Lagos’ bubble burst – A new book says that claims that Lagos has been transformed by the current governor are overblown, writes Agozino Agozino.
Considering its status as the commercial nerve-centre of Nigeria, it is perhaps not surprising to the outsider when Lagos prides itself as a “centre of excellence” and a mega city in the making, or that the governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, should take the credit for it.
But a new book sensationally questions his achievements, accusing Fashola of lack of transparency in the state’s financial affairs. Written by Debo Adeniran, Lagos Open Parliament: The True State of Lagos by Lagosians chronicles tales of corruption in high places, nepotism and patronage during the seven years of the Fashola administration.
It also takes a swipe at Lagos’ much vaunted infrastructural regeneration and improved service provision, pointing out, for example, that the roads are full of potholes and schools lack basic equipment. Adeniran, who heads the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), argues that whatever good Fashola may have done, is far below whatever was promised during his two election campaigns.
‘The government of Fashola has been corrupt and deceptive, telling people what he thinks they want to hear instead of being accountable for his years of stewardship,’ he writes. “It is expected that any responsible government that is worth its onions should perform up to optimal level, based on the programmes with which it was elected. It is only when such government goes beyond its brief that it should expect commendation from the people.”
The book’s blurb states that CACOL and its partners decided to investigate what the governor has been up to because of the secrecy surrounding his administration. “We wrote to them [the Lagos State Government] under the Freedom of Information Act, with a view of getting their reaction to the corruption allegation levelled against them by a group called True Face of Lagos,” says the veteran human rights activist in the book. However, the government told CACOL that the Freedom of Information Act did not apply to Lagos State.
“In any democratic setting, government derives its existence, authorities and powers from the people. It is, therefore, presupposed to be answerable to the same people who, through their votes, have put it in charge of the affairs of the state or nation,” he adds.
Adeniran claims the governor has turned governance into a business venture by commercialising social services in the state: “Services that are supposed to be rendered as incentives to law-abiding citizens are turned into business ventures at exorbitant charges, beyond the reach of average citizens.”
The book also alleges that the Lagos State Government has become “the biggest omonile”, a term referring to questionable land grab practices: “Since assuming office, the administration has demolished Oshodi, Mushin and Tejuosho markets. It has taken over other available spaces where traders ply their trade and replaced them with structures, the cost of which is beyond the reach of the common man.”
It went a step further with its “anti-poor policies” with the banning of the iconic yellow molue transit buses and introducing more costly alternatives. Some of the new public transport buses are in an even worse state than the molue buses, Debo writes.
In the same vein Fashola has outlawed the 100cc okada (motorbike taxi) because it says the operators are reckless and use them to commit crime: “The administration says it will supply 200cc motorcycle, as if that will make the riders less reckless. In fact, the 200cc motorcycle will be a better tool in the hands of criminals because they are faster.”
Adeniran accuses the Fashola administration of listening more to its own voice and those of its praise singers than the voices of the people. According to him, ‘Any serious government must be sober enough to see beyond the cloud of assemblage of cronies, the see-no-evil, say-no-evil to power sycophants, whose job is to hold any government in power hostage, at its own pleasure for pecuniary interests.’
Hence the publication of Lagos Open Parliament, which is, in effect, a people’s forum where participants gather, exchange views, share their experiences and assess democracy in the state and its chief executive. In doing so it dismisses Fashola’s populist style as a slick public relations exercise designed to hoodwink a gullible public via clever use of the print and electronic media. According to the book, far from being a centre of excellence Lagos is not working at all.
“It is amazing that Lagos has capacity to become one of the greatest cities in the world. Yet, no one is bothering about the resources of the citizens, who are being taxed by the administration. What is the state doing to lift the poverty of the masses? What wealth and how many jobs are being created? What efforts have the state deployed to crystalise the private sector?” Debo remarks.
Under Fashola the local councils have become an economic drain, he claims. In any case, they are riddled with nepotism: “Instead of deploying the proceeds generated from state to productive ventures, our Lagos government has used it to finance themselves and their cronies. Yet, no one is bothered with the future of the state. All our dear Lagos government is interested in is to keep milking the wells of the people.”
He then lists the government’s expenditure, including N290m ($1.8m) on text messages to the public between January and June 2009; N5bn ($30.5m) on two helicopters “useless” for any kind of emergency or rescue operation; N13bn ($79m) wasted on the importation of palm trees from Niger, which all “dried up”, in addition to the disappearance of the N5.2bn from the sale of the Maiyegun scheme, 150 hectares of coastline and earmarked for tourism.
“If all the above and several other billions mismanaged and misappropriated, for which space cannot permit us [to enumerate], had been invested on education, healthcare facilities, roads and other critical infrastructures, Lagosians would have experienced real development and not scattered, isolated pieces of infrastructural window-dressing meant to bamboozle the general public, especially for electioneering purposes.”