• Monday, April 22, 2024
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The Voice of Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (–a review of the book ‘Nigerian Public Discourse’)

The Voice of Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (–a review of the book ‘Nigerian Public Discourse’)

You are at a gathering of the great and the good at the Eko International Hotel. The occasion is the public presentation of the first book by a man of many parts who is adding the title of ‘author’ to his many accomplishments. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, former two-term Governor of Lagos State and former Minister with the unprecedented three-barrelled portfolio of Works, Housing, and Power, is a man who enjoys much public admiration, even in these troubled times of widespread disdain for public officials.

The full title of the 175-page book, with appendices, is ‘Nigeria Public Discourse: The Interplay between Empirical Evidence and Hyperbole’.

Reading the slim volume, for someone with an accustomed ear, is like hearing BRF speak. From the title page, he draws a sharp demarcation between the truth, with evidence, and various levels of dilution of the truth, deliberately or inadvertently distorted with sentiment, which is the fare that often catches the public imagination.

The author is a man who demonstrates a commitment to making governmental, and you suspect, personal, decisions almost exclusively on the basis of evidence-based logic.

As CMD of LASUTH, you once received a curious directive from Alausa to lead a team to collate statistics of the dangers posed to Lagosians by the use of motorcycles as public transport in their city. It had long been known in medical circles that a significant percentage of the victims of road traffic accidents who died or acquired life-changing orthopaedic and other injuries were ‘okada’ riders and their passengers. It turned out BRF was preparing to take ‘okada’ off the major highways of Lagos. He needed ‘empirical evidence’.

On another occasion, a directive came asking for a computation of the cost to the public purse arising from treating the medical consequences of cigarette smoking among Lagosians. It was clear someone somewhere was mulling taking on Big Tobacco in court, something no government or individual in Nigeria had ever dared to do.

In his foreword to the book, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, a repository of Lagos history and Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing in the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, recalls a conversation with Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He, Okunnu, had sent a memo to the Chief, who was the Federal Minister of Finance, about the thousands of houses he wanted his ministry to build for Nigerians across the land. Awolowo chided him gently.

 “The author, however, acknowledges that there is widespread poverty, however measured, just as the problem of out-of-school children is real.”

‘Femi, what’s your business with housing?’

The encounter was an eye-opener for Okunnu. Land and housing were residual matters in the Nigerian constitution. He turned his attention to providing enablement for the citizenry by setting up the Federal Mortgage Bank.

Some of the chapter-titles smack of turgid legalese, such as ‘The Jurisprudential Imperative of Law and Order: an Exegesis’. However, all the issues touched upon are relatable for the ordinary citizen.

There is, for instance, the debunking of the widespread belief that all the state governors do is go to Abuja once a month to ‘share the money’ at the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting.

There is the public view that there is no ‘law and order’ in the nation, whereas what happens is not an absence of laws but a failure to uphold them. This has led to a widespread perception of corruption, locally and internationally.

The author sees the Nigerian situation in the context of erosion of values, the responsibility for which is shared by everyone. Public officials are invited to events to ‘donate’ money. Chieftaincy titles are conferred on serving public officials. ‘Connections’ are used by the public to bypass due process or leveraged upon to secure award of contracts. Traffic rules are violated with impunity by people, including ‘authority’ figures.

The author takes issue with the statistics employed in arriving at such decisions as naming Nigeria ‘the poverty capital of the world’, and with the variable figures quoted for the number of out-of-school children.

Critics, and there are sure to be some, may label BRF’s logic as rationalisation.

The author, however, acknowledges that there is widespread poverty, however measured, just as the problem of out-of-school children is real.

There is a similar authorial tone concerning the blanket assumption that ‘’Nigerian roads are bad’, whereas, according to DFID, 55 percent of the extensive network of federal roads are in a good situation. There are vastly more dual carriageways in Nigeria than in many other African countries, which are well spoken of internationally.

‘Talking down’ the power situation in Nigeria fails to take cognisance of power generated and utilised off the grid. Poor power generation is often wrongly blamed for the decline of industry and the economy, whereas what has changed may be the mindset of people, who are eager for quick returns on trading, and the fact that not enough people are in agriculture.

Some of the author’s postulations are contentious. The Constitution is not necessarily the cause of the problem with Nigeria, and ‘Restructuring’ is not the panacea that will magically end all the nation’s afflictions.

He is emphatic that Nigerians should stop ‘talking down’ their country or its prospects and be ready to look at what they are contributing to its problems and what they can contribute to the solutions.

It is a tough message in tough times. Indigenous Nigerian psychology, as described by Prof. Adeoye Lambo, demands another person to ‘project’ the blame onto, in health as in illness.

In emphasising a need to commit to shared values, to love and respect Nigeria, to tackle impunity, and to avoid emotional statements based on faulty ‘facts’ that play into fault lines and bring little gain to the polity, Nigerian Public Discourse is an important book. It is recommended to the reading public, especially in a new political dispensation that has set itself the goals of destroying shibboleths, righting the wrongs of the past, and harnessing the energies of all Nigerians for a new beginning.

Nigerian Public Discourse is published by Quoramo Publishing Limited