Africa Focus 2010
The African Caucus Of The John F. Kennedy School Of Government, Harvard University
Reimagine, Redefine, Reinvent: A new Paradigm for Africa’s Leaders – The Lagos Experience of Challenges and Opportunities for Transformation
I would like to thank the Africa Caucus of the Harvard Kennedy School for inviting me. I do so first because it is appropriate courtesy and secondly and most importantly because I am truly appreciative of the kindness of this gesture.
The enormity of my appreciation will be better understood when one realizes that I have only run a Government of a sub-national for barely 3 (three) years on a continent where there is no debate about the need for leadership as the critical defining element for change.
To be invited to speak about leadership, with no experience, in an institution that has become globally acclaimed for producing some of the world’s greatest leaders is a profound honor for the Government and people of Lagos State whom I serve and on whose behalf I thank you very much.
Before I proceed further, I think it is appropriate that I issue a caveat here; that while I am happy to be here, I cannot take responsibility for bringing myself here and whatever inadequacies you encounter, the Africa Caucus of Harvard Kennedy School must take responsibility for taking a chance on a Governor with barely 3 (three) years experience. However, I will not abandon my obligation and will take the fullest responsibility for what I say.
My presentation requires me to speak around the theme: Reimagine, Redefine, Reinvent: A new Paradigm for Africa’s Leaders; with the view to highlighting the socio-cultural, political and economic realities in Africa today by discussing challenges and opportunities involved in the governance of a State like Lagos and to share the most significant constraints with a hope to providing lessons for future leaders.
The story of how I became the Governor of Lagos State is one of the most profound experiences of my life. It validates the scriptures that God, in whom I absolutely have faith, is a miracle worker and that power truly belongs to him.
It would be an appropriate subject for a book and therefore cannot be discussed within the time I have been allotted to speak.
However, no precision in star gazing or clairvoyance could have foretold it as I was the most unlikely person within myself and to unbiased observers. I dislike Government and public service as a young man to my regret and I am now wiser.
Immediately after my call to the bar after completing my professional training in the Nigerian Law School, I was posted to the Ministry of Justice in the old Bendel State in Nigeria’s Niger Delta area in 1988.
For 3 (three) days, nobody could assign me a desk or a responsibility because the Solicitor General was away on an official assignment that took her out of the State. When she returned my mind was made up that that was not the place I wanted to start my professional career. I was adamant and she let me go to a private law firm which was legitimate even though at that time I had no placement with any firm but ultimately secured one.
After that year of compulsory national service, my father had concluded arrangements with his friend in a public parastatal of the Federal Government but I refused even though I had no job.
I went job hunting on my own until I got another law firm and remained in private legal practice from 1989 until 2002 when my immediate predecessor, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who had been elected as Governor of Lagos State on Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999 demanded that I come to serve as his Chief of Staff in 2002, to replace the then incumbent Chief of Staff who was leaving to seek elective office in another State.
I was retained as Chief of Staff when Governor Tinubu was re-elected for another 4 (four) year term in 2003 and as he served out his term, I was preparing to return to private law practice having worked at least 14 hours every day for four and half years; at the time 15 (fifteen) candidates, 11 (eleven) of them from within the cabinet were jostling to succeed him.
I was not one of them, I was not interested in politics even though I enjoyed what I was doing, rebuilding our State after many years of neglect and lack of development. I was content to have been a member of the team that started what I thought was an audacious reversal of negative fortunes of underdevelopment.
He had consulted me on the choice of a candidate and I had offered my advice as to who I thought merited the privilege of his endorsement which was and remains a huge political capital because, he had always been a much loved grassroot politician and given the mass appeal of the Party at the time, it was easy to guess that the candidate he endorsed was almost inevitably going to be elected.
He confounded me when he called me to his house one morning after shockingly broaching the subject on the telephone and I had evaded giving a response, to ask me if I would run as Governor. I told him I did not desire to be Governor, as I had seen him suffer at close quarters. His response was that this was an assignment and he was speaking as my boss. So began my journey to my first ever election of any type.
My nomination broke the party, a new one was formed, compromises were sought and achieved, we confronted the opposition parties and we won with 828,484 votes with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd runners up scoring 389,088, 114,557 and 29,836 votes respectively.
In terms of a vision, it is difficult for me to state that this was my vision. In my time as Chief of Staff, I have been involved as a cabinet rank officer in the debates and formulation of policies for the development of the State. We had evolved what we called the 10 (ten) Point Agenda addressing Security, Agriculture, Education, Healthcare, Housing, Environmental Sustainability, Poverty Alleviation, Transportation, Financial independence of the State, and because I was persuaded by the quality of what we had collectively articulated, I resolved that it fairly captured the challenges being faced globally by City-State and national leaders, it was therefore not necessary to re-invent the wheel.
After that discussion with my predecessor and my acceptance of the assignment, I took a week off from work with a copy of the 10 (ten) Point Agenda which had become a State Policy, our Party’s manifesto and a Charter of Objectives of the Millennium Development goals.
I locked myself in and wrote in long hand, what I thought should be done in respect of each sector and resumed work on the 6th November, 2006 to type it out. When I finished typing it, I drafted a resignation letter and went to my boss’s office to hand him both documents, making sure I put the resignation letter on top.
He was not pleased with my decision to resign and he explained to me how he had made plans to move me to head a Ministry where I would have more contact with people and become more visible and known to the public before the elections that were 5 months ahead, because before then, I had worked in the back room in the Governor’s Office managing daily administration and rarely attending public functions. I spent my time planning and organizing those functions of State and ensuring as best as I could that they succeeded.
I explained to him that if he truly was serious about me running for office, I needed to disengage from office to devote all of my time to the project and I did not see myself giving my best while running a Ministry and campaigning at the same time and that this would adversely affect the public service delivery of the Ministry. He agreed and let me go. The rest is history as they say.
From then on, I woke up earlier than 6 am to attend Radio and TV interviews as other candidates had been doing. I had a lot to catch up. I had no posters, but while that was being designed, I embarked on a grueling tour of 57 Local Government, sometimes covering 3 or 4 Local Governments a day, I got home to read materials about projects in those areas, books written by politicians, how to speak politically and so on. From then on until the elections in April 2007, I slept less than 3 hours every day; and lost 10 kilograms in the process.
But in all, from the document I wrote which became an Article of Faith that I titled “My Contract with Lagosians”, I explained at every opportunity what I intended to do and what the obligations of citizens would be in terms of support, payment of taxes and obedience of laws, maintenance of peace and the promise of what lay ahead.
After the elections, another round of late nights started, building the blocks for implementation. The question in my mind was not what we wanted to do but how and who to do it.
I picked a team of serving public officers in Health, Transport, Waste Management, Justice and invited bankers, economists and some other members of the private sector who volunteered their time and we met at a hotel every night for a month from 10pm to 4am detailing what the problems were, planning solutions, articulating costs, and methodology of implementation.
The day after inauguration, I began a tour of our Government Ministries, that was followed by a meeting with the leadership of all Government Departments who gave my Deputy and I reports of the work they had been doing and what was outstanding.
The truth is that I did that for the benefit of my Deputy Governor who had never served at that level of Government, even though she was a public servant herself.
I reckoned that if we were to move at the pace I intended, it was fair to start slowly to enable her catch up on the things I already knew in order for her to be able to share the responsibility.
We ran the Government for about 2 months with Permanent Secretaries who were senior management level career public officers while I was consulting with the leadership of the Party and other sectors about selecting the team of political office holders, Commissioners as we call them, who would lead the various Ministries and Departments.
By July 2007, we had constituted the team, and each person came on board with a clear mandate (based on what we had drawn up by the Committee of the Public and Private Sector that I referred to), of what we expected him/her to deliver.
There were 42 (Forty Two) of them, Commissioners and Special Advisers of diverse backgrounds, lawyers, bankers, economists, educationists, private businessmen, politicians and all.
I ensured that many of them were my colleagues in the last Government with a few first timers into Government. This was intended to help us start quickly, using the experiences of the old hands, while the new ones acquainted themselves with the nuances, culture and communication skills of the public service which are quite different from what obtained in the private sector.
We developed a few invariable rules. Being efficient with time, we resolved to meet weekly on Mondays at 9am and imposed a fine for lateness. There were initial complaints that it was too early but with time we got used to it. On two occasions, I went to those Monday meetings without taking my bath because I had slept late and woken up late and did not want to be the violator of the rule.
We resolved to keep promises and deadlines we made to the public whatever it took and at the earliest awareness that it would not be feasible, we went back to them to notify them and explain why. Our word was our bond.
We worked as a team, debated vigorously at meetings, voted when there was deadlock, but everybody respected and implemented the team’s decision whether or not he disagreed in the voting.
We sought knowledge and best practices from every part of the world, sent people to value adding trainings and tours, but more often brought the experts to Lagos so that the largest number of us could benefit and we could manage costs.
Before the Commissioners embarked on their work, I had commissioned a poll asking people what they expected of the Government they had elected. When I received the results, I suggested that we undertake a fresh tour of the 57 Local Governments.
I did so for 2 (two) reasons, first to hear from the citizens themselves what they expected and in that way validate the result of the poll; and secondly, to enable the team know all the Local Governments and see for themselves how real and bad things were, so that we could eat, sleep and dream the problem on a daily basis until we found solutions. It was a real wake up call.
I had been privileged to read Rudolph Giuliani’s book on Leadership about the transformation of New York whose population and complexities, ethnic and religious were not significantly different from Lagos. I had also read Lee Kwan Yew’s seminal work from “Third to First World” and just as we concluded our Local Government tour I attended the International Bar Conference in 2007 held in Singapore.
I had also fortunately been invited to an investment summit in September 2007 in New York. My trip to Singapore was again by coincidence routed through Dubai at the peak of its construction boom. I went to those places not as a tourist but as a City Manager, looking to see what I could learn, trying to relate what I had read in those books with what I saw.
I asked and was obliged the privilege to meet a few people who had been involved in those remarkable transformations, including Lee Kwan Yew with whom I spent about 30 minutes and a firm of Consulting Engineers in Dubai. The lessons of those visits and coincidental experiences were that, nothing was impossible.
I returned to Lagos with an almost angry determination to transform our State as quickly as possible. I shared my experiences with my colleagues and urged those who had not been, to visit those places. We established an inter-governmental relationship with some critical agencies in those countries and shared their knowledge and experiences
We set about the implementation of our plans with the understanding that law and order was the cause of difficult living in our State. We came to the understanding that not all people were deliberately lawless but that they had become desperate in a bid to survive. They broke traffic rules in a bid to get out of excruciating traffic jams because no new highways had been built in Lagos for almost 30 years until the return of democracy in 1999, and people were daily buying cars and needed to move about.
People traded on sidewalks because the last major markets built in the State before 1999 were built in the 1970s. The same applied to schools, hospitals, water supply and many public infrastructures.
We re-ordered the budget of the State from consumption to investment in infrastructure. We changed the expenditure profile to a 60:40 ratio in favour of capital over re-current expenditure and applied the proceeds to equipping the Police, building schools, roads, hospitals, water supply projects, sports centre, and reclaiming open spaces for parks and greening.
We made ourselves accessible to the public by publishing our email addresses and telephone numbers in the newspapers and responded as best as we could to complaints and suggestions. Till date, I receive an average of 300 text messages and about the same number of emails daily.
The response was most encouraging. Before the efforts started yielding results, we were getting feed backs of credibility. People trusted us. They believed that we meant well. They were ready to endure traffic because they saw construction going on and believed it would get better when we finished. In places where we needed to claim more land to build expanded roads, people voluntarily pulled down their walls so that our contractors could start work.
We embarked on a huge tax drive and rather than complains, we began to receive enquiries about how and where they needed to go to pay their taxes. It was a huge sign on that everybody seemingly wanted to be a part of.
My colleagues and I seized on this huge capital to take difficult but public benefit decisions. We started clearing out slums that had been in place for over 30 years and seemed immovable.
We used this enormous public support only for public good. We confronted groups and unions that had lived above the law with the public support behind us and succeeded in getting them to obey the law.
The investment in the Police by way of patrol cars, uniforms, insurance schemes, improved allowances and equipment brought down violent crimes by 79% at the end of 2009.
The private sector belief and support was enormous and we did our best never to abuse it and we never took it for granted.
Bank robberies became stories of the past, traffic congestion was daily being reduced, jobs were being created at construction sites, and in new businesses springing up as a result of renewed investor.
The public service gradually became attractive to many who had deserted it and we now have increasing requests for jobs or appointments into the service or to be part of our team. A large number of Nigerians abroad have seen Lagos as a choice of relocation in the thick of the global economic crises.
Lagosians now speak of their State with a lot of pride and belief that nothing is impossible. I know that we are very far from being a finished article and that a great distance still lies ahead on this journey, but I am humbled to have been the leader of the team that received a torch of hope from the last government and is able to keep it alive with seemingly endless possibilities.
A critical lesson for us was the realization that the people had lived on a diet of broken promises for 3 (three) decades of political instability and that democracy, as a more stable form of Government, at least in terms of predictability of tenure, offers the best platform for addressing humanity’s problems because it provides opportunity to plan and implement.
Seizing that opportunity is of course another matter, and for those who take public office or seek to do so, the best way to seize that opportunity is to prepare for it and plan to use it for only one purpose – public good.
The reality is that in the pursuit of public good all our individual needs are met and secured. We will use the roads we build, the hospitals we build, the security we put in place and benefit from the economic prosperity that we help to create in a situation of harmony as distinct from chaos, aggression and desperation where the privileged lived in fear of revolt or crime from the under privileged.
The truth is that, a leadership that cannot protect the poor will be unable to protect the rich.
Before I conclude, I wish to say that I have heard people speak about a success story in Lagos but the truth is that the Lagos I dream of still lies ahead. As I said earlier, it is not a finished article; indeed it is just starting; but my optimism that it is achievable, is fired by the enormous belief and support of our people which inspires me to no end.
I will like to conclude by expressing my appreciation for your time and to apologize that I may not have told you anything you have probably not heard before or read about. The responsibility for that, as I said belongs to those who brought me here and to them I remain truly grateful.
Thank you for listening.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN
Governor of Lagos
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