BRF: The Omoluabi Eko at 59
By Hakeem Bello
“What will protect all of us when all is said and done is law and order.“
If there is a quiz to guess which Nigerian public servant said the above, chances are most will answer: Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF).
Yes, of course. The quintessential lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is not just a champion of Infrastructure development and deep thinker, he is a stickler for law and order.
He is 59 today.
Quite perceptively and against the run of high public expectation, BRF decided to remain president of his home rather than joining the initially crowded train for the Presidency of the country. But without a doubt, his confidence in, devotion and commitment to the development of Nigeria remains ever unwavering.
Indeed, BRF has become a brand name for efficiency, effectiveness, diligence, commitment and tenacity of purpose. The name will continue to resonate long after he leaves public office and whenever and wherever there is a need for devotion to duty, progressive idealism and commitment to Law and Order.
Probably because of his desire to serve away from the mainstream leadership – which agrees perfectly with his often-stated philosophy of commitment to service to one’s fatherland even “without a title or an office” – his engagements with the public will continue to revolve around the preoccupation with the attainment of a better society, governed by law and order, for all.
Just as Gabfest, a youth-focused conversation platform created in 2016 to commemorate BRF’s birthday. This year’s edition will explore the theme, “Why am I Voting?”
This topic which agrees significantly with the mood of the nation, currently undergoing the processes leading to the 2023 General Elections, will seek to examine the motivations of a cross-section of Nigerians behind their electoral choices.
During Gabfest 6, carefully selected panelists will interrogate their personal desires and expectations in relation to the Nigerian elections. Is their focus on transparency? Is it on better power or healthcare? Is potable water their challenge? Do they intend to vote across party, gender or ethnic lines? Have they voted in the past and for what position? These are just some examples of the questions that will hopefully yield a robust and lively discussion.
Having addressed such testy questions as, “Restructuring for a Better Life – Lessons from Brexit” and “What can the President Do for me?” in previous public lectures, you can trust Mr Fashola for encouraging a discourse on such a simple yet challenging question as “Why am I Voting?”
Perhaps as a prelude to this and a proof of his avowed commitment to the essence of performing basic civic obligations and maintaining order to keep society functioning optimally, Fashola in a virtual presentation he made recently at a symposium in Lagos with the theme, “Driving and the Nigerian in You” interrogated the nexus between individual conduct and public well-being.
In the presentation, he sought to graphically illustrate that it is neither solely the failure on the part of government nor lack of good roads that cause traffic jams or road mishaps on the nation’s highways and intra-city roads but the non-compliance to Law and Order by some members of the public including even the supposed law enforcers in some instances.
According to him, “We are converting what we built for traffic movement into other uses. It is totally against traffic and all other kinds of laws. So, I still say that traders cannot trade on our streets, buses cannot park on the sidewalks. Pedestrians must leave the roads. They must remain on the sidewalks that separate pedestrians from motorists. If these things happen, we will leave the stress, the tensions, accidents and the deaths that we experience as a result of those anomalies.”
The point must, perhaps, be made here that in advocating the adherence to Law and Order by the citizens, BRF has not in any way tried to shield the elite and the leadership from the guilt of infractions of law and order in their duties.
As a matter of fact, there are very many occasions when in his tour of duties as Governor or Minister, he had personally enforced the law, especially traffic laws, on government officials including high ranking police and army officers.
But he, however, maintains that it is incumbent on all citizens to insist on the compliance to Law and Order whenever their rights are being infringed upon by political office holders and those in positions of leadership.
And to prove his earlier assertion that 87 percent of road crashes in the country are caused by human factor, he showed an abridged version of the 2021-April 2022 monthly reports of road crashes across the country by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) saying the situation had been so since he had been Minister.
“What I have done is to separate those items which are human causative factors of road crashes and I have come up with 19 of such factors. I listed 13 of these factors which cause up to 87 percent of road crashes. And I say if these are eliminated, we would have eliminated by 87 percent the cause of road crashes,” he said.
Fashola, who cautioned against indiscriminate donation of motorcycles and tricycles to illiterate youths by politicians and elites in society in what they refer to as “Empowerment”, added, “We see a lot of motorcycles now inflicting pains on our lives. But who are the biggest donors of this Korope and Maruwa (Tricycles)? …Politicians, government officials and the elite; they call it empowerment…”
Saying all Nigerians have a role to play in bringing about law and order in the country, the Minister recalled an incident in Lagos, when he was State governor, when a citizen, Lanre Adio, insisted on his right of way to Lagos Mainland when a convoy of buses driving against traffic tried to force him out of the way, thereby causing a serious traffic jam on the Third Mainland Bridge.
“I had finished my work in Alausa one day and we were heading to the Island on Third Mainland Bridge. Normally at that time on a normal day, traffic would be light on the Island-bound traffic from Alausa. But this night the traffic was heavy. And as we inched towards it, I had to send some of our security details to go and see what was happening; and you can bet or imagine what happened,” the Minister narrated.
“Citizen Adio was driving with his daughter on the Mainland-bound side heading for the Oworonsoki end of the road. They were on their right side of the traffic and they were heading home when a long convoy of vehicles, including a public transporter who was driving against traffic was asking those who had the right of way to leave. Many left, but Citizen Adio was scandalised so he refused to leave.”
Fashola said in his presentation that despite invectives thrown at him by passengers in the offending bus, the man stood his ground till he arrived the scene and used his power of law enforcement “to force all the convoy back, made some arrests and then set Citizen Adio on his way.”
Posing the question, “Are we ready to act like Citizen Lanre Adio?” he asked his audience and proceeded to list more of the ways through which the high and the low contribute to dysfunctionality in society. “So, we must bring all of these to bear on ourselves. What will protect all of us when all is said and done is law and order, for the rich and the poor. We cannot trade on the streets, we cannot have big men driving unregistered vehicles or they cover their name plates and we cannot identify who did what with the vehicle. It makes crime detection very difficult. And at the end of the day it is just Law and Order.”
Rooted in the evergreen definition that “Law and Order exists for the purpose of establishing justice,” BRF has, in his now nearly two decades of public service, preached and led by example the essence of Law and Order as a foundation on which the sustainable development and progress of any nation could be laid.
He has continually built on this philosophy, perhaps with the consciousness, without doubt, that when Law and Order fail to establish justice “they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of progress”.
So, what has all this got to do with the coming General Elections, and what is the relation to the topic of the Sixth Gabfest. The truth of the matter is that this election will afford the people of Nigeria the opportunity to choose leaders that will maintain Law and Order and the Rule of Law.
With political parties waiting to begin official campaigns in earnest, BRF could only mean that any conversation involving compliance to Law and Order must involve everyone, including those aspiring to political leadership and those entrusted with the enforcement of Law and Order.
And if the topic, “Why am I Voting?” could also be expanded to read “Why am I voting for Candidate A or Candidate B,” then the question challenges all electorate to interrogate their true reason and motives for voting any aspirant to the position of leadership. Can such aspirants fulfill the yearning for security, peace, unity and good governance?
In that virtual presentation, BRF also spoke of the importance of continuity in governance especially good governance and knowledge and understanding of leadership. Citizens, he said, must not only appreciate good governance when they experience one but must also insist on it under any leader that emerges after the elections.
He elaborates on this by recalling the investments as Governor of Lagos State for two terms of eight years.
“When I look back to some of the investments that we made in Lagos and also across Nigeria; the Drivers’ Institute and training schools set up to train people to improve productivity, to set order and separate motorists from motorcyclists and all that, it is really a matter of regrets that we are still where we are. Many of the gains have been rolled back,” he said.
Stretched further, the topic, “Why am I Voting?”, could also mean that citizens must be ready to challenge their leaders when they are derailing from the path of good governance; when they deliberately tow the path of negligence in matters pertaining to the interest of the electorates and inclining to situations unacceptable to them.
Surely, as BRF turns 59 today, many Nigerians would wish him a happy birthday as a shining example of good leadership in whose steady hands the legacy projects of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in life-defining road transport infrastructure are making rapid progress towards the finish line. They are also looking up to him for dedicated service to the nation at whatever level he chooses to be going forward with or without a title.
Happy Birthday, BRF.
- Mr Hakeem Bello, FNGE, is Special Adviser, Communications
to the Hon. Minister