If you conduct a survey amongst Nigerians to ask them what they believe is the root cause of their country’s prolonged failure to actualize its great potential, you will likely find that most respondents will say “Bad Leadership”. Truly, bad leadership has been the bane of Nigeria’s attempts to live up to its billing as the “Giant of Africa”. It would however be incorrect to say there are no good leaders at all in Nigeria. The problem really is that while there are indeed a few good leaders, there are not too many of them in the public domain. It is why it is important to appreciate the current Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu.
If you take random samples from some of the world’s most acclaimed leadership coaches, you will find that Governor Sanwoolu’s actions as Lagos Governor tick the boxes and meet the criteria of what they expect great leaders to do. Brian Tracy is one of the foremost leadership experts in the world, the true test of Leadership is how well a leader functions in a crisis. This criteria rings true as crises really show the stuff a person is made of. Even Babajide Sanwoolu’s erstwhile traducers will be hard pressed to lie that the man has not displayed exceptional leadership with his handling of Lagos State’s coronavirus response. Save for world wars, there are not so many crises that have rocked the whole world and altered our way of life like the COVID-19 pandemic has done. The pandemic struck within Sanwoolu’s first year as Governor of Lagos and made the already arduous task even more difficult. Yet he has shone like a star during this period and has earned the respect of Lagosians, a people who are famously street smart as well as intelligent and quite difficult to deceive with gimmicks.
COVID-19 is not the only crisis that Lagos State has faced or is facing with Sanwoolu at the helm of affairs. Shortly after he was sworn into office in May 2019, he clearly defined his goals and the pillars of focus on which his administration would major on. Thus was THEMES born. “T” being for Traffic Management and Transportation; “H” being for Health and Environment; “E” being for Education and Technology; “M” being for Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy; “E” being for Entertainment and Tourism and then “S” being for Security and Governance. It has since become apparent that Sanwoolu’s THEMES Agenda was well thought out and not the typical gimmick employed by corrupt politicians seeking to appear as having the people’s interests at heart. Another crisis has arisen in Lagos State and indeed all over Nigeria, and it is one that the “S” in his THEMES plan was presciently designed to handle. What crisis is that? The #EndSars protests.
For many years, corruption in the Police and that institution’s abuse of human rights has been common knowledge. However in recent years, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has gained notoriety in Nigeria and across the world for its impunity, unprofessionalism, flagrant human rights violations, extortion of citizens and extra judicial murders. Although SARS primarily targeted, unfairly profiled and badly brutalized primarily young Nigerians, you would be hard-pressed to find any Lagosian of any age would say they have not been affected by SARS high-handedness either directly or indirectly. The actions of SARS was detrimental to Lagosians, and even to the Entertainment and Tourism aspect of the THEMES agenda of Lagos State as people were scared to go out to enjoy themselves and explore the city for fear of SARS. Almost out of nowhere, this October, the volcano of the oppressed people erupted and massive protests began in Lagos and other Nigerian cities. The clamour was loud and clear: End SARS.
A good leader is responsive to the yearnings of those he leads. Brian Tracy put it this way: “The best leaders have a high consideration factor. They really care about their people.” Again Babajide Sanwoolu passed this test of leadership. As the protests grew in intensity and with reports of police brutality and use of excessive force on protesters that resulted in some deaths, in Lagos he called for calm and tried to mediate in many ways between the rightly aggrieved citizens and the highest levels of leadership of the Police. He gave express instructions to Police in Lagos to cooperate with protesters and in situations where arrests were unavoidable, he insisted that there must be full transparency and upholding of protesters’ legal rights. As a result of his intervention, many arrested protesters who had been detained illegally by the Police in Lagos were released. Not only that, the Governor visited the epicenter of the Lagos protests at risk to his personal safety to hear the demands of the teeming protesters and assure them that he felt their pain, was on their side and would relay their demands to President Muhammadu Buhari. Right after, he indeed flew straight to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja to brief the President.
As renowned management consultant, educator and author Peter Drucker posited, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Not only did Governor Sanwoolu manage the situation right, he is leading right. He has led the way by setting up a N200m trust fund for the compensation of victims of police brutality in Lagos State and he has called on other state governors to do the same. Lagos is also setting up a Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS In Lagos. The 7-man panel will ensure that all those with verifiable cases of SARS brutality or fatality receive compensation. Also, a help desk for the panel is being set up with dedicated phone numbers with which members of the public can reach the Panel directly. Governor Sanwoolu also pressured the Lagos Commissioner of Police into taking punitive action against police personnel who brutalized protesters. Right now, the Police in Lagos is conducting an orderly room trial of its men found to have assaulted End SARS protesters in Surulere and some of them have been named. Governor Sanwoolu is unrelenting in his efforts at improving the situation and his passion is commendable.
If as the saying goes, one good turn deserves another, then Sanwoolu is acing the tests of leadership and is already the people’s favourite for a second term in office in 2023, should he desire it. Lagos and Nigeria would certainly be better off with great leaders like him rising to the occasion.