3rd Edition Of "Project What Next?"
Feb 10, 2012 - Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank you for your kind invitation to speak at the third edition of "Project What Next?"
Let me say straight away that I am not likely to tell you anything you have not heard before. I will merely attempt to bring them alive with examples from my own life's experiences so far.
I am also grateful for this opportunity because it gives me the chance to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities of governing a State like Lagos, and to share the most significant constraints to provide lessons for you, our future leaders.
Contrary to the theme of this forum, my aim this evening is not actually to help you answer the question "what next?" The fact that you are here suggests to me that you already know what next.
Rather, I hope that by the end of our talk, I would have been able to help you answer the question "how next", using the story of my life. I will try to do this using a series of lessons I have learned along the way.
IN THE BEGINNING
I finished from the Law School in 1988 and I was posted to the Ministry of Justice, Benin, in the then Bendel State. I was not happy, because I didn't like the Public Service at all.
For three days after I reported for duty, nobody could assign me a desk or a responsibility, simply because the Solicitor-General was away on an official assignment outside the State and she was the only one who could give the instructions.
By the time she returned, my dislike for government and public service had increased tenfold and I had made up my mind that I did not want to start my professional career there.
I was determined to go and work in a private law firm. When the Solicitor-General saw how adamant I was, she released me. Even though I did not have any alternative, I gladly left and eventually got a job in the chambers of the late Dr. G.I.S. Omonuwa in Benin City.
You might ask the question, why was it so important to work in a law firm when the popular choices were banks and oil companies.
The simple answer is that I wanted to go to court! I had always wanted to be a professional and I would have liked to be a medical doctor but I didn't know maths. On the other hand, the legal profession fascinated me and luckily I didn't need maths!
Having qualified as a lawyer, there was no question about whether or not I would ply my trade in court.
If I had wanted to work in a bank, there would have been no need to go to Law School! It was the courtroom or nothing! I still miss the suspense, drama and competition.
My tunic, collar, bibs, vest and striped trousers are still my most priceless apparels. I wear them with a lot of pride and anticipation every day I dress up to go to court.
After my NYSC, my father had arranged for me to start work with his friend in one of the Federal Government parastatals.
Even though I had no job and I was eager to start earning a living, I bluntly refused to work in the Civil Service. As you can imagine, my father was not pleased and he washed his hands off my search for a job.
So I went job hunting on my own until I found another law firm in Lagos that was willing to employ me. Fortunately, it didn't take me too long, otherwise my father would have probably thrown me out unceremoniously to go and fend for myself!
I learnt two lessons from these events. I learned that it is important to look in the mirror and clearly define who you are to yourself (as best as you can) and set clear goals for yourself based on that understanding.
That way you know precisely what you want (or at least you have a fair idea) and more importantly, you know who you are not and what you do not want or cannot do.
Many of us do not want or like to confront our inner self. We often see ourselves as we see the people we admire and want to be like.
Even when the reality is that we are nothing like them and are unlikely to succeed at what they do because we simply do not have the ability to do what they do.
Instead we hide behind statements like – "If he can do it, I can too…" Not necessarily. It is not wrong to admire people who have made successes of their chosen endeavours and aspire to be like them. But it must always be within the context of self-knowledge.
So lesson no. 1 from my life is Know Yourself.
The next lessons I learnt were determination and self-belief. Even though it was a legitimate aspiration, it was not common to seek release from the Ministry to a law firm.
Most people wanted to work in the ministry because invariably there were some other perks that went with working in a government establishment, like free accommodation.
Besides, I didn't even have another job! But I knew I didn't want to stay there and I knew what I wanted, so I went for it.
Determination and Self-Belief would be my lesson no. 2.
I remained in private legal practice from 1989 until 2002. Thirteen years. I worked in only two firms – Sofunde, Ogundipe, Osakwe and Belgore and K.O. Tinubu & Co. I worked in Sofunde from 1989 to 1993 and then joined K.O. Tinubu & Co. as an equity partner.
Serving pupilage, which is what we lawyers call those early years in practice when you cut your legal teeth in an established law firm before branching out on your own, was not a walk in the park.
The pay wasn't great, the hours were long and I had a young family. It was hard but it taught me perseverance. I had learned discipline from my days as a prefect in secondary school and I brought that discipline to the work place.
It wasn't easy but in retrospect, they were probably some of the best days of my adult life.
I would like to dwell on this a little because these days such traits are becoming increasingly uncommon.
Sadly, one of the ripple effects underdevelopment is that everyone is in search of a 'cushy' life "asap"! We all want "quick fixes" and we want them "like yesterday".
Who doesn't? But there is a lot to be said for paying ones dues. The possibilities for learning life's lessons are endless if your mind is open wide enough.
Like I said it was not a walk in the park but I stuck with it. I paid my dues and honed my skills as a lawyer. I figured that if this was the profession I had chosen to tread my path in, I'd better give it my best shot.
I rose to become Head of Chambers and I left only to join another firm as partner. Because I enjoyed my work, I lived for the job and I was entrusted with increasing responsibilities every day.
In my third full year in the chambers, I had the privilege of appearing at the Supreme Court on my own. I still remember the case – Dabup v. Kolo, reported in (1993) 9 NWLR Pt. 317 at pg. 254.
When word got out that I had left Sofunde, I was not short of offers. All I can say today is that I was humbled by the offers and the eminent quarters they came from, so it was a huge decision to turn them down.
But although they came with everything I did not have – a car, a house, better wages etc. they all lacked one essential thing – independence. I wanted to be my own boss.
The lessons I learnt were invaluable and on reflection, I think they prepared me for the greater responsibilities I would later assume.
Lesson no. 3 relates to discipline and perseverance - Stick With It.
Before I leave this point, I must tell you a short story about a lesson I learned very early in practice. I had accompanied my principal, Mr. Ebun Sofunde, SAN to court, and the lawyer on the other side alleged that our client was in breach of an earlier injunction that the court had granted.
Mr. Sofunde sought an adjournment and then sent me to find out if the lawyer's allegation was true.
I got to the site (it was a building site and the allegation was that our client had continued to build in defiance of an injunction restraining him from doing so) to find out that our client was indeed in breach.
I reported this to Mr. Sofunde who then asked me to prepare an affidavit to be filed in court. Because I did not want our client to lose, I did not disclose the full facts that I had related to Mr. Sofunde in the affidavit to the effect that our client was in breach.
When I showed the draft to Mr. Sofunde, he was livid. In fact I don't think I had ever seen him so angry then or since.
He told me something that has remained with me ever since, - you don't own the facts. A good lawyer has a duty to accept the facts and tell the court the facts as he finds them, whether or not it is adverse to your client.
Suitably chastised, I re-drafted the affidavit and we filed it. I learnt the value of professional honesty and integrity that day and needless to say it never happened again. In fact I have had cause to similarly chastise junior lawyers.
As it turns out, our claim was successful and the injunction was vacated so I needn't have withheld the facts in the first place!
ON MY OWN
We had a slang then we used to call 'o.m.o' after the popular detergent. It was an acronym for 'on my own'. And it stood for anything ranging from being single to running your own business.
So there I was minding my own business, trying hard to improve our client base, get a larger slice of the market share and engage in all the things that agitate a business owner's mind.
This was a different ball game from working at Sofunde. There, other people were 'finding' the work and I was one of those 'grinding' the work. Now I had to do both since I was more or less 'o.m.o' and of course it came with its own set of challenges.
I became responsible for people's salaries. Junior lawyers, clerks, secretarial staff, security guards etc. Everybody needed to get a cheque at the end of the month whether I got paid or not. We never defaulted.
I became a provider for others while trying to provide for myself. I was so fixated on being self-employed that I almost forgot the implications of becoming an employer.
Lesson no. 4 – Actions Have Consequences and we must prepare for them.
In March 2002, I heard like everyone else that the Chief of Staff to the Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was going to seek elective office in Kwara State. The news did not mean anything to me and nothing could have prepared me for the request from the Governor to come and fill the vacancy thus created.
I refused initially. Bluntly. I knew the Governor fairly well and had done some legal work for him. I had also actively campaigned, and voted for him. From time to time, he had invited me to one committee or the other in Government so he was not a stranger.
But I didn't even know what the work of the Chief of Staff entailed and I wasn't interested. I had already applied twice for the rank of senior advocate and I wanted to concentrate on that.
I made all this clear to the various people that made entreaties to me and for five months, I was left alone. I honestly thought I was off the hook.
Then one day in August I got a call from the Governor asking me to see him. I arrived at Alausa at 4pm and waited till 1am to see him. When I eventually saw him he just told me point blank that I couldn't leave him alone to do the work and I had to come and play my part in rebuilding Lagos.
His tone brooked no argument and he didn't leave room for any argument anyway. He told me to see the Head of Service the following day to collect my letter and I started work that same day – the 16th of August 2002.
Why did I accept? Well, first of all I wasn't given a chance to decline. Secondly I recalled the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world".
Why did I dislike public service so much? It was not because I had enough close contact with the civil service to make an informed observation. No. I merely had a perception, (admittedly brought about by a few isolated incidents, not all of which were personal, and popular opinion) - that the civil service is inefficient, bloated and wasteful, and that civil servants are dull and corrupt.
Of course I now know better! In fact I am now "born again" and my mission is to win as many converts in the private sector as possible!
But back to why I accepted. I was being given the opportunity to help change things and do something about all the things I complained about daily.
There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Governor Tinubu's Administration was making waves, and we could already feel its impact. Something was now being done about refuse, roads, schools hospitals etc. and everywhere there were signs of reawakening.
Now fate had offered me the chance to be a participant in what I thought was an audacious reversal of the negative consequences of underdevelopment. I took it.
Lesson no. 5 is therefore - Don't Run Away From Challenges.
I served for the remainder of that term and when the Governor was re-elected, I was re-appointed to serve during the second term.
A TWIST IN THE TALE
God was not done with me yet. The story of how I became the Governor of Lagos State remains one of the most profound experiences of my life. It validates the scriptures that God, in whom I absolutely have faith, is a miracle worker and that power truly belongs to Him.
No precision in star gazing or clairvoyance could have foretold it. I certainly knew (and I'm sure unbiased observers knew it too) that I was the most unlikely person to succeed Asiwaju.
I was preparing to return to private law practice having worked at least 14 hours every day for four and half years. At the time fifteen candidates were jostling to succeed him, eleven of them from within the cabinet. I was not one of them.
Even though I enjoyed what I was doing, helping to rebuild our State after many years of neglect and lack of development, I was not interested in politics. I was just content to have been a member of the team that started the renewal.
Asiwaju had consulted me on the choice of a candidate and I had offered my advice as to who I thought merited the privilege of his endorsement.
As you well know, Asiwaju's nod would be a major political capital because of his popularity and the Party's mass appeal in Lagos State. Therefore it was easy to guess that the candidate he endorsed would almost inevitably be elected Governor.
He confounded me when he called me to his house one morning to ask me if I would run as Governor. He had earlier broached the subject on the telephone and, believing it to be a joke; I had avoided giving an answer. This time I knew he was serious.
I told him I did not desire to be Governor as I had seen him suffer at close quarters. His response was that this was an assignment and he was speaking to me as my boss.
I felt a sense of déjà vu. He sounded exactly like he did in August 2002. So began my journey to my first ever election of any type.
My nomination broke the party. Don't forget there were 11 cabinet members - all members of the party, seeking to succeed him. A new party was formed, peace was brokered and compromises were sought and reached.
After that discussion with Asiwaju and my acceptance, I took a week off from work with a copy of the 10-Point Agenda which had become State Policy, a copy of the Party's manifesto and a copy of the Charter of the Objectives of the Millennium Development Goals.
I locked myself in, wrote out in long hand, what I thought should be done in respect of each sector and resumed work on the 6th November, 2006 to type it out.
When I finished, I drafted a resignation letter and went to Asiwaju's office to hand him both documents, making sure I put the resignation letter on top.
Asiwaju was not pleased with my decision to resign. He wanted me to head a Ministry so that I would have more contact with people - become more visible and better known to the public before the elections, which were only 5 months away.
He thought this was important because before then I had worked in the back room of the Governor's Office managing daily administration and rarely attending public functions. I had spent my time planning and organizing those State functions and ensuring as best as I could that they succeeded.
But I explained to Asiwaju that if he was truly serious about me running for Governor, I needed to disengage from office so I could devote all my time to the project and that I did not see myself giving my best while running a Ministry and campaigning at the same time.
Furthermore I thought this would adversely affect the public service delivery of the Ministry. He agreed and allowed me to resign. The rest, as they say, is history.
From then on, I woke up earlier than 6 am to attend Radio and TV interviews as other candidates had been doing. I had a lot to catch up on.
I had no posters, but while those were being designed, I embarked on a grueling tour of the 57 Local Governments, sometimes covering as many as 3 or 4 Local Governments in a day.
I got home to read up on projects in those areas, books written by politicians, public speaking and so on. From then until the elections in April 2007, I slept less than 3 hours every day and lost 10 kilograms in the process.
The document I had presented to Asiwaju became an Article of Faith that I titled "My Contract with Lagosians".
At every opportunity I explained what I intended to do and what the obligations of citizens would be in terms of support, payment of taxes, obedience to laws, maintenance of peace and the promise of what lay ahead.
To the glory of God, we confronted the opposition parties and won resoundingly with 828,484 votes, while the 1st, 2nd and 3rd runners up scored 389,088, 114,557 and 29,836 votes respectively.
Lesson no. 6 is an important one – Clear Written Goals; No Half Measures.
BEING A GREAT MANAGER AND YET BEING ETHICAL IN NIGERIA
You've asked me (in your own words) to speak about being a great manager and yet being ethical in Nigeria.
I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean; neither would I describe myself as a "great manager". I will only describe my management style and leave you to make up your minds. Luckily we are in the centre of management studies so it shouldn't be too difficult!
First I was confronted with the reality that I was going to manage over a 100,000 public servants and that collectively we would be responsible for over 17 million people.
So the first thing I felt was fear. Fear that I would fail, fear about the many recrimations that could come Asiwaju's way for sticking out his neck for me, fear of the unknown. Just fear.
Someone told me I was crazy to have accepted the job. Secretly I agreed with him but I didn't admit it. I didn't know if I would succeed and I said as much in my inauguration speech on the 29th of May 2007.
But I was determined to make sure that if I didn't succeed it wouldn't be because I didn't try.
I learnt lesson No. 7 - that Fear is Good, But Don't Give In to It. If you are afraid, it's probably a positive sign. It should spur you on to succeed.
My article of faith was a clear roadmap of what I wanted to achieve. So after the elections, another round of late nights started, to build the blocks for implementation. The questions on my mind were not what we wanted to do but how and who to do it.
My management style has always been consultative and it has always been underpinned by sustainability. Even now I take the strong view, that there are many projects which we will only lay the foundations for. Other people will come after us, pick up the baton and run their part in the relay.
I picked a team of serving public officers in Health, Transport, Waste Management and Justice, and invited bankers, economists and some other members of the private sector who volunteered their time and expertise.
We met at a hotel every night for a month from 10pm to 4am, detailing what the problems were, planning solutions, articulating costs and our proposed methods of implementation.
The importance of this preparation cannot be over-emphasised. It was what enabled us to hit the ground running.
Shortly after the inauguration, my deputy and I began a tour of all government ministries, followed by a meeting with all heads of departments, who gave us reports of what they had been doing and what was outstanding.
Since I had already been in government at the executive council level, I was already abreast of most of these things. But it was important that we go through that exercise for the benefit of the Deputy Governor who had never served at that level of Government, even though she was a public servant herself.
First I reckoned that if we were to move at the pace I intended, it was fair to start slowly to enable her catch up on the things I already knew so she could share the responsibility. Secondly if there was the possibility that she as Deputy Governor would have to take over the government at any point, it was imperative that she knew what it entailed.
We ran the Government for about two months with the Permanent Secretaries while I was selecting the team of commissioners and special advisers who would lead the various Ministries and Departments.
By July 2007, we had constituted the team, and each person came on board with a clear mandate (based on what my nocturnal committee had drawn up) of what he or she was expected to deliver.
42 (Forty-Two) Commissioners and Special Advisers of diverse backgrounds, lawyers, bankers, economists, educationists, private businessmen, politicians etc. were appointed.
In order to guarantee the sustainability I spoke of earlier, I ensured that many of them were my colleagues in the previous government, with a few first timers.
This was to help us start quickly, using the experiences of the old hands, while the new ones acquainted themselves with the nuances, culture and communication skills of the public service, which are quite different from what obtains in the private sector.
We see a similar trend in corporate Nigeria. Employees are identified to move from one level to the next are given technical and management training etc.
From the onset, I laid great emphasis on team work. We worked as a team, debated vigorously at meetings and voted when there was deadlock; but our guiding mantra is that everybody respects and implements the team's collective decisions, whether or not he or she dissented when voting.
We developed a few invariable rules. Being efficient with time, we resolved to meet weekly on Mondays at 9am and imposed a fine for lateness. There were initial complaints that it was too early but with time we got used to it.
On two occasions, I went to those Monday meetings without taking my bath because I had slept late and woken up late and I wanted to lead by example.
We resolved to keep promises and deadlines we made to the public whatever it took and at the earliest awareness that it would not be feasible, we went back to them to notify them and explain why. We have tried to live by the creed that our word is our bond.
We sought knowledge and best practices from every part of the world, sent people to value adding trainings and tours, but more often brought the experts to Lagos so that the largest number of us could benefit and we could manage costs.
Before the Commissioners embarked on their work, I had commissioned a poll asking people what they expected of the Government they had elected. When I received the results, I suggested that we undertake a fresh tour of the 57 Local Governments.
I did so for 2 (two) reasons, first to hear from the citizens themselves what they expected and in that way validate the result of the poll; and secondly, to enable the team know all the Local Governments and see for themselves how real and bad things were, so that we could eat, sleep and dream the problem on a daily basis until we found solutions. It was a real wake up call.
Lesson no. 8 – Don't Gloss Over Problems; Confront Them Head On.
BELIEVING IN OUR ABILITY, LEVERAGING ON IT AND BRINGING OUR VISION TO REALITY
I had been privileged to read Rudolph Giuliani's book on Leadership, about the transformation of New York whose population and complexities, ethnic and religious were not significantly different from Lagos.
I had also read Lee Kuan Yew's seminal work, "From Third World to First". Both of these books were highly inspiring to me as a young leader of a city state.
Just as we concluded our Local Government tour I attended the International Bar Conference held in Singapore in 2007. Fortunately, I had also been invited to an Investment Summit in September 2007 in New York. My trip to Singapore took me through Dubai at the peak of its construction boom.
I went to those as a City Manager, not as a tourist, looking to see what I could learn and trying to relate what I had read in those books with what I saw.
I had the privilege of meeting a few of the people who had been involved in those remarkable transformations, including Lee Kuan Yew, with whom I spent about 30 minutes, and a firm of Consulting Engineers in Dubai.
I returned to Lagos with an almost angry determination to transform our State as quickly as possible. I shared my experiences with my colleagues and urged those who had not been, to visit those places.
I gave every member of the Executive council a copy of Lee Kuan Yew's book and we established inter-governmental relationships with some critical agencies in those countries to tap from their knowledge and experiences.
We set about the implementation of our plans with the understanding that law and order was the underlying cause of difficult living in our State. We came to the understanding that not all people were deliberately lawless but that they had become desperate in a bid to survive.
They broke traffic rules in a bid to get out of excruciating traffic jams because no new highways had been built in Lagos for almost 30 years until the return of democracy in 1999, yet people were buying cars daily cars and needed to move about.
People traded on sidewalks because the last major markets built in the State before 1999 were built in the 1970s. The same applied to schools, hospitals, water supply and much of our public infrastructure.
We re-ordered the budget of the State from consumption to investment in infrastructure. We changed the expenditure profile to a 60:40 ratio in favour of capital over re-current expenditure and applied the proceeds to equipping the Police, to water supply projects, to building schools, roads, recreation centres and hospitals, and to reclaiming open spaces for parks and greening.
A critical learning curve for us was the realization that we had all survived on a diet of broken promises for 3 (three) decades of political instability and so we needed to earn trust and keep the faith, in true demonstration of the tenets of democracy - a government of the people, by the people for the people.
We therefore made ourselves accessible to the public by publishing our email addresses and telephone numbers in the newspapers and responded as best as we could to complaints and suggestions. Till date, I receive an average of 300 text messages and about the same number of emails every day.
Lesson no. 9 – Study and Understand Your Operational Environment.
The response was most encouraging. Even before the efforts started yielding results, we were getting positive feedbacks. Our government was gaining credibility. I think people were beginning to trust us and believe that we meant well.
Lagosians were ready to endure traffic jams because they saw construction going on and believed it would get better when we finished. In some places where we needed to claim more land to build expanded roads, people voluntarily pulled down their walls so that our contractors could start work.
Largely because of this trust, when we embarked on a massive tax drive, rather than complaints, we began to receive enquiries about how and where people could go to pay their taxes. It was a huge sign-on that everybody seemingly wanted to be a part of.
My colleagues and I seized on this huge capital to take difficult but public benefit decisions such as the restoration of Oshodi. We started clearing out slums that had been in place for over 30 years and seemed immovable.
We used this enormous public support only for the public good. We confronted groups and unions that had lived above the law and with the public's support we succeeded in getting them to obey the law.
Our investment in the Police by way of patrol cars, uniforms, insurance schemes, improved allowances and equipment brought down violent crimes by 79% at the end of 2009.
Private sector belief in us and its consequent support was colossal and we did our best never to abuse it and never to take it for granted.
Lesson no. 10 – Go to Great Lengths to Build Trust and Goodwill. When You Do, Don't Squander It.
What has been the effect? Bank robberies are now a thing of the past, traffic congestion is reducing daily, jobs are being created at construction sites and in new businesses springing up as a result of a renewed investor-friendly climate. The Palms Mall and the Ikeja Mall are just two examples.
Another interesting fall out was that right from my first term in office, the public service has gradually become more and more attractive to many who previously had negative attitude towards the public service.
The tide is turning and we now have increasing requests for jobs or appointments into the service or to be part of our team.
A large number of Nigerians have even relocated from abroad to work in the Lagos State Public Service. This has been to the overall benefit of the Public Service.
The private sector skills being deployed in the public service are invaluable. Just as no private sector person who goes into government ever holds the same views about the public service that he or she held before entering the Service. I should know!
My only regret is that we cannot employ all of the vast human capital out there that is now willing to invest in our Public Service.
Lesson no. 11 is profound - People Define an Institution. It is good to build an institution but it's better to build people.
MY ROLE IN NATION BUILDING AND MY INFLUENCE
As for my role in nation building and my influence that you've asked me to talk about, I cannot in all honesty talk about them objectively.
For one thing, I think it is premature and for another, I think I should leave that to others to comment on or write about.
Suffice it to say that I would rather see my modest contribution in the context of the impact that the growth of Lagos has had on the overall development of the country and the national economy.
As the home of every Nigerian, Lagos is the economic driver of the nation and contributes a significant part to our GDP. So I have derived tremendous personal satisfaction from managing the transformation of such an important part of the Nigerian household;
A part that brings something so meaningful to our national table.
I'm happy that a lot more Lagosians (and by Lagosians I mean all of us who live in Lagos) now speak of their State with a lot of pride, and the belief that we are getting there.
I know that we are very far from the Lagos of our dreams and that a great distance still lies ahead on this journey, but I am humbled to be the leader of the team that received the baton of hope from the last government and has been able to keep that hope alive.
By the grace of God, we will keep the faith and keep that hope alive till we pass the baton on.
My advice to those of you who take public office or seek to do so is that the best way to seize that opportunity is to prepare for it and plan to use it for only one purpose – public good.
In the pursuit of public good all your individual needs are met and secured. We will use the roads we build, the hospitals we build, the security we put in place and we will benefit from the economic prosperity that we help to create in a situation of harmony, as opposed to chaos, aggression and desperation, where the privileged lived in fear of revolt or crime from the under-privileged.
The Lagos I dream of still lies ahead. But my optimism that it is achievable is fuelled by my life's story. If you don't take anything away today, at least let these lessons I have learned be a constant reminder that: Nothing is Impossible. That's lesson no 12!
I thank you for listening.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN
Governor of Lagos