Lagos State Governor-elect, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who will be sworn-in on Wednesday, in this interview speaks about his plan to create a conducive environment to attract more foreign investors to the state. He also gave an insight on how he plans to govern the state as well as ensure that public finance in the state is more transparent. Nume Ekeghe provides the excerpts:
It has been 20 years since the progressives have been at the helms of affairs in Lagos, how will you describe the journey so far?
I honestly want to agree and say to you clearly that it’s being worth it for us as progressives but more important is that it’s being worth it for Lagosians. Twenty years ago, if you want to be fair, this is not the Lagos that we had 20 years ago. Lagos was not about the sixth 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 megacities and it has come with its huge opportunity and a lot of challenges. So, the progressives have held their turf, they have created wealth for Lagosians, built structures, bridges, all around the city. They have developed people, new schools have been built, new hospitals 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 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 to all of them. The first government that came in then which was Asiwaju Bola Tinubu brought in technocrats, and you all saw what came out of those technocrats. From all of that team, which I was also 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 have earned it. But can we do better? That is certainly the reason why I am here. We certainly can do a whole lot better, quicker and faster.
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 solved and there would be others that would probably still be work in progress, because we are going into a raining season. 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 corridors 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 have 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. Like I have also said, the solution to Apapa gridlock, I believe that we would have solved it, but sustaining it, if we are not careful, could be the issue. 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. 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 where they are in our public service, so that we can put the right people, develop the 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 in what we need to do to ensure that growth in our education system is improved. Like I said, a strategy would clearly be 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, there will be a collaboration with the private sector to ensure that healthcare is assessable. Affordability of it might still be challenging in terms of identifying the vulnerable people, but accessibility would be something that we will quickly deal with. And on the infrastructure side, I believe that within that time, we will have enough plan on what new areas or road we need to build or develop as the case is, because you will certainly need to plan it. In terms of power, I imagine that in 90 days, we should have had a clear cut policy with all the Distribution Companies (Discos) and the Generating Companies (Gencos) on how we must ensure that Lagos gets powered up very quickly.
What are your plans to support more micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) in the state?
While on a campaign train I met quiet 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 centers that we need to create for them in the tech hub side, we will begin to work on that. On the ones that require financing and support, we would get the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund to quickly identify more beneficiaries, and very much quickly, we would be able to support them with grants and loans. There would be clusters that we would need to develop and industrial estates and work with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as well, because some of the things you see are not within our own control. 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 solve your own immediate solution. Because your problem could be that you don’t have power in your small shops or there are other challenges. But to say that we are going to have a tailoring section in Obalende for example; those are the kind 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 things 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 not so much of what we can do. But we can do a lot of planning and things like fixing the drainage, remove all of the things that can block the holes, which are within your control. We might not be able to fix all of the portholes within the first 90 days 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 materials you have to be very smart about it. But in terms of infrastructure, before the end of the year, you will see our plan in terms of which roads, bridge that we need to complete in the next two to three years, in our road plan. And we will be working a lot through Public Private Partnership (PPP). We will be using private equity and funds to develop some of those infrastructure.
What are you going to do differently to ensure the Lagos budget is open?
On the budget, the state government still publishes its budget on a yearly. We intend to continue that, but beyond that, we would also 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 procurement law and agency, it is for people to be able to access them. The ones that need to be published in terms of who gets procurement, we will do it if it is not currently being done. The moment you can let people really know on quarterly basis how you are running your budget, how well you are doing, then the issues around transparency reduces. And aside that, at the end of the year, before you get into the second quarter of the following year, we would make sure that we have done our audited account and we would publish it.
What about the issue of multiple taxation?
There is no multiple taxation, it is all about perception and we need to change it. There is no tax that doesn’t have a law component to it. Tax is a function of the law. If the law is faulty, then let us go back to the law. Maybe you can talk about the people and how they collect them. Maybe it is the way by which they come about that we need to change. So we need to correct the narratives and let people know that there is no multiple taxation anywhere.
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 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 as to how much was it, how much has been paid, how long it has taken, how much is outstanding and what exactly it is. So, we didn’t get much details on that. But from next week, I will call for those information. But in terms of completion, oh yes they will certainly be given 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.
How can Lagos harness its rich culture?
I mean, you can see also in me the vibrancy and all. It is the same energy we all have. In terms of culture, music and all of that, we know our space; we know where we are globally. But one of the things that is lacking is organisation. How well can we put all of those energies into positive use, so that we can present ourselves internationally and globally in more informed structure? One of the things we have said we would do is to ensure that in our government, we would identify real professionals that would be working with us in the cabinet.
Recently Lagosians reacted to the hike in land use charge by the outgoing governor before it was revised, do you have plans to look into that?
We are certainly going to look at it again, but with a lot of consultation. 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 to analyse how best to go about it. I have said to people that you really cannot eat an omelet without breaking the egg. So for us to be able to leap-frog all 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. 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 it 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. I will respect different set of human beings that are here in Lagos because everybody has a role to play; except you don’t have any business here and you are constituting a security challenge for us, that way you will not be my friend. Other than that, the style will be to remain a friend and governor to everybody.
Can you give us an insight into the findings of the transition committee?
In terms of the things found out by the transition process, I would be getting a full detailed report from tomorrow (24th of May). But given my sense of understanding of government, it is a continuum and we really cannot begin to give excuse to Lagosians. We would just go out there to fix it. Whatever it takes, we can get it better for Lagosians because that is what we have promised to do.
Do you have an idea on the state of the treasury?
I also don’t know what the numbers are yet, but as some that have idea about finance, 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 to you. Globally, that is how it is. Monies would move to 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 find themselves. Once you are able to reduce and mitigate against some of those risk, funding will come.
Nigeria as a whole has taken up agriculture as one of the means to diversify its economy. What are plans for this sector?
We have been a largely mono-product economy, but the federal government has made a few attempt in the last four years or so, and I think those efforts are beginning to yield some result which I must commend the federal government on, especially in terms agriculture. The current government in Lagos state has also taken a bold step in terms of rice production and the Imota rice mill. For me, 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 in the port, but we need to quickly 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. So we go to the next one which is aqua-agric, fishing and all of it. There is an opportunity at the CBN for financing. We just need to put people in clusters so that they can quickly, access single-digit funding from the central bank and upscale their capacity.
Potholes and floods is a major hurdle in Lagos state, what are plans in addressing this?
On potholes, flooding and traffic, like I have mentioned, Lagos is below the sea level. Lagos will always have element of flooding. You see, communication is critical. And it is only better when we help ourselves to communicate rightly. Like I said, Lagos is below the sea level, so fundamentally, there are some things that natural 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 the rainy season. It is heavy from May, through November. So it is a season in which there is going to be heavy downpour. There is another conversation around global warming an all of that which says we are going to have more rains. So, it will rain, and once it rains, 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. Some of those blockages were due to our habits like the kind of refuse that we generate and don’t dispose properly. Everybody drink in can or bottle of water, and they throw them on the streets. So, the communication has to be both ways. You (journalists) have to help me tell Lagosians that we need to change or attitudes in that regards. 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 can be able to work. I know there are problems around public roads bureau and we would quickly ramp up capacity in that area. And I have mentioned it few minutes ago, if working overnight is the solutions 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 realise 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 set up by the federal government all of the support required from day one for Lagosians to be relieved.
Can you give us an insight into the structure of the cabinet you want to have, would it be a combination of politicians and technocrats and what are the qualities you expect from them?
I am committing and I am saying that, with the cooperation of my entire political leadership, I am expecting that I should have my entire cabinet running maximum within the time-lines that I have given to you. As to the quality of members, Lagos has intelligent and smart people. It is for us to identify them. Some could be full time technocrats, some could be part time technocrats, but the bottom line is for us to identify square pegs into square holes, and round pegs into round holes. Secondly, whoever would be working with me and Dr. Hamzat, there is need for them to have a shared vision with us and for us to be on the same page from day one. The moment a politician or technocrat is appointed; he sees himself as a commissioner of special adviser of Lagos, not for a sect, an area or his jurisdiction. Your performance is to entire citizens of Lagos state. So it is not that, because I was born from this area, then I would focus better there, no! We have to have a shared vision and common purpose. The moment we all see the commonality of our vision and purpose, then it will be a lot easier for us to drive a common agenda. And we will certainly not be lacking of idea, and Lagosians will be happy with us when we finally bring out those names.