Fashola’s economic logic
By Rotimi Fasan
EVER since he emerged governor of Lagos State in 2007, Raji Fashola has, arguably, had more favourable press than any other governor in Nigeria. He is certainly one Nigerian politician whose performance in office has not gone unremarked and in very favourable light too.
If he is coming under increasing criticism in recent times it is more a reflection of public angst at some of his policies which seem to have been at odds with public expectation. Surely, no leader worth his salt should bend in any and every direction the public wants. Governance is not popularity contest nor is populism necessarily a virtue or an end in itself.
Therefore, a leader’s task is to do what is right by the people and leave the rest to the judgement of posterity. But the fact is that Mr. Fashola is generally perceived to have performed well in office, especially when his performance index is viewed against the record posted by many others in the same position as he is.
Some might argue that he enjoys the advantage of being governor of Nigeria’s richest state. But that is neither here nor there- there are many others who enjoy equally solid revenue base but have nothing but huge foreign accounts to show for it. Truth is that Nigerians ask so very little of their leaders that any politician has only to make an effort to have their names up in gold. But nearly all of them fail to make any impression worthy of note.
It’s in these circumstances that Fashola has emerged the peacock in a gathering of vultures. Of course, he came into office with a head start, in the sense that he was part of the administration he took over from. He had a clear view of what needed to be done and simply raised the game beyond what it was.
This seemed to have ruffled some feathers, not the least those of his former boss, Bola Tinubu, who probably thought his former pupil has no business trying to outshine his master. It is therefore arguable if interference from Mr. Tinubu and other party godfathers hasn’t slowed down Fashola’s effort considerably, leading him into byways less likely to bring him into head-on collision with the party leaders but which put him at odds with the larger public.
He might be doing his best but my impression is that Governor Fashola’s second term has been less sterling than the first and this is because of the internal dynamics of his party that insist on perpetual obeisance to former leaders whose electoral mandate, where they have one, has since lapsed but who are unwilling to stay out of the public glare.
For reasons such as this, Fashola appears inclined to pursue his agenda of turning Lagos into the place of his dream by initiating policies, many of them driven by economic considerations, which are increasingly controversial because they lack antecedent initiatives that ought to have ameliorated their less desirable and/or aggravating consequences.
The crisis at the Lagos State University which culminated in the introduction of the astronomical tuition fee that promptly shut the university gate against students from poor homes didn’t begin like a contest over the economic health of the institution. But it was resolved as such.
For a state that prided itself on providing free or at least affordable education for its citizens, the decision was a hard slap in the face of the electorate. Neither the party leaders nor the eloquent commentators in ACN-supportive media made any meaningful intervention. Such silence might not be unconnected, as some have argued, to the fact that the new fee was Fashola’s way of loosening the tightening noose of the economic demands of his party leaders.
Companies and individuals in Lagos have complained of multiple taxes but rather than abate more devious means are fashioned to take more naira out of the purse of the people. What is the rationale behind multiple taxation of citizens and who or whose organisations are behind the process?
The party leaders and other officials in Lagos boast of the clever means they’ve devised in generating IGR in multiples of what Lagos used to make but for whom, at what cost and at whose expense?
After fighting with staff and students of the Lagos State University, the government turned to medical doctors. And now it’s the turn of okada riders.
In each instance, there seems to be an economic motive behind the decisions or policies that bring the combatants into the trenches. Clearly, that many Nigerians would turn to riding motor bikes as a means of economic sustenance is an indication of failure in the economy, the education system and ultimately in governance.
While Fashola outlaws okada his peers in other states, including those controlled by his party, are giving out okadas to young graduates and list this as part of their effort at reducing poverty/unemployment! If the argument is that okada records huge fatalities so do travels in other modes on our roads and waterways, to say nothing of air travels.
But this is not to say that Fashola has no point in limiting the use of okada but how is he to convince the okada riders he is not doing it to pave way for commercial operators of state-owned vehicles? Could this be why the okada owners have resorted to vandalising BRT buses? How can Fashola ensure that his polices look more altruistic than mere economic measures meant to shore up the already bloated purse of his state?
And talking of economy: I recently heard Mr. Fashola making a case for the introduction of Chinese as a subject in Lagos schools. He says his position is a matter of economy for China has emerged an economic power. No Sir, Mr. Governor! There are more than enough foreign languages for our children to learn already.
While it is true that China is an emergent economic power, it is no excuse to make Nigerians add Chinese to the heavy baggage of foreign languages they already have to learn but do not master. The over one billion people of China were for decades cut off from the rest of the world in a so-called cultural revolution during which they held on to everything Chinese.
They didn’t have to learn English to become what they have become. While we might choose to have specialists in Chinese there is no reason turning hundreds of millions of Nigerians into Chinese in diaspora.
The task now is to develop our own languages or those of them we want the world to know not run around learning some foreign language of some economic power. India is fast entering the ‘premiership’ of the economic league as is Brazil and South Korea. Shall we throw Hindi, Portuguese and Korean into our shopping list? Enough of this economic rant.