Great leaders, they say, are made and not born. Great leaders are often lauded for their successes; however, what makes good leaders great are the trials and difficult moments. What distinguishes them from others, is their incurable optimism. When things fall apart, they strive to hold it together. Certain leaders are made for certain times and I believe Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwoolu is one of such. Governor Sanwoolu’s government has been faced with turbulent times. It was a rocky start for him as just a few months into his Government, whilst just trying to navigate the bumpy terrain of transition and the need to crystallize the low hanging fruit of timely deliverables, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Mr. Governor immediately swung into action, took the bull by the horn and provided leadership that would eventually stem the tide of the pandemic that had hitherto wreaked havoc in many of the developed nations of the world, even with a much better and sophisticated health care system and infrastructure. COVID-19 was a monumental challenge for leaders and governments, given its implications for domestic and global economies. In Nigeria, Lagos was definitely the epicenter of the pandemic but the Government of Lagos State under Governor Babajide Sanwoolu effectively nipped COVID -19 in the bud and was greatly commended by all and sundry. The leadership provided by Lagos saved the country and indeed, the Sub Saharan Africa, an imminent collapse of the healthcare system. Shortly after that, there was the End Sars (anti-police brutality) protest that rocked the entire city and lasted for a considerable number of days going into weeks. The Governor had just concluded the task of chairing the Campaign council of his party at the 2020 Governorship Election in Ondo State and after leading his party to victory, he returned to Lagos and even joined the various acts of procession alongside the well-meaning protesters particularly at the Admiralty toll plaza, where to his amazement, there was such an organized assembly of young people ventilating their grievances at the various reported instances of police brutality.
In an expression of dissatisfaction with the kid-gloves approach of Government at various levels to the several reports of police brutality, the youth of Nigeria embarked on a nationwide protest with Lagos again, as the epicenter. Governor Sanwoolu made several efforts to identify with the youth and even went ahead to submit their grievances to the President regardless of the fact that he was booed at an occasion when he opted to join in the protest; particularly at the Lekki toll Plaza. It all went smoothly until an unfortunate evening, sometime in 20th October, 2020, when soldiers were reportedly deployed to the venue of the rally and reportedly opened fire at unarmed civilians.
Certainly, The Governor had to be the fall guy for what transpired that night, but as a Legal Practitioner, I know that it is not within the constitutional powers of the Governor to give orders to the military. However, like I said, leadership could be a complex affair; particularly in a nascent democratic circumstance, where the population is often awash with half-truths, laced with predispositions and oftentimes, sentiments which could on some occasions, be quite understandable. Therefore, I might not have reasons to blame people who still accuse him in that regard, even though I know that the Governor immediately went round the entire state that night to forestall an imminent break down of law and order, in an unusual display of courage, resilience and strong character in the face of imminent breach of the peace of the coastline city. Certainly, he is the leader in Lagos so understandably, he takes all of the blame as much as he takes all of the credit for the achievements and success of Lagos. Lagos was immediately thrown into civil unrest after that infamous incident at the Lekki toll plaza. There was wanton destruction of property, including the Governor’s family house at Surulere. Lagos was in flames and there was civil disorder.
Understandably, ‘Sanwoolu’ was the song on everyone’s lips and it must have been a tough time for this gentleman whose intention was merely to serve. Court buildings were razed down by angry mobs and public assets and infrastructure were destroyed and shops and houses (including the palace of the Oba and Paramount ruler of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Aremu Osuolale Akiolu) looted by individuals who are certainly not true Lagosians because the spirit of the ‘Lagosian’ is that of good character and resilience, in the face of adversity. All of the events turned out to be part of a grand conspiracy of some sort against Lagos. Some of the BRT buses were burnt and the famous High Court of Lagos State at Igbosere was also burnt by these arsonists. Unfortunately, the estimated value of the properties destroyed was in the region of about N1 trillion. It was a sad moment for Lagos. The loss was huge and unquantifiable and it was a dark era in the history of modern Lagos. However, the city bounced back as usual and normalcy was restored. Sometime around that period too, there was a fatal helicopter crash around the Opebi axis of Ikeja in the state capital which claimed a number of lives. Not too long after, there was a gas explosion somewhere around FESTAC that claimed lives and destroyed properties. Infact, the Governor had to take pictures from the unfortunate incident to Mr. President in Abuja.
Fast forward to sometime in January, 2022, in the process of enforcing a judgment of the Supreme Court in respect of the occupancy of the Magodo axis of Lagos, men of the armed forces accompanied some group of judgment creditors and laid a siege on Magodo, marked nearly all the houses and judgment property and made movement within and outside of that part of the city, impossible. The Governor immediately visited the scene and asked to speak with the officer in charge who in turn informed him that it was an ‘order from above’. This must have been quite humiliating for a Governor; the Chief Security Officer of the state, to have his hands tied in a situation as such right at the heart of the city where he governs. He eventually had to call in the parties involved to reach an amicable resolution. I can humbly say that I was part of this process where meetings were frequently held at the office of the Honourable Attorney General, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN, at the Attorney General’s conference room in Alausa.
Just this year again and less than three months into the year, fire razed the Auto spare parts market in the Apapa Ajegunle area of Lagos state, destroying about 200 shops and claiming lives. This was a national tragedy. Just a few days after, a train accident occurred at the Shogunle area of Ikeja where an oncoming train collided with a BRT bus conveying some public servants to work in Alausa. As of now, 7 of them were confirmed dead and about 80 of them wounded. Unforgettable, was the 21-storey building collapse at Gerrard Road in Ikoyi, where many people died with their bodies trapped within. This particular one was just one too many and the foregoing are just some, amongst many other unfortunate incidents that our ‘Lagos’ had to recover from. It’s been an admixture of ‘A Long Walk to Freedom’ and ‘The Audacity of Hope’.
This Government has had a tough three and half years in the saddle. What is more amazing is the manner in which the Government has handled all of these unfortunate incidents. The Governor has led from the front and has been proactive. He has shown character and resilience in the face of challenging situations, reminiscent of the Ukrainian President’s, Volodymyr Zelensky, who has stood firm and strong in the face of a global crisis and an actual war, declared on and ravaging his country. In the midst of all of these events and dwindling economic fortunes, the Sanwoolu Government has still delivered some laudable projects. Chief amongst them is the ‘Lagos rail project’. This project was conceived by late Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the 2nd Republic Governor of Lagos in a bid to have an intermodal transportation network to convey the huge working population of Lagos. It was halted along the line, but eventually resuscitated by Governor Sanwoolu who has consolidated the gains of the past, particularly having facilitated the completion of projects initiated before his assumption of office. Notable amongst them is the Agege Pen Cinema, a major road network in Lagos.
The THEMES Agenda, which guides the administration’s policy framework, have been pursued diligently in the past three and half years. THEMES, the agenda for Greater Lagos, represents the six-pillar development plan of the Sanwoolu administration. It stands for Traffic Management and Transportation; Health and Environment; Education and Technology; Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy; Entertainment and Tourism; and Security and Governance. The Government has maximized the instrumentality of the agenda to deliver laudable projects and has also made remarkable achievements across the various sectors.
For Instance, the Sanwoolu Government has expanded the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system by opening new routes. It also expanded water transportation with the construction of new jetties and deployment of more Lag Ferries which has helped communities around the Lagoon like Ikorodu commute seamlessly. Below are some of the laudable projects of Governor Jide, despite the challenges and turbulent times that pervaded and nearly consumed the administration. Some are completed; some have been initiated and some are nearing completion such that Lagos is dotted with diverse completed and ongoing projects that distinguish among other states.
- over 1,000 additional classrooms built
- the Lekki-Epe expressway, which will directly connect Lagos East to Benin-Sagamu expressway
- six-lane Eleko-Epe rigid pavement expressway
- over 16 housing estates across the state,
- Oshodi-Abule-Egba BRT Lane
- Imota Rice Mill
- John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History
- One key road infrastructure that undoubtedly solved major traffic conflicts in Ikeja and environs as well as served as a legacy project for the Sanwo-Olu administration is the 3.89-kilometre-long Ojota-Opebi link bridge, which will open into Ojota axis in Kosofe, taking traffic from Opebi U-Turn and dropping it at Ikorodu Road via an intersection that will be constructed under Odo Iya Alaro Bridge at Mende. The road will be supported by 276-metre-long deck-on-pile bridge and 474 metre-long mechanically stabilised earth-wall approach sections. The carriageway, which is a new connectivity, would create an easy exit for commuters leaving Ikeja-Onigbongbo axis towards Ojota and Maryland. The project was initiated to proffer permanent solution to inadequacies of Opebi Link Bridge and the Opebi U-turn, and to ease pressure on overburdened routes within Ikeja, with the objective of reducing travel time along the corridor.
- Agric-Isawo Road, Ikorodu,
- Bola Tinubu-Igbogbo-Imota Road,
- Oba Sekumade Road, Ipakodo, Ikorodu, Itamaga to Ewu Elepe town,
- Construction of 22 Bus Shelters
- Regeneration of GRA, Ikeja.
- Massey Children’s Hospital, to become a 150-bed specialist hospital and the biggest Children’s Hospital in Sub-Saharan Africa when completed.
- 10 Triage and Oxygen centres, completed and commissioned
- Mother and Child Center (MCC), Epe;
- Eti-Osa Mother and Child Center (MCC), Ajah
- public health facilities are ongoing at Ebute-Meta and Harvey Road
- General Hospital, Odan and Isolo,
- Infectious Disease Centre, Yaba
Those are some of the laudable projects amongst others. Though it remains to be fully consummated, major infrastructural projects have since been embarked on by this Administration such that the city has become a huge construction site through various attempts at completing some of the projects inherited from previous administrations. Of the many ongoing projects in the state, the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, the 27km blue line, and 37km red line rail projects stand out for reasons bordering on strategic socio-economic importance and the sheer scale of the projects.
The Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a road reconstruction and expansion from four lanes to 10 lanes with dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes and light rail tracks. The Governor Babatunde Fashola administration awarded the contract for this road, but to date and until the accession of Governor Jide to the office, commuters have been fed only on a diet of hope and expectations.
The Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a major gateway to Nigeria’s West Coast neighbours such as Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo, and others. Apart from facilitating trade and commerce between Nigeria and these neighbouring countries, the expressway will also cause developments along that route; more particularly with the African Development Bank funded Lagos-Abidjan Expressway and the proposed Badagry Ports manifestly present on that corridor. The road also holds the promise of unlocking the huge tourism potentials in a historic place like Badagry.
Undoubtedly, Governor Sanwoolu came into the saddle and was Governor in the most challenging few years of Lagos, but he was able to contribute his own quota to the development of the state in an unusual manner. Coined and adapted from the bible verse of Esther 4:14, maybe Governor Jide was made Governor for just such a time as this. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” they say. The manner in which the man has dealt with the challenges and maintained his cool and calm, is quite commendable as every leader must convey confidence by perfecting their body language. Governing Lagos is a herculean task. The man could be an easy going, cool, suave, urbane, calm, collected and an unassuming individual, but he has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, the attribute of a true fighter and a true Lagosian. He is down to earth and a good team player. A leader is that person who shows character in the face of challenges. It is very important that Lagos rallies round a man of great vision, ideas, character and an absolutely committed servant of the public. Lagos is not for trial and error or emotional outbursts. It is the largest city-state economy in Africa with its rich history and roots. Lagosians should not fall prey to a clandestine advocacy of some obnoxious tendencies that only tilt towards a mere façade, but unfortunately too, taking advantage of an unenlightened few who might just have a little understanding of history, politics and governance.
One very significant way in which the Lagos State Government differs from other states of the federation is continuity in governance, which has been taken further by Governor Jide. It is important that we enthrone continuity and see to the effect that a Greater Lagos truly rises. One area that I suggest that could cause Lagos to pioneer and premiere a new economic order is on the coastline. The coastline of Nigeria is an 853 km coastline. Due to its geomorphological, beach-type and vegetational characteristics, it is subdivided into four different areas that run from east to west of the barrier lagoon coast, the transgressive mud coast, the Niger Delta and the strand coast. There are rivers, creeks, lagoons, estuaries, mangroves, lakes, streams all comprising the internal water, navigable waters and inland waterway of the 853 km coastline of Nigeria. Interestingly, the 11km Lagos Lagoon which is a tributary of different aquatic distributaries connects the Atlantic Ocean through the Lagos Harbour. The potentials of the coastline of Nigeria are huge in terms of land reclamation, land side infrastructure, commercial fishing, leisure and recreation, tourism, real estate and generally speaking, Infrastructure development along the internal waters. The coastline is a potential $1 trillion economy for the country and with a more progressive Government in the works, the opportunities for expansion are innumerable. The coastal economy is largely untapped. Lagos could begin to provide leadership through aggressive policy formulation, business regulation, public private partnership with a clear vision to develop the coastline and conduct a joint development framework along the coastal belt. With a 20-year comprehensive development plan for the coastal belt, we would be unlocking another great potential for economic growth and tourism. The navigable waters from the Lagos end go all the way to Calabar in the South-South region of Nigeria. The foregoing is an area that the state can begin to maximize and benefit from the economies of scale. I’m also of the view that, the next dispensation should allow for many young people who might be desirous of contributing their God-given gifts, deploying their energy and lending their voices to see that a Greater Lagos, that gives the youth a platform, truly rises.
Finally, in the lyrics of the Legendary King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal the Ultimate (K1 De Ultimate) each time he serenades the Lagos political aristocrats at Lagos rooted functions, “se e ri ise wa abi e ri ise wa, ewo igboro wo, igboro ni e wo se eh ri ise wa”. Meaning, look around and see our wonderful works.
Ayodeji Olatubora is a Legal Practitioner and a Development and Policy Professional and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.