In the build up to the 2015 Lagos State governorship, all he wanted was to be a Chief of Staff (CoS) to Dr. Femi Hamzat, who was one of those being positioned at the time by the then governor, Raji Fashola, as a possible successor. But tomorrow, Babajide Sanwo-Olu will be sworn in as the Governor of Lagos State. Interestingly, the man he wanted to serve as CoS, will be sworn in too, as Sanwo-Olu’s Deputy. That is life, politics, and fate for you.
Sanwo-Olu’s governorship journey started like a joke. No one gave him a chance, especially because he was to slug it out at the governorship primary with an incumbent at the time, Akinwumi Ambode. But by the time his backers showed their hands, it was clear he would pick the ticket ahead of Ambode. It happened. He got the ticket and led the party to victory at the state governorship election. Last Thursday, Sanwo-Olu took some questions from journalists on how he intends to run Lagos State. Ismail Omipidan was there.
The progressive party has been in government in Lagos in the last 20 years. Do you think the level of development on the ground is enough for the people to have faith in your party?
It’s been worth for us as progressives, and more importantly it’s been worth it for Lagosians. If we want to be fair in our assessment, 20 years ago, this is not the kind of Lagos we had back then. Lagos was neither the 5th nor the 6th largest economy in Africa 20 years ago. Lagos did not have this kind of larger population and the state didn’t have a lot of the things that it has now in infrastructure, health, and education and of course, this kind of busy traffic was never there back then. Under our watch, Lagos has grown to be one of the biggest mega cities in the world. This has come with huge opportunities and, of course, a lot of challenges. The progressives have held their turf very well. The progressives have created wealth for Lagosians; they have built structures and bridges and other infrastructure all around Lagos. They have developed people and the condition of health facilities have improved. The revenue of the state has astronomically been enhanced through quality governance and representation. When they started in 1999, history showed that there was only a little over N600 million that was being generated. Tens of billions have been generated now. The question is, are the generated revenues enough to cater for today’s challenges? It is not. But, in terms of growth, we have seen leaps and bounds of growth. People are coming from different parts of this country to live and stay in Lagos as a choice. The truth is that, it’s been good to all of them. The first government that governed Lagos in this republic was the government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, which brought first class technocrats to government and you all saw the results. You saw the great things all those technocrats did and I can humbly tell you that I was part of that team. That team of technocrats has thrown up people at the highest level of decision making in this country. Some have moved on to become governors to run states; some others are in higher level of governance. If we look back and see some of those great things that have come out of this small Lagos, whose size is lesser, then you can say that the progressives have done well. But can we do better? Yes, that is why I am sitting here. I believe we can deliver more great things quicker and faster.
Certain promises you made during the electioneering are now flying round in various media, which indicates people’s expectations are high. How would you manage the expectations, given that some of these promises won’t be achieved immediately?
I saw the checklist of to-do projects that is being sent across to people, with the notion that such list emanated from my office. The reality is that, the list and the timelines attached to each item did not emanate from my campaign office; it is fake news. But, I don’t see it as bad thing when people push you. The truth is, you allow a child to crawl before he walks. However, we will not shy away from our promises to the people. I can assure you that, in the next 90 days, we will have a working government. In all, the cabinet appointments and other appointments we need to make, we will do that very quickly. We should begin to see huge solutions in our traffic management scheme. There are some that we would have solved in the first quarter, and there are some we will still be working on. In infrastructure, we are entering into the season of rain. If we want to do some extension or some lay-by, rain cannot allow you so much. When it is raining, you can’t pour concrete. When you do that, you need the sun for it to dry. So, some of these issues will come up. In terms of design and those corridors that need traffic improvement, we would have done all of that. In terms of places we need to increase waste management solution, we would have done all of that. In the first three months, we would have rolled out loads of waste bags which people will see. Like I mentioned during the campaign, sorting of waste materials will start from our kitchens. When we bring them out and we have a work in progress by the PSP, I imagine we would have made some capital expense in terms of procurement of new compactors. But that will take a while to come into the country; however, we would have made some commitment within that time. Like I also said the solution to Apapa gridlock, is feasible, I believe we would solved it. It is not out of place that Lagosians have been crying. And out of expectations, people have also mentioned that I have said I am going to solve the problem in 60 days. I haven’t made such statement as to the timeline to clear the gridlock and I need to challenge that. But, for people to give timeline, we must know that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. These trucks need to move out. I can assure you that I will give all support required and Lagosians will see a permanent solution to this problem.
On infrastructure, I believe within the first quarter, we would have a more developed plan as to what areas, which new road we need to build and in what area. At that time, we will certainly be planning for next year’s budget. All of those plans will begin to be implemented very quickly. In the power sector, I imagine that in 90 days, we would have had a clear-cut policy with all the DISCOs and the GENCOs on how we must ensure that Lagos gets powered efficiently.
There has been anxiety among residents concerning the Land Use charge. Do you plan to review the state’s Land Use laws when you come on board?
Yes, we are going to look at the law again, but with a lot of consultations. It has to be collaborative by ensuring stakeholders’ engagement. We are going to look at it in such a way that all players in various sectors will sit together and find an agreeable solution. But, people must know that we cannot eat an omelette without breaking the egg. For us to be able to achieve all the lofty things we have rolled out in our plan, revenue has to come from somewhere. So, all of us must have a transparent conversation around the challenges facing government. But, we will certainly not do things that will have negative effects on our people. So, we will review the Land Use law positively and this will be done in consultation with stakeholders.
What kind of style should the Lagosians expect from you as their leader?
At my age, I don’t think it is right for me to change what people have known about me because of an office. I have no other style to bring forth other than to be humble and remain accessible. I will be very engaging. I want people to have a voice in my government. Once people have their say in government, it is the duty of the leader to take people’s suggestions and ideas to introduce a new dimension to issues. If the suggested ideas won’t make any meaningful impact on the process of government and the wellbeing of the people, I will take my time to explain why such idea would not be entertained. We will maintain the cosmopolitan nature of Lagos, by fostering respect and harmony among all shades of people who are resident in Lagos. I believe everyone has a role to play. It is only those who may constitute security challenge to the people that will not be welcome in Lagos. Other than this, I will be a governor to everybody living in Lagos.
What are your plans for agriculture?
We have been a mono-product economy but the Federal Government has made a few attempts in the last four years to diversify the economy. I believe those efforts are beginning to yield some results. I think we need to commend the Federal Government for that, especially in agriculture. The outgoing government in Lagos State too took a bold step to introduce a 32 tonnes per day Imota Rice Mill. That has started. For me, I believe that project will be very critical in our agriculture value chain. We need to look for resources to complete that project very quickly. I understand there are huge containers of equipment littered in the port. We need to quickly fix that. What it means is that, if we have that mill working by the end of this year or next year, 32 tonnes means that we actually can produce rice which not only Lagos will be consuming, but one or two other states will consume too. The feedback of that in the value chain is that, we will now need to have parley with neighbouring states since Lagos doesn’t have agro-area due to the size and pressure on our land. We will collaborate with other South- West states and see how we can share boundary land and produce rice. We can reduce the transportation cost of having to bring rice from up North. If we do it well, that is a major economy we are developing. We can move to the next one, which is aquaculture, poultry, and fishing. There is an opportunity with the Central Bank, and I have read their books. All you need to do is to put people in clusters and let them be able to access single-digit funding to upscale their capacity in production of these agro-products.
How would your government tackle flood and fix potholes that cause major traffic?
Lagos is below the sea level and there is naturally going to be element of flood. Communication is critical to enable people become aware of this fact. It is only when the media helps communicate it to the people rightly… Lagos is below the sea level. Fundamentally, flooding in Lagos is natural and nobody has control over it. This means that, Lagos is a terrain in which rain will fall at some point in the year. Rain will be heavy from May to October or November. Once it rains, there will be what is called flash flood. And this happens everywhere in the world. This flood is not meant to last beyond five hours. So, how do we ensure this flood won’t remain on the road for four, five days? That is what the people are going to leave with us to do. To solve this, we will look at various blockages within the manholes on the road. The blockages arise from our habit. The kind of refuse we generate and we do not dispose of very well. We drop waste indiscriminately in the canals and drainage. We have to change our attitude. We will be solving this problem with our environmental solution. I understand there is little challenge within Lagos Public Work Bureau. We need to fix that and if it requires them to work overnight to fix the potholes left on our roads, we will do it.