By Ben Lawrence
EKO o ni baje oâ€ rented the air when Babatunde Fashola ran successfully for the governorship of Lagos State, the most populous political space in Africa. It was difficult to see the artistic side of the man who had worn the silk in his profession very early in life at that time because the scene was crowded. How very poetic he has become.
At best then, he cut the picture of an intellectual so very concerned with legal matters and sentenced to executing and interpreting the policy of the administration he served as chief of staff.
But the literary side of this man was not to be hidden for so long because every action of the administration he now leads speaks volumes of artistry and humaneness, attributes of a literary mind. He is a culture freak.
Remember the last grand Eyo festival.
Poetry is not expressed only in words. Rhyme and lyrics without words, in most cases, could be poetic. It is like a musical piece which is strictly instrumental, yet bears all the cadences of poetic beauty. And even justice could be poetic. What may we say of operas?
Whoever visits Versailles, France, if an artiste, easily concludes that poetry can derive from symmetry and rhyme in town planning and city beautification. The garden of slain French King Louis XIV there exhibits oneâ€™s point of view. I loathe â€œrapâ€ music because it lacks harmony and sonority. A good poem should serve as a puff of lavender or rose flower in a fouled atmosphere. Lagos is formerly stale soup now turned fit for the palate.
Nigeria is still unpalatable for a sop. Fashola is now showing poetry in city planning and gardening. See what he has made of Ikorodu road through Western Avenue to Eko Bridge. Drive on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way and feel a touch of Paris. He makes materials and planning to read verses.
This writer has only seen Fashola once from a distance since he became the helmsman of Lagos. One was not part of the raucous mob that followed his predecessor for obvious class differences borne of civilised breeding. Throwing money at the crowd at motor parks was out of character for any decent person.
So when Fashola added â€œO baje tiâ€ as he set his hands on the plough to administer his charge, the real artistic Fashola began to bubble.
It was Alhaji Tajudeen Omokayode Ipaye who first drew my attention to Fashola at one of our (Island Clubâ€™s) annual general meetings: Fashola, a young lawyer and son of a former senior colleague in the almighty Daily Times, appeared to me then as just one of the third generation members.
His father, Ademola, was assistant general secretary, and his grand father Raji, a banker, had been an influential member of the club. One just regarded him as one of them joining third generation Justice Niyi Ademola and others and also recently, Debe Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Emekaâ€™s son).
But young Fashola always swept me off my feet when he asked his very vital and sensible questions at AGMs at which some colleagues of his grandfather were in attendance. He was not cheap. He didnâ€™t have airs about him.
He was confident, natural and matured beyond his years in his bearings. We concluded he was a
gentleman. A very sociable young man then he shared fellowship with us â€œBabasâ€ and respected his elders.
He was not lousy as some young men of his age are in Nigeria today.
So my group started to sell him as a possible assistant general secretary as a start. But we lost him to Lagos State politics for good.
The pleasure one enjoys today is the poetic sides to Fasholaâ€™s rule. Old people get free medical care; schools are being rehabilitated; he has decongested the streets; he is providing social amenities with direct labour thereby involving more Lagosians in development and in the words of the publicity stunts of his government waxing poetic: â€œEko o ni baje o /O baje tiâ€ And he reminds me of that poet of blessed memory, Dennis C. Osadebey, the nationalist. When he was premier of the Midwest region, he had planned to create a ministry of parks and gardens before the army stuck.
Kwame Nkrumah had one in Ghana and that made Ghanaian cities habitable. Nnamdi Azikiwe, another literary mind, showed the same trait when he ran Zikâ€™s Press and the West African Pilot at Yaba, Lagos â€” orchards and gardens. Bola Igeâ€™s introduction of callisthenics to schools in Oyo state while he was governor was a further proof of the creative genius of a literary mind. What is wrong in a lawyer being a literary giant? Lord Mortimer Q. C. used to make the arts pages of The Times, London, busy and lively with his literary critiques.
That didnâ€™t stop him from taking legal briefs from Singapore, Malaysia, Nigeria and other parts of the Commonwealth. Richard B. Sheridan and Edmund Burke were great lawyers. Our Fred Agbeyegbe has proved beyond doubts that the literary scene is not from drama and arts graduates alone.
Fashola is welcome to that family as he promises to sponsor poetry festivals yearly to keep the youth busy. This is an addition to his reviving scouting in Lagos. He should bring back boysâ€™ and girlsâ€™ clubs.
Readers may ask why these eulogies on young Fashola. I have Cecil King as my witness that a good mark of journalism is to praise when it is due and criticize whatever is wrong. King was not an ordinary journalist. He was the Governor of the Bank of England and the chairman of the International Publishing Corporation which owned the London Daily Mirror, London Daily Mail (founded by his uncle Lord Northcliffe), London Daily Sketch (now Sun), Nigerian Daily Times, Kingston Times, Ghana Graphic and Sierra Leoneâ€™s Daily Mail.
Mr. Lawerence, a veteran journalist, writes from Lagos.