‘I will run an open, transparent, accessible government’

‘I will run an open, transparent, accessible government’

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Babajide Sanwo-Olu, incoming governor of Lagos State, spoke in this interview with select journalists. Iheanyi Nwachukwu was there and brings excerpts.

It has been 20 years since the progressives have been at the helm of affairs in Lagos. Would you say this journey has been good so far?

I honestly want to agree and say to you clearly that it’s been worth it. It’s been worth it for us as progressives but more important is that it’s been worth it for Lagosians. Twenty years ago, if you want to be fair, this is not the Lagos that we had twenty years ago. Lagos was not about the 6th largest economy in Africa. It didn’t have 22 or 23 million people. It didn’t have a lot of the things it has now in terms of infrastructure, health, education; and of course you may also say that Lagos didn’t have these many traffic and refuse.  But what you see is that Lagos has grown to be one of the biggest mega cities in that space of time and it has come with its huge opportunities and a lot of challenges. The progressives have held their turf, they have held it very well. They have created wealth for Lagosians, built structures, bridges, all around the city. They have developed people. New schools and hospitals have been built, and the revenue of the state has astronomically been enhanced through quality representation.

When they started in 1999, history shows that it was a little over N600 million that was being generated, but tens of billions are being generated now. The question is, is that also enough for today’s challenges? It is not, and I’ll come to that later. But in terms of growth, we have seen a leap in the amount of growth. People are coming from different parts of this country to live and stay in Lagos as their choice. And in truth, Lagos has been good for all of them.

The first government that came in then which was Asiwaju Bola Tinubu brought in first-class technocrats, and you can see what has come out of those technocrats. From all of that team, which I will also say to you that for the later part of it I was also very much part of, has brought up people at the highest level of the country. Some have grown to be governors even in different states. So, it means that, if we can look back and look at all of those small things that have come out of this small  Lagos that is less than half percentage in terms of size of this country, then we will know that the progressives has earn it. But can we do better? That is certainly the reason why I am sitting here. We certainly can do a whole lot better, quicker and faster.

What do you intend to achieve in office in the first quarter?

In the next 90 days, we are hoping that we would have a working government. Meaning, all of the cabinet and major appointments that we need to have, we would have them running very quickly. We should begin to see huge solutions in our traffic management scheme. When I say huge solutions, there would be some I imagine would have been solved and there would be others that we would probably still be working on because we are going into a raining season. So even you want to do some extensions or some lay-by, you know, rain can only allow you so much because when it is raining you cannot pour concrete. And when you pour concrete, sun has to come before it can dry up so you can put the lay-by. So, some of those issues will come up. But in terms of the designs and in terms of identifying those traffic corridor that would need improvement, we would have done all of that.

In terms of places where we need to improve and increase waste management solutions, we would have done all that. In the first three months, we would have rolled out loads and loads of waste management bags where people would see. Like I mentioned during the campaign, sorting has to start from your kitchen which is where we are going to be looking for various colours of bags that people would need to understand that this is what we need to do. So that when you bring them out and we have a work in progress with the PSPs and I imagine we would have made some capital expense in terms of procurement of new compartment trucks and the rest of it. But that would take a while for it to come into the country, but we would have made those commitments within that time as well.

Like I have also said on the solution on Apapa gridlock, I am believing that we would have solved it, but sustaining it, if we are not careful, could be the issue. It does not mean that you will not see them again; they will keep coming in and out but on a sustainable basis, it is going to cost us some money to put people there in a sustainable manner.

We would also begin to work around the civil service also within that time. We understand that all of these things that we are talking about, you need professionals who are in the civil service to work with. So in terms of capacity development and skills gap, we need to quickly identify were they are in our public service, so that we can put the right people, develop right competencies, that will take ownership of all of the solutions that we are talking about.

In other areas around health and education, we probably would have rolled out a more detailed plan as to what we need to do right to ensure that growth in our education system is improved, for early education like I said, a strategy would have clearly been crafted out that will show us what we need to do as soon as kids are coming back to school in September of 2019.

On the health side, the collaboration that we need to have with the private sector to ensure that health is accessible. Affordability of it might still be a little challenging in terms of identifying the vulnerable people, but accessibility would be something that we will quickly deal with.

And on the infrastructure side, it is to believed that within that time, we will have enough plan on what new areas or road we need to build or develop as the case may be, because at that time, you will certainly need to plan it for next year but all of those plans we will begin to implement very quickly. And on the power side, I imagine that in 90 days, we should have had a clear-cut policy with all the DISCOs and GENCOs on how we must ensure that Lagos gets powered up very quickly.

What are your plans to encourage MSMEs against the various taxes and levies?

While on campaign train I met quite a number of very young intelligent Nigerians, over 7,000 of them at various forums. And one of the things we have said we would be looking out for are the things that are within our control. There are incubator centres that we need to create for them on the tech hub side. We will begin to work on that. On the ones that require financing and support, how well do we get Lagos state Educational Trust funds to quickly identify more beneficiaries, and very much quickly. We would be able to support them with a kind of grants and little loans as much as we have, so that we would be able to increase the numbers very quickly.

For most of them, what I imagine that they would need is to be able to put them in sections, and ensure you are not doing everything all by yourself. So there would be incubator centres. There would be clusters that we would need to develop and industrial estates that we need to ensure we bring about, and work with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as well, because some of the things you used to see are not within our own control. How well will all of the grants and all of the supports the CBN has been talking about, be accessible?

The commercial banks have all mentioned things that they want to support SMEs with. How truly well are they going to be supporting them? So, those conversations must come from that angle. For us, if you are just having a small corner tailoring service in your place, it may be difficult for me to say I am going to provide your own immediate solution. Because your problem could be that you don’t have power in your small shop or there are other challenges, but to put it together and say that we are going to have a tailoring section in Obalende for example; those are the kinds of innovations that we will do. We will look for a place where they can share resources and house 300 tailors all clustered around the place and you can develop a power solution for them as against developing for each one of them and looking for how to meet them.

So on their own part, those kinds of talks must come together. They must identify players in the same industry, and once they come together, then it becomes much easier for government to intervene collectively. And you will begin to see the impact of that solution.

On infrastructure, what are the major wins we should expect from your first tenure?

Infrastructure is wide. It is road, power housing and the rest. And I have said to you that in the next 90 days, we believe that because we are in the raining season, there is just so much of what we can do. But we can do a lot of planning and small measures like fixing the drainage, removing all of the things that can block the manholes which are within your control. We might not be able to fix all of the portholes within the first 90days except we are going to be working overnight, and you don’t know what time the rain is going to come back again so that you don’t waste material and be very smart about it.

But in terms of infrastructure, before the end of the year, you will see our goal plan in terms of which roads, bridges that we need to complete in the next two to three years in our road plan. And we will be working a lot with the PPP. We will be using private equity and funds to develop some of those competencies in infrastructure.

What are you going to do differently to ensure the Lagos budget is open?

On the budget, I imagine that the state government still publishes its budget on a year-on-year basis. We intend to continue, but beyond that, is also to do what we call a quarterly review of our budget performance, so that people can ask us questions and we can be accountable.  In terms of transparency, you know we have a procurement law and agency, it is for there for people to be able to access them a little bit more. The ones that need to be published in terms of who gets procurement, we will do it if it is not currently being done. They moment you can let people really know on quarterly basis how you are running your budget, how well you are doing, your run rate, then the issues around transparency reduces. And aside that, at the end of the year, before you get into the second quarter of the second year, we would make sure that we have done our audited account and well published as it’s being expected of you.

Have you been briefed by the outgoing government on the list of uncompleted projects in the state, and will you give them priority when you are sworn in as governor?

Yes, there have been several interactions we have had. We have had steering and transition committee and we have seen some documents in terms of outstanding projects but not in the way and manner that I would have wanted them, that they were presented. Because we wanted a lot more detailed information to how much was it, how much has been paid, how long it has taken, how much is outstanding, what exactly it is.  We didn’t get that much detailing. But I cannot continue to explain but from next week, I can now call for these things. But in terms of completion, oh yes they will certainly form priority because, what doesn’t get completed doesn’t get done. We will ensure that we do that and we do that very well, and there wouldn’t be any problem.

 

Recently Lagosians reacted to the land use charges by the sitting government. Do you have plans to look into this?

We are certainly going to look at it again, but with a lot of consultations. It has to be collaborative with a lot of stakeholders’ engagement. We are going to look at it with all the players in the industry sitting together to analyse how best to go about it. I have said to people that you really cannot eat an omelette without breaking the egg. So for us to be able to leap-frog all of the questions and initiatives that they are asking of us, revenues have to come from somewhere. So it is for all of us to transparently be able to have that conversation on what we all intend to do transparently. But we will certainly not do things that will have a negative effect on our people. We will review it positively and in conjunction with various stakeholders.

What style of government would you run?

I think my style would be to remain humble as I have always been. To be very open and transparent, to be very accessible as much as possible, to be very engaging; let people have a voice, let them have a say. You might not necessarily have your way, but you will always have your say. And once you have your say, be it in form of suggestions, or opinion, we will all put on the table and dimension it right away. And if it is not something that we believe Lagosians will benefit from, I will have the right to explain that to you and give you reasons why it really can’t be. But beyond that it is to ensure that as a Yoruba man that I am, I respect my elders and ensure that we keep the cosmopolitan nature of Lagos going. Respect different set of human beings that are here in Lagos to work, then know that everybody has a role to play; except you don’t have any business here and are constituting a security challenge for us that you will not be my friend. Other than that, the style will be to remain a friend and governor to everybody.

Do you have an idea on the state of the treasury?

I also don’t know what the numbers are yet, but as a small finance person myself, we just have to be very creative because no matter how it is, monies will never be enough and we cannot continue to always use lack of money as an excuse for non-performance. There are creative ways in which we can finance and leverage all of the things we want to do. For as long as you are sincere and people can see this in you, money would move for you. Globally, that is how it is. Monies would move for the people who need it the most, and what they need to do is just do a risk assessment of your person, the project they need to get into, and of the environment they found themselves in. Once you are able to reduce and mitigate some of those risks, funding will come.

Nigeria as a whole has taken up agriculture as a valid means of diversification. What are your plans for this sector? 

We have been a largely mono-product economy, but the federal government has made a few attempts in the last four years or so, and I think those efforts are beginning to yield some results which I must commend the federal government on especially in agriculture. The current government in Lagos state has also taken a bold step to achieve 32 tons per day Imota rice mill. That have started off, and for me, I feel that that project would be very critical in our agricultural value chain. It is left for us to look for money and complete that project very quickly. I hear that there are still huge tons of containers littered at the port, but we need to quickly be able to fix that.

What that means is that, if we have that mill working up and running by the end of the year or by next year; 32 metric tons, meaning that we actually can produce the amount of rice that not only Lagos would be consuming, but one or two other states in the south-west. But the feedback of that in the value chain is that we may now need to produce a lot more paddy. We don’t have the agro areas because of our size and the pressure on our land. So what we would do is to collaborate with our sisters in the North, and the South-west and see how we can share boundaries around giving us 20, 30 or 50 hectares for rice production. And we can reduce cost of transportation; bringing them from up north and have paddies all around so that when we begin to do that, we begin to get at least one of our major stable food and we begin to see level of decency in Lagos and in some states I the South-west sufficiently in that. If we do that and do it well, honestly that is a major economy that we are developing.

So we go to the next one which is Aqua-Agric in poultry, in fishing and all of it. There is an opportunity in CBN and I have read their books. We just need to put people in clusters and let them be able to have strength in their numbers, so that they can very quickly access the same kind of single-digit funding from the central bank, and can upscale the capacity, and the population can take whatever it is, be it poultry, fishery, egg production, etc. So, we would be encouraging people, we would be putting resources in that field so that ultimately, we would be able to create an opportunity for some percentage of our population to be reliant on agriculture. And we should be able to support them in that space.

Potholes and floods are a major hurdle in Lagos State. What are your plans to address this?

Like I have mentioned, Lagos is below the sea level. Lagos will always have elements of flooding. You see, communication is critical. And it is only better when we help ourselves to communicate rightly. Lagos is below the sea level, so fundamentally, there are some things that are natural that nobody has control over. It means it is in a terrain that rain would fall at some point of the year. And we are just entering it. It is heavily from May, through November till December. So it is a season in which there is going to be heavy downpour. It is another conversation around global warming and all of that which says we are going to have more rains.

So, it will rain, and once it rains, because of the volume of water that God in heaven brings down upon us at some point, there would be what we call flash flood. And it happens everywhere in the world. There would be flood that you will see for three, four, or five hours, but the question would be, subsequently what would you do? How do you ensure that floods that would be there for just three hours are not there for three, four, or five days? That is the responsibility that you have called us to do. And to solve it, it is to look at all of the various blockages that happen within the manholes that we have along the roads. So that blockages are due to our habits like the kind of refuse that we generate and don’t dispose properly. Everybody drinks a can or bottle of water, and they throw them on the streets. So, the communication has to be both ways. You have to help me tell Lagosians that we need to change or attitudes in that regard. They should dispose refuse properly so they don’t block our drainage channels. Once they block our drainage channels; water is liquid that need to find its level, and if it can’t it will stay there. That needs to happen and we would be solving that with our environmental solutions.

As regard the potholes, the water needs to go down, rain needs to stop before we will be able to work. I know that there are problems around public roads bureau and we would quickly wrap the capacity in that area. And I have mentioned it a few minutes ago, if working overnight is the solution we need to design ways and means for them to go and fix some of those little potholes, we will do it and do it very quickly.

And on Apapa, I think it is about time we realised that we are all in it together. What happens to me happens to everybody that has a thing to do with that port, and those appeals to the conscience of the Federal Government. So it is not out of place that Lagosians have been crying. So people need to move into action. And I will tell you that I will give that committee all of the support required from day one for Lagosians to be relieved.

How do you plan to attract foreign investments into Lagos?

Investments are circling around the offshore line and if you don’t take them and the opportunities, they move to some other jurisdiction. Because money is always moving around the world, for us in Lagos, we believe it is a unique time and it is a rear opportunity for us to not only make the environment conducive for international investors to come but to also ensure that what they need and what they require for them to be able to do businesses very well are available. That is the ease of doing business and the things that are within our control such as approvals, registration are within our own purview by ensuring those things are done in a timely manner and in a manner where they don’t live with a negative experience.

We also need to go back to the core civil service and make them understand that change of investment works when you receive investors warmly.



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