Former governor of Lagos and current minister designate, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, in this interview, explains how he was able to curb corruption in the state. He also bares his mind on other national issues.
What do you regard as your major accomplishments as governor?
First, I want to say it was a team effort. We had an outstanding team of public servants and political office holders, and we worked together to strengthen law enforcement, build infrastructure and encourage inclusion. The most defining thing was to invest the people of Lagos with a sense of ownership and pride in their own state. We had challenges of urban crime, and we turned those challenges into opportunities. We also expanded opportunities for young people in education and in agriculture. We were able provide people with more opportunities to work – to make income with dignity.
How did you tackle the transformation of broken neighborhoods like Oshodi and is what you did sustainable?
I knew Oshodi as a child and it was a very pleasant community, but it fell into disrepute. People traded in unapproved places so they obstructed traffic. Crime was increasing because of the disorderly nature of activities there. It was dysfunctional. We went in to clean it up. We relocated the traders and we built a new market – that took some time, but it was finally done. The results were outstanding. Traffic moved. Crime dropped. Property values soared. The entire stretch of road in Oshodi is about 10 km. We put patrol vehicles and law enforcement agents on alternate sides of every kilometer of the road to insure that people obeyed rules and regulations. If that continues, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be sustainable. This created work for people to be law enforcement agents, and they went with pride to their work because they were earning a living.
What led you to launch the ‘Green Lagos’ initiative?
The seeds were sown by what I had read and saw when I visited Singapore. The compelling reasons for embarking on it were the realities of global warming and climate change and what a greener environment can do in terms of quality of life for people. There was the health issue and also the calmness that a green environment brought on. This calming affects the way people behave. We set up small gangs of people for cleaning and maintaining abandoned spaces – spaces where people were choosing to dump refuse. They planted seedlings. That created economic opportunities. Plumbers became busy because they were fixing sprinklers to keep the places green. Horticulturists began seeing a demand for their seedlings, their trees, plants and shrubs. A lot of people of people got involved, and I am told about five million trees were planted by the time my tenure ended. Hundreds of parks had been rebuilt, reclaimed and beatified. About 92,000 people were involved in the massive work of keeping those places running and using their skills and talents to earn a decent and dignified living.
During your Senate screening (as a presidential nominee), you were asked about expulsions of people from Lagos while you were in office. How do you respond to that criticism?
First, I think it isn’t appropriate to classify it as an expulsion. It wasn’t. We had citizens who had no address and probably migrated from God-knows-where to our state. They were living as destitutes. Some had psychiatric problems. Some had other health issues. We rehabilitated them. When they got rehabilitated, they had to leave because it cost a lot of tax-payer money to keep feeding them on a daily basis, year-in, year-out. In some cases, they said they wanted to go home. And as I said during the screening, we didn’t know where home was except for where they told us. We wrote three letters to their home governments. None of them was acknowledged. We had to do something. As I said during the screening, we took them to the boundary of the state they called home, in the belief that they would be able to reintegrate themselves back to their communities. Perhaps we could have done a little more. But we were not assisted by their state governments.
There is a misconception that people can move freely and do what they like. The laws and the constitution that guarantee the freedom of movement for citizens across the country impose obligations not to constitute themselves as a nuisance in whatever other state they move to. Just like any law that guarantees freedom of speech does not guarantee you the right to defame people. And so those rights can be curtailed in order to protect the rights of other citizens. As I said during the screening, they went to court, and the court took the view that [they had] an unmeritorious claim.
How did you tackle corruption as governor?
My approach was to see that we got value for money and that there was good governance and the supremacy of law and order. Human beings will fall short of standards their society expects of them, and whenever that happens, what needs to done is to enforce the law and insist on compliance. That is what I have sought to do. But we must be careful. There are some instances where people levy allegations when they have no shred of evidence or they misapprehend the way how the system works.
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