Recently the former governor of Lagos State, Raji Babatunde Fashola has been getting unsolicited media attention over alleged misdeeds when he presided over the affairs of the nation’s commercial nerve centre. In this piece Assistant Editor, MIKE ODIAKOSE, posits that the campaign of calumny may not be unconnected with a ploy to stop him from making President Buhari’s ministerial list.

These are not the best of times for the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, SAN. Prior to the 2015 general elections Fashola was the poster boy for the All Progressives Congress. The party went all out to tell Nigerians that the sterling performance of Fashola in the past eight years in Lagos will be replicated all over the country if the electorates give them their mandate.

After the APC won the presidential election, Fashola’s name was serially mentioned in the media among those President Muhammadu Buhari will appoint into his cabinet. 

The speculation was strengthened when President Buhari picked Fashola as a member of his delegation to Germany for the G7 meeting. The presence of Fashola on the delegation raised fresh speculations about President Buhari’s possible role for him in his administration.

There were also reports that the president was considering appointing Fashola as his Chief of Staff.  Undoubtedly, Buhari’s choice of Fashola as member of his delegations did not go down well with some people, especially in South-West APC led by Fashola’s predecessor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as they see the development as a prelude to the inclusion of Fashola in the yet-to-be constituted federal cabinet. 

To truncate Fashola’s possible appointment into the federal cabinet, there appears to be a well-articulated strategy to rubbish his hard earned reputation and paint him black in the sight of President Buhari.

All of a sudden several document and allegations of misdeeds against Fashola started flying around. Reports emerged on how much debt he left in Lagos and how he allegedly squandered the resources of Lagos State. In one of the reports that were pushed out by the Lagos State government it was alleged that he spent the whooping sum of N78 million to merely upgrade his personal website.

An anti-corruption group called the Civil Society Network Against Corruption consequently petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC over the “questionable expenditures” of the administration of Fashola. In a petition dated August 10 and addressed to the EFCC Chairman, the group called for the probe of the controversial N78 million spent on the personal website by Fashola.

In addition to the amount purportedly spent on the website upgrade, CSNAC also urged the anti-graft agency to probe the N1.2 billion spent on the construction of pedestrian bridges along Eti-Osa/Lekki/Epe expressway “which did not specify the number of bridges.”

Other areas of possible probe include the N17 million awarded for the provision of wall signage in three magistrate courts; N3.46 billion spent for the construction of a beach resort in Ilase; and N61 million disbursed for a Range Rover SUV and two Toyota Hilux trucks as the official vehicle of Chief Judge of State.

The group also want the EFCC to probe Mr. Fashola’s spending of N85 million for the repair and replacement of street signs; N330 million spent on the development of the residence of Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the immediate past deputy governor; and N94 million spent on printer consumables.

CACOL also stated that several petitions written to the EFCC to probe the various projects in the state in the face of the more than N500 billion debts left by Fashola’s government was ignored.

Another organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project, had also alleged that the state refused to disclose details of the US$200 million World Bank education fund during Fashola’s tenure.

“CSNAC is hereby requesting that these allegations against the former governor of Lagos State be thoroughly investigated and the falsity or verity proven,” said Olanrewaju Suraju, Chairman, CSNAC.

Fashola has since issued a robust defense of the “sponsored” allegations against him and went a step further by comparing his accusers with pigs.

In his statement captioned, “When you wrestle with a pig, the pig gets happy and you get dirty.”Fashola denied all the rumours, including allegations of extra marital paternity.

His full statement reads: “This statement of profound wisdom informed my silence in the wake of manipulated and unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing recently being leveled against me.

“They started a few weeks to the end of my tenure, and have continued till date. They range from allegations of extra marital paternity of children, to mundane and phantom conspiracy in the National Assembly, a debt profile for Lagos State and lately a website upgrade contract of N78 million, which is being distorted. In so far as the allegations of paternity are concerned, they are wicked and false. I have no biological children other than my two children.

“Of course, I adopted three children who became orphaned as a result of the tragic DANA Airplane crash of 2012 and the adoption followed due process. Those who do not care whether they hurt innocent children or invade the privacy of other citizens in their mindless rage against me will have their rewards served upon them in the fullness of time. As far as my alleged involvement in the National Assembly elections are concerned, they remain only the products of the imagination of those who made the allegations.

“I was out of the country at the material time and returned only in the early hours of that morning to Abuja, and from there proceeded to Lagos. As far as debts of Lagos State are concerned, the fact is that Lagos had always had debts. Her population is growing and for a long time she has run deficit budgets to cater to the needs of that growing population.

All the debts contracted in my time were approved by the Parliament in the annual budgets, some have been paid back and the financial status was healthy and stable when I left. The outlook for the state and her rating by Fitch was long-term foreign and local currency IDRs at ‘BB-‘, short-term IDR at ‘B’ and national long-term rating at ‘AA+(nga)’.

“When we all pause to reflect and think, we will realise that there are a sizable number of companies who are running business, who have no responsibility for Security, Public Health, Public Education and other responsibilities of Government, who borrow more than Lagos State Government, whether collectively or individually.

“As far as the website contract is concerned, yes there was a contract. It went through procurement and was approved by the Government agency authorised to do so. One of the services was an “upgrade” quoted for N12.5 million but awarded for N12 million. There were other services that were new; like a handover countdown clock, mobile Apps for Google, for IOS and ipad, for Microsoft, and for Research in Motion (Blackberry), which the existing website did not have, as well as the annual maintenance cost for managing the website.

It was for all these services that the contract was issued for N78 million, which the Lagos State procurement agency gave a No Objection based on the advice of the Ministry of Science and Technology, who are the Government adviser on ICT matters.

“In publishing this contract award which was the Government tradition under my watch, the procurement agency’s website summarised it as “upgrade” only without detailing the other services and this has been distorted by the agents of hate as their suspected “smoking gun”.

“For those who are familiar with mobile Applications, they will know that users either pay for them online or download them for free. What is usual is that applications for service are usually provided to users free, but somebody bears the cost. Since these applications were to be made available to the public free and to assist government communication, we decided to pay for them.

“The entire documents are with the Lagos State Government and are available for those who seek the truth. For the record, since 2008, long before the Freedom of Information Act was ever passed, we had put out all our contracts on the State website because I believe people deserve to know. It is regrettable that a “summary” of the contract has been deliberately distorted to misinform the public.

“This particular website came into being as a result of the decision I made to make my telephone number public for the several thousands of people seeking to reach me daily.

“The website that is now under attack helped me to do my job and to respond to citizens, and the contract was issued to run till my last day of office. It stands logic upside down for to “fraudulently” award a contract and then have it published on a website.

“To date, there have been 27.666 million hits on this website, with 1,844 videos, 34,381 photographs, 2,531 Press Releases and 595 Speeches, among other items of public communication. I have chosen to make this personal response because as the head of government at the time of the transaction, the buck as they say stops on my desk and also because of the many calls, text messages and mails coming from many people seeking clarification and to prevent fiction from being mistaken for truth.

“I expect that there may be more distorted allegations without evidence, for reasons that remain in the realm of speculation, because, I have been informed reliably that large amounts of money are being paid to some of these agents to bear false witness.

“I cannot conclude without responding to the crusade of CACOL and their ilk, seeking my prosecution on allegations that have no proof and writing “pre-emptive” letters to the Presidency.

“In case they are unaware, I am not looking for a job. I expect them to know that allegations of wrong doing are not resolved without evidence, neither are they resolved in press conferences.

“I have served my state, and by extension, my country for Twelve and half years and I did so with my heart. I am taking the rest that I believe I have earned.

For those who still wish to remain in the mud, they should look in the mirror. For those who wish to throw mud at me, they should look at their own hands,” he concluded.

While Fashola’s traducers are yet to respond to his statement, the cold war between Fashola and the some APC chieftains in the South West is getting out of hand. There are suggestions that the APC chieftains were incensed by Fashola’s response, especially his reference to his accusers or those behind them as pigs.

According to reports, Fashola’s response threw the camp of his opponents off balance and they have gone back to the trenches. They had hoped the former governor will run to them to beg them to leash their attack dogs and never expected he will call their bluff and hit back at them. This probably explains why die-hard supporters of some APC leaders in Lagos stayed away from Fashola’s book presentation. Even those APC members who are not in the camp of these anti-Fashola elements had to stay away from the book presentation over fears of possible backlash from them if them gets to know of their presence at the book launch.

It is widely believed in several quarters that Governor Ambode is being remote controlled and acting the script of a particular APC chieftain in his reversal of some key decisions of his predecessor, like the termination of the concession agreement for the redevelopment of Falomo Shopping Centre in Ikoyi. Also, Ambode has kicked out some perceived loyalists of Fashola like the former Managing Director of the LSDPC, Mr. Biodun Oki, who was sacked two months ago.

All these appear to be part of the strategy to bring the APC poster boy to his knees and make him subservient to those that believe APC is an extension of their private estates and their personal wishes must be respected as sacrosanct by all members of the party in the South-West.

The war between Fashola and some APC chieftains began during his first tenure as Lagos State governor. When Fashola was to go for second term they were said to have toyed with the idea of propping up another candidate but they beat a hasty retread when it became obvious that Fashola will win the governorship under the platform of any political party if the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria denies him its ticket to re-contest.

Now that the war between Fashola and some APC leaders is in the public domain, Nigerians are watching to see who blinks first. In 2011 they capitulated to Fashola when they failed to stop his re-election. This time around can they succeed in stopping Fashola from making President Buhari’s ministerial list even though Fashola has said he is not looking for a job? Only time will tell.