Light up Lagos
The Lagos State Government is embarking on a number of development projects this year including ‘Light up Lagos’ which seeks to develop, through public private partnerships, the first integrated and fully independent power generation, distribution and public lighting solution in Nigeria. This project will provide 24hrs uninterrupted power supply to crucial Lagos State facilities. Steve Ayorinde, Lagos State Commissioner for Information & Strategy spoke to CNBC Africa’s Didi Akinyelure about the state’s development plans.
I think a good place to start would be to highlight the achievements of the Lagos State Government so far. It is great to see the progress that has been made in the operation ‘Light Up Lagos’ project. Talk about the significance of this project for the Lagos State Government and how do you plan to build on this going forward?
The idea of the ‘Light Up Lagos’ project is to let the world know that we are not a dark continent. Lagos can be very bright and can shine. The Governor instituted a committee and he is directly driving the process himself to see that every part of Lagos is well lit, particularly at night. He has demonstrated leadership by moving to the capital city, Ikeja. He will be the first Governor to reside close to the secretariat in Ikeja, to ensure that Ikeja is indeed the state capital. We will light up the city, make the city secure, and improve on road infrastructure. When driving from the Island all the way down to the third mainland bridge, which is a federal road that Lagos State fixed, to Ikeja, everywhere is well lit up at night. This is good for business and tourism. Gone are the days when you are coming to Lagos by air and you look down and see only darkness. These days, a lot of people express satisfaction with the remarkable progress and they say Lagos has changed and is now a city of light.
You mentioned keeping the city secure. So let’s focus on the donation of assets worth 4.8 billion naira. Tell us how this donation has helped improve the security situation in the state. Has the government been successful in reducing the crime rate in the state?
Absolutely! Policing is first and foremost a Federal Government responsibility; there is no state police arrangement in Nigeria. However, what Governor Ambode has done is to demonstrate leadership and to continue with the template that his predecessor Governor Fashola has laid down by using public private partnerships through the security trust fund. What Governor Ambode did was to add to the layer of the security apparatus by spending 4.8 billion naira, and for the first time in Lagos, we have patrols, helicopter, and gun booths. We no longer hear of armed robbers escaping through the waterways because it is now well policed and well secured. Although, we are not able to improve on the number of police officers in Lagos, we thought that we could assist with equipment which was why the administration took it upon itself and made that huge donation. Every three months, the Governor goes to a senatorial district to render account of his stewardship and he announced to Lagosians that since November last year, when we made that donation of asset to the Nigerian police and rebranded the RRS, crime rate in Lagos has gone down by 65%. As remarkable as that is, that is not where we are going. We hope that within the shortest time period, crime rate in Lagos would be less than 20%. We are happy that everybody realizes now that Lagos has the capacity to secure and safeguard lives and property and investors are happy. Beyond the satisfaction of Nigerians, a demonstrable evidence of the assurance and belief that outsiders have in us was the success of the February 6th Lagos City Marathon. People flew in from all over the world, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Somalis’, Ugandans, even people from the UK; more than 20,000 people participated. What message did we send out? That we were able to direct and control traffic for half a day, and that Lagos State is safe and secure for foreigners. All thanks to the new Lagos feel which that donation has brought. People are flooding in and we are glad that they now see Lagos as a very safe place to live and do business.
Speaking on controlling traffic, we all know that this has been an issue in the State. We know that more and more people continue to flood in, and this hasn’t helped the traffic situation. We know that the Government is working on alternative transportation. Still, a lot of people feel that they have heard this promise of a “Smart Lagos” time and time again. What is this Government doing differently?
One, we are fixing a lot more roads. In eight months, we have fixed, repaired and rehabilitated a total number of 340 roads. We have commissioned and work has started on two major problematic axis, Ajah and the Abule Egba axis. We have commissioned flyovers to reduce traffic which means that if you are going to Epe, beyond Ajah, you don’t need to join the traffic; you will just use the flyover just as Governor Fashola did for the Ikoyi, Lekki Link Bridge. We are also developing the waterways. We know that on a daily basis, slightly less than 300,000 people use the waterways. By the end of the year, our target is to move about a million people through the waterways. The whole idea of a smart city is to de-emphasize usage of roads and create alternatives. So the waterways is one alternative and we are fixing the roads. There’s also the Ikorodu BRT extension project. These days a lot of people leave their cars at home because we have rolled out more than 400 air conditioned buses with facilities for people with disabilities. It means that you can commute from Ikorodu all the way to Victoria Island and Racecourse; you don’t need your car. You only need to queue for ten to fifteen minutes. This has eased traffic along that corridor. Our aim is to replicate this in all the divisions in Lagos. What we have in Ikorodu, let us have in the Abule Egba, Alagbado corridor, so that people move using the BRT from that side of the city all the way down to Ikeja, and then replicate it again in Epe, and in Badagry. This way, people reduce their reliance on their own personal cars or on the small commercial buses that are quite a nuisance. By December this year, his Excellency the Governor has promised that the first phase of the Blue Line rail project will be ready from Mile 2 all the way down to Marina. We expect that more than 400,000 people will use the railway on a daily basis. This will significantly reduce the traffic on a road that is quite a problematic axis.
Lagosians want to know when some of these major road projects will come through. I am very familiar with the issue in Ajah. The traffic in that area is ridiculous. I know the Government has said that work will be completed in sixteen months, but sixteen months does not seem like a realistic target, especially when you see the slow progress that’s being made every day.
This is just the third month of work. We aimed for sixteen months because we are celebrating Lagos at 50 next year. There will be a lot of legacy iconic projects that will be commissioned all over Lagos; road projects, housing projects, waterways, and different parks for tourists. Lagosians will be proud. By the time we are celebrating Lagos at 50 years, it will only be two years of Governor Ambode’s administration yet a lot would have been achieved. Lagos will be lit up and traffic would have improved tremendously. Earlier I said, crime has reduced by 65%. By that time, I am positive we will be talking 70-75% reduction in crime rate.
Let’s quickly touch on the Healthcare sector, another area that a lot of people complain about. Nigerians are not confident about our Healthcare sector. When you consider the amount of foreign exchange that is accessed from the Central Bank for the payment of medical bills abroad, you realize that there is this huge gap that needs to be filled. It’s great to see that in Lagos we have an addition of 14 ambulances, and 25 ambulance point but 25 ambulance points doesn’t seem enough.
These are additions. Think of where we are coming from and the fact that this administration is moving us forward gradually. Lagos has a total of 26 general hospitals, and part of the things we want to do this year is to improve on these facilities. Our hospitals should not only be known by name but by quality. We have a project that we are also starting this year, the Lagos City Medical Park. We believe that the things that take our people outside of the country can actually be provided here. What we are saying is this, yes, things are not where we would like them to be but we have moved from where we used to be.
Moving on to the economic environment. Obviously, we are in a very challenging environment right now with low oil prices and uncertainties in the fiscal and monetary space, and the foreign exchange restrictions. Highlight the achievements of the Lagos State Government in driving the growth of the economy.
One of the key things this administration did the moment the Governor came into office was to improve on the economic profile of the state. We established an office, the Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment, which we call LAGOS GLOBAL. This office is directly in charge of every investment drive that Lagos is making and is working on, in collaboration with all other ministries and agencies to make sure that things are easier for investors coming to Lagos. Issues of visas, issues of permits, issues of taxation, Lagos Global office handles that. This is a major improvement coming from where we were before. We have also established for the first time, a ministry that is saddled with the responsibilities of employment and wealth creation, just like we did for security. We are using the same template, the PPP engagement, to have a 25 billion naira employment trust fund which works precisely the same way the security fund works. Lagos puts down about 6.3 billion naira every year just to stimulate the economy, to engage start-up businesses, and people who ordinarily would not be able to approach banks and financial institution.
How will this be administered? How can Lagosians tap into this?
We’ve actually just crossed an important line. The House of Assembly has approved the Chairperson and the committee that will administer this fund and they will work with the Ministry of Employment and Wealth Creation. Lagos will have its own Microfinance bank where the money will be domiciled. The only thing that is required is residency in Lagos. You are able to access anything from a 100,000 naira to 1 million to 500 million naira, depending on the type of business that you want to do. This speaks to the issue of area boys or miscreants in the society, because we believe that we can stimulate the economy well enough, by giving people opportunities. Many of these people are trained, some are graduates, some learnt certain trades, and some are artisans. If these people are encouraged, they will leave the streets and that will improve on the economic profile of Lagos. There is another important component. The Lagos State Internal Revenue Service has streamlined issues that affect taxation, double taxation, permits etc. This will go a long way to reassure investors and the business community that they will gain from doing business in Lagos.
The state was adopted into the ODU’A Group. Why is this significant and what is the promise of economic integration?
It is significant for regional integration. Lagos is a bonafide member of the South-West state, politically speaking. At the time the five other states used to be the old western region, Lagos was the capital of Nigeria. Therefore, it was not part of the states that formed the ODU’A Group. ODU’A Group is simply five states in the South-West with an investment arm that can pull resources together, and approach business, investment, and economic integration as a unit. What they have done is to invite and absorb Lagos into their fold because many of the investments of the ODU’A Group are cited in Lagos; an example is the Lagos Airport Hotel. With Lagos coming on board, the whole of the South-West region can speak with one voice, economically. Lagos has the privilege of being the most prosperous state in Nigeria; the IGR of Lagos alone is equal to that of about 31 other states in Nigeria combined. If Lagos was a country, it would be the 5th largest economy in Africa. Lagos needs ODU’A Group and ODU’A Group also needs Lagos to be able to speak with one voice.
The Governor recently attended the US-AFRICA business forum in Addis Ababa. The aim was to promote Lagos to the investment community. Tell us what has been achieved so far in regards to driving investment and what is your communication strategy for brand Lagos?
We are rolling out a big branding campaign for Lagos that will ultimately coincide with the celebration of Lagos at 50. That also speaks to the reason why his Excellency, the Governor attended the meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to market Lagos to the international community. The direct fallout of that is our plan to have ‘Lagos Global’ formally launched to the world in March. That will happen in Lagos and we will invite everybody that needs to attend, everybody that needs to hear about the new Lagos, and everybody that needs to tap into the investment opportunities in Lagos. We will be communicating this to the entire world. We will be telling the whole world that Lagos has indeed announced its arrival. By the time we roll out the drums next year to celebrate Lagos at 50, you will see that, indeed, this state, Africa’s most populous city, has indeed arrived.
Does this link in with the ONE LAGOS fiesta you had in December last year?
Yes, the One Lagos fiesta performed a dual role. We used this to test the waters in terms of how people connect with the idea of unity and diversity, which Lagos represents. This connected very well with Lagosians. Lagos is a melting point of ideas, people and opportunities. Every resident in Lagos is a stakeholder in the state. In our local language we say, “gbogbo wa la leko”, everybody has a role to play in Lagos. We used to “wow” the whole world with “Lagos Countdown” but it was in one place and just for one day. One of the campaign promises of his Excellency, the Governor, was to ensure that no part of Lagos will be left behind. We will pull in everybody and touch everywhere. We said, rather than one day and one venue, let us decentralize the idea of fun, merriment and tourism. Let us allow people to see what can be done in Epe, in Ikorodu, in Badagry and in Ikeja. We had five days and it turned out to be amazing. Africa was impressed and Lagosians wanted more.
You mentioned some of the things you are hoping the Government will achieve before Lagos hits 50 in May next year. May is not a very long time away; we are talking a year and two months. In what way is the Lagos State Government planning to highlight the fact that we are turning 50 and celebrate the successes of the state over 50 years.
It is going to be a one year celebration from May this year culminating in May 2017. You can measure the seriousness of the administration, from the caliber of the men and women who are members of the planning committee. The committee is Co-chaired by the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and Chief Raseed Gbadamosi, a playwright, an industrialist and the only surviving cabinet member of the first cabinet of Lagos State of 1967. We are serious about the fact that the 12 people in the committee can work on ideas and opportunities that will sell Lagos to the whole world. Lagos deserves some celebration, Lagos deserves a big party. Of course, it won’t just be fun and merriment alone. As I mentioned earlier, there will be legacy iconic projects that people will identify with Lagos at 50. People will look at his Excellency the Governor, and say that this is one man who has succeeded in lighting up the city and has made significant moves in terms of road construction and social infrastructure. Our public schools will wear a new look. We would have succeeded in driving in new investors. We plan to have another Lagos City Marathon next year to herald the celebrations. We would have succeeded in saying to the whole world that, what you see in Bangkok, what you see in Berlin, in Mumbai, you can also enjoy in Lagos.
We are certainly looking forward to it.
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