Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, who is the running mate of the APC governorship candidate in Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has disclosed that their team is determined to give its best to the state, if elected in the March 2 governorship election. He promised that they will bring their appreciable wealth of experience in both private and public sectors to play for the development of the state.
Having sufficiently served two past governors in the state as Commissioner for Science and Technology; Commissioner for Works and Special Adviser to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Hamzat said that Lagos has faired well under his party, the All Progressives Congress.
Sharing his thoughts with Sunday Sun, in this interview, Hamzat fielded questions bothering on governance, opposition, election campaigns, concerns and intrigues.
Chronicling Lagos from 1999 till date, what would you say are the issues that have sharpened governance and administration in the state?
I think it is important to state facts, in 1999, Lagos was technically a bankrupt state. Lagos was generating N600 million as IGR in a month and the monthly salary was N1.2 billion. So, it means that Lagos was borrowing to pay salaries. Certainly, such economy could not be the fifth largest in Africa. But today, Lagos is the 5th largest economy in Africa. Does that mean there are no room for more progress? Certainly no. What it means is that our party has been able to guide the state into the path of prosperity and economic buoyancy. Are there things we could have done better? Certainly! Have we made mistakes? The answer is yes. Furthermore, in 1999, it would interest you to know that the state government of Lagos did not have a single ambulance. There were dead bodies on the streets but today, we have made good progress. So the foundation is solid, what we now need to do is setting a better environment for businesses to perform better, such that they can employ our youth. Get better at provision of amenities for our people such as provision of potable water. As we are all digging boreholes, we are all taking too much from the aquifer so it is the responsibility of government to use bigger water bodies to build water treatment plants like Adiyan II, which will provide 70 MGD. We should complete it and reticulate among the residents to improve on the water availability. We intend to do a lot more in that area. Lagos is getting bigger and we must plan for a population of 40 million people. We must also improve in the area of infrastructure.
There are insinuations that the state would have faired better if an opposition party had taken over but then, only the APC has been in power since 1999. What are your thoughts on that?
In 1999, Ogun was an AD state. In 2003, PDP took over and in 2011, APC again took over. What has that done for the state? Has it developed its economy? In the years of PDP, people of that state says Abeokuta looked like a village, but today it’s a different story. We can also look at examples of other states in Nigeria. What we should look at is the growth of the GDP in the state. There is a possibility that another party takes over and short-circuits development. It is also possible they come and do well. I don’t know but what I know is that we are a party that understands the geography of Lagos State and has set the development of Lagos State in motion. The opposition has not shown such will. The people of Lagos are intelligent people and they evaluate what you say and do. They then take their decision based on informed decisions. So the voters make the decisions and as far as I am concerned the voters are always right, and they know those that just promise for the sake of elections and those that are serious, that has the experience and pedigree to get the job done.
You pulled out at the edge of the primaries and soon after Mr Sanwo-Olu won the primary election, you were announced as his running mate. Is that to say that you stepped down because you were already induced with the slot of a deputy?
Induced with what?
Well, I think those that say that don’t know me and the family that I come from. In 2014, I contested the election and I came behind Mr Ambode who I supported fully. That was the right thing for me to do as a party man. I even spoke at some of the campaign rallies. I am a party man who knows that the decision of the party is supreme.
But this time around, you didn’t even go into the election. You pulled out at the edge of it.
Yes, Ayo! The reason was that whatever you cannot measure, you cannot manage. I knew we were going into a direct primary. I measured it by the known party structure and I realised that the system would be very tough. I have known Mr Sanwo-Olu and he was one of the people that supported me in 2014. So, it was easier for me to pull my structure down. I knew him very well because we have been in the executive council together for years. It was a very easy decision for me. It is not wrestling, so I decided to step down for him because this is about Lagos State, which is bigger than me or anyone else.
So, you can confidently say you weren’t even eyeing being a running mate?
No, no, no! That was the decision of Mr Sanwo-Olu and the party to make. If that is the case, then why would I go pick up a form? The party set up a system for direct primaries and I think it is the best. I am an engineer and I remember the man that taught me carpentry. He said, “you measure twice and cut once.” For everything you do, you must plan with accuracy and precision.
You have been in the system for many years, having served as a Commissioner for Science and Technology and then Commisoner for Works before being appointed again as Special Adviser to the current Minister of Power, Works and Housing. How would all of these experiences rub off on Lagos, if your party wins the coming election?
Like everything in life, you must understand the dynamics. As a journalist that you are, you and your editor know how best to treat certain stories and that’s same with governance too. You must understand the geography of the state. One of the things to do is to also guide everyone that you will be bringing onboard. Mr Sanwo-Olu has said we will be taking up a lot of youths and much more than that, we must build people. That’s one thing Asiwaju did that made many of us today. I was in his cabinet, Osinbajo, Aregbesola, Fashola, and so many other people even from the private and public sectors, and they are all now doing extremely well. One of the things we want to do is to increase human capacity at the level of governance so that we can pull out a whole chunk of people that can even go out to other states. It is to say that Lagos must be better off than it is now and by effect, we change the narratives of this country.
In that primaries, it was rumoured that you were the candidate of Fashola while Sanwo-Olu was the candidate of Tinubu. How do you validate or invalidate that claim?
(Laughs) The truth of the matter is that some people like creating wedges were there are none. I think the reason for that insinuation is because I was appointed as the Special Adviser to the minister, but recall that I worked in his cabinet as a commissioner for eight years so he knows me and I know him. He understands my skills and the moment he became the minister, he called me to work with him. We have toured the 36 states in this country and I have enormous experience now.
That to me is very good because I now know that the average Hausa man is as fantastic as the average Igbo man. Same for an Idoma man and a Yoruba man. It is wrong to say I was Fashola’s candidate. Mr Sanwo-Olu had over 970,000 and that is a whole lot. Everybody has the right to support whoever he chooses to support. I am very close to both Fashola and Asiwaju. Then again, Fashola sees Asiwaju as his father. So, how do you balance the misgivings? You must have your goodwill yourself and it is not just about someone approving you. We have all worked together and remember that there are always highfliers in every system. This is the way it works even in the private sector. It is not a thing of someone imposing on the people. We are all trained by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
How would you assess the level of preparedness and readiness for the election by your party, in the area of campaigns?
We believe we have a message for Lagosians and that was why we created a website and even developed an App. We have unveiled our Theme which are the five pillars for development. The five pillars are ‘T’ standing for traffic management and transportation, ‘H’ for health and environment, ‘E’ for education and technology, ‘M’ for making Lagos a 21st century economy, and ‘E’ for entertainment and tourism.
We are going to the grassroots and calling the elite, artisans and everyone else and showing them what we have to offer. We are particular about not making promises that we cannot fulfill. We are moving all around telling people the truth. What we are now doing is listening to people over what can be done and later saying let’s do it together. Explaining our plans to Lagos and also understanding what they expect from their government.
In terms of feasibility, your campaign is, no doubt, fully on ground. But then, we all know that is not enough to win an election. Does it occur to you that your closest rival, the PDP and its flagbearer, Jimi Agbaje, might be having a masterstroke strategy to hit you below the belt and defeat you in the race?
I cannot worry about someone else’s plan. I can only worry about our own, which is what we have control over. As long as the election is one man one vote, I don’t know of any strategy that can hit us below the belt. I just told you the different people in different sectors that we have been engaging. We are always talking to the people. There is no strategy that can hit us below the belt, except if it is something diabolical and such can’t even succeed. We are telling people that we understand Lagos more than our opponents. If you must get a nanny for your children, you get someone that is experienced, not so? That’s the same away. Why would you bring in someone without an experience? For example, Mr Sanwo-Olu was Commissioner for Commerce and Industry; Establishment; Economic Planning and Budget. Planning the budget of Lagos State entails that you know what should go where. You know all the sectors of the economy and you can make the best decisions on them. He has that experience and that’s same with me. He has also worked with three banks. We have the knowledge in both the private and public sectors. The experience in public sector is very important. It is a place where files are moved. People can make so many promises but don’t forget that the implementation will be done by a Level 12 civil servant. If you don’t know it, you are lost. Your tools are the civil servants. Mr Sanwo-Olu is also lucky to have been at the helms of affairs for pensioners. He was in charge of their payment so he knows the civil service too.
Then again, the oppositon has always hammered on Lagos being free from the hands of a certain godfather and that refers to the Tinubu factor in Lagos State. Do you see that as a demerit to your party at the polls?
We are black people and as such, we must know how to process information properly. They talk of freedom. Now, listen: When the Federal Government seized the local government funds of Lagos State for about three years, the Supreme Court ruled that the FG should release the funds to the state, did they say anything? The ruling party saw itself more important than Lagos. That judgment was more than a thousand page. Lagos State went to court 14 times over constitutional issues.
We pulled cases on VAT, Local government, physical planning, and the rest. Where were these people then? So, when they talk about freedom, I ask where were they? The government of Asiwaju Tinubu went to fight everything in court rather than going on rampage on the streets.
So, which freedom are they talking about? No state has increased its IGR to the level we have now. So, when they talk about freedom, I ask, freedom from what? The government of Asiwaju Tinubu got a bond of N15 billion and the opposition was saying “hey, they want to cripple our economy”. Rubbish! Truth is that big cities like London, Paris, and the rest were built with municipal bonds. How would we have been able to construct the CBD road? Business was brought back to CBD road because of the roads we built then. This is the tenet of financial engineering that they don’t understand.
Of paramount importance to most Lagosians is your campaign organisation’s source of funds, since it is easy to allege it is from public funds. What is your reaction to this?
Every political party posts posters, only that the quantum might be different. What matters most is the goodwill. As I was coming upstairs now to meet you, someone just donated a bus and 25,000 posters. He lives in the US. On each poster, you see courtesy of somebody. Some of my classmates in the University of Ibadan donated 50,000 posters. This is goodwill. Also note that I am somebody’s cousin, somebody’s friend, somebody’s uncle, somebody’s in-law. The question is what have you done for people? People come in to contribute because they believe in that cause. We also do fund raising.
One of the best things that the Kennedy administration did for America was volunteerism. He created a wide platform for Americans to volunteer and even travel out to deliver services for free. That’s one of the things we want to do in Lagos. People can always donate their time too. So, when you go around, you see courtesy of someone. Let me tell you, when the first set came out, we didn’t even know the people until later. People call us to ask what can we do.
Some ladies came in and gave us just two shirts. Isn’t that fantastic? That means if they have more money, they would have done more. It is also important you don’t disappoint them because they believe you can do well. We have also spoken to churches and mosques about our programmes. More people even contribute their time.
One of the criticisms against the incumbent administration in the state is that it has tried to wipe off the projects of the immediate past government in the state which could have served as legacies. A perfect example is the reconstruction of the BRT bus stops. What plans do you have for continuity?
No right-thinking person would destroy what was constructed for Lagosians. It would be wasteful and irresponsible of anyone to do so. If there have been mistakes, we will correct the mistakes and move on. Every project has its aim. It is also irresponsible to have so many projects ongoing and you start new ones. On the overall, what is good for Lagos is what we will do. We will not truncate any project at all.
What edge does President Mohammadu Buhari have over Atiku, at the polls, come February 16, and how would you assess both candidates?
My vote is for Mohammadu Buhari. Let me tell you something, between 2010 and 2014, this country made about US$389 billion from oil. Within that time, the number of Nigerians living with poverty jumped to about 120 million. Our debt also went up. Our foreign reserve also got depleted. When we entered the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, there were about 206 federal road projects already awarded and many just 10-15 per cent completed. Port Harcourt to Onitsha road was not completed and even the Second Niger bridge. When we came in, we discovered that there was no design for the Second Niger bridge project. You can imagine that.
Yes, the PDP reserves the claim that it started all the projects you are merely completing, isn’t that true?
That to me is not good enough. If I promise you a car and I pay just N10 to the dealer, will you get the car delivered to you? A responsible government will complete the project. You know why? Progress cannot be measured just by award of contract’s. You mobilise and you don’t care. So, you pay to bring in 800 containers and they stay at the port for a year. Is that not an act of irresponsibility? It is this government that is now taking the containers to the different locations so that we can improve on our power. It is better to complete the projects so that Nigerians can benefit . Of what use is the rail you started and didn’t complete? A responsible government must finish the projects it started but that is what this government has done. For me, we must evaluate the parties. We have seen the PDP for 16 years. Let me give you a shocker about the Second Niger bridge. We discovered that the Asaba and Onitsha roads that would link the bridge were not even awarded. They were just recently designed when Buhari came up, yet you awarded a bridge. Look at Ajaokuta and the railway from Kogi to Delta that have taken 40 years.
Look at the Mambilla plant. I was in form three in 1979 when I was hearing all that. The land for the project was not even acquired by government and that was supposed to be a $5.6 billion project. It is supposed to have an airport and generate about 3,000 megawatts. It is a fantastic project when completed. I think that Nigerians are very smart people and they have seen the difference. They have some changes and it can be better. You will be surprised to even see the Southeast voting remarkably for PMB. See Enugu to Onitsha, Port Harcourt to Onitsha, Kabba to Mokwa, all are a reference points.
When we were about to commence work on the Kaba road, we saw that over a hundred trucks were stuck on the bad road, and these were trucks bringing food to us down here. Why won’t food be expensive? That road is completed today. Loko – Oweto bridge was to connect Nasarawa with Benue State to allow for people come to Abuja faster. It was awarded, but it is this government that is completing it. When you award a road and you abandone it, you make people suffer more. Again, I say it is irresponsible to claim you merely awarded a project completed by another government.