build an emergency and command centre at Alausa, to launch an emergency distress number and to provide vehicles and other facilities for the Navy, the military, the Police, neighbourhood vigilante groups and the civil defence forces in Lagos in the best interest of the people of Lagos state. We all made the sacrifice together and Sanwoolu was part of our team. Before then, he had served as Special Adviser and Commissioner within the Lagos State establishment and he would thereafter serve in other capacities in government.
I bring this up out of the belief that Sanwoolu who has been part of the Lagos government since he was brought into the picture, from banking to public service, would remain committed to higher goals and the values of integrity. He must therefore see the need to refrain as he prepares for his inauguration on May 29 as Governor from making empty promises. He should know that he cannot fix the Apapa traffic gridlock in 60 days! He is not a professional politician. He should resist the temptation to talk like one. He must also know that the media will call him to account and will double check. His public communication managers must advise him not to make promises that he cannot keep.
As Governor of Lagos State, Sanwoolu must also resist the temptation to hound his predecessor, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. Ambode may not be so politically astute, he being a thoroughbred technocrat, but he does not deserve the punishment and the betrayal that he has experienced. Ambode was my colleague as a US Fulbright scholar- specifically the Hubert Humphrey Programme in the United States about two decades ago. The motto of the programme is: “an individual can make a difference.” There is no doubt in my mind that Governor Ambode of Lagos State has made a difference in Lagos State and in other areas of engagement. We are proud of him and I am sure the constituencies that he belongs to as a scholar and technocrat will be pleased that he has given a good account of himself. His contributions to Lagos state cannot be erased. He may have made some mistakes. Sanwoolu should not allow himself to be used as an instrument to humiliate him or embarrass him as he steps out of office.
But while I have used Sanwoolu as an exemplar of the kind of promises we have been having from new Governors or even by extension, legislators-elect (one legislator-elect has promised to turn his constituency into a version of Heaven – but how, please?, how? – these shameless liars! ), it is noteworthy that even out-going Governors have been been behaving badly and making unreasonable promises. What they could not achieve in four, eight years, some of these defeated or outgoing Governors have been talking about. You know the Governors of Oyo, Ogun and Bauchi states for example. In Oyo state, Ajumobi has had the effrontery of insisting that he is the best thing that ever happened to Oyo State. In Ogun State, Governor Ibikunle Amosun has set up an official web of conspiracy around the in-coming Governor Dapo Abiodun. I have written a piece on this previously. What I got in response was an insulting and disrespectful rejoinder. I am sure Governor Ibikunle Amosun and I will sooner or later meet at a level that is beyond politics, because when he is no longer Governor, and he is no longer in a place to deploy aides to insult me, it will be clear to him that I offered an informed and honest opinion. In due course, everything will fall into place, beyond the larger politics of Nigeria.
But back to Nigeria, the worst of them of all is the departing Governor of Imo State. His name is Rochas Okorocha. He too, behaving like “the constituted authority of Oyo State” has been busy boasting that he, Rochas has achieved everything and there is nothing for his elected successor, Emeka Ihedioha to achieve anymore. We are told that the only thing left for Ihedioha to achieve is to complete a building Rochas Okorocha is yet to complete because Okrorcha has already done everything! Does that make sense? Okay, may be what is left is for Emeka Ihedioha to erect a statue of Rochas Okorocha as a befitting recognition of the legacy of a man who turned lifeless statues into a symbol of statecraft.
I sympathize with the people of Imo State. And I jubilate with them. If indeed Owelle Rochas Okorocha made that statement, and he has not deemed it necessary to deny it, then nobody needs to be told that the people of Imo State made a good decision voting for Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). If I may be allowed to be partisan for a few minutes, Emeka Ihedioha is one of our own. He is a journalist. He left the newsroom and went into politics. He ended up as a Member of the House of Representatives and as deputy Speaker of that House. He has led some of the progressive causes in the making and re-making of Nigeria since 1999, and in his constituency, the media constituency, we are very proud of him and his achievements. He is a symbol and a representative for the Nigerian media community. He shares that distinction with Bala Muhammed, the Governor-elect of Bauchi state, who is also a journalist. Bala Muhammed has been a Senator of the Federal Republic. He has served as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. He did his best as Minister. He was efficient and reasonable. But he has been much maligned by the authorities, and those committed to their own selfish interests. He has now been validated and vindicated by his own people who have moved him from grass to glory by voting for him as Governor.
Here is my post-election, preliminary analysis, in this regard, in no way exhaustive or definitive- one of a series – It seems to me that most of our newly-elected representatives, Governors-elect and legislators- elect do not have any idea about democracy or the assignment that lies ahead of them and the out-going elected representatives are mentally blocked about the privileges that they have enjoyed. They are committed to their own personal interests, not the common good. The Governors just want to govern. They talk without thinking. They have no real plans. They just want power. About two or four exceptions perhaps, but for the most part, Nigerians should be concerned about this revelation. We are likely to get the same of the same. But it would help if the elected persons ahead of their inauguration, try to be sensible enough not to behave badly or make unintelligent statements or such political speech that cast doubts on their eligibility for office. They will destroy their own credibility by so doing. And it would help a great deal more if departing Governors and legislators-elect can just keep quiet too, and focus more on the common good. The election was bad enough. They should not make things worse by showing so early in the day that the people made mistakes.
– Abati is a journalism scholar