“I am certainly better than him. Yes, it is true he has contested three times and you know what the results have been for him.”
The Lagos State All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has given an insight on how he would rule the state if elected the governor by next year. Sanwo-Olu who began his political career in the state when he was appointed the acting Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget less than a year after he joined the administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Special Adviser on Corporate Matters in 2004 took the political circuit unawares. Since then he has remained relevant in the Lagos and national politics.
In this interview, the APC candidate disclosed that the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, would lead other party faithful in his political campaign in the state just as he fielded questions on sundry issues.
You defeated Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in the APC primaries that would have earned him a second term, so will you allow him to lead your campaign?
Yes, it is true that I won the APC primary, which qualified me as the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 elections. I must also let you know that the last two months have been very interesting for me and the entire political landscape in the country because of the unprecedented nature of the outcome. That means politics is working. It also implies that when you give power to the people, especially via the type of primary we ran, which was direct primary, you certainly cannot second-guess the outcome. With that outcome, Lagosians, who are APC members, have provided me with the huge opportunity of serving Lagosians and giving me the responsibility of leading the state. As the winner of the APC primary, and by the reason of their votes, I am now in this position; seeking the supports and votes of Lagosians towards becoming the next governor of Lagos State. I am humbled by their trust in me, and I must say that I am equally equipped for the role of the governor of Lagos State. On the second part of your question, which is whether Governor Ambode will play a role in my campaign. See, Governor Ambode is my governor. We have only one governor in Lagos today, and his name is Mr Akinwunmi Ambode. We are in the same APC. He will certainly lead my campaign and play all the important roles he needs to play for us to win. The primary has gone, and we are in the trenches with our sleeves rolled-up, working hard and strategizing on how to attain electoral victory for our party. Beyond politicking, Governor Ambode is my brother. We have known ourselves long before now. As I said earlier, we are members of the same political family.
Are you really the choice of APC members, or just a stooge of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu whom he imposed on the party?
I find comments like this interesting when I hear them. I am sure you have been following developments in Lagos APC since the primary where over one million party men and women came out to cast their votes and the results were out, a product of which I am. My emergence or candidacy has nothing to do with Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu. It has nothing to do with the party leadership. It has to do with me taking part in a direct primary. A direct primary in which every card-carrying party member exercised their voting right. It is not fair to reduce this to just a man, who is our leader. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is not just a state leader, he is a national leader of our party. He is preoccupied with issues about the development of Nigeria. He is busy with how to achieve the Nigerian dream. He is our father. He is our leader. We are all his children. There is no issue about somebody being his favourite. The issue is about over one million card-carrying members of APC in Lagos who decided who the party flag bearer should be with their votes, and this, I think, is the way to see what happened.
Who is Babajide Sanwo-Olu and at what point did you decide to become governor of Lagos State?
Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu is a 53-year old man. If I begin to say everything about myself it will probably take about 53 years to rollout the answers to your question. In very simple term, I have been a public and private sector man. I have done 17 years in the private sector, banking to be precise, I have done 13 years in the public sector. I was a three-time Commissioner in Lagos State, and until recently, the MD/CEO of perhaps the biggest and oldest real estate development company in Nigeria – that is Lagos State Development Property Company (LSDPC). I have been Special Adviser to a deputy governor of the state and later to the governor. I have served under three governors of Lagos State. I have run the balance sheet of banks, three different banks, where I was Treasurer – Lead Merchant Bank, UBA and First Atlantic Bank (now part of First City Monument Bank). I have worked as a Seismic Surveyor with United Geophysical Nigeria Ltd (a seismic data acquisition company) in a role which took me round the whole Niger Delta and Lake Chad region prospecting crude oil for Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). I also ran a start-up company in the 90s, which allowed for extensive nurturing of my entrepreneurial skills. I have done so many great things. As to when did I decide to be governor, I have always known that the opportunity will present itself one day. Let me say my children too have always said to me that Daddy with all this your passion for public service, helping people and all that, it would not be out of place for you to run for office and steer the state. On a lighter note, with the ‘Not-Too-Young-To-Run’ people right behind us; if I don’t take the opportunity now, I may not have it again. I have always had it in me and since the opportunity presented itself, there is no better time than now to do it.
Your main opponent in the election is Jimi Agbaje. Where do you think you are better than him and are you scared that you can lose to him?
Well, Mr Jimi Agbaje is a fellow Lagosian. He is an Egbon. He is someone I know and he is someone I have personal respect for being an Egbon. That is how we were trained and brought up to have respect for people and most especially those who are older than us. He is certainly older than me, but on the political landscape, our pedigrees and experiences are not the same. If you talk of public service experience, effective representation and credentials, I am certainly better than him. Yes, it is true he has contested three times and you know what the results have been for him. You asked if I am scared. Scared of what? What will a 53-year-old man like me be scared of. We are going into the election and I am sure it will be a good contest. At the end of the day, I will win the election. Let me say again that I respect him and his tenacity for wanting to lead the state.
What will you say about Governor Ambode’s statement regarding your mental health and allegation of spending fake dollars in the US?
This is the umpteenth time I will be asked this same question and my answer has been the same. You need to know that during politicking, things happen and people say things they don’t really mean all in the spirit of politics. They have to say it just to throw darts at the other person. Governor Ambode is someone I have great respect for. He is the governor of the state. He is my governor and he occupies the office I am aspiring to. I am in no way going to speak against that office or the person that sits in that office. Like I said before, it was all politics that went the wrong way. The simple answer is, none of those things happened. I have never been detained in the US or any country in the world. I did not spend fake dollars anywhere in the world and I am not that type of a person. I was still in the United States a couple of months back. I have never been to Gbagada General Hospital for any ailment. I don’t have any medical record at the hospital. In fact, the two times I have even been to Gbagada General Hospital were to donate. One was on my birthday when I went around the wards to donate gifts. The second, I was on charity mission, looking out for those who needed help which I provided. That is who I am and who I will always be. I have done this in the last five to six years.
Will you complete ongoing infrastructural projects initiated by Governor Ambode in the event his administration is unable to complete them before May 2019?
You know governance is a continuum. You take over both assets and liabilities whenever you assume office as governor in the case of a state. And whichever way you look at it we are in the same party. We will certainly continue all projects that already have public funds committed to them.
Lagos has the largest population of middle-class and possibly the poor people in Nigeria, who often struggle to pay for expensive private schools and private hospitals for their children. What will you do to arrest the decay in public education and healthcare in Lagos?
Let me first correct something here. I think it is not fair to generally use words such as ‘decay’ and ‘complete breakdown’. They are extreme and also suggesting that government is not doing anything at all in the two sectors you mentioned. That is not true, but it may mean that we need to improve on what we have and do much better. If we begin to compute the number of people in Lagos daily who use existing facilities in the state, then we will realise why effective planning has been difficult. Our plan is to rollout a lot initiatives and improve on social planning. Our focus is on the people at the bottom of the pyramid. The very poor people you talked about, who do not have any choice. Those who are able to take their children to private schools or private hospitals have choices, and can pay for what they need. Again, I must add that, the school a child attends is a prerogative of the parents. Those who will take their children to private schools will still do, regardless of whatever government provides. It is the poor people who do not have a choice that the government must make giving their children the opportunities they need in life a priority. We must bring opportunities to the poor. We have about 1,300 public primary schools in Lagos. We will improve on the infrastructure in our public schools and hospitals, and train personnel to deliver quality services to the people. I am a product of the public school system from primary school to the university. I understand what you are saying perfectly. We must make the school system functional, and run it better. On health, we have commissioned a research, which will be completed soon. Some of the issues around accessibility, affordability and effective healthcare delivery system will be frontally addressed. We have the facilities, but we need to bring a lot of reforms into the health sector that will make healthcare affordable to Lagosians, and qualitative too.
There seems to be a logjam around waste management in Lagos with PSP operators and the Cleaner Lagos Initiative championed by the current APC government in the state with Visionscape. Will you abandon the Cleaner Lagos Initiative or re-tweak it and also the matter of N50 billion Bond Guarantee Lagos State gave for Visionscape?
Let’s be very careful about just throwing figures all around. I don’t know anything about N50 billion. It is possible the government may have given Visionscape some amount. I do not know the terms of engagement of Visionscape as we speak. I am not the governor. I do not have the specifics. What I will say is that we won’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. If there are issues around the Cleaner Lagos Initiative and Visionscape engagement that can be resolved, we will certainly look into them. If it is about the implementation of the initiative, we will see what the problem is. If it is the structure or the process around the whole arrangement, we will look into that too. I am sure that there are positives to keep in the whole idea, while we will certainly do away with the negatives. On Private Sector Participants (PSPs), I am sure it is not all bad news for them. Whatever must have gone wrong with the PSP arrangement will be holistically looked into. The bottom-line is Lagos needs to be clean. The refuse needs to go.
Too much man-hour is lost to what has become a very bad traffic situation in Lagos and this has led to low productivity in Lagos with people spending hours in traffic. Do you have any plan to tackle the gridlock in Lagos if elected as governor?
Traffic management is a very serious issue, but also a low hanging fruit our government will pluck easily. Our first study commissioned a couple of weeks ago on traffic hot spots in Lagos showed that there are about 47 points in Lagos where traffic gridlock is always very bad. By the time we drill further down in the last phase of the report, it may be a little above 60 points, where traffic is usually very bad around Lagos. One of the things we need to creatively think about is identifying the causes of gridlock in these areas. Already, we have seen that in some places, location of fuel stations have been identified as one of the causes of the problem. In some other areas, offices and commercial buildings without parking spaces are contributors to the jams. Quick Service Restaurants, where vehicles are reversing-out of car parks also contribute to blocking of our roads. Of course, we also know that bad roads are a major contributor to this challenge. We need to design solutions and look at each location case by case. We are currently working with some traffic management experts, who will help us look into the issues and come-up with smart solutions. There are areas all we need to reduce the big roundabouts. There is also the issue of our people. I mean behavioural issues that we need to address. Many of our people do not know that they are not the only road users. People must drive responsibly and respect the right of other road users. We need to take some of these messages back home to educate ourselves. We will bring increased efficiency into traffic management in the state. LASTMA officers will be retrained, and where there is need for recruitment of more officers, we will do that. We will do a lot of enlightenment campaign around the issues, while working on implementable solutions. Every challenge will get a bespoke solution.
Lagosians along the Festac and Badagry axis have complained about the neglect of the expressway to the Seme border. The road project does not seem to be progressing well. What do you plan to do to solve the problem along that axis?
That is actually a major concern for me. That axis is supposed to be a major Trans-West Africa economic road. It should serve as a major corridor for moving goods and services to the West Coast and our borders. I was in government when we conceived the project 10 years ago. It was designed to be a dual carriage of five lanes each. We will have 10 lanes in all. It was a well-conceived idea. I cannot say what the problem really is with the project, but I can say that for our government, the project will be a priority, when elected by the people of Lagos.
There is this impression people have about Lagos as a rich state because of its IGR compared to other states. We know Lagos is actually poor if we compared the revenue to what the state needs in area of infrastructure and social services. What will you do differently to increase government revenue without adding more to the tax burden and other levies on the people?
You said people have the impression that Lagos is rich. With the size of our economy, the numbers are not there yet on government revenue. Lagos should in the minimum be doing four times better than her current revenue. We are meant to be doing six or seven times the size of the budget we are running now. Go and check it out, the budget of the New York Police Department (NYPD) that provides security for the City of New York alone, not State of New York, is $5.6b per annum. The budget for New York City Fire department is about $3b per annum. Boston as a city spends more money on its Department of Health in a year than the entire budget of Lagos State that will provides for over 20 million people. The current Lagos State budget which is the highest in history of the state is about N1 trillion. In dollar terms, Lagos State annual budget is about $3b. That is too small to what we should be doing. We should be aspiring to meet-up with cities in more advanced nations. We will work without adding to the burden of the people, but by widening the tax base. There are lots of people who should pay tax in Lagos that are not paying. We will continue with the conversation that Lagos should get more from the central government. In terms of budgetary provision Lagos has continued to show capacity and we can only do better. The private sector remains the growth engine of any economy. We will continue to create an environment for the private sector to expand in Lagos so that they can do more, for new businesses to sprout and pay taxes through staff PAYE system. We can get more revenue with same number of people we have. That is part of the creativity we will bring on board to increase IGR. We know these things just because we know the terrain. We know the geography of the state very well. We know where all of these hiccups are. We will clear them and remove the hindrances to efficiency.
Your last government position was Chief Executive of Lagos State Development Property Company, (LSDPC). From your experience at LSPDC, how do you think the housing problem many people have in Lagos can be solved?
It is true. I was in LSDPC for two years. You see, people throw a lot of figures around about housing deficit and all that stuff. People often talk about affordable housing; however, I have been searching to know the real meaning of affordable housing and the idea of affordability. What we require is for our people to understand and have a mindset change. Our housing designs need to be more nimble and efficient. The question to answer is, are we building what people really require in today’s market? Are we building, or reflecting in our housing what is required in a mega city, a massive city like the size of Lagos? In other jurisdictions I have visited they don’t waste spaces in their constructions like we do here. We are building a three-bedroom or a four-bedroom flat for people that do not need more than one-bedroom or a studio apartment. You will agree with me that probably all your own housing need is not more than one-bedroom. These are issues around housing that we need to educate our people about. If you don’t need a three-bedroom flat, you don’t need to look for it or build it. We are studying other jurisdictions and what they are doing in addressing the housing needs of their people.
Governors are against Local Government Autonomy. If elected as governor of Lagos, will you allow the local governments to function and run as envisaged by the constitution, such that people can hold local government officials accountable on grassroots development issues?
To be honest with you, I will. I believe we have gotten to a stage we have to respect the constitution and allow the local governments to run as a tier of government. There are three tiers of governments: the federal, state and local. There is a reason the constitution makes it such. We need to give the local governments all they need to function well and serve the people as agency of development.
Your wife is a medical doctor with 27 years post-qualification experience. Can you recall where you met and what your journey together has been?
Ha! That one is personal. Okay, let me answer. We met in the university. Maybe you do not know I was a DJ. I used to be a paid DJ, meaning that I have my cassette player and other things. You guys now use MP3, flash drive and all. In those days, I used to carry all my cassettes and record box around. I met her at one of the Jambite parties that we used to have for new students. I had been in the university before she came as a Jambite. One of the things that usually happened then was that we always served ice cream in our parties. It was not the conventional parties of rice and plantain you have these days. The good thing about the whole thing is the fact that apart from being the DJ, which means I would give them good music, I was also the person to serve the ice cream and that means I would only give the ice cream to whoever I wanted. So, it was in the course of serving ice cream that I spotted her. I saw her and said to myself, ‘wow, this little one”. She was very innocent and looked too little. Today, she is a medical doctor. As a medical student then, after the first year at Akoka, she moved to LUTH at Idi-Araba to continue her medical studies. So, we continued. No telephone then, so I had to do the trips. It had to be measured trips of every two weeks. You need to say to yourself that I will be back in two weeks, you better be there. That was how our relationship grew. We dated for a long time, about eight to nine years before we married. Like they say, everything is now history. Our lives together have been a rollercoaster. We have had our ups-and-downs like other people, which I think is part of life. Life is not a bed of roses. There have been times I have not been the perfect guy. I am human. One of the things that I know is that she is the stronger one in terms of family orientation. She is the one with the kids, and takes care of them, while I go hustling like every man does. I am like your regular hustler. When I was in banking I had to hustle, and in government you had to stay pretty late. She has been very consistent with the children, even with her work, combining everything together. What most people do not know is that she went to the university more than me. She has so many degrees and professional qualifications. You know the nature of her job where they take Oath of Service to humanity, to always care for the people. She had to do all the night calls, and was still able to combine them well with her role as a mother and wife. On several occasions when she had to do her night calls, I also played the night call duty at home with the children too. In all, it has been an interesting journey together. We have different parts to play and we are doing excellently well together. We have grown to become stronger and become better persons. We have become better husband and wife. We have become better friends. We understand ourselves, even better as friends than as husband and wife. I am happy she turned out to be the person I call my wife today.