By Olusegun Fafore
This conversation took place at the Babajide Sanwo-Olu campaign office, a 3-storey building on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The discussion was between Dr. Obafemi Hamzat and Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The latter’s office was about three doors away from the former’s who had just returned from an outing.
It was a sunny afternoon, about 2pm or so. Gbolahan Animashaun, Dr. Hamzat’s Personal Assistant, emerged from the stair case holding some publications. His appearance announced Dr. Hamzat’s arrival. Sauntering past me as we casually exchanged greetings, Gbolahan’s tired visage led me to the conclusion that he must have had a very busy day. I took a quick look at him and noticed that his amusingly protruding belly had gone down a little.
Easing-going and down-to-earth, Gbolahan was the go-to guy for most people who needed to know Dr. Hamzat’s itinerary during the campaign. But my interest in Gbolahan is beyond his enchanting attributes. Sight of him amuses me. Lanky and light-skinned, the Epe Prince, who is also my friend would have been a perfect model for Calvin Klein male tops, but manifestation of hi paunch, obvious in his trademark knee-length garbs aborted my imagined celebrity endorsement deal for him.
“Eku ise o. How are you guys doing?”, that voice halted my musings and signalled that Dr. Hamzat was closer than I thought. I decided to lower myself into a-3 seater behind the door that welcomes people to the 3rd floor and quietly watch him walk pass the door. I changed my position, but could no longer get out of the floor without being seen. You cannot miss Dr. Hamzat’s voice in a crowd. Light and courteous, assuredly heralding the Omoluabi from whose body the calming sound came.
Minutes later, he opened the door to Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s office. Observing events from my little space, covert enough for even Mrs. Titi Oshodi, the Administrative Manager, who operated from the open plan office on the floor, not to see me. I unintentionally followed the conversation between the two men, who are now the Governor and Deputy Governor of Lagos State.
Even though the excerpts of the discussion as recalled below had at first strengthened my belief in the leadership abilities, commitment and foresight of the two men, the events of one year after their election have also proven that purpose breeds results. Beyond the THEMES Agenda, it is clear that Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat have their shared idea of a beautiful and functional Lagos etched on the slates of their hearts. And that, they are working tirelessly and committedly towards to achieving.
“Jide, ba wo ni?”, making for a seat opposite his running mate, “I just got in from Ketu now and the traffic was horrendous”
“Ha! pele, Ore! We have a whole lot to do concerning the current traffic situation in the State when elected by God’s grace”.
“I totally agree with you. The man hour lost to go-slow is unquantifiable”.
“You are talking of man hour? Discomfort to people nko? Have you also thought about what a blocked road can cause in an emergency?”
“Jide, God won’t allow such an occurrence! It is better imagined”
“But Femi, how did we get here? When did going to Surulere from Victoria Island start taking up to 3 hours?”
“Well… I think a combination of factors. Planning issues and endemic culture of indiscipline”
“You are right. That means government and citizens have shared responsibility in making the state work and intra-city commuting easy”
“We may need to review our traffic laws and rules. Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA) will need increased attention because of its centrality to planning”.
“I am actually keen on matching population growth with infrastructural needs. That will help solve some of our physical planning challenges and lead the State on methodical developmental plan”.
“But this path has always been there”
“You are right, Femi. But we have to be deliberate. See, things must be different. We will launch an infrastructural revolution that will address basic challenges making life difficult for residents of the State”
“We have to, Jide. The rate of population growth in Lagos has made irresponsible leadership a crime against humanity”.
“We have no choice. Fate has bestowed us with an opportunity to make contributions to the development of Lagos State”.
“It is a great privilege. And I hope the electorate will give us the opportunity to serve”
“God will help us, Jide. I am certain that we will make remarkable impacts”.
“En… hen… this is the action plan I discussed with you”
“So, you chewed the document overnight, Jide?”
“What is my job? The document is our compass to a Greater Lagos”
“I agree with you. I think it is comprehensive enough. I am convinced dedicated implementation will change the way things are in Lagos”
“It better does. Especially the education and health sectors. We need to revamp them like yesterday”.
“You are not off point. Heatth is also a point of interest for me. The demography of our State shows that we need a functional health system”
“Well, things are not as bad as they look. We only need to start with upgrading public health infrastructure and getting the right leadership for the Ministry”
“Do you have someone in mind for the State Ministry of Health?”
“Yes, I have my eyes on a particular Professor, let God just grant our aspirations, Femi”
“Insha Allah. He will. At least, our determination to make a difference is Godly and will be a benefit to mankind. That itself is service to God”.
“I agree, totally. We will provide conscientious leadership and remember God in our doings”.
Soon after the conversation, Michael Ojomo, one of Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s assistants led a lady in white uniform into the office where the two men were. From the way Mr. Sanwo-Olu received her, it was obvious that he was expecting her to bring his lunch.
“Kini madam fi ran se?” he inquired.
“Ewa ati Dodo ni sir”, the lady responded
“Oh! That is nice. Femi, oya let’s do this thing jo”.
“I think I will do mine without the Dodo jor”
“Kilo ma fi lo then?”
“Garri. Somebody should get me some cold water and Garri” Dr. Hamzat entreated.
Mrs. Oshodi, in response to the call for cold water, scurried towards the stairs and called out to Ify tenderly, “Ify! Ify!! Ify!!! Bring some Garri, cold water and plenty ice cubes. For proper identification, Ify was Oshodi’s subordinate in the administrative department of the campaign. As instructed, she emerged with a jug, small bowl and ice cubes crates on a tray and headed to Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s office.
“Very well-done”, Dr. Hamzat commended Ify, who obviously delivered the requested goods as expected. There was a momentary silence. The silence was later followed by the sound of water pouring into a bowl and unpacking of ice cubes. Ify had left. So, the two men were serving themselves.
“You people should come and carry this Dodo” said Mr. Sanwo-Olu. The statement implied that the two men had reached a consensus that Garri, soaked in cold water, with globules of ice, would calm their busy minds in that hot afternoon. As they were having their modest lunch of Garri and Beans, I remained in my self-imposed isolation. I flavoured my solicitude with reflections about these men who have shown interest in taking Lagos to a greater height.
“It has been three months since we started working at the campaign office. These men reported to work as if they were getting paid… very early, 8am, switching who arrived first between themselves, but both would be at their desks by 8.30am”, I thought to myself.
“But politicians are not supposed to be this organised. Why are these men operating like corporate executives?” was the question bothering my mind when I reminded myself that both of them had served as Commissioners, with impressive credentials that could have earned them a regal perch at the top of any transnational corporation if they had remained in the private sector.
I marvelled at how their sophistication is clothed in humility and authenticity. It was too real to be true for me. Yes. All my life, I have worked with, and around men of means and power. I know how repellent the attitude oozed by that class can be. It dawned on me how personable the two men were and still are, when Dr. Hamzat would pull anyone in the media centre to explain the analytics of the campaign projected to the screen on the media floor, or when Mr. Sanwo-Olu would come to the media floor to watch Arsenal matches, freely discussing and analysing the games with other Arsenal fans in the campaign office. One cannot ignore the humanity in them.
“These men are not hierarchical. They are accessible and down-to-earth”, I was just passing my judgement on them when I realised that the conversation had resumed. Now, the voices were clearer and more relaxed. That taught me that cold water with the right accompaniments could be magical in a hot afternoon.
“With those additional elements, Our THEMES agenda will produce visible impact”
“You should feel because that document covers a whole lot”
“Femi, it is a lot. It was an overnight work for me, but it made me feel really good”
“That was how I felt when I went through It two days ago”
“The Adiyan II water project caught my eyes and I felt bad.
“It is worrisome, really. Potable water should not be a problem in Lagos”.
“It should not. That project will be one of the very firsts we will revisit. Pipe-borne water needs to return to homes across Lagos”.
“There are a number of firsts, Jide. Several uncompleted projects here and there”
“I agree. The Lagos-Badagry way. The Agege Bridge. Mother and Child Centres”
“The ones in Eti-Osa, Epe and Badagry?”.
“Yes. Alimosho, even”
“I visited the facilities last week and realised we can quickly get them to serve the people”
“Jide are you not worried by the quantum of uncompleted projects that would have transformed our lives in Lagos”
“One should, but we should not be worried. Completing high impact projects that will make life easy for our people is where we will start from”.
“We owe Lagosians our absolute commitment if they can trust us with their votes”
“I know how you feel. I feel that way too because of the determination to make things work efficiently”.
“Lagos has to work. Things have to be different. We need to complete the various housing schemes. Let people have the houses. Housing deficits have to be addressed because Lagos population grows every minute”
“The Works and Infrastructure part of you is taking over ooo. Ha ha ha….”.
“Man yi, ki la fe se now. We have to get into the groove like now”.
“Let’s win the election first, Mr. Deputy Governor. We will have the legitimacy to make the desired difference”
“From Igando to Ikorodu to Badagry to Epe to Lekki, there are housing projects that can partly address housing deficits in Lagos”
“Don’t worry. We will make completion of these projects a priority in our first year in office if God permits”
“Allah will grant our heart desires and permit our aspirations”
“I think the meeting with the private sector people was okay?”
“I feel so too. I actually thought about the whole deliberations on my trip to Ketu. The private sector is the partner we need on this journey”
“Of course. The private sector contributes about 75% of Lagos State GDP. We need to enable them to do more”
“That means deliberate government policy for private sector growth. The action plan must breed economic development”
“Yes. Actions and policies that will increase private sector confidence in government and encourage collaborations”
“We will begin with revision of the approval processes. Business registration. Title registration and all that”
“Femi, we will have regular meetings with them to discuss areas of partnership and collaboration. We will run a largely Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model for infrastructural development”
“Nice. I know you are still thinking about the 4th Mainland bridge project”
“Yes, it will happen in our lifetime. We will get investors to build the bridge for Lagosians”
“It is important. That will not only boost commerce but make commuting in the State better”
“In fact, we will commence the process for building the bridge in the first year of our administration. Then, we will work towards delivering the bridge before the end of our government. You know how it is now. You have always been involved in infrastructural development”
“It is possible with focus and commitment. We also need to demonstrate to the world that government is a continuum by completing the projects on ground”
“Nothing makes more economic sense than that. I pray that we have the honour of following the audit of uncompleted projects in the last two administrations”
“Jide, education also needs attention. I didn’t like what I saw around Ketu today”.
“That sector is critical. Investment in education is one of the easiest paths to genuine social re-engineering”
“We will do wonders in education. We will empower teachers and make learning for pupils”.
Suddenly, I could no longer hear the chats clearly. The voices were drowned by the hysteria that announced the arrival of a popular artiste at the campaign office. He greeted and engaged volunteers on the media floor of the campaign office, as Ojomo led him to Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s office. I took advantage of the little distraction the moment provided to gain my freedom and walk into the embrace of my colleagues. I went to the canteen downstairs for lunch, where I met Gbolahan relaxing after a rich plate of fried rice.
Today marks the first year of Governor Sanwo-Olu’s administration and interestingly the list of accomplishments for the period largely mirrors the discussion he had with the Deputy Governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, before they were elected into office as Governor and Deputy Governor.
The long list accomplishment got me thinking and I realised that Lagosians have good leaders in Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Obafemi Hamzat. Aside from being an evidence of the harmony between the two men of power, these achievements are testaments to the quality of their vision. They are men of honour and integrity. Before the demands of office began to crowd their tables, they had engaged each other and defined how to serve with impacts.
The impressive outlook and understanding that encouraged analysis of issues before their election into office also manifested in the State’s intelligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Governor Sanwo-Olu’s strong leadership amidst the crisis, Lagos has yet again demonstrated to the world that Africa is capable of responsible and quality governance.
In the last one year, Governor Sanwo-Olu and his Deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat have not only justified the public confidence reposed in them, but also proven that they came ready to the office. Evidently, the synergy between the two men will bring infrastructural development and socio-economic improvement too significant for Coronavirus to a halt because the plan for a Greater Lagos had been drawn before the pandemic, and is being ticked-off gradually.
Olusegun Fafore is Executive Assistant to Lagos State Governor on Public Relations and New Media