By Olawale Olaleye
Ask around and honestly so, not many of his contemporaries, today, can pass the Omoluabi test. This is not in any way playing to the gallery, it is what it is: fact! Yet, being an Omoluabi is a pride of the Yoruba people. Respectable, disciplined and always guided, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Akanni Fashola (SAN), is an Omoluabi to the core.
My love for BRF as Fashola is otherwise called stems from many encounters. Being a sapiosexual myself, Fashola easily fits into the bill of “my kind of person” without any more clinical considerations. He isn’t just cosmopolitan as evident in his various picks, Fashola is arguably one of the most intelligent of his peers and indeed, generation.
For some reasons, he has proven not to be the archetypal politician, but an outstanding administrator and policy formulator, as often revealed in his demeanor. What even further distinguishes him from the quintessential politicians, is his level of maturity. Only a few can match this God-given quality.
Despite whatever misgivings anyone may identify as his personal foibles, Fashola remains deep, thoughtful, reflective, progressive in ideas, humane, hands-on and always driven by the fear of God. These, of course, do not make him perfect, but he’s one individual, who is constantly striving to do right by others, regardless of whatever could be standing in his way or the cost of doing so.
However, of all the reasons validating my love for him, the most striking is a personal encounter, which affirms the fact that he is not the conventional politician. And I’ll share this experience for the first time today. I hold this conviction dearly, because I’d always dealt with politicians all my life and I know this for a fact.
It was in the runup to the 2007 elections, soon after Fashola was unveiled as the candidate of his then party, Action Congress (AC) – drafted into the race by his former boss, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and to the shock of many – I was enlisted by his handlers to meet him.
One of my respected Egbons, whom I hold very high, Mr. Hakeem Adebayo, was the contact person. The practice was typical. An election was coming – a critical one – persons considered important in different fields are usually identified and organised to meet with candidates in different parties.
I was just a political reporter at the time but a noted one. I consented to the invitation and arrived at his campaign office on the appointed day, somewhere in Surulere. As I was ushered into his office, with him were Senator Gbenga Ashafa and Alhaji Mutiu Aare.
As with cosmopolitan people, Fashola stood up to greet; shook hands with me. His visitors too acknowledged my presence and stayed back to be part of the meeting. It was a short one actually. In a few minutes, Fashola had sold his candidacy to me and impressively, too. He wasn’t just talking, as Chief of Staff to Tinubu for five years, he had the facts and figures off the top of his head. Indeed, Fashola could be said to have run the government at the time.
I didn’t shy away from commending him; I also didn’t lie about where I stood. He was running against Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, a man I’d known many years before meeting him, so, I told him straightaway: “Sir, much as you could have my support, professionally, there’s no way I can be involved with you beyond that. Senator Obanikoro is my brother and friend and in this, I’m with him, sir.”
Atypical of politician, Fashola was neither dazed nor disappointed. Rather, he said, “Wow! I like someone like you – honest. And I’d love to be your friend, too. Do you promise that if we win this election, we’d be friends?” I replied: “Oh, yes, that’s taken.” And he said to me as I made my way out, “Okay, this is my number. Let’s keep in touch, in the meantime.”
Fashola used that same number as governor and till date as minister. I know many of his colleagues, who had changed numbers multiple times and or kept several. However, our friendship, which flourishes till date wasn’t sealed there; it was after the election, which he went on to win as earlier boasted.
On this particular day, I’d requested for an interview with him through his then information commissioner and another close brother and friend, now Senator Opeyemi Bamidele. He did as requested and when they attempted to lump us together with the Guardian Newspaper, I objected, insisting it must be exclusive to THISDAY. So, they decided to let us in first, being his first interview as governor.
As we were ushered into his office and he sighted me, he just burst into laughter – hysterically – pointing and saying to me in Yoruba: “Se mi o so fun e pe a ma na yin?”, meaning: “Didn’t I warn you that we’d defeat you guys?” Looking back, he is an agbaaya for mocking us…lol! On that day, however, our friendship was renewed and has remained the same ever since.
In fact, some weeks after this, a part of Senator Obanikoro’s house caught fire as a result of power surge, I was the one that called Fashola, who immediately sent firefighters and also a delegation to check on him. That was the first test of our friendship after the interview, in favour of his main challenger in his election. Isn’t he just different?
Pause for a moment and imagine saying to a typical politician that you couldn’t be involved with him, because you were already with his opponent (who is more or less a family member at the time), he’d not only give you a wide berth, he’ll also permanently stereotype you in the event of any opportunity. “Oh, that one? He is a Koro boy. He’s not an option.” Yet, they are quick to talk about loyalty, forgetting that you putting them on notice about where you stand is also loyalty to both sides at its best.
The fact that Fashola’s re-election was troubled and the first that would have been served what is today known as ‘the Akinwunmi Ambode treatment’ is no longer news to everyone, six years after he’s left office, I’m yet to see anyone, who would say this is what Fashola said about Tinubu that was uncomplimentary. Whoever lays claim to anything simply concocted it. Even when I tried at different times to understand some of the details of their differences, he’ll simply tell me off with a stern warning, “Wale, you can’t speak ill of my boss. It’s not allowed. I’m sorry”. So much for maturity. It’s a class act. Innate!
Little wonder, he’s always quick to remind me: “Listen, I was already on my way out to set up a new law chamber, when he called me to come and run. The least I could do, even if I couldn’t repay him, is not to pay good deeds with evil.” This line has been constant, never changing and has always resonated with me.
Fashola is a good and honest man. The fact that some still think he’s not done as much as they wanted in terms of performance, given his stellar posting in Lagos, cannot undercut his evident efforts in his ministries. Expectation is one thing, reality-based result is another. And with his postings so far, despite the obvious inadequacies, Fashola, in the circumstances, is arguably an above average candidate and one of the outstanding ministers in the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
For me, if there’s any public servant, who is worthy of being studied, it is Fashola. I had proposed to write about him shortly before he left office as governor, tentatively titled: “The Accidental Governor”, but a senior colleague I contacted to join me on the project stalled, till the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, used the same title in his book, the Accidental Public Servant”, and that further put me off, even when Fashola had approved the project.
In the proposed book, I had planned to expose, how the idea to make him governor was mooted. How he reacted the first time he was told – keeping away and shutting down every means of communication – only to return three days after to say: “I’m ready now”. I’d wanted to write about how a man sent on miscellaneous assignments – from the anteroom – became the governor of the most cosmopolitan state and left the shoes very big for his successors in many ways.
Even after this, I’d asked to have all his speeches delivered every 100 days, which was his way of celebrating the milestones of his administration as governor, for publication. Again, he agreed and efforts had since been in the works on that, although currently stymied by some forces, thankfully not beyond us.
If there’s any under-celebrated Nigerian, it is Fashola and that’s one of the materials a nation in need of rescue, requires for a rebound. He knows the issues, understands them and can sell them, almost effortlessly. He’d stand on the world stage and do the nation proud. I bet!
Happy 58th birthday to the class captain!