By Wilfred Eya
This month, precisely on May 29, Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu will be two years in office. Ahead of the second anniversary of his administration, he spoke to journalists on the journey and how far he has gone in fulfilling his campaign promises to Lagosians.
Your Excellency, it is just few days to the second anniversary of your administration. Can you tell us how you have been able to implement your campaign manifesto for Lagosians?
Thank you very much. I count our mandate by the days. For me, I know what it means to sleep and wake up every day and you have that huge challenge on you. It is a challenge of honour, of immense trust and a sense of belief that people have given to you. So, as tough as the job is and looking for that job and asking God to give you that job, it is also a very difficult job. So, two years into it, how would I with all sense of humility rate and rank myself?
I would say that we have actually not disappointed the people that gave us this mandate. We started this government with an economic agenda, which I’m sure you all know under the THEMES programme. And we all went into it with full sense of purpose, that we would work, break barriers, make audacious decisions and we would raise the level of governance. Unfortunately, COVID came in about 15 months ago, slowed us down in some areas extensively, because Lagos, all throughout, even up to now, continues to remain the epicenter. But it has actually not stopped us to achieve a lot of the things we had wanted to achieve because we realise that stories and excuses cannot be a thing that we’re going to put forward. So, if I take each of the pillars in the THEMES agenda and I’ll try to rush through it very quickly, you will see that, indeed, we have intervened extensively in each and every one of them.
The very first one which is traffic management and transportation was something borne out of what we asked our citizens during all of these times that what would you want us to do first for you and they said, just solve the traffic challenge for us. They said we should give them means of moving from one area to another very quickly and efficiently.
So, what have we done? We have in the last two years created, on an ongoing basis, an opportunity where we can utilise the three modes of transportation that is available for us in Lagos-rail, roads and waterways. For the rail, we have not completed it, but I will start by saying that we are certain that before the end of our four years tenure, rail will move in Lagos. Why do we say so, we’ve spent more money in the last two years than what we’ve done in the last six years and we’re confident now that we’ll take that project, two of them; in fact, the first which is the Blue Line, and the Red Line, will take it to completion because we’ve seen what we called the financial closure. We have direct throughputs into how we can raise money to complete it. We’ve ordered rolling stock, especially for the blue line, which is the one coming on phase one from Mile 2 to Marina.
The two terminals that are remaining are the Mile 2 terminal and the Marina terminal. When you’re driving in, immediately after Marina, you see that there’s a big hole that they’ve started excavating, that is actually the construction for the terminal for Marina. And you can see that it is extended to right in front of the State House here; that will be the last parking point for the Blue Line. So, we’re convinced that we would see rail.
What about the Red Line?
For the Red Line, which is even the most audacious, we are certain that in the remaining two years, we would have completed 10 stations. We have approved to build four overpasses; Federal Government is supposed to build another four for us but we’re convinced because we’ve raised finance to build our own four overpasses, and the plan around the rolling stock is completed and is finalised. So, what are we saying, we’re saying that in two years time, we believe that Lagosians will be moving on rail.
How about the Bus Rapid Transport system?
For buses, which is the BRT, we’ve commissioned over 600 buses in the course of two years and before the end of this month, we are also launching another 100 new high capacity buses. We are introducing what we called the Last Mile buses and we are starting with the first 350 buses. Almost 500 are around but we are starting with the first 350. They are small eight to nine-seater buses and they are called First Mile and Last Mile.
So, we are intervening in the three components of road infrastructure- the high capacity, the medium capacity and the tactics. We do not say that we have all of the money, but we want to continue to be an enabler in all of these things. So, we believe that before the end of these two years, by the time we add another 100 to it, we would have about 700 high capacity buses. On the Lagos Ride, we are actually building a small assembly to it where they will be producing because the plan is to have about 5000 at the end of the day and the work-plan is out.
The third component of transportation is the waterways. We are currently building 15 terminals concurrently in different parts of the state. We have in Liverpool, Ebute Ero, Ibeshe, Ita Omu, Okun-Aja, we have two in Badagry and so on. Six or seven should be completed before the end of the year.
So, what do we see? We see an integrated mass transportation system where our citizens will have options; options of we want to go on a bus, we want to go on the rail, or we want to go on the waterways. On the waterways as well, we are dredging, we are putting balls on the navigational system so that people will know how to navigate. We are also building a command and control centre for the waterways because we know that is important. We have actually bought what we call search and rescue boats for LASWA. Our command and control is going to have cameras in some strategic places on the waterways. So that, indeed, people can be safe and be sure that we are not just throwing people into the big body of water
We are also looking at a single payment system for all our transportation system where a single card can take you on a bus, rail and waterways.
What is the state of IGR in the state under your administration and how are you addressing the debt profile of Lagos State?
We have increased the IGR of Lagos State, we have grown from early 30s to early 40’s in terms of numbers. We are actually doing a lot more. But it is not within the target budget we have set for ourselves. We are still not hitting our budget potential we set for ourselves; we are still not hitting our full budget potential. There is still a lot of room for us to improve on our numbers. Our IGR is actually better than what it used to be like one or two years ago.
In terms of debt profile, you will need to look at what we called a sustainability model. That is, how sustainable is your debt to your current GDP ratio and sustainable to the potentials that you have in your space. Numbers have also shown that in terms of our debt sustainability ratio, apart from the fact that we are the best in the country, we are even far below what can even hit us up at all. The World Bank says your debt sustainability ratio should be around 40 per cent to your total revenue, but we are doing between 23 and 24 per cent in Lagos and we are not even close to it. Secondly, our debt to GDP ratio is also very low. We have not understood that well, that is why we are always scared of debt. If I raise debt to develop an infrastructure, to develop capacity, that is a fantastic debt because I am creating wealth from it. But if I am going to raise debt to pay salaries and spend on consumption payment, that is bad debt. We must create debt that can improve quality of life and generate value. The other side to it is that things don’t get cheaper. What you don’t do today, by the time you come back in three year’s time, you will be wondering why you didn’t close your eyes to do it then. Things wont wait for you and that road wont get any cheaper; that school will not get cheaper. Just hit it and know that you are building for the coming generation and they will see the value you have created for them.
What is the position of things with regards to Amotekun because it is insinuated that Lagos is not active in it like some other South-West states?
Security is not just a name-calling, it is action. Security is not around a perception, security is real. You need to feel it, for you to see it. I believe in the thoughts around regional security support architecture. I was part of the conversation but even while we were having the conversations, my colleagues did mention, and clearly so, that, in Lagos you have what we want to replicate, which is your Neighbourhood Watch outfit; it is pretty much around that. Secondly, it was also an idea borne out of forest and border issues. Lagos, fortunately or unfortunately, has only two borders-Atlantic Ocean and Ogun State. And Ogun State is not in any form a forest, its all being community built-up, and the terrain of Lagos, also does not equally support heavy forestry. So, in terms of the structure and what it is meant to achieve, we do not fully fall into that geographical enclave, but we are in sympathy support of it. We actually also bought our vehicles. You see, one of the problems of governance is building structures and building layers upon layers and building and replicating the same thing. And so, are we going to kill my Neighbourhood Watch because I want to create a name, and just have a 200 or 300 man outfit? The answer is no. The question is what exactly are they meant to do? There is nothing that an Amotekun is doing today that my Neighbourhood Watch is not doing; it is all intelligence gathering. It is all a support arm for the security architecture to be able to give them adequate information, timely information and be able to offer support.
They are not even to make arrest; they can only just say this is where it is. And I just explained to you that we gave the Police 1,250 able and capable men from my Neighbourhood Watch, and they found each and every one of them capable to be able to work with them.
And so, that number, for example, we need to put it back. So, we are going to recruit about 2,000 to 2,500 back into the Watch. They are about 4,000 now but we are going to take them back to 6000. So, these are people that are in our various border posts that are giving us, weekly, monthly intelligence of what is happening in their communities. They are right there in the communities and they are feeding us back to give us intelligence and information. So, that is what it is all about and that is where it appears as if there is a disconnect.
And my colleagues, you know, they understand and they appreciate that if that is what you do, please continue to do it. If there are other supports that I can give, I will give. So, it is not a conflict at all. It is not an attempt to say that we’re not in support, we are fully in support. But what I’m saying is that it was conceived as a forestry border patrol force and handing over information, they are not arms carriers.
Like I said, from Berger to Mowe, there is really nothing, its all infrastructure that has been built there. So, we can do that with the current security architecture that we have, we are not in conflict, not at all. They are currently going through training for the use of body cameras, they are the ones we can use. I cannot force the Nigeria Police, for example, to carry body cameras. I can only use my own security architecture, LASTMA and Neighborhood Watch, and they know the implications of it that because they will be held accountable and responsible for it.
So, they are currently going through training now and we are building a back end of it where all of the data can go on storage.
You have done so much in the past two years and you are also planning to do more. To be able to do this, you need a lot of money. What are the measures you are putting in place to be able to generate more money to do all these projects? Or is it that Lagos is just lucky with funds?
No, nothing drops from luck, it is hard work. A few days ago, I was with a group of very influential and wealthy Lagosians that are Muslims to break the Ramadan fast with them and I do this regularly to fraternise and in solidarity with my citizens. And the conversation on the table was that, Mr. Governor, you are doing so much for us in the Ikoyi axis and that we should increase the Land Use Charge. Go and see the value of the real estate we have given at Milverton, Lateef Jakande and other places in Ikoyi. They said to me that they will ensure compliance. So, property tax is one of the ways to go. And that’s why we’re ensuring that we build the infrastructure around it. Like I said, even if you don’t use any of our government facilities, you will use our roads and that has increased the value of your own assets. And so, the least you can do is to ensure that you support government in that area. And so, that is one area in which we’re going to come out a lot stronger, and how do we do this, it is only by technology.
This is to ensure that the officers that will be going have hand-held devices that show the real value and current state of that property with the surrounding infrastructure that is there as a basis for valuation to determine what the true value of the asset is. And it is a very small, point zeros percent that they even get to pay. And it has been done anywhere in the world. It is the rich that needs to come out strongly and support the weak and vulnerable in our society. That’s how it’s done everywhere in the world. They are the ones that control ten figures and fifteen figures that you and I can use to do other things. So, investments are also not lacking in their neigbhourhood. So, it is to ensure that we speak to ourselves, and to use them as an intervention to say that these are the returns you are getting on your assets, the least you can do is simply keep your environment safe and keep others safe. So, that is one area we believe we can generate more.
Like I said, GIS is one of the things we are doing. We have almost completed our full land data documentation. We have not done very well in terms of how we quickly give out approvals; I will be one of the first to agree because I believe we can do a better job in terms of timeline around construction approvals. So, we can use technology to strongly drive this. A lot more people will come forward to get their building approval if things have been done much better and government will continue to get more revenue. Thereafter, you can also do what we call subsequent transactions. That is the exchange of movement around property and lands. This is one area that if we do well, can indeed, double the current revenue of the state, whilst not increasing any fees or charges for anybody at all. Just the amount of transaction you can generate, the amount of time and the experience you have each time you come to Alausa. And as long that it was a positive experience, you will come back again on a repeat job.
In the whole of these audacious projects and ambitions, what is the role of the local government in them?
We appreciate and recognize the principles of separation of powers. We believe that what people want is service. It becomes very difficult for you, an ordinary citizen, to be able to say that this road or this thing is for state or local government. They will tie all of you together and they will say it is Sanwo-Olu. A lot of citizens don’t even know the difference.. So, from that standpoint, first you have that burden of responsibility to want to carry it. But you’re right with your observation to ask where is their place? You see, it is an engagement that all of us need to continue to have, and is to ensure that we put in the right people that truly have the sense to serve and have the capacity to do it to put them there. There is another election that is coming up now. So, you have the pen, you have the opportunity to educate the citizens, the electorate, and the aspirants that want to come there. Indeed, do you know what it takes? Do you have what it takes? Do you understand what is expected of you to be done? For example, not one of local government money or allocation have I touched. I am saying it on tape, not one. I have never interfered or asked them about their allocations. In fact, they are the ones that I support. But on my security, for example, I have asked them that I am buying vehicles, support me. Of course, not by taking their money, but they talk to themselves and go look for it to buy. I don’t even know how much they earn, I do not even see their allocation schedule to know it was this local government that gets this or that, not once, I have not seen it. They have their meeting, I do not interfere. But the point is not lost on me to ensure that we continue to collaborate with them, to continue to engage with them, and to continue to say, indeed, we all have a role to play, understand your own role and play it, and let the state government do its bits.
There is a law in Lagos State restricting the movements of motorcycle riders popularly called Okada on some roads in the state. Is there a timeline to fully implement that law given the recklessness and menace of the riders in the state?
We are going to be hard but we also want to be fair. Fairness is to give human conscience to these things. We are fully aware of what the security implication is, the health implication, the accidents, the danger to life that it has cost all of us. So, the conversation is going on. For me, it is really to be able to also show on the fair side that there is, even if it’s not fully adequate, a plan for an alternative. And so, the full implementation around the Okada ban and the rest of it is going to come out after our launch of Last Mile and First Mile buses that are going to happen next week. We need to wrap up what the issues are, find out who the culprits are and identify what are their sources. Who are the owners, where are they from and what are they currently doing? All of that intelligence are currently going on. Indeed, it can be an exercise that will have full compliance. I can assure you that we will leave nothing to chance to ensure that we get this right out of our system. It is too much, it is too often, we need to get rid of it, This month, we will.