Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos State, has gone through two distressing moments this year. But he’s not the only one. Other governors also did. Nigerians did. Two trying moments. First was the COVID-19 pandemic. Then came the #EndSARS protest which is only just petering out but whose impact has been as devastating as that of a civil war.
These two moments in time have thrown up grave national challenges. It tells us Nigeria does not have a crisis management plan. It reminds us that our internal security apparatchik is not exactly what it appears to be. After the wave of #EndSARS protests, Nigerians are faced with the sad reality that our internal security mechanism is defective. And this is in spite of the ubiquity of all manner of uniform personnel bearing guns and cudgels.
Back to Sanwo-Olu. I must admit I was never his fan. Not with the manner his predecessor, Akinwunmi Ambode, was treated and denied his party ticket at the primary. Many political watchers saw Sanwo-Olu as a pawn used by his party’s power brokers to spite Ambode, a man perceived to be gaining traction in good governance and infrastructural development of Lagos State. To such watchers, it was a case of ‘what can this one do?’
But Sanwo-Olu is doing. Moments define a man, a leader. These two moments – COVID-19 pandemic and the #EndSARS protests – have defined Sanwo-Olu. They have re-formatted his political and leadership profile. Even the worst of sceptics can testify that on both occasions, the Lagos governor rode the storm. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Nigerian shores, expectedly from Lagos, Sanwo-Olu was quick to raise the red flag. He was effectively communicative. He warned of the dangers ahead. COVID-19 is a novel disease, meaning that not many leaders and even scientists could tell its prognosis. But Sanwo-Olu and his team especially his hardworking Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, showed a good grasp of the situation.
Long before the Federal Government got serious on the matter and set up the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Sanwo-Olu had sufficiently raised the consciousness among Lagosians. For a state that bears the highest burden of the pandemic – given its busy airports, population, busy markets and commercial vibrancy – the governor had to move fast; faster than a docile Federal Government that failed to close the nation’s airports in good time. Lagos contrived its own strategy which was later copied by the central government. Lagos deployed a motorised awareness campaign across the 20 local government areas, through the buzzing markets; through the swarming streets, through the rural communes to the semi-urban and urban places. The mobility of the awareness campaign train, its uniqueness and unequivocally loud messages on COVID-19 helped to drum the import and dire consequences of not adhering to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended protocols into the subconscious of Lagosians.
Lagos is the whole of Nigeria packed in a small corner along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the busiest and largest city in Africa, the busiest state in Nigeria and the commercial capital of the nation. It’s home to Nigeria’s busiest airports, domestic and international. It’s therefore no surprise that it has the largest share of COVID-19 infection. As at October 27, 2020, Nigeria recorded 62,224 COVID-19 cases with 1,135 deaths which gives a national average of 1.8% death rate.
Out of this number, Lagos has 20,935 cases with 208 deaths (0.99% death rate); FCT 6,008 cases with 81 deaths (1.3% death rate); Edo 2,654 cases with 108 deaths (4.06% death rate) while Kano recorded 1,743 cases with 54 deaths (3.09% death rate). These statistics place Lagos as the state with the best COVID-19 pandemic management strategy. Lagos State’s percentage death rate of 0.99 percent is lower than the national average of 1.8 percent and far lower than those of other states with lower infected cases. This is commendable and it’s down to Sanwo-Olu’s crisis management strategy. When the pandemic broke out, albeit insidiously, he did not take a hiding. He made no excuses. He came out boldly and spoke hope to the people. He took the path of active engagement. He told Lagosians: “It’s not a death sentence; only observe the recommended protocols; we have made adequate provisions for its treatment and management; we’re hopeful we shall overcome this together.” Sanwo-Olu spoke hope to the people. He did not trade fear; he took the front row in the battle field. He rallied his troops and it’s to his credit that Nigeria was not consumed by the pandemic, given the huge population.
Now, flip the page. Enter #EndSARS protests. A peaceful protest. Hijacked by hoodlums. A rage of the youths against the old. At 55, Sanwo-Olu is a cross between the youths and the old brigade. He sided with the youths. He protested with them. Spoke hope to them. Left to Sanwo-Olu, no blood would have been spilled. He never shied away from the failure of successive leaderships in the country. He never made attempt to defend the failings of the past. He showed leadership by crying with the youths, engaging directly with them. In moments of crisis, communication is key. He communicated and acted within the limits of his power.
Those who blame the governor for the shooting and killing at Lekki Toll Plaza got it wrong. Yes, Sanwo-Olu is the chief security officer of his state, just like any other governor. But that’s only on paper. No governor in Nigeria issues command or order to the police commissioner or any personnel in the military hierarchy in his state. Yes, some governors have been known to fund police and sundry security operations in their states but they do not control these authorities. Abuja does. It’s been so and will remain so unless the nation restructures to decentralise police operations at the very least. Listening to Sanwo-Olu, you get the sense that the federal authorities contributed more to the conflagration that consumed parts of the country including Lagos. A governor calling the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in moment of crisis and getting no response is not only frustrating but unnerving. It’s not enough for the military to say they were ‘invited’ to Lekki Toll Plaza to enforce the curfew after the same military had categorically claimed it knew nothing about the Lekki shooting. This flip-flop by the military leaves much to the imagination.
But no matter, in all these and much more, Sanwo-Olu has shown leadership and character. The protests got off the handle and turned bloody in Lagos same way it did in other states and Abuja. Those who are determined to apportion blame should look to Abuja, not Lagos; and not even in any of the states. The reluctance of President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation in the early days of the protests precipitated a cauldron of tension across the country and more than anything else helped to rupture the already tense veins of anger.
Please spare Sanwo-Olu the darts. He commands no troop, not even the police. Let’s just hope that as the panels begin sitting across the nation, the whole truth will leap out of the guarded confinements. Prey not on Sanwo-Olu. Pray for him.