For a nation which has perennially made global news headlines for all the wrong reasons, it was a pleasant new year gift to Nigerians when they woke up on January 2 to hear the news that Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State has been named one of the 100 Global Thinkers for 2013. The selection was by Lo Spazio della Politica (LSDP), an international think tank of scholars and scientists operating from Italy and Belgium and fashioned after the world famous Foreign Policy think tank of the United States. Governor Fashola was named alongside such global icons as Pope Francis who is recognized for restoring the glory of the Catholic Church as a formidable global power and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for steering his country’s economy in a totally different direction. Fashola is honoured for making Lagos the hub of innovation in Africa and for setting up the Innovation Advisory Council, in collaboration with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Fashola is an excellent example of a few persons across the world who combine thought with praxis. French philosophers would call such a person l’homme engage, or a practical man of ideas. This is in contrast to some scholars who have their heads in the cloud but no feet on the ground. So, when such intellectuals are given an opportunity to put their lofty ideas into practice, they flop. Ghanaians remember Professor Kofia Busia as a brilliant social scientist at Oxford but a failed political leader when he became their prime minister. Nicephore Soglo was a top economist and lawyer at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but when he was elected the president of Benin Republic in the early 1990s, he failed woefully, forcing the citizens to bring back to office former president Mathieu Kerekou, an army general with a modest formal education whose so-called Marxist policy helped to ruin the economy in the 1970s and 80s.
Ever since his election in 2007 as the state governor, Fashola has not left anyone in doubt about his commitment to the development of Lagos as a befitting megacity. If Lagos cannot be in the in the same league as London, New York and Tokyo in the foreseeable future, reasons Fashola, it can within a short period become like Jakarta, Brasilia and other great cities in the emerging world. He has been pursuing this vision with religious fervor. The crime rate has reduced drastically and chaos which used to characterize much of the city has been replaced with law and order. In place of heaps of garbage and human waste in places like Oshodi market, we now have flower gardens and recreational facilities. The ubiquitous rickety molue buses have since given way to modern passenger vehicles. Modern infrastructure is being developed at a frenetic pace.
At a time it is fashionable for many public officers in Nigeria to be enamoured of hidebound or parochial policies and practices in the name of “working for my people”, what Richard Joseph calls prebendal politics, Fashola has maintained a very impressive cosmopolitan disposition. He recognizes that only open, liberal societies make impressive economic progress, as closed places like North Korea remain stuck in history. By making Lagos home for all, the state has been attracting unprecedented investments. Many oil firms and oil servicing companies have been turning to Lagos since the rate of violent crime escalated in the Niger Delta. As the aphorism goes, investment or capital is a great coward: like water, it follows the line of the least resistance. As you are reading this piece, a cousin of mine from Anambra State who has made a fortune from hi-tech oil servicing in the Niger Delta, Ghana, Sao Tome and Principe is making a massive investment in Lagos hospitality business with resources made from elsewhere. Therefore, LSDP, the international think tank, is right to describe Lagos as fast becoming the hub of African innovation and perhaps business generally.
No one who has ever followed with keen interest the source of Fashola’s inspiration would be surprised at the developmental strides. The governor has always felt challenged by the example of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. By the time Lee became prime minister in 1965 at the callow age of 35 years, Singapore was a hopeless case. Though an independent country, it is no bigger than Lagos metropolis (not Lagos State, mind you). It has no mineral deposits; even the water consumed by its three million people (two million at independence) is still imported from neighbouring Malaysia. Yet, it became within a generation a very important economic power, inspiring transformations in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, China and elsewhere. It does not produce even a barrel of crude oil, but it has one of the biggest refineries in the world, and its seaports are among the world’s biggest and technologically most advanced. Its airport, like its airline, is something else. It is the best greened city on the globe. The standards of living of its people are much higher than those of their American counterparts.
Fashola is a developmentalist in the mould of Lee and other successful Southeast Asian leaders. A developmentalist is a leader who is obsessed with raising the living standards of his or her people within a very short period and in the process lives above personal, sectional, ethnic, religious and other primordial differences. This ideology is in sharp contradistinction with the mindset of many African rulers who are preoccupied with what Jeffrey Sachs calls “power politics” which emphasizes the use of state raw power and manipulates societal cleavages, leading to the ruination of their countries. The economies of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and other fast developing Asian nations are dominated by the settler minority Chinese communities, but you don’t hear of the political leaders of these countries taking abrasive stands against the Chinese settlers. Now, compare this situation with Idi Amin’s Uganda where Indians who had settled there for decades were expelled in one fell swoop in the name of Ugandan indigenous nationalism, resulting in the collapse of the economy. Or compare it with the situation in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe where radical land distribution against white citizens becomes the most pressing issue once a general election is at hand, leading to the economic collapse of the country. If Nelson Mandela had followed the Mugabe footstep by emphasizing group differences when he became president in 1994, the South African economy would wave long been a mess. Put succinctly, one critical success factor for the rapid development of Lagos in recent times is Fashola’s refusal to be enmeshed in divisive tribal, sectional and religious politics. The governor is ahead of most of his contemporaries.
I am delighted that in my lifetime a serving Nigerian top government official has been grouped together with a remarkable pope, a phenomenal Japanese prime minister and other world leaders. Gov Fashola is a worthy representative of my generation. His recognition by an international think tank as one of the 100 Global Thinkers for 2013 is only the shape of things to come. Mark my word.
By: C. Don Adinuba