In the absence of the usual compliment of effusive media adverts, the special interview granted a select group of editors was probably the most public event in the recent celebration of Babatunde Raji Fashola’s 50th birthday!
In a rare commentary on himself, Fashola wittingly fielded questions with fluid unscripted responses; possibly, the only question parried was the inquiry about which songs he sings during his early morning meditations, when, according to the governor, “I commune with my Maker”.
However, the essence of the interview is probably the lessons on determination, commitment, simplicity, integrity, and discipline, which could serve as beacons for youths, who may find themselves at various crossroads of life.
For example, on the subject of birthday celebrations, Fashola revealed, “I am not a ceremony person; I don’t like those formalities, and I remember that when I was the Chief of Staff, I turned 40, and my friends said, “No! It’s a lie, we are going to have a party”, and I said, “No! If you do it, I’m going to have to run away!” Inevitably, however, the party lobbyists triumphed; but then, he added, “How they got me to do it, I can’t quite say, but what I remember (on that day) was that I had to wake up very early, and I said, “This shouldn’t be! This is my birthday, and I should be sleeping”!!
On the funding of the birthday bash, Fashola confirmed that “I funded my 40th birthday by myself; I am not quite sure I can do the same now, even as a governor, I am not even sure that I want to spend that kind of money on a party, as if we can’t eat small rice and chicken in the house, I don’t even know if I want to dress up in a formal sense… The idea that probably I would have a birthday party at taxpayers’ expense is something that doesn’t sit quite well with me…. I don’t want to cling to things that are not real. I try as much as possible to keep my feet firmly on the ground, because there are two people here; there is Tunde Fashola and there’s the Governor of Lagos State;… after 2015, I will be left to carry on with my birthday; so, let me get used to that now. That is what I tried to do, since I took office.”
On growing up and education, Fashola had this to say: “I was very horrible with mathematics, I just managed to score 50 or 60 to pass it…; ultimately, the only professional course I could do without mathematics was Law”! Truancy and poor school grades were his call cards; according to him, “school was too much of a problem; there was football to be played, and I didn’t learn how to study until I was in the ‘A’ Level class”. The turning point came when he failed the West African School Certificate examinations; apart from biology, all the other subjects were P7 and P8, and F9 in mathematics! Consequently, his father refused to pay any more exam fees, and arranged for his apprenticeship to a motor mechanic!
According to Fashola, “I think it was that shock treatment that changed my attitude; I went on to write the same exams again, and I passed, and I got into A Level class, and it was very good, and my dad said it was probably because I hadn’t discovered the football field in that school. In a sense, it was true; by the end of my first year, I got into the football team in Igbobi College, and the grades just started dropping! I tell everybody who cares to listen that I am a product of many chances; that is why I give second, third and fourth chances to anybody who is serious. I don’t think that any parent should give up on any child.”
“By the time I entered university, nobody told me to go and study… I was able to combine football and tennis with my academic work; what I simply did was that by 6.00 a.m., I was up to do my exercise. By 8.00 a.m., I would be in class till 4.00 p.m., and by 4.00 p.m., I was in the sports complex till 7.00 p.m.; by 8.00 p.m., I ate dinner, and studied for one hour thereafter everyday till I left the university, and it worked! Ultimately, I left university with a 2:2, and the law school result also was a 2:2?.
For the compulsory youth service, he was posted to the Ministry of Justice in Benin, Edo State, but after waiting endlessly for the state’s Solicitor-General for three days to formally accept his posting, he eventually rejected the offer. His grouse was that “I don’t want to be in an environment where I can’t think on my own and take decisions”.
At home, Fashola noted that there was freedom, love and fear of God; “stealing was unforgiveable; you couldn’t forget your classmate’s biro in your bag, because you will receive the anger of my parents…. You may say that they were strict, but many of my generation went through it; it curtailed greed, built discipline and reinforced self-denial…. If they ask you outside whether you were hungry, you will say no, I have eaten”
On the subject of public service, Fashola noted, “I didn’t plan to run for office, but I had the choice to say no, and run away; however, from the day I made a decision to take the offer, I knew that it came with consequences…. Public servants are a small part of the population…; I want us to discuss the government, especially in a democracy, as something that all of us own…. I feel more comfortable with the concept of an action government rather than an action Governor, because, government is institutional.
“Before I was Chief of Staff, if it rained, I slept more, but once I got into government, the rain meant a different thing to me; then, I lost my evenings, my entire social life…, I was working about 17 hours a day and I was aging very quickly. Nobody wants to be in government forever; not if you will do the work!”
Instructively, after serving former Tinubu for over five years, Fashola still needed the former governor’s assistance to equip his chambers in preparation for disengagement after the elections in 2007, but according to him, “then came the ‘bombshell’ about governorship; and here we are. So, nobody planned it and it was not on my radar at all”!