By Akin Owolabi
In less than three months, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, (SAN), will vacate the posh office of the Governor of Lagos State after the mandatory two terms of eight years. By May 29 this year he would relinquish being the appropriator of authoritative values in Nigeria’s most prosperous state. Then he would have chalked for himself a welter of accolades in the broad spectrum of human endeavour. He would have brightly shone the face of Lagos megacity and positively influenced the state’s skyline more than his predecessors.
A lot of juicy packages await this very successful state craftsman of our time. The state’s statutes, which he also would have superintended for eight years, have taken good care of his ‘everlasting’ well-being. A personal house in Lagos and Abuja, two brand new cars of the sports utility vehicle (SUV) genre – to be replaced at regular interval, medical allowances in the region of a N100million annually and monthly pension far above the salaries of super business executives, and a coterie of well-groomed personal staff are just some of Fashola’s package on vacation of office. He is not alone in such a cosy ambience. Even Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s deputy for a fraction of a month still parades the streets with the appurtenance of His Excellency, among other mouth-watering perquisites.
Something more lucrative is also on the wings of time. Should Fashola’s political party – All Progressive Congress (APC) – win the 2015 presidency, one of the most juicy ministerial portfolios would definitely go to him, which would permit him access to appropriation of funds that could dwarf his two-term budgets Lagos State. Fashola may have become the Governor of Lagos State as a relatively poor man but he is definitely not going to leave office that way. He needed not to have stolen public funds to become stupendously rich. The system has adequately made sure that Fashola, and others of the calibre will never taraka (lack). He has, by virtue of attaining that office, joined the prestigious club of nouveau riche, and the possibility of ever climbing down will never occur – may it not.
While Fashola is well furnished by a system steeped in bizarre inequalities, others at the lowest rung are being piloried, abused and discriminated against even before the keen glare of the governor. This is so because Fashola, over his eight-year sojourn in power, has knowingly or otherwise, turned a blind eye to the continuous trampling and travails of state’s public workers at the rough edge of the system.
Isn’t it grave enough that someone, who was served a letter of retirement at a government establishment should still be crying painfully for the settlement of his well-deserved benefits almost 15 years after he was unceremoniously and unjustly shuffled out of his job – a treatment described by a management expert as ‘career vandalism’? What is even due to this marginal worker over the 15-year period is bound to be a negligible fraction of what the governor would earn per day – infinitesimally minute in a system where an average Nigerian worker would take 1,168 years to earn a legislator’s monthly salary.
There has continued to be crippling official lethargy and numbing political disinterest in the affairs of more than 70 workers who had their jobs snatched through abrupt closure of their workplace in January 2003. These unfortunate citizens first resorted to pleading in vain for the re-opening of the establishment for an initial five years after which they spent subsequent seven years begging that they be paid off. Incidentally, no Lagos government official, political or civil, has confessed that these former employees do not deserve a fair treatment. In fact, and since 2010, spirited efforts had been strained officially to settle the claims. However, such efforts had always met stonewall at the political high station.
One thing should stand out in this preachment. The problem at hand was not a creation of the Fashola administration but was inherited from his immediate predecessor. And this appears to have complicated the matter. The Alausa, Ikeja secretariat appears fretful about untying the knot securely notched by Asiwaju Tinubu, more so that the governor emeritus vowed a refusal to be placated following Lagos Horizon workers’ vehement demand for the removal of the general manager, a Tinubu’s appointee.
This writer was editing Eko Today weekly tabloid, a publication founded in 1988 by the now late Vice Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe as Military Governor of Lagos State. He was about clocking seven years in the editorial suite and moving towards the 12th year in the company’s service – Lagos Horizon Publishing Company Limited – when the Tinubu administration coasted home with a preconception to scrap the newspaper.
He had appointed a general manager who, within three months of assumption of office, unilaterally (without authorisation from the supervisory Ministry of Information) retired this writer and a crop of staff erroneously suspected to be loyal to me. The new helmsman ran the newspaper with iron hand and within three years provoked the staff to demand his exit, an event that precipitated the much-planned closure of the company in January 2003. Till date, the company is yet to be statutorily liquidated.
It defies rational explanation that the Tinubu/Fashola administration that has created more parastatal organisations – from 40 at inception to about 150 now – than its predecessors could so deadpan about the payment of benefits to the one it has a predilection to hate.
It is curious that the defunct Lagos Horizon staff are still being viciously persecuted and discriminated against over the payment of their entitlements 12 years after closure. The real issue lies in the political colouration and political vendetta being brought to bear on a straight-forward industrial matter.
A very senior official volunteered that the limited liability nature presumed that the owner could only lose his capital outlay but with government as its owner, we deserve compensation, as the founder (in this case, the Lagos State Government) is neither dead nor bankrupt. The closure of the company was simply informed by political rather than business consideration. In line with this reasoning, the pension arm of the Ministry of Establishment has more than twice updated its computation of figures in the laid-off workers’ behalf. Funny though, four years into the closure of the company, budgetary allocations were still pouring forth in Lagos Horizon direction. The company was still making waves at the very time of closure.
It is a sincere prayer that Fashola should overcome the dilemma fear; for the Scriptures say: ‘the fear of man is what lays a snare’ and conversely, ‘the fear of God is the start of wisdom’. The Asiwaju has gone ahead to build a superstructure, a monumental edifice – The Nation newspapers – on the ashes of Lagos Horizon/Eko Today. He neither brought down Lagos Television nor killed Radio Lagos before founding TV Continental and Radio Continental respectively.
Mr. Michael Opeyemi Bamidele attempted to revive the company while serving as Commissioner for Information in Lagos State but was pointedly told that he was stepping on sensitive toes. He beat a hasty retreat and the broaching of such an idea was one of the issues at the root of his severe political setback in even in far away Ekiti State.
Governor Fashola is far above pettiness and can, therefore, for the sake of the Almighty, authorise the immediate payment of defunct Lagos Horizon staff claims as he prepares to vacate in May. The computed claims have been collecting dust on the table of the Honourable Commissioner for Establishment, Pension and Training, Alausa, Ikeja for some time, begging for political will to right a stupendous wrong. Express settlement of the entitlements is the clean path of honour and justice and the doing of what the Almighty God likes – giving to the poor – thereby ‘lending to the True God. Fifteen years is too long a wait for someone on the threshold of seven decades on earth – a pathetic case of justice delayed and denied. Fashola should act now before vacating for a very rosy post-governorship life.
*Owolabi, former editor and newspaper manager, lives in Ota, Ogun State.