Sanwo-Olu: Waiting on the spirit of Lagos, By Olawale Olaleye

Former US President, Barack Obama, isn’t just endowed with hypnotic gift of the gab or oratory skills, there is always a take-home from his knowledge and wealth of experience each time he speaks, albeit not for the feeble-minded. Whenever he communicates, only the deep can understand the context, and of course, its intrinsic message.

One of the all-time outstanding speeches of the former US president, apart from the very emotional “Amazing Grace” oration, delivered during the 2015 funeral service for one of the victims of the Charleston Church shooting, was the one delivered at a commencement in 2016, shortly before he left office, where he spoke about “the strain of anti-intellectualism.” He spoke directly to politics and leadership.

Obama would later admit in a podcast with Bruce Springsteen, that he resorted to singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral, because “I’ve used up all my words,” the words he yet left with the American people, nay the world, at the commencement address at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, were even the more undying.

Ponder some excerpts: “…If you were listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from. So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.

“It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real, or telling it like it is. That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about. And yet, we’ve become confused about this.

“You know, it’s interesting that if we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctors have gone to medical school, they know what they’re talking about. If we get on a plane, we say we really want a pilot to be able to pilot the plane. And yet, in our public lives, we certainly think, ‘I don’t want somebody who’s done it before.’ The rejection of facts, the rejection of reason and science – that is the path to decline.

“It calls to mind the words of Carl Sagan, who graduated high school here in New Jersey. He said: ‘We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depths of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.”

Deepening the conversation further, Obama added: “And if participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organising and advocacy, it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you.”

The coming governorship election of Saturday, March 11, in Lagos State, is going to be a choice between reason and emotion; facts and fiction; truth and falsehood; honesty and pretence; and a decision to either move forward or backward. Definitely, not a choice between good and evil. Far from it.

Central to all of this is Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who is seeking re-election, after his first four years. Unfortunately, there have been attempts to revise the scorecard of the governor by a lot of the interested parties, who have deliberately looked away from the whole gamut of essential leadership beyond brick and mortar.

The paths to Sanwo-Olu’s journey in office have been very rough and in a stretch, unenviable. Look at it this way. Soon after assuming office in 2019, the state witnessed severerainfall – back to back – which impacted negatively on the road network, and thus increased the gridlock across the state.

Launching the #FixingLagosRoads Campaign, an intensive road rehabilitation exercise deployed to end the pains, Lagos got its groove back in no time. It may not have been Eldorado, yet, the difference has since been significant.

Remember the July 4, 2019, explosion of an NNPC pipeline in Ijagemo, a suburb of Ijegun,due to the activities of pipeline vandals? It was no mean feat for the governor to restore hope in that part of the state. Soon after, there was an upsurge in crime due largely to the activities of commercial motorcycle operators, otherwise called Okada.

Sanwo-Olu, again, rose to the challenge and restricted the activities of all commercial motorcycle and tricycle operators to a number of roads within the state. Actually, it was a hard choice to make. This containment strategem, although over-stretched security agenciesin the state, it has paid off, ultimately.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in China in January 2020, was yet another leadership test for Sanwo-Olu, which the world, especially the most developed countries, were not prepared for. Lagos, however, recorded her index case of the dreaded virus on February 27, 2020, and Sanwo-Olu, immediately assumed the role of the Incident Commander.

With his deputy, Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, a man vast in sound technology, the governor rallied the best brains in the health sector to contain the menace posed by the pandemic. And to his credit, Lagos would later become a global example on how to tame the pandemic.

Just as the rage of the pandemic was declining, came the #ENDSARS episode. Sadly, taking advantage of the protest, which soon became a global concern, and the restraint it brought on the law enforcement agents, okada and tricycle operators became laws onto themselves.

But Sanwo-Olu would not allow any of such, while sharing the sentiments as well as the imperative of the protest against police brutality in the country and in particular, Lagos. He openly identified with the idea, because it was the most sensible thing to do.

Taken together, the ugly outcome of the #EndSARS has yet to completely go away, this is not because the governor didn’t do his best in the circumstances, including taking a letter by the protesters to President Muhammadu Buhari, setting up a panel of inquiry and paying loads of compensations to some of the victims, but because some revisionists would rather things went their way, regardless of the obvious.

Nevertheless, Sanwo-Olu refused for any of the challenges to subdue the spirit of Lagos. Instead, the refrain has been ‘A Greater Lagos Rising’ with some critical infrastructure renewal to flaunt, like the recently commissioned Blue and Red rail projects, improvement in the health and education sectors, amongst several other signature others. And in spite of the difficult economic situation, Lagos has refused to buckle but living up to her billing.

Thus, whenever the revisionists and emergency power seekers come knocking ahead of Saturday, it is imperative they espouse intelligently, what qualifies them better than the incumbent, putting their resume and antecedents forward, side-by-side with that of Sanwo-Olu.

Emotional voting, without a doubt, always ends in disaster, because it typifies nothing but the strains of anti-intellectualism with multiple cells in tow. Handy examples, ironically, were set in many parts of the state after the first leg of the general election on February 25, with some now ending in regrets.

Lagos, for the purposes of a perceptive engagement, is a multi-billion dollar economy, which typifies Nigeria in her miniature – with all its fault lines and diversity. It, therefore, cannot be left in the care of any tenderfoot, because emotions are high or there’s a temptation to test the powers of the mob. That would be recipe for disaster.

This is why the choices before Lagosians on March 11, are distinct and should not be muddled up, because emotion fixes nothing, only critical thinking does. And, sincerely, if the deal breaker is stellar performance evidenced by tangibles, then, the governorship election in Lagos State this Saturday is Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s to lose.

  • Olaleye is a journalist and Editor at Thisday Newspaper

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