Eleven people ran for president in Nigeria’s 2015 elections. General Muhammadu Buhari and then-incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan were the most popular of the pack. But the most eligible presidential material of the time did not feature in the contest.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, who was nearing the end of his second term as Governor of Lagos State, was a natural, first choice for president. He had earned the most formidable credential of performance among the crop of leaders who have wielded executive powers in Nigeria since May 29, 1999. He was supposed to run on that record. And if he was reluctant to initiate a bid, there should have been concerted efforts to draft him into the race. But the issue of his viability was a non-issue –it was only entertained in the realms of idle daydreaming!
His nomination as minister was a step towards redemption. A nation that had deliberately skipped the opportunity to elect a leader with manifest mastery of statecraft felt obligated to salve its restless conscience. She had to apologize for her error. She had to compensate for the lost Fashola presidency. And she did that by offering Fashola a job a little lower than the presidency.
Nigeria knew that Fashola was a necessary hire. Having administered a veritable country like Lagos, harnessed its resources to address its massive infrastructure deficit and turned himself into the gold standard of gubernatorial efficiency, the nation needed to gray his hair further in public service more than he needed to transition into private life. The country would have been the loser if his expertise and experience went to rust.
It was in appreciation of Fashola’s demonstrable capacity to reduce seemingly intimidating impossibilities to doable chores that President Buhari performed the symbolic atonement of sectioning off the most critical sectors that were crying for intervention and called it one integral plot of Fashola’s heritage!
When Buhari announced that Fashola would saddle the behemoth of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, a ripple of applause spread through the Villa room where the new ministers and invited guests were gathered.
The applause was a salutation of honor to a man who had shouldered the crushing burden of Lagos with poise, enthusiasm and dexterity. It was the elite crowd’s spontaneous tribute to his vision, can-do resolve and mastery of the nuances of development policy implementation. The applause was a sample of the nationwide respect that Fashola had amassed for the incredible success he posted as the chief executive of Lagos.
Fashola, an impatient man, always in a hurry to confront his task, would later rush to the Federal Secretariat Complex, Abuja, to report for duty. A report said though staff of the various ministries were scrambling to welcome two new ministers that were more punctual early birds, ‘’Fashola’s arrival pulled the loudest ovation.’’
Again, the hosanna hails from a work environment that houses a near-perfect microcosm of the diversity of the Nigerian people testified that Fashola’s credibility is his own forerunner. His name goes before him, introducing him as the man who renewed the commercial capital of Nigeria and made it a more business-friendly hub and a more habitable place.
A number of analysts have expressed doubts about his ability to replicate his Lagos feats in a position that makes him hostage of a frustrating federal civil service bureaucracy. More to the point, they fear that being the beast of burden laden with three consolidated ministries would demystify him. Because every one of Power, Works and Housing, contains a complexity that has defeated the succession of ministers that had manned it. But the skepticism mainly stems from the fact that the commentators favor the trinity of federal ministries as a more problematic entity than the 17.9 million people large concern Fashola triumphed over!
I am not inclined to believe the lump of three ministries would defeat a person of Fashola’s managerial transformative capability. Instead, I lean towards the consideration that his current posting is a pathetic underutilization of the man. I am actually saddened by the paradoxical christening of his minimization: Superminister. It registers in my hearing as Super-Mini-Star!
To be sure, it’s literally impossible to underestimate the enormity of challenges that currently reside in the sectors of Power, Works and Housing. It would have been fair to have the ministries independent, with three ministers in charge of the respective sphere, as before. But when you have a Fashola on your list of options, you can’t perpetrate the grossest underemployment by having him tend just one of them. The man in question is not hardwired to be a minimally functional space occupier. He is unarguably the most ingenious, result-pursuing and indefatigable governor Nigeria has seen in the last two decades!
Even so, his ‘’Superminister’’ position asks less of him than his range of ability can comfortably meet. He would not do as much as he can because he must contain himself within the delineated boundaries of Power, Works and Housing. He can’t do as much as he can do because he can’t transcend his official confinement.
I see irony in the celebration that the announcement of Fashola’s portfolio sparked across the country. People revel in the hope that he will engender radical shift in the spheres under his control. He is the man a predominant majority of Nigerians would count ready to effect change in areas of direst urgency. The man who will fix our light, our roads and our roofs.
Afenifere, the Yoruba group that has lately made itself a satellite organ of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, temporarily suspended its cantankerous, secession-touting posturing to celebrate Fashola’s deployment. It’s National Publicity Secretary, the bellicose Yinka Odumakin, was constrained to admit that ‘’the appointment of Fashola to supervise the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing cannot be faulted at all. It is indeed the best decision that Buhari has taken since May 29.’’
Taking Afenifere’s endorsement with the special applause that Fashola garnered at the venue of the swearing in of the 36 ministers and the ‘’loudest ovation’’ with which civil servants at the Federal Secretariat saluted his entry into his new work place, you get the composite picture of a citizenry that is grateful for being gifted a promising messiah.
These celebrations, however, strike me as an cause for mourning. It is lost on us that we shortchanged ourselves by cutting a towering presidential material down to a ministerial underling! We are gloating in our magician’s duty, a duty, Buhari, his employer can terminate with a terse whisper!
As one contemplates ‘’Superminister’’ Fashola, the question wells up within: Why is Fashola not the overall boss? Why is Fashola not the president?
If Nigerians would fain throw a party because Fashola has been handed the most nagging, definitive troubles of Nigeria, why didn’t we commit the entire country into his hand and give him the head of state’s carte blanche? Why did we diminish his presidential caliber to a compromised ministerial value?
This question goes to the very underbelly of the Nigerian problem.
We are essentially a conflicted people. We are trapped in equivocation. We ask for the best specimen of a capable leader in the Nigerian presidency as loudly as we are unwilling to install a person of such extraordinary capacity in Aso Rock. We desire an achiever of proven profile as leader of the country as fervently as we would settle for a less competent individual that ticks our ethnic and religious boxes. We salivate for omelet while we kiss our intact eggs!
The buzz around ‘’Superminister’’ Fashola reflects our penchant for self-sabotage. We are country of sufferers. Yet, we are disposed to lingering in purgatory. Still, in order not to expose ourselves as a self-hating people, we would seize any good occassion to indulge in tokenism, as a way of pleading our disenchantment with our condition. We would miscast a presidential quality and charge him to procure for us some tiny remedies. We would not perpetuate our woes in their pristine, organic form!
Superminister Fashola is the result of a dubious mean between a Fashola that is not in the picture and a Fashola that is needed in the picture. We would not have him as the President and we would not have him fade out as a non-player in the polity.
We are afraid.
We are afraid of what our country would become if we elected a President that would turn Nigeria upside down and bequeath us a country that is true to its endowment. We are afraid that it would be an unrecognizably strange Nigeria that we can’t abide.
That fear yokes us to pettiness: The pettiness that insists that our allegiance to ‘’power rotation’’, zoning, and religion decides who we grant the leadership of Nigeria. That fear says a man whose competence has morphed into the stuff of mythology is overqualified to lead Nigeria but suitable for a subservient position. That fear drives us to vote our ethnic roots and our learned creed of worship when it’s time to make a decisive electoral choice.