Between action governor and action government

by Tayo Ogunbiyi

It was perhaps during the era of Lateef Kayode Jakande, the first democratically elected governor of Lagos State, that the lexicon ‘Action Governor’ became popular in Nigeria. LKJ, as Jakande is popularly called by his admirers, took governance to an unimaginable height in Lagos. Many of his populist policies and programmes, especially in the housing, public transportation and education sectors, really endeared him to all and sundry. His passion for the development of Lagos State knew no bounds. The ambitious Lagos metro line project, which, if it had seen the light of day, would have revolutionized public transportation in the state, was conceived by his administration. Till date, a few of the housing estates established by his administration, 32 years after, are still serving the housing needs of Lagosians. LKJ worked round-the-clock in his bid to fast-track the development of the state. Reports had it that on December 31, 1983 when the Shehu

Shagari civilian administration was toppled in a military coup d’état, soldiers who came to arrest LKJ met him in his office working, deep in the night, on a New Year’s Eve. Such was his legendary dedication to duty and passion for hard work. It is, therefore, not surprising that LKJ became a star among the 19 governors of the Second Republic. He soon became known by several accolades such as ‘Baba Kekere’ (junior Awolowo), ‘Friend of the Masses’, ‘Action Governor’, among others. Of these names, the one that really became most popular is ‘Action Governor’. During the Second Republic, all over the country there was only one ‘Action Governor’ – LKJ. The military coup of 1983 effectively terminated the Second Republic and ushered in 29 years of uninterrupted military rule in the country. During this period, military administrators were posted into the various states as governors. A few of such governors that were posted to Lagos

State tried to emulate the ‘Action Governor’ fashion of LKJ, thereby recording varying degrees of successes. The then Colonels Raji Rasaki and Buba Marwa (rtd) easily fall into this category. Rasaki, in particular, became popular for his no-nonsense stance on development issues. The resolute manner in which he reclaimed the popular Maroko slum in Victoria Island, despite numerous outcries against the move, particularly caught the attention of the nation. Within a short period, Lagos had got for itself another ‘Action Governor’. The popular joke about Rasaki in Lagos then was: ‘Ela gbeebo, sibe akison si nlo’ (‘You keep saying I can’t speak English, yet action is on, non-stop’). Towards the tail end of military rule, precisely from 1996 to 1999, came the then Colonel Buba Marwa. He was the last of the military administrators in Lagos. He particularly became a darling of Lagosians as a result of the efforts he made to renew infrastructure in the state. Before he came on board, infrastructure and security situation in the state were almost in a shambles. Marwa promptly made some efforts to redress the situation. Under his leadership, ‘Operation Sweep’, the state security outfit he initiated, was able to dislodge criminals and the so-called ‘area boys’ (street urchins) from their hitherto dark spots. As a result of the relative success recorded by ‘Operation Sweep’, it did not take long before other states in the country began to establish their respective security outfits. Thus entered Marwa, yet another Lagos ‘Action Governor’.

However, from 1999 till date, Lagos has been blessed with a different kind of ‘Action Governors’. Without a doubt, Bola Tinubu and his successor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, have taken Lagos to anew height. They are both ‘Action Governors’ in their own right. For space constraint, one would not be able to sufficiently dwell on their numerous giant strides. But one would, however, like to briefly reflect on how they have been able to shift the paradigm in Lagos from the ‘Action Governor’ archetype to the ‘Action Government’ model. Tinubu and Fashola have been able to achieve this swing through institution building. Rather than build the machinery of government around themselves, they decided to build enduring government institutions that make governance a collective responsibility. Hence, in Lagos today, we have functioning and well thought-out agencies and bodies such as Lagos State Advertising Agency (LASAA), Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Lagbus Asset Management (LAGBUS), Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Agency (LAMATA), Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), Lagos State Resident Registration Agency (LASRRA), Lagos State Records and Archives Bureau (LASRAB), Lagos State Drivers Institute (LASDRI), Lagos State Safety Commission, Citizens Mediation Centre( CMC), among others.

The good thing about these agencies is that their creation has made governance in the state a well-structured system that functions as a unit. In the ‘Action Governor’ tradition, governance tends to become over-personalized. Everything has a tendency to revolve around the personality of the governor who cuts the figure of a cult hero. Many see him as the proverbial cat with nine lives, or the household foreman who does the jobs of everyone else on a construction site. In as much as it is good to be an ‘Action Governor’, it becomes somehow ridiculous and self-seeking when governance revolves around an individual. Governance achieves better and faster results when it is anchored on viable and enduring institutions. It is only then that it would be able to function as a system in which all the component parts depend on each other for effectiveness. Building institutions is, thus, better than building individuals. The value of the earlier endures for long while same cannot be said of the latter. If we are to achieve the Nigeria of our collective dream, we need to lay greater emphasis on institution building. It is the institutions that we build that actually make governance a continuous venture. This is where Lagos has got it right in the last 16 years of democratic governance. This is why Lagos has been working.

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