By Chukwudi Nweje
Taofeek Olakunle Uthman is the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Lagos State. He decries the ongoing scenario whereby non-Lagos indigenes have taken over the governance structure of Lagos State, even as the state’s civil service is dominated by non-Lagos indigenes. He says it is time for the indigenes to be accorded their right to govern Lagos State. He also gave an insight into how he would restore Lagos State to a proper mega city and other national issues.
You have said at various times that Lagos indigenes are marginalised in the scheme of governance structure of Lagos State, how is that?
I am a Lagosian, my grandfather and father are both Lagos indigenes, more particularly Lagos Island. I have lived the greater part of my life in Lagos.
Lagos until recently was the capital of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and even after the federal capital was moved to Abuja, Lagos remains the commercial capital of Nigeria; it is therefore, normal for people from all over the country to come into Lagos seeking solace because the system was working.
Lagos used to be a good place to live. There was good network of roads, there was a ferry service that moved a mass number of people, there was functional water supply that you can turn on the tap and drink water, the health facilities were good, and in those days had functional electricity before the electricity supply goes off the Electric Company of Nigeria (ECN) would inform you in advance.
This is no longer the case. The first governor of Lagos at the return to civilian rule in 1999, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is from Iragbiji in Osun State; after Tinubu we had Babatunde Raji Fashola, then Akinwumi Ambode and then Babajide Sanwo-Olu who is there now. Like Tinubu, Sanwo-Olu too is not an indigene of Lagos State, he is from Ijebu Musin in Ogun State. His deputy governor, Obafemi Hamzat is also from Ogun State, so now in Lagos State, we have a governor and deputy governor both from Ogun State. The senator representing Lagos Central, Mrs Oluremi Tinubu is not from Lagos State. So, we have had non-Lagos indigenes taking everything and leaving us with nothing. All we, the Lagos indigenes are saying is that we should be given breathing space.
This is a democracy and the people, including, indigenous Lagosians elected these leaders, so who is to be blamed for that?
We are marginalised, we are not in government, and they will not give us opportunities. In fact, when you are an indigene of Lagos, they see you as a pariah. Those representing Lagos State in the House of Representatives are not indigenes of Lagos. For instance, James Faleke, representing Ikeja Constituency 1, is from Kogi State. In 2015, he was deputy governorship candidate to Abubakar Audu in Kogi State; they lost the election and Faleke challenged the result of the election up to the Supreme Court while holding onto the Ikeja seat.
Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, representing Lagos West had been representing Lagos State for years, but this coming election he wants to contest as a senator in Ogun State. Rauf Aregbesola was Commissioner for Works in Lagos State for many years but remembered that he is from Osun State and went back and became governor there. Lai Mohammed, who was Chief of Staff in Lagos under Tinubu, went back to his father state of Kwara because he wanted to become governor.
The list is endless, these people mismanage Lagos because they are not indigenes and have no vested interest in the welfare of Lagos.
You can recall that in this country, the Senate did not confirm a Court of Appeal nominee because they said she cannot represent her husband’s state. My wife is from Imo State, does that mean that my children can come tomorrow to claim indigenes of Imo State? No, they are from Lagos. Indigeneship is patrilineal, not matrilineal.
You served the APC government of Fashola, why did you switch to SDP?
We must make this political distinction clear; I have never in my life been a card-carrying member of the APC. I served under Fashola in the Lagos State Judicial Commission because he found me fit and qualified, I appeared before the House of Assembly and was confirmed. After Fashola, I served another one year under the Ambode administration. I am not an APC man; I am a member of the SDP, the oldest political party in this contest, it is not a new party, it is the same SDP of Chief M. K. O. Abiola.
The SDP dates to the aborted Third Republic, yet the impact of the party is hardly felt in the political space, why is that?
It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in a situation where we think our choice is between two political parties, but there are 18 political parties contesting in the 2023 general elections, we must understand that. We must change the narrative, in this country we are approaching Armageddon, we are at that point where God called Moses to go and lead His people out of Egypt; the SDP is that Moses that has come to lead Nigeria out of Egypt.
In the past we heard of people snatching ballot boxes until this new Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came with the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) technology. This technology will redefine the election in 2023. Many new voters have been added to the voters register since the last election, and they are ready to effect a change.
Yes, many new voters have been added to the INEC register and there is BVAS, but in recent weeks, there have been reports of INEC offices set ablaze and permanent voter’s cards (PVCs) destroyed, what are your concerns?
People get the kind of government they deserve; Nigeria should be seen in the context of that people. If we decide to elect corrupt people in 2023, then that is what we will get. But if we decide to think about the future of our children, then we must vote out these corrupt rulers.
The incumbent government in Lagos state has massive resources to campaign with, how would you match that?
The only thing the incumbent administration has is access to our resources; it can draw money and close the streets. But the administration is deceiving itself. This election will be about the voters, because only those with PVC will vote. I have campaigned massively in the streets and social media
What is your vision of an ideal Lagos?
An ideal Lagos should be a mega city; Lagos is classified as a mega city and the word mega city is not just a word. By United Nations standard, certain things must be in place before a place is declared a mega city, the first is population. So, this one that Sanwo-Olu is complaining that people keep trooping into Lagos in droves is strange because it is these people trooping into Lagos that that gave Lagos the population to qualify as a mega city. Other criteria include good infrastructure and by that, we mean good network of roads, good and functional transportation, good Medicare, and friendly environment.
Sanwo-Olu has no idea of how to govern a state as complex as Lagos. Look at the roads in Lagos; Lagos State has the highest Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), and it is also the highest indebted state, how do we explain this? Lagos has become a state of traffic gridlock. The State Government has become so irresponsible that on their own, they issue travel alerts that the APC will hold a rally somewhere, therefore nobody should go there; that is irresponsible. In every part of the state today, people in the state spend hours in traffic.
Babatunde Fashola started the rail service from Okokomiko to CMS; he almost completed it in eight years. Then Ambode came and abandoned it, nothing was done on it for four years. Sanwo-Olu did nothing on the rail for three years. Now that the election is around the corner, he is hurrying to complete it as part of his re-election fulfillment. The cost of building that rail system has quadrupled from what it was when Fashola started it. Even if this administration completes it, how can you be talking about a monorail in 2022? They have taken 15 years to build a one-line rail system from CMS to Okokomiko when the whole world is talking about multi rail system. It is a disaster and shows a visionless administration. For me, they have an election mentality because of the election they are running around building projects and putting billboards everywhere. A governor who has performed does not need billboards because his works will speak for him. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has abandoned his primary duty as governor to follow Asiwaju Bola Tinubu around on campaign.
What is your advice to the electorate as they go to vote?
I will advise the electorate to think about their future and the future of their children when they vote. They should not just think of the political party, but the candidate carrying the ticket; they should vote for candidates that carry the message of hope, the SDP is the only party with the message of hope in Lagos State and at the national level.