Barely three months after exiting government, former governor of Lagos State Babatunde Raji Fashola recently came under severe attacks from some groups, notably BudgIT, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) and the Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP).
BudgIT accused Fashola of wrongdoing while in office. It was alleged that he spent N78 million on a website upgrade contracted to a private company, a sum seen as outrageous.
The group, in a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), alleged “questionable expenditures” by the administration of Fashola.
In the petition dated, August 10 and addressed to the EFCC Chairman, the group called for the probe of the controversial N78 million public money spent on his personal website.
The contract for the website was awarded to Info Access Plus Ltd by the Office of the Chief of Staff to the former governor.
The company, however, denied receiving the amount, insisting that it was paid N10 million only. Other allegations levelled against the Fashola administration by the group included the N1.2 billion spent on the construction of pedestrian bridges along Eti-Osa–Lekki–Epe expressway “which did not specify the number of bridges”; N17 million awarded for the provision of wall signage in three magistrate courts; N3.46 billion spent on the construction of a beach resort in Ilase; and N61 million disbursed for a Range Rover SUV and two Toyota Hilux trucks as the official vehicles of Lagos Chief Judge. There was also the claim of extra-marital affair against Fashola, said to have produced a love-child.
CACOL, led by Debo Adeniran, also went to town, saying its investigation showed that the 1.36 kilometre Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge cost N6 billion and not the N25 billion quoted by Fashola’s administration.
Adeniran, who claimed he was not being sponsored by any individual, explained that several petitions written to the EFCC to probe the various projects in the state in the face of the more than N500 billion debt left by Fashola’s government, were ignored.
SERAP also alleged that the state refused to disclose details of the US$200 million World Bank education fund during Fashola’s tenure.
However, Fashola, in a response, titled, ‘Setting the Records Straight: When you wrestle with a pig, the pig gets happy and you get dirty’, dismissed the allegations.
He linked the attacks to the insinuation that he may be appointed a Minister or Secretary to Federal Government by President Muhammadu Buhari, when he stated in his response: “I expect that there may be more distorted allegations without evidence, for reasons that remain in the realm of speculation, but I have been informed reliably that large amounts of money are being paid to some of these agents to bear false witness.
“I cannot conclude without responding to the crusade of CACOL seeking my prosecution on allegations that have no proof and writing letters to the Presidency.
“In case they are unaware, I am not looking for a job, and allegations are not resolved without evidence, neither are they resolved in press conferences.
“I have served my state and, by extension, my country for twelve and a half years and I did so with my heart.
“I am taking the rest that I believe I have earned and wish those who have the responsibility to now serve us the very best in their endeavours.
“For those who wish to throw mud at me, they should look at their own hands. For those who still wish to remain in the mud, they should look in the mirror. As for me, I have moved on; my job is done.”
Fashola’s many sins
Political commentators linked the attacks on Fashola to the alleged frosty relationship with his mentor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, a National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former governor of Lagos State.
The frosty relationship theory became pronounced last Tuesday when Fashola’s former Special Adviser on Media, Hakeem Bello, launched three books on his boss’ administration. Majority of those expected at the event were absent.
Though Tinubu did not attend personally, he sent a representative, Prof Samuel. Also, former and present National APC Chairmen, Chiefs Bisi Akande and John Odigie-Oyegun; Governors Akinwumi Ambode (Lagos), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun); Oba of Lagos Rilwanu Akiolu, among other dignitaries, stayed away from the launch meant to celebrate Fashola and, by extension, APC.
Fashola’s problem with Tinubu was said to have started when he did not support the candidacy of Ambode as Lagos APC governorship candidate ahead of the 2015 polls, and even went further to counter the Ambode project by encouraging his former Commissioner for Justice Olasupo Sasore, to contest against Ambode at the primaries. Fashola was accused of spending a huge sum of money to sell Sasore to the public.
Fashola also allegedly met with the 57 local government chairmen in the state, promised to extend their tenure and even approve third term for those interested if they supported his candidate at the primaries.
Of course, Ambode, against all odds, defeated the former governor’s candidate (Sasore) among others. That singular action was seen by the camp loyal to Tinubu as “treacherous” and waited for his exit from government to strike back.
Although it is believed that no administration or individual can be perfect, the former governor was accused of introducing duplication of efforts in government business during his tenure. Many believe that the website project was unnecessary as the state government was already maintaining a department under the Ministry of Science and Technology that could have operated the website efficiently and at minimal cost. But Fashola chose to spend huge public money.
A government source also accused him of manipulating the Quality Assurance Department to have his way on procurement approvals.
Also, he was alleged to have jettisoned Lagos Television for a privately-owned TV station, where huge sums of public funds were allegedly spent on projects.
In the meantime, he was said to be economical with funds for party leaders. It was said that he did not spend on the Action Congress (AC), as the ruling party in the state then, neither did he spend on the ACN venture and, when he did, it was with reluctance.
This was in contrast to Asiwaju’s principle. The generosity of Tinubu was said to have given him the political weight as well as earned him unalloyed support from the majority of the people within and outside the party in Lagos, which Fashola lacked during his tenure.
When contacted, an APC chieftain, who preferred anonymity, ruled out the involvement of Asiwaju or the APC on the attacks against Fashola, saying, “The groups are entitled to their opinions; and Fashola is capable of defending himself and his administration. It’s unfortunate that when anything happens, we are always looking for someone to blame. Focus should now be on Budg IT, the NGO that first blew the whistle on who hired it.”
Many APC members believe it is time for the leadership of the APC and, particularly, Oba Akiolu to intervene before the matter gets messier. Already, the issues have started causing cracks within the ruling party in Lagos. “There is already division in the party, those in Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC), comprising elders of the party, have started holding parallel meetings,” the source said.
Last week, there was an emergency closed door meeting by APC leaders at the party’s secretariat to review some issues as well as the alleged involvement of Asiwaju in Fashola’s travails.
A source said: “Those who are fanning the embers of discord in the party, political jobbers, should stay away. It is like trying to fall an Iroko tree; when it comes down, it goes with smaller trees. This is what destroyed PDP. Fashola, Amaechi were instrumental to Buhari’s victory. Hence Fashola should not be persecuted on the altar of personal interest”.
On the insinuation that the attacks are targeted at tarnishing Fashola’s credibility so that he does not make the ministerial list, some APC leaders are said to be uncomfortable with the rising profile of Fashola with Buhari.
“Fashola remains the best governor in Nigeria and haters can do nothing to change that. All they are trying to pre-empt is the inevitable rise in his political profile which is considered as a threat to some people’s presidential ambition. Nigerians know who serve them,” a political analyst, Mr. Afolabi Adeoye, said.
“Truth is like the afternoon. You cannot cover it. If many states worked as hard as Fashola did for Lagos, Nigeria would be counted as one of the advanced countries today. But the worst enemies of anyone are those within.
“Those afraid that Fashola will be appointed minister are doing all they can to stop him. But you cannot stop a moving train. Ministerial appointment is not the only position in Nigeria. I agree 100 percent. He did a great job worthy of emulation by others.”
The fresh wave of change which swept some Permanent Secretaries out of service in Lagos is also linked to alleged “unprofessional conduct”, incompetence and misappropriation of funds allegedly committed during the Fashola administration.
The subsequent restructuring, referred to as “Tsunami”, is still claiming victims.
The retired permanent secretaries are:
Eng Bamgbose Martins Paul,- Works & Infrastructure
Mr. Ajanaku, Adekunle Mudashiru LTV
Arch. Adedeji, Taiwo Adetunde Waterfront & Infrastructure
Dr. Desalu Aderemi Special Duties
Mr. Pedro Lawal Alade Mohammed Justice
Mr. Fadipe, Ashamu Sewanu Local Govt Service Commission
Mr. Abari Dada Lateef Local Govt and Chieftaincy
Mrs. Obasa Regina Iyabode Energy & Mineral Resources
Mr. Sodade Adebayo Olukayode Economic Planning & Budget
Dr. Oshiyimika John Adesegun Youth & Social Development
Eng. Ogunbambi Adeniyi Hakeem Environment
Surv. Agbenla, Olorunjuwonm Joseph Surveyor General
Eng. Adenekan Ayodeji Adebayo Drainage Services
TPL Adediran Joseph Ayodele MVAA
Mr Onabolu Folake Folashade Parastatal Monitoring Office
But Mr. Habib Aruna, Chief Press Secretary to Ambode explained that the restructuring is in line with the governor’s drive to re-position the civil service for efficient performance and service delivery and not for any personal interest or motive.
“He needs people of like-minds to consummate his agenda and vision,” Aruna stated.