By Setonji David
SENATOR Bola Ahmed Tinubu held his last political office in 2007 when he completed his tenure as the second civilian governor of Lagos State. That is 24 years ago. Yet, his name is more recurring in political, social and economic conversations than those of many politicians that are in government today.
The criticisms as well as adoration that greets the mention of his name in any part of the country, is only second probably to that of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria himself, President Muhammadu Buhari. It is a two-edged sword.
His critics would not deny his popularity but they think, even though erroneously, that he has an overbearing presence in the politics of Lagos. I sympathise with them; in Lagos State, after Tinubu, there has not been a governor that was successful at the polls and in governance without his express support.
His approval and support made not a few governors and buoyed most of the other office holders who have become politically powerful in Lagos and elsewhere. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Look at Lagos State where Tinubu’s political influence is claimed to be overbearing.
To quote an independent source: “Although it covers only 0.4 per cent of Nigeria’s territorial land mass, making it the smallest state in the country, it (Lagos) accounts for over 60 per cent of industrial and commercial activities in the nation. Lagos is financially viable, generating over 75 per cent of its revenue independent of federal grants derived from oil revenues.
It generates the highest internal revenue of all states in Nigeria.” If Lagos was a country, its projected 2020 GDP of over $100 billion made it the fifth largest economy in Africa. For the sake of an even clearer perspective, Lagos State’s Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, in the years of Tinubu’s so-called overbearing politics, has grown consistently to around N33 billion today.
The same Lagos had a miserly IGR of around N7 million under the military in 1999 – the year Tinubu became the executive governor. Really, will an overbearing godfather succeed in politics, in an enlightened state like Lagos?
The man in the eye of the storm has a simple recommendation: what makes him or any political leader successful is having good feelers to know where the people’s best interest lies, and being able to articulate matching solutions and vision good enough to make the people say: “Ah we can trust you to take us there”.
It would be hard to find one successful politician who faults this wisdom. So, Lagos and majority of followers of Southwest’s politics are not complaining. The state is making megacity strides, going smart and leading Nigeria into the best years of the 21st century.
State governors in the Southwest, North, East and the rest of Nigeria are not too proud to admit to understudying political governance in the Centre of Excellence. That is why progressives all over Nigeria have continued to show Tinubu love whenever he steps out with his party to campaign for their votes.
The man, who has anointed many eventual winners all over Nigeria, while waving the progressives’ broom, justifiably, is ready for Nigeria’s nod to lead. Tinubu should run and become President in 2023. One cannot discuss Tinubu’s sterling credentials for the highest political job in the land in the narrow purview of politics, or of love or even hate. To be fair to Tinubu, one must leave politics and sentiments behind at some point and deal with glaring realities of the difference he has made in people’s lives, in expanding economic opportunities, in the transformation of his state’s physical infrastructure and in steering Nigeria into a new and progressive course.
His politics is better reflected in the context of his socioeconomic objectives, while he has excelled in tackling these noble tasks. Tinubu, as governor, transformed political administration in Lagos State. He employed novel measures to improve service delivery and system efficiency in the state’s public sector.
Five years into his administration, Tinubu had awarded contracts for 422 road projects, out of which 308 were completed. The upgrading and renewal of the Lagos Island Central Business District Roads project was speedily done to give the state’s crucial economic zone a new lease.
To clean up Lagos, Tinubu separated the Ministry of Environment from the Ministry of Physical Planning and repositioned it to articulate and supervise waste disposal operations. The Lagos Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, was adequately equipped to register its impact in a cleaner Lagos.
In transportation, he had bold initiatives also, which included the BRT system. He established LASTMA. The Tinubu administration was comfortable with proffering innovative solutions. In spite of the constitutional constraints bedeviling his vision to tackle the immense energy appetite of a commercial centre state like Lagos, Tinubu acted rather than complained endlessly.
He executed a pioneer Independent Power Project, IPP, which added 270 mega watts of electricity to the national grid. Tinubu met 20 local councils in a state of over seven million residents yearning to have their government closer and more responsive to their needs.
He made bold to create additional 37councils, with a total of 57. And in defence of his action, he told all who cared to listen that it had become impossible for Lagos to deliver good and improved governance to the teeming people at the grassroots.
The National Assembly, however, differed. It would not list the councils in the Constitution and that created a political crisis of a new dimension between Lagos and the Centre. When the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo stopped the statutory allocation for local governments in Lagos from reaching the state, Tinubu again acted rather than sit and complain.
He did not consider capitulation either. He insisted that LCDAs had come to stay as long as Lagosians desired them. He instituted such an aggressive revenue generation drive of the scale never seen before in the country.
He succeeded in breaking the culture of dependence of Lagos State on the monthly federal allocations from the centre. It is worthy of note that real socio-political developments only occur when stakeholders push the limit of what freedom the state has granted citizens and institutions by default.
Just as the IPP project demonstrated the capacity of states to generate electricity, if the power to legislate on it is on the Concurrent List, the victory of Lagos State at the Supreme Court on the new councils, years after, proved that the Constitution implicitly backs states to create local administrative units for the purpose of service to citizens.
Tinubu has through these efforts, advanced the course of true federalism and constitutional development more than Nigerians have given him credit for. Talking of resilience and consistence, Tinubu was the arrowhead of a stable, robust opposition culture for 15 years while the Peoples Democratic Party ruled at the Centre.
Those who taunt that Nigerian politicians have no ideology ought to be honest enough to admit that there are handful exceptions to the rule. Tinubu stood true to his progressive credentials and precedence. He planned and plotted. He co-hatched the biggest and most successful political coalition of all times in Africa – the All Progressive Congress. Tinubu qualifies to be called the doyen of democracy in Nigeria.
•Hon. Setonji, Chairman, House Committee on Information, Strategy, & Security, Lagos State House of Assembly, wrote from Lagos.