Wednesday August 20 2014

From Lagos, I bring greetings and a letter from Fashola to Mayor Lukwago

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

I just spent a week in the Nigerian commercial capital, Lagos. Now the population of Lagos is estimated to be anything between 18 million to 20 million…no one is sure, they have not counted properly.
If the Uganda population is 38 million today, that means more than half of the citizens of the Pearl of Africa live in Lagos.
Now as we all know, recently, after nearly 20 years, Nigeria re-surveyed its economy (they take forever to count things those Nigerians), and it turned out to be Africa’s largest economy, overtaking South Africa. It has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $510b.

Lagos, it is estimated, contributes at least 25 per cent of that, so its GDP is around $125b. We bring up this matter, first to say that the economy of Lagos State is nearly six times bigger than Uganda’s, which was about $22b when I last checked.
Again, this is not to belittle Uganda’s thing, but to make another point all together – that running Lagos is very complex. Also to add that in running a city that is 52 per cent of Uganda’s population, and an economy that is 600 per cent bigger than Uganda’s, Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola has a more difficult job, at least from an economic perspective, than President Yoweri Museveni has with Uganda.

There is at least one thing he has done better than Museveni…he got rid of boda bodas from especially the upmarket areas and central business district, while our President schmoozes and canoodles with boda bodas.
If nothing else, it makes driving in Lagos a more pleasurable experience than Kampala.
However, it is treasonous to speak of the governor of an African state as having a more demanding job than an African Big Man, so we will leave that matter and compare Fashola with his political equal, the embattled Lord Mayor of Kampala, my friend Erias Lukwago.
Right now, of course the power and money in Kampala is with another (family) friend, Jennifer Musisi, the executive director of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

It is not easy choosing between friends, and the last time I wrote about this Musisi-Lukwago issue, I lost a few invitations to dinner in Kampala because it was felt I had cast my lot with Musisi and thrown Lukwago, the elected representative of the people of Kampala, under the bus.
However, we have to return to this vexing issue because while in the delivery of results here and there, one can say that Fashola is more like Musisi, and in the problems he has had to overcome, Fashola is like Lukwago.
Like Lukwago, Fashola is from the Opposition All Progress Congress (APC), like his predecessor Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The APC does not just carry the name “progress”. Quite a few of its leaders are actually quite progressive, with Fashola among the best of the lot.

Fashola came to office in very difficult times. Then president Olusegun Obasanjo, a roguish chap but likeable nonetheless, had cut off federal funds to the Lagos State in a political dispute.
Even after the courts ruled that Obasanjo was wrong to do so, he ignored them and sat on Lagos’ cheques. In Kampala, similar difficulties proved to be a disaster for Lukwago’s regime.
In Lagos, it turned into a blessing. Fashola just couldn’t fold his agbada and go back home. Essentially, he made a pact with the Lagos business community and people; “give me the money I need to run Lagos, and pay your taxes as Lagosians and I will use it to solve your problems and not steal it”. In addition, “as long as I keep delivering, you will keep the money flowing”, or something to that effect.

Both Fashola and the people of Lagos kept their bargain. He cleaned up the city, brought boda bodas to order, improved schools and health, he has built many apartments for the city they are just falling out of his ears, he is building a cable car, he is constructing the Lagos Rail Mass Transit system (only the second modern rail-based public transport after South Africa’s in sub-Saharan Africa), and such things.
And, again, he is not the president of Nigeria (i.e. the Museveni), he is the Governor (the Lukwago). When Umaru Yar’Adua succeeded Obasanjo, he ended the feud with Lagos.

But even with that, the greater source of Fashola’s success has been to be governor of everyone in Lagos, and to galvanise the consensus of all the political parties around his leadership.
What the case of Fashola and before him, Tinubu, prove is that central governments trying to finish off mayors and governors is not new. The difference is that unlike Fashola, Lukwago just couldn’t figure out a way to dodge the bullet. “This is not an example from America. It is from just here here in Africa”, as a true Ugandan would say.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa ( Twitter: cobbo3.