When the All Progressives Congress (APC) presented Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu in October 2018 as its flag-bearer in the 2019 Lagos State governorship elections, many Lagosians had never heard of him. In contrast, the main opposition candidate, Jimi Agbaje had been in politics for quite a while and was well known across Lagos and indeed all over Nigeria. It even seemed that the majority of Lagosians were bored with the APC’s internal wranglings and would be willing to give the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a chance at breaking the grip of the APC on Lagos. One of the things Sanwoolu had going for him was that his predecessors from the APC were also relatively unknown before the APC picked them and when elected, they distinguished themselves and caused people to be willing to take a chance on relatively unknown men to lead as Governor of arguably the most important state in Nigeria. With that pedigree and a number of other factors including the PDP in Lagos self-imploding and committing an “unforced error”, Babajide Sanwoolu emerged as the Governor of Lagos State.
The PDP’s publicity secretary in Lagos placed the blame for his party’s massive loss squarely on Agbaje’s unilateral decision to handle campaign logistics single-handedly, barely 72 hours to the election. Lagos State dodged a bullet as we saw a dictatorial, “my-way-or-the-highway” trait that may have wrecked Lagos. It may have seemed like a man-made error but when we look at what has happened since then, one would be hard-pressed to deny that Providence chose the best man to become Governor of Lagos in 2019.
A few weeks after Babajide Sanwoolu was sworn into office, many pictures began to emerge of him at project sites, press briefings and other events. In a lot of pictures, he could be seen pointing out or pointing at something. Some mischief makers took to social media, made memes of him and called him names such as “The Pointing Governor”. Well, as the saying goes, “To be great is to be misunderstood”. Not many months after, the joke is on them as the man has proven himself to be a great leader and is every day giving us a Master Class on leadership in the 21st century. As someone also joked recently (although better rendered in Pidgin English), Governor Sanwoolu wasn’t just pointing at the problems, he was identifying them like patrons of “Point and Kill” fish joints identify their preferred fish and he was then snuffing the life out of the problems that Lagosians face. This is no “point and kill” though. The man is “Point and Do”.
Jokes aside, while it takes great vision to correctly identify the problems of a megacity like Lagos, it takes great gumption to be able to tackle the challenges head on. Many leaders who are gifted with great vision and gumption often lack a humane disposition. Not so with the bespectacled Sanwoolu. He listens to the people and is able to feel their pulse on issues. For example, with the perennial traffic jams Lagosians have been enduring for many years, his administration identified bottlenecks at critical points, some of which were aesthetically pleasing roundabouts but were now impractical in view of the situation. He is assiduously working to make all densely populated areas traffic free and easily accessible for all residents, with no location preferred over another. As a result, Allen Avenue junction and the former Lekki 2nd roundabout are among the many that have been remodeled and the outcome is a relief to many.
Yes, the man is a product of the University of Lagos, as well as the London Business School, Lagos Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government but it would be hard for any one of those renowned institutions to take the credit for the excellence with which Babajide Sanwoolu is governing Lagos State. All over the world, his handling of the coronavirus pandemic is regarded as a model for others to emulate and as the State’s Chief Incident Commander for Lagos’ COVID-19 response, he clearly has risen to the challenge and in the process cemented his legacy as one of the great Governors that Lagos State has had. No easy feat to achieve for a state well known as the Centre of Excellence in Nigeria.
It is possible that if Babajide Sanwoolu had been told the details of the challenges he would face upon becoming Governor of Lagos, he may have refused the opportunity when it came. GOD more often than not hides the details and specifics of our journey through Life. Even if the man had desired to be a Governor someday, absolutely nothing would have indicated that it would happen at a time of a global pandemic that would more or less shut down the whole world and radically alter the way we live our lives. Imagine being Governor of Lagos State at such a time as this where even the projected state budget has had to be reduced because of the economic impact of COVID 19. All the laudable goals he set out to achieve at the start of his administration in May 2019 have to be rejigged and some have been hampered altogether due to the enormous strain on the state’s resources.
As the COVID 19 pandemic continues to beat up economies everywhere, many people in Lagos are in despair and there is a massive toll on citizens’ mental health. A few weeks ago, one Lagosian attempted to commit suicide by jumping into the Lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge, all because he owed someone N500, 000. He was rescued and Governor Sanwoolu paid off the debt he owed. Via the Office of Civic Engagement, many Lagosians whose livelihood have been negatively impacted as a result of COVID 19 restrictions are receiving considerable financial assistance courtesy of the Governor that listens. When his administration recently introduced new guidelines for the operation of e-hailing taxi services and there was an outcry from the public that the terms were a bit inconsiderate, the Governor listened and saw to it that there was a significant review more favourable to the e-hailing service operators. Babajide Sanwoolu strongly believes in a just and inclusive society. His is probably the only cabinet in the whole of Nigeria with a non-indigene as Commissioner.
We may not know what the future holds, we are assured that that Babajide Sanwoolu has a place in the upper echelons of leadership in Africa. Men like him who listen to the heartbeat of the people and are still able to drive their societies forward are quite a rarity in this part of the world. Now we can point to him and say “That is a man who listens”. Hopefully, Life will always bring him the very best and history will be kind to him.