Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.


Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu last week shocked Lagosians and, by extension, the rest of the country, with the announcement suspending the reopening of worship centres earlier approved to commence on June 19 and 20, 2020, as a result of the rising cases of COVID 19 virus. Stripped of all the sentiments, protestation and pretensions by sundry interest groups masquerading under one guise or another that decision is an act of mercy and the towering height of leadership. It is his crowning glory as governor regardless of what happens thereafter.

Few people gave him a chance to excel as governor of Nigeria’s greatest state government in terms of population, social and cultural diversity, and resource endowments, probably because of the manner of his emergence. Reputed to be the fifth largest economy in West Africa, Lagos is unique in several ways: It hosts the largest concentration of the nation’s elites – political, economic and social; it is also the media hub of the country apart from being the economic and commercial destination.

Such is the demand and complexity of leadership in the state that few governors in other states of the federation can barely find their footing and bearing. Lagos is a microcosm of Nigeria and any governor who can understand and manage Lagos can easily handle the challenging task of leading the country. Our greatest national failure has been the inability to find such people to shepherd the affairs of the country.

 The leadership quotient in Lagos since 1999 is comparably higher than that of the country at the centre except under president Obasanjo. Although its selection process since Bola Tinubu has not been transparent, fair and democratic, the outcomes have been positive and impressive; which to me suggests that liberal democracy as practised in the west and here since 1999 may not be compatible with our level of electoral literacy, economic empowerment, and general political consciousness.

This is the point so eloquently and convincingly made, to the discomfiture and chagrin of most western intellectuals, by Nigerian born Goldman Sachs’ economist and Oxford-trained scholar, Dr Dambisa Moyo, in her latest book, “The Edge of Chaos”. The difference between the class of leadership in Lagos state and that of other parts of the country, including the centre, is the process of selection. Lagos, under the political stronghold of a godfather, has made no pretensions to the democratic fallacy that obtains in other states; but the result has always been better even than the national.

Like Mr Adewumi Ambode, his immediate predecessor in office, Sanwo-Olu was the least likely for the office when his name emerged. Most of the other people pushing for the position had immediate name recognition and political pedigree, like his deputy, Dr Femi Hamsat, who is a two-time commissioner. But providence threw up Sanwo-Olu and many expressed shock and disappointment. He also did not help his case as, again, like Ambode, he took his time to understand his commission. But once he kicked off, he has proved the selector right and every person in the state dead wrong.

Before the invasion of COVID-19, he was already showing leadership excellence in policy direction and project implementation. But for the brief period of the rains last year, the state has been turned to the construction site; however, for the first time, Lagos is witnessing total resurfacing, not patching, of roads and the quality of work is impressive. He also quickly resolved the thorny issue of the PSP’s waste management to improve sanitation.

However, it was the COVID 19 crisis that brought out his sterling leadership qualities. As it is often said, great leaders are born and moulded in the crucible of trouble; so it seems with the governor who has defied all odds – political and economic – to provide leadership for the country. Yes, for the country, because while the federal government was still asleep and dozing over the existential threat posed by the virus, Sanwo-Olu had already hit the ground running, which saved the situation before the belated intervention of President Buhari.

So when the federal government, minded scoring cheap political capital with some religious leaders, approved the reopening of worship centres – after some governors had already politicized it – contrary to initial guidelines designed by Lagos for opening them, which involved re-registration for monitoring purposes, many people felt betrayed, because it was at a time the infection rate was hitting a new high, thus raising concern about its true motive. The main reason adduced for the consideration to reopen is that it would allow churches and mosques to pray for the nation against the virus.

Yet it was also at a time when some church leaders, such as Bishop David Oyedepo and his army of other Faith Movement Pastors, were strongly disputing the existence of the virus and challenging government powers to imposed restrictions to a mass gathering. Apart from being irresponsible of leaders of such high stature and reverence, who control a large population of people, it was also a direct affront on the authority of government, which the Bible enjoins all adherents to obey, especially if it is for the good of all.

Indeed, the attempt to reopen worship centres was outrageously bad in the first place and the protocols were equally impracticable given our characteristically rash behaviours and lack of discipline. Also, the reaction of some pastors, such as Pastor Chris Okotie, of Household of God, who openly denounced the protocols attached to it, was not only insulting but simply unacceptable. The Bible says that the government does not bear arms or sword for nothing but against evildoers, into which some church leaders have turned themselves, being opposed to the general good.

There is no consensus among church leaders over the necessity and imperative of reopening churches amidst the pandemic; those who argue that the church is being targeted by the restrictions are not better pastors than those who believe in it. Even with the announcement to reopen, some pastors, including Pastor Enoch Adeboye of Redeemed Christian Church of God,  Tunde Bakare of Citadel Global Community Church, and Sam Adeyemi of Daystar, salvaged what was still left of the damage already done to the church by those concerned primarily with their pockets, rather the lives of people, by declaring to remain shut to avoid risking lives of members.

By his decision to suspend reopening, Sanwo-Olu has shown that greatness does not lie in arrogance and pride, but humility, meekness and flexibility. A great leader is one who would immediately accept correction and change his course of action when confronted with superior logic and unimpeachable evidence; which has been the bane of our society where leaders carry on as if they are infallible and omniscient.

By biting the humble pie despite the enormous pressure being put on him, he has clearly demonstrated a commitment to protect the generality of the people of the state, and stand on a higher and nobler value of the sanctity of life, rather than panders to the whims and caprices of a few.

Companies and business are being closed down, and people are losing their means of livelihood; general uncertainty pervades the nation; schools are still shut, and the rate of infection of the virus is rising, yet reopening churches and mosques seems to be the most important thing to us. The argument flies in the face of reality and reason. The position of these people shows how little they esteem the life of people; even God said, there is joy in heaven for every sinner that repents – and how many sinners and saints have died from this?

 In sum, every life matters to God and should be protected by those with the power to do so. Therefore, God is on the side of Sanwo-Olu; so be not afraid, He will protect you for saving lives, Mr Governor!