6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Leadership and the Politics of Reform in Africa: Lessons from Nigeria

Webcast available

Webcast Recap

On September 20, 2016, the Wilson Center Africa Program was honored to host His Excellency Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, who served as Governor of Lagos State from 2007 to 2015 and was appointed Minister of Power, Works, and Housing under President Muhammadu Buhari. The conversation offered a unique opportunity to learn from one of Africa’s foremost reformers on the subjects of governance, development, economics, and the obligations of progressive leadership in a time of economic hardship across the country. This event served as the launch of the Africa Program’s pillar on inclusive governance and leadership, which will highlight key leadership and governance challenges; distill lessons learned from innovations across the national, state, and local levels; and provide options for strengthening the institutions, systems, and processes that underpin effective governance.

Following welcome remarks by Dr. Andrew Selee, Executive Vice President of the Wilson Center, Dr. Monde Muyangwa, Director of the Wilson Center Africa Program, offered brief remarks outlining the context and importance of the discussion. A leader on the African continent and in the world, Nigeria has experienced many successes. However, the country faces serious challenges, including economic recession and high unemployment, degradation of infrastructure, inadequate power generation, and a rapidly growing urban population.

Honorable Fashola began with a discussion of reform and its opponents. Both change and a resistance to change are inevitabilities; implementation of political and economic reforms puts politicians at odds with stakeholders that benefit from the status quo. As a reformer, it is the leader’s responsibility to bridge the gap between siloed communities, engaging stakeholders and civil society in the process of reform.

Likewise, the Minister emphasized the importance of inclusive governance. In a country of nearly 200 million people and hundreds of languages, engaging with disparate segments of the population is not only a responsibility of leadership, it is a prerequisite of any successful reform. Honorable Fashola offered leaders a choice: either focus on the status of office or the responsibilities of office. He charged leaders to be mindful that their decisions have significant impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the peoples they represent.

To illustrate his reflections on inclusive governance and leadership, Honorable Fashola provided the example of the 2016 electricity tariff scheme, which was designed to transfer the burden of electricity costs to wealthier consumers while providing distribution companies with profits to expand and renew infrastructure. The scheme has had its critics, the Minister acknowledged, many of whom are frustrated by increasing costs of electricity and discomfort with new and unanticipated changes that affect them financially. Honorable Fashola positioned this as a test case for the importance of open communication and consensus-building, especially when reforms will take time to bear fruit.

This event was livestreamed and livetweeted. Follow the Africa Program Twitter account @AfricaUpClose and catch up on the conversation with the hashtag #LessonsfromNigeria.