Sunday, November 24, 2019 10:41 am
By Dare Okuntilu
On Thursday, November 14 2019, I had just returned to my desk after lunch at the office. As I settled down for some breather, preparatory to resuming work on uncompleted assignments, a new message notification showed up on my Desktop WhatsApp. It was a message from one of my former schoolmates at the university, containing a link to a back-page commentary in Punch newspaper entitled “Fashola and the death of an Idol” – by one Abimbola Adelakun who is a columnist with the newspaper.
In the said article, the author ran a train of acidic commentary on the Minister of Works & Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, as her own contribution to the gale of apparently-misguided condemnation by some Nigerians in view of Mr. Fashola’s advocacy to journalists at the end of last week’s (November 6, 2019) Federal Executive Council meeting. The writer did a throw-back to Fashola’s previous public roles and linked them to his present national assignment, with the inferred conclusion that he is a failed politician who has not added any substantial substance to the field of governance in the country. In the following paragraphs, I will try to try to correct the erroneous impressions contained in the referenced article. But please note: I am not Mr.
Fashola’s aide and have never worked with him (closely or remotely).
Clearly determined to twist the entire episode into her desired outcome, she set out with the far-fetched claim that “Fashola wants the media to engineer reality for their administration”. This does not in any way reflect the minister’s clearly-stated position that journalists demonstrate ‘balance’ in their reports. At the parley, Fashola acknowledged that some roads are bad, while declaring that many others are good as well.
Construction works would resume on some of the bad roads after the rains, he said, while urging journalists to reflect this in their stories. So, how does an appeal of this nature amount to soliciting ‘engineered reality’, as claimed by Adelakun. Is it true or false that some roads are good while others are bad? Would construction works resume on some bad roads after the rains or not? Is it true or false that there are on-going road repairs by FG or not?
Put under the lens of professional microscope, Fashola’s appeal finds full expression in the journalistic principles of balance and fairness. These principles were not created by him, but they mandate practitioners of media to ensure that both sides to an issue are properly-considered at all times; giving bite to a principle that lawyers refer to as ‘fair-hearing’. In journalism parlance, this is otherwise framed as “looking at the other side of the coin”. So, in what way did Fashola commit the sin of “exaggerating the power of the media”, as claimed Adelakun? Rather than lampoon Fashola for seeking to use the media for “engineered image”, Adelakun ought to at least appreciate him for reminding journalists of the ethics of their profession.
Beyond the principle of fairness and balance, but still standing on journalistic ethics, general reaction of the media to the Fashola plea would only serve to drill a further wedge into their relationship with the minister. And this can easily give birth to another professional phenomenon that one of my former lecturers, the great Prof. Adidi Uyo, once described as a “chill out” by information source. Simply explained, it means that your news source can go cold on you if s/he suddenly feels insecure with you as a media professional. Of course, it can be argued that the minister is obligated to provide information to news men because of the office he’s sitting in. But, for journalists, the real gist comes from ‘unofficial news’ (usually decorated as ‘off record’). A frosty relationship with your source is bound to leave you dry of such ‘useful gossip’.
Adelakun’s diatribe against Fashola took a more curious turn when she did a flashback to Fashola’s tenure as governor of Lagos, describing it as more of media hype than reality and gave a hypocritical inference that he could only boast of ‘traffic lights’ that are no longer functional as his greatest achievement in Lagos. She cast majority of Lagos residents in a cloak of stark ignorance, stressing that most of them only mouthed “Lagos is working” under Fashola without knowing “what exactly Fashola had done that improved their lives as individuals”. For lack of better description, I think these submissions easily establish that this whole attack by Adelakun on Fashola reeks more of personal resentment than professional assessment. And the reason I say so is simple: Fashola’s achievements as governor of Lagos State reverberated far and wide. His urban renewal project was so well-received that state governments across the country practically made a template off of him, replicating many of his projects in their various domains. Testimonies abound till today!
How on earth did Adelakun come to the conclusion that Fashola is a “hype”. How? The spotlight on Fashola was real and authentic, to the extent that CNN ran a documentary (anchored by Christian Purefoy) on him, talking to people on the streets of Lagos and with the ending that he is a ‘rare breed’. Even government of Ghana sent delegates to Lagos to learn logistics management as it concerns the BRT transport system.
Why won’t anybody not love a governor Fashola who was the first to set-up power plants in Lagos, five of them (Marina, Lekki, Akute, Alausa and Ikeja GRA)? Under him, Lagos became renowned as one big construction site; with topline road projects scattered across different areas of the state: Iju-Ishaga, Ogba, Igando long-span bridge, Surulere, Isolo-Jakande, Ikotun, Lekki, Ikoyi, Obalende, Lagos Island, Ikorodu, Mile 2, Orile, etc. At least, two new general hospitals were created from scratch (Ifako-Ijaiye and Ikorodu, I remember). There was a first-ever beautification project that restored ‘greeness’ to Lagos, with the complementary desire to plan against the damaging effects of climate change. Fashola as governor pursued law and order with resolute firmness, as all security agencies owned by the state received full empowerment and stayed alert to their responsibilities without let. There was an upgrade of state-owned stadiums to international standards as public schools equally witnessed massive structural and academic renewal. For once, “excellence” became a living mantra in Lagos; not just a word buried in the state’s “Centre Of Excellence” slogan. Does Adelakun truly believe that Fashola’s brilliance and dedication that saw to clinical defeat of Ebola in a timely manner was just a media hype? C’mmon!
Taking her argument to a more ridiculous height, Adelakun wants us to believe that Fashola only got assigned three ministries (Power, Works, Housing) in President Buhari’s first term because, according to her, the President himself is a lazy man who just needed somebody to do all the hard works for him. Fashola did not merit that assignment, she projected, further describing him as “excuse machine” who is quick to regal us with “litany of excuses” and is always “blaming the People’s Democratic Party for what they failed to achieve”. This is one criticism that is bound to hurl Adelakun to the nadir of her professional ranking. For, Fashola would easily rank as the most visible member of President Buhari’s cabinet. Not because he is being dramatic, but because he is constantly engaging the media – briefing them about various activities being undertaken by his ministry. He has done it so well that not a few commentators have even branded him a talkative.
Courtesy of his regular media interventions, Fashola has thrown up intellectual challenges about project financing and has even turned some of us to mini-experts on issues that hitherto we knew very little about. His suggestion about conversion of pension funds to loan for financing federal roads is not an excuse. He wants the government to float bonds that can attract investment from willing Nigerians who have as little as N1,000.00 (One Thousand Naira). Is Adelakun not aware of these?
In his days in charge of ministry of power, he started monthly roundtable discussions that involved critical stakeholders and regularly updated us with goings-on in the country’s power sector. “Stranded electricity”, “Eligible Customer”, “Incremental Power” are some of the technical terms we learnt through his usual public engagements.
The jury is still out, but I believe strongly that Fashola has performed creditably well so far – well ahead of any other minister in the current and even the immediate past cabinet. In the power sector, he superintended upgrade of transmission lines from 5,000MW to 7,000MW and distribution from 2,690MW to 5,222MW – with numerous on-going power projects, some targeted at market centers, some targeted at universities and teaching hospitals and many others intended to boost supply to national grid. The drive with which he pursued hydro power plants in Zungeru and Mambilla highlights the classic Fashola. His National Housing Program that has given birth to on-going housing projects in 34 states of the federation, coupled with numerous road projects that are either on-going or completed, bears the signature of a man who is carefully writing himself to the good side of history in the Nigeria project. The quality of work being done by the contractor handling the road reconstruction project in Lagos, from Apapa to 7up Toll Gate is so high up that a good number of Lagos residents have turned the construction site to a mecca of sorts – drooling with wonderment at both the thickness of the road surface and the unusual mixture of materials being deployed by the contractor. And the Second Niger Bridge is on course for delivery by 2022, with regular pictures on progress from the minister’s team.
I decided to do this rejoinder not because I believe that Fashola is a messiah, far from it. Rather, I believe that he has shown highly unusual commitment to public service and should be supported. He’s got good, infectious energy and has been largely upright; not even with the disclosure that he refused to access the approved pension for ex-Lagos governor because he does not believe in it. My support for him does not in any way affirm that he’s the best Nigeria has offer in public service, but he has an enormous amount of dedication and focus that obviously place him head and shoulder his peers. This kind of support, I believe, would motivate a lot more focused minds to take up government appointments; with the attendants benefits to the overall health of the country. And I encourage Adelakun herself to take up challenge thrown at journalists by the minister, by digging deeper to understand full ramifications of things instead of picking just one line of thought and running away with. That is the real task before all of us, if we truly desire a progress-laden country.
-Dare Okuntilu works with Culture Communications and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.