Fashola In The Web Of 'Unsubstantiated Allegations'

Source: BABATOLA MICHAEL - thewillnigeria.com

LAGOS , June 07, (THEWILL) - Responding to questions relating to alleged contract inflation and financial misappropriation at a recent world news conference he addressed in Ikeja House on Democracy Day, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) described the allegations a group called The True Face of Lagos (TFL) brought against him as unsubstantiated and unproven, and consequently expressed strong will to reply all the allegations when hard facts are forwarded to a duly constituted investigation panel and appropriate government institution. Babatola Michael writes.

Just ten days ago, the civil society and media actors again gathered at Ikeja House, Lagos seat of power. The gathering was not only to mark Fashola’s 3 years in office, but also to celebrate eleven years of Nigeria’s democratic transition. In the same mood, Lagosians in their various homes tuned to the state-owned television station, listening to Fashola’s 3-year accounts of stewardship and perhaps communicate their concerns and grievances to him through short message service (SMS).

Governor Fashola was inundated with three major questions at the briefing, all of which have been agitating the minds of Lagos public in the last one season. The first was to know if Fashola would seek re-election in 2011. The second inquires Fashola’s relationship with his predecessor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. And the last borders on alleged cases of contract inflation and financial misappropriation, which The True Face of Lagos (TFL) largely preferred against the State Executive Council members and all lawmakers at the state House of Assembly.

Addressing the first question, Fashola technically told his audience that he was only interested in the prosperity of Lagos State. His answer however immediately subdued the thirst of Lagos public, though unsatisfactory to conclude if the governor will actually seek another term. But legally speaking, the constitution bestows the right to contest the 2011 gubernatorial election on him. Though received with mixed feelings, Fashola’s response to the second question simply dismissed public insinuations that he was at loggerhead with Tinubu over different issues.

On the issue of financial scams, Fashola devoted more time to address all the allegations, which The True Face of Lagos first brought against the State Executive Council and all the state legislators in an advertorial placed in a national daily in January. He linked his refusal to respond to the allegations to the failure of the group to provide hard facts and evidences as the House of Assembly demanded. He thus said he would not be distracted by what he described as "allegations without substance."

Sounding comic, Fashola said: "This is my own true face; not The True Face of Lagos. At the appropriate time, we will respond. But we will not respond to allegations that are not factual. When we are confronted with evidence of our impropriety, we will duly respond. We will stand here offering our integrity as our collective collateral that entitles us to govern this state. We should not be rubbished.

"My colleagues and I know very well to defend everything that we have done in the last three years that this administration came on board. But we will not be distracted by allegations that have no substance. An arm of the government which has oversight responsibility over our appropriations and functions, which is the State House of Assembly is already investigating the matter, what else do you want us to do."

"But another organ of government, which is the judicial arm, is saying hold on a second. We are reviewing some things. I think it is fair and proper to allow the instruments and organs of government to work in the way that they are set out to work," Fashola said. Fashola’s response quickly put paid to the long quest of Lagos electorate to know whether the allegations are true and further challenged the group to provide documentary, oral and visual evidence in support of all its claims.

In spite of this explanation, what is not clear is whether The True Face actually possesses documentary and oral evidences to substantiate and sufficiently prove all the allegations it brought against the State Executive Council and lawmakers as well. But the group has not specifically presented the required hard facts to back its claims since Fashola openly challenged the group, describing its claims as unproven and unsubstantiated. The group has not made helpful information available to back its allegations in line with the directive of the Assembly.

Now that Fashola had promised to defend all its actions and inactions of his administration, The True Face has to prove if Fashola indeed spent N1.5 billion to demolish the Bank of Industry (BOI) building paying a company introduced by Dr. Tunji Olowolafe in cash transfer only for him and his cronies to claim the land adjacent to it. It has onus to prove if Fashola actually awarded part of Western Avenue (Funsho Williams Road), about two kilometres road for N7.7 billion without the construction of any bridge. The project was carried out by Julius Berger.

With Fashola’s readiness to defend all his actions and inactions, The True Face has to provide information to establish that the administration actually and objectively awarded the construction of a road and drainage inside Gbagada General Hospital for over N1.8 billion to DEUX Projects Limited owned by Dr. Tunji Olowolafe, whom it described as Fashola’s intimate friend and that a sum of 1.5 billion naira of un-appropriated fund was claimed to have been spent on demolition of Oshodi without approval as required in the Public Procurement Act (2007).

Aside, it is the responsibility of the group to explain what made "the helicopter deal a big fraud. The helicopter was not built for any kind of emergency evacuation, rescue or to even combat urban fire. Over N5 billion has been spent on the two helicopters. And, the seal of Lagos State is not on it, and it is not even in Lagos but in the Niger Delta making money for some private people in government."

On the award of the LASU-Iba road, Lagosians are now seeking explanation on how Fashola "recklessly increased and paid over 60 percent on the LASU–Iba road awarded by his predecessor for N6.2 billion, but was jerked up to N10 billion less than two weeks after the incumbent assumed office.

It was also alleged that his predecessor awarded the construction of City Hall for N2.3 billion, but Fashola’s administration which only changed the floor tiles to marble tiles increased the contract sum to N5.2 billion, an increase of about 126 percent."

The group also has onus to explain how "over N13 billion on planting of grass and flowers was spent. The sum was spent to import Palm trees from Niger Republic and that CCTV project was awarded to Fashola’s relation who claimed to be acting for CISCO. The contract was awarded for $62 million, while the rejected quote for the contract was $30 million. That Deux Project Limited was awarded 11 out of 19 contracts in the Lagos State Ministry of health between January and August 2009. Out of N5.6 billion contract in the state Ministry of Health, Deux Project Limited alone collected N5.1 billion and was paid 70 percent upfront in cash."

Its allegations did not stop at the doorsteps of the State Executive Council alone. It alleged the state lawmakers of taking a bribe of N20 million, though it later publicly withdrew its allegations against the lawmakers. Since it brought all the allegations in January, the group has not come with evidence to substantiate them. And its failure to do so may portray them as spoilers before Lagos public and might compel people to believe that the allegations are meant to witch-hunt Fashola.

The Assembly dissolved a 6-man committee it first set up to look into all the allegations, but set up a new 7-man committee a fortnight after. But a court subsequently restrained the panel to unravel the scams. The Assembly complied with the order. Since Dr. Tunji Olowolafe was released, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) appeared somehow silent on the probe.

In order to ensure transparency and accountability, The True Face must come up with its documentary, oral and visual evidence to establish all the allegations it brought against some members of the State Executive Council and legislators. This is the duty the True Face owes Lagos public now that Fashola has expressed strong political will to defend actions and inactions of his administration.