Sanwo-Olu: Leadership on the Cusp of a Pandemic and a Protest

Posted on August 8, 2022


Rocked by the corona virus pandemic and a devastating youth-led protest against police brutality that went awry and left Lagos in ruins, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has evinced and exhibited remarkable and robust leadership to ride both debilitating storms.

The real test of leadership is not when everything is smooth sailing; it is when there is a crisis, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. A leader’s actions during this period will establish their credentials as either diligent or dilettante. Conversely, there’s no handy manual that can guide a leader through a crisis because while there can be certain protocols and processes in place to help forestall it, every new crisis is distinct in its own way, with its unique twists and turns requiring an entirely different approach from the one used before.

Thus, leadership may be hard to define, but it is easy to identify in a time of crisis. Governor Sanwo-Olu is one of those leaders who have risen to the moment, demonstrating resolve, courage, empathy, respect for science, and elemental decency, thereby, assuaging a harried people and restoring hope where faith had flagged. He showed it in the fight against the corona virus pandemic when Lagos recorded the index case in February 2020. He is showing it again in the wake of the mayhem that followed the ENDSARS protest – the long-drawn agitation by Nigerian youths to end police brutality and effectuate far-reaching reforms of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit of the Nigeria Police Force.

Indeed, it is often when the times are darkest that a hero is born. Without much ado, the governor has evolved from just a leader to a hero, setting a fire in hearts that were tinder-dry and sceptical; sacrificing, communicating, and inspiring especially before and after the outbreak of COVID-19; and after hoodlums swapped masks with ordinary protesters to turn Lagos into a panorama of pandemonium and pillaging.

Lagos is Nigeria’s most important state; her commercial nerve centre with an economy rated the fifth largest in Africa. It is home to an estimated 21million people and, as such, whatever affects Lagos would affect the entirety of the country and, by extension, the continent. From the moment he got the news that the index case had been found in Lagos, the man who superintends over Africa’s most populous city knew he had literally been thrown into a boiling cauldron and that his actions or inactions, dithering or derring-do would safeguard or cost millions of people their lives and livelihoods. There was tremendous uncertainty in the land considering that the governor was barely one year in office. But as a veteran midwife knows about childbearing, Governor Sanwo-Olu rose to the occasion; he was hands-on and omnipresent, communicating clearly and concisely, and effortlessly and efficiently wearing his empathy as a badge of honour. The corona virus is still around but what Governor Sanwo-Olu did to dull its impact has earned him a pride of place in the pantheons of political leaders.

As the curve flattened across the country, Governor Sanwo-Olu had morphed into a war-time hero and he earned plaudits from across the nation and beyond. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and chairman of the Presidential Taskforce for the Control of the Coronavirus, Mr. Boss Mustapha, praised the governor for his proactiveness in the COVID-19 battle and the roles being played by Lagos to curtail its spread, which he said had raised the hopes of other states in winning the fight against the pandemic. That was a few months ago.

No sooner had he calmed the raging storm of the corona virus than the ENDSARS protest began. With a vibrant, social media-savvy youth demographic, Lagos was, again, the epicentre of the centripetal ENDSARS protest and its violent aftermath, which shook Nigeria to her roots in October.

Again, from the outset of the protest, Governor Sanwo-Olu was communicative and accessible even visiting the protest ground where he promised the protesters that all their demands would be met by the state and federal governments. Despite the raucous welcome he got when he joined the protesters on the sixth day, the governor was undeterred. Like a comrade-in-arms, he carried the #Stoppolicebrutality placard and walked with other protesters to demand the end of harassment by men of the police force and promised to table their demands to the president, which he did the following day.

A week later, things spiralled out of control with hoodlums setting fire on public buildings, brand new BRT buses and police stations which climaxed with the Lekki tollgate shooting where the protesters had defied the state government-imposed curfew. Over a month after, Lagos is still smouldering and spastic from the violence meted to it. But the governor has typically, been ubiquitous and compassionate, reaching out to injured protesters and doing everything he could to assuage the widespread anger that trailed the invitation of the military to Lekki tollgate on October 20.

One of the first things he did was to admit that the state government did invite the military to restore normalcy in the state but never to shoot at unarmed protesters as was being widely claimed. Some of the media organisations that propagated this falsehood, claiming that a massacre took place, particularly, CNN, have recanted. He would also admit that two protesters later died at the hospital due to blunt force trauma to the head.

Governor Sanwo-Olu has also embarked on wide-reaching reforms to rescue the state from the ruins of the mayhem and help as many Lagosians as possible to revive their businesses. Prior to October 20 when the protest crested, Governor Sanwo-Olu had inaugurated an 8-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution to investigate cases of police brutality. He also announced that the panel would be joined by two youth representatives and a member of the National Human Rights Commission as the state government looked to provide restitution while following due process.

The hijack of the protest, as many would recall, led to cases of arson and looting as many hapless small businesses and major shopping outlets like the Circle Mall at Jakande in Lekki and the Spar Market near Nicon Estate had their shops looted. The expansive Novare Mall in Sangotedo, Lekki, was not spared as many shops were vandalised and emptied. Images of shop owners weeping in excruciating anguish littered the media. Again, Governor Sanwo-Olu proved that his innate leadership qualities were not a fluke after all. He visited the burnt shops, commiserated with the owners and announced several incentives to help them get back their livelihoods.

In a statement, the governor spoke on his administration’s readiness to assist those affected by destruction in the affected malls; that the state would not leave the people to bear the pains alone and that the government would assist them to return to their respective businesses.

Governor Sanwo-Olu also asked the shop owners to reach out to the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) and urged them to make use of the opportunities being provided by the agency in assisting business people, especially small-scale business owners. By then, he had launched a N5bn MSME Recovery Fund through the LSETF with the view to assisting all legal residents of the state with businesses affected by the carnage to resuscitate their businesses. Governor Sanwo-Olu further announced that the state government would give all business owners in the burnt malls tax breaks of PAYE while appealing to the Federal Government to ensure that they get tax relief from the Federal Internal Revenue Services, (FIRS).

Leaders don’t come any more empathetic, engaging and inspirational!



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