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Two years on, we have not disappointed Lagosians, says Sanwo-Olu

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Governor Sanwo-olu

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide SanwoOlu, told select journalists recently that he has been keeping to a daily timeline in trying to deliver on his THEMES campaign manifesto. The governor noted that although nobody contemplated the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown challenged his leadership acumen, stressing that the appointment of a competent team made things smooth for his administration. LEO SOBECHI was there.

You are two years into your four-year mandate. How far have you been able to deliver on your campaign promises?
For me, I know what it means every day to sleep and wake up and have that huge challenge. It is a challenge of honour; it is a challenge of immense trust; it is a challenge of a sense of belief that people have given to you. In two years, I will say that we have not disappointed the people that have given us this mandate.

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We started this government with an economic agenda, the THEMES programme. We came in with a sense of purpose to break barriers, make audacious decisions and 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 till now, continues to remain the epicenter. But it has not stopped us from achieving a lot of things that we had wanted to achieve because we realise that stories and excuses cannot be what we are going to put forward. So, if I take each of the pillars, you will see that we had intervened extensively in each one of them.

The very first one, which is traffic management and transportation, was borne out of what our citizens said they wanted us to do so they could move from one place to another quickly and efficiently. As such, we have in the last two years created on an ongoing basis, an opportunity where we can utilise the three modes of transportation available to us in Lagos – rail, road and waterways. Before the end of our four-year tenure, rail will move to Lagos. We say so because we have spent more money in the last two years than in the last six years and we are confident now that we will take those two projects, the blue line and the red line, to completion. We have a direct throughput into how we can raise money to complete it. We have ordered rolling stock, especially for the blue line, which is the one coming on Phase 1 from Mile 2 to Marina. The two terminals that are remaining now are the Marina terminal and the Mile 2 terminal.

For the red line, we are certain that in those two years, we would have completed 10 stations. We have approved to build of four overpasses. Federal Government is supposed to build another four but we are convinced of the completion date because we have raised finance to build our own four overpasses and the plan around the rolling stock is completed and finalised. So, in two years’ time, Lagosians will be moving on the rail.

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For buses, which are the BRT buses, we have commissioned over 600 buses in the course of two years. Before the end of this month, we are also launching another 100 new, high-capacity buses. We are introducing what we call the Last Mile buses next. We are starting with the first 350. Almost 500 are around, but we are launching the first 350. There are small 9-seater buses we call First Mile, Last Mile. And you are aware that we also launched the Lagos Ride, which is the Lagos Taxi. The first set of a thousand will be arriving here in June, at latest July. So, we are intervening in the three components of road infrastructure; the high capacity, medium capacity and the tax, which is the least. In each of them, we do not say that we have all the money but we want to continue to be an enabler in all of these. On the Lagos Ride, we are also actually building a small assembly plant. The plan is to have 5000 at the end of the day and the work plan is out.

The third component of transportation is waterways. We are currently building 15 terminals concurrently in different parts of the state. We have in Liverpool, Ebute-Ero, Ibeshe, Okun Ajah, two in Badagry and out of the 15, 6 or 7 should be completed before the end of this year. What do we see? We see an integrated mass transportation system where our citizens will have options to go on the bus, rail or waterways. On the waterways, we are dredging and 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 it is important. I have bought what we call search and rescue boats. So, we are building command and control centres where we are going to have cameras so that indeed people can be safe and be sure that we are not just throwing people into a big body of water. We have to be able to utilise this very well, that is traffic management for us where people would be able to safely say that a 30-minute journey should not be more than 35, 40 minutes.

We are also looking at a single payment system in our transportation master plan where a single card can take you on a bus, rail and road. We have a COWRY card that LAMATA has launched. The plan is to have about 200 thousand over the next couple of months. The Last Mile buses are going to be launched next week. If not for the public holidays, the buses are already here, it is just to launch them and start another phase.

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Moving away from traffic management and transportation, we talk about health. COVID-19 has been positive and negative for us, we were the epicentre and we had to put everything we had into it. Thank God we did a fairly good job because we were the ones that saved a larger part of the country, proactively taking some decisions and everybody was following. We are out of the second wave completely and hoping that we do not have a third variant of it. That is why you see us leading the conversation to help the Federal Government block people coming into our international airport. COVID-19 gave us a learning experience about improving our infrastructure in the health space. Not only have we recruited more doctors and nurses in the last year than we have ever done in the last six years, but we have also been able to improve infrastructure in almost all of our secondary health facilities. We are currently rebuilding about six of them right now. We have opened Badagry, we have opened Eti-Osa and we are going to open Epe before the end of this month. We are building a brand new hospital in Ketu Ejire, which is a mental wellness rehabilitation hospital with a 500-bed capacity. We are building a massive children hospital and building another one by Ojo Cantonment. We are building a brand new one there apart from the fact that we have radiology and an orthopaedic hospital that would be opened before the end of this month. Though, that is a private arrangement, it would be opened soon. We are currently doing extensive renovation at the General Hospital, Lagos, Isolo General Hospital, Ebute Metta General Hospital, Harvey Road General Hospital and I think in Epe General Hospital concurrently. We also partnered with the private sector to open the first real cancer centre in the country. As a government, part of the things we are working on is the PPP model to improve equipment.

In the environment, we are shutting down two landfill sites. We have done extensive renovation. The one in Abule-Egba, you will see that we are spreading laterite on it and in two or three years’ time, it should be coming down. Beyond that, we have imported 100 compactor trucks, which we shall be launching before the end of this month. So, there is direct intervention in the environment. We have ordered 40,000 waste bins that we are going to be giving out to tenants in front of their various houses. We are going to ensure that the PPP sees that waste management and conversion is well handled. People come to us and say they can do the waste conversion. I have had over 20 presentations, yet I have not seen any person that I can write a cheque. If I see somebody that wants to do waste energy today, I will give them the concession but a lot of people come to say they can do it, but nobody has come to sign it off. That is why we have not done full waste to energy conversion. But we are doing a lot of waste management in terms of plastic and recyclable content.

On technology and education, we have over 1000 projects in the education space. Recently, I commissioned four schools concurrently. In the course of the week, all the cabinet members will be going round to different Local Councils to the commission because they are too many. We have improved about 500 new classrooms. We have built over 2000 hostel accommodation in our boarding schools. We have had over 100,000 new benches and tables in our schools. For the first time, we are actually building three brand new schools in Elemoro and there are two in the Badagry area. These are some of our intervention and infrastructure in education. We have recruited about 1500 new teachers and we have started what we call our eco-excel, which is a tablet handheld device in the primary school. We are not leaving primary schools to SUBEB or the Local Government, we are actually directly paying more money than any other person has done in the last 10 years. The whole idea of the eco-excel is that all of the primary school teachers can have a single means of identifying what their curriculum will be and be able to also time in and time out. So, at the backend, you will know which teacher actually uploaded and treated those lessons so that you can monitor them even off-site.

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Outside of that, we are ensuring that we can use technology as a strong enabler for our schools. I am sure you are aware of our 3000 metropolitan fibre optics for fibre in Lagos. The red, yellow and green fibre you see, is a 3000km fibre grid that we are putting in the city. It is PPP but we are an enabler, we gave all the right of way, we gave all the concessions and all the approvals that are required and whilst we were building our roads, we were creating the duct for them. What that would do for us is that the first 100 schools that would have fibre in the school will launch it before the end of this month, at least I have a list of 80 of those schools already and believing that around the 26th or 27th, we will have 100 fibres to enhance internet capability and all. It is meant to go round all our public secondary schools, our hospitals and our public buildings. That is a plan that we have and once you have fibre, which is the new oil, that is data, before the end of the year on a private side, it is like two marines that are allowed into Lagos. So, the amount of 4G and 5G that is going to come to our system will make internet and data available.

Last year, we also supported techpreneurs, we gave out a grant of over 250 million, using LASRIC – Lagos Science Research and Innovation Council. It is headed by the Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos. We gave the grant and some of them have been recommended to higher places now in the tech space. This year, they were asking for 500 million, I think we have given approval for 350 million. Let them go and identify young vibrant tech startups that we can support and can be an enabler for them. We are building the real Yabatech Hub; Google, Facebook are working with us on that. We have issues with land acquisition and we are meant to pay up the families around that place and we will have the land. It is 7.5 hectares of land and so we are building a full campus for Techpreneur and startups to support that industry. We believe that technology also can be a strong driver of our government policy. So Alausa campus infrastructure, where all of our offices are, we are using ourselves as a test case.

On top of our 3000 fibre optics, is the safe city project. We are going to build the smart city, the first set of 120 cameras are alive as we speak. We are going to 2000. That is why we have not made any noise about it yet. It is something we are funding directly and it is supposed to help us in security, traffic management and investigation. A city like this must use technology as a strong enabler to reduce crime, and we believe that is the way to go. All of these are sitting on our technology infrastructure.

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We also have a mission of making Lagos a 21st-century economy. On that one we look at infrastructure, housing, energy, agriculture and each of those sectors tell a lot of things. In every local government, I can tell you with all sense of honesty that we are intervening on the roads. In fact, people are complaining that we are doing too many roads concurrently and we are not shying away from that. We believe that is the way to go. Even if you do not use my hospital, you do not use my school, you will use my road. So, it is a strong enabler from Ikoyi to VI, to Ikorodu, to Epe to Badagry and to Ojo. I want to be tested. Tell me which local government and I will tell you which project is going on there; that is how much we believe we are intervening on our road infrastructure. This is the same with housing. To date, we have commissioned about 7 or 8 housing projects, yet there are still so many that are still work in progress. All of these things are meant to be enablers, it is easy to work with the private sector and get them to do a lot quicker and faster than us. We are giving out a sizable number of land to serious and identifiable private developers that we can partner with and they can use their own equity and funds to provide houses that are affordable and accessible.

On agriculture, we just launched our five-year road map. It is a tough area for us but we cannot fold our arms and not intervene. You know about our rice mill but the rice mill needs to feed on padding. Where is the land for padding? We have got two to three state governments that are doing massive rice farming. The states are in the North Central. Meat value chain, we consume about 60 to 65 per cent of total meat. So, we said let us know where the meat is coming from and let us have our own means of breeding. We set out 100 hectares of land; they are clearing the land as we speak. Here, in the statehouse, we are growing snail, poultry, fish and small farms around here. Here, I can tell you that we eat from some of these things and that is part of what we are trying to promote, urban farming so that we can reduce dependence on external feeding.

On energy, that is one area we have not done as much as we wanted. The reason is that it is still being heavily regulated. They will tell you that it is deregulated but it is not true. We have had plans with the discos to intervene but each time we do it, we meet a brick wall and they have said to us that even with all the buyers and sellers, there are so many stimuli and that you will still need to enter their own system before it will work for you. But they are our friends, so we will continue to engage with them.

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On E, which is entertainment and tourism, we see a lot of employment been generated. We see that a lot of people if enabled, can create employment for a lot of our citizens. So, we directly have looked at the sector and we said let us work with the private sector. We set up the Lagos Ebony Academy, training film producers, film actors and other people. It is a grant that we put on the table for that sector. Just last week, we formed another committee where RMD is in charge.

Finally, is around security. All these would amount to nothing if they are not built in a safe and secured environment. So, security continues to be a major deliverable for our government. Tomorrow, for example, we are having a major security stakeholders meeting in which all the security architecture shall be in attendance in Alausa. It is all about how to continue to keep Lagos safe and secure. Technology is one of the ways to go and we have started now. The CCTV we are building is not for us; it is also for them. It is to enhance and improve our control and command sector. We have been an advocate of state police and will continue to push the idea if it is the way to go. But whilst we are at it, we need to support all that is on ground. We are planning to further recruit people under our Neighbourhood Watch, which is a strong information gathering network initiative that is helping our entire security architecture. Before the end of this month, we will be handing over almost 200 vehicles to the security architecture in the state with other supporting infrastructure. We will hand it over to the Nigerian police just so that we can continue to keep Lagos safe and secure.

For governance, it is to say that there is a legislature and a judiciary, all of us have different roles to play and will continue to ensure that everybody plays their own part independently. Lagos is the only one that has continued to remain autonomous. Our House of Assembly is the first autonomous house, same with our judiciary. We believe our judiciary is extensively autonomous; all of their recurrent expenditure, we do not touch it, they get it on the first-line charge on a monthly basis. Their capital, because of the capacity they need to generate, once they request for it, is given to them.

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We believe in the separation of power and will continue to hold that. We believe in accountability and transparency and our websites are always open to the things we are doing with regards to publishing our accounts, public procurement law and in the procurement agency that are of impeccable character.

In summary, there is so much that we have put in the funnel and we are expecting so much out of it. Some of them are done and some are ongoing, work in progress. The 4th mainland bridge, for example, I keep talking about it. I did not promise it in my election but we will deliver it. Before the end of this year, we will take the 4th Mainland Bridge to a commercial and financial closure to where we can break ground and see the 37km like an M25, a ring road. That process has had to go through an extensive prequalification process. We are going into the final bid submission level sometime in June or July and we are hoping that it will take us three months and thereafter the financial closure. So I am still hopeful that before December 31, we should do groundbreaking.

These are some of the big items that are not within our two-year deliverable plan, which our citizens require and that we are committed to.

On security and transportation angles, as a corollary to Lagos, the Amotekun issue came up amid reports that Lagos opted out. Is Lagos against Amotekun?

Security is not just name-calling, security is action, it is not just around a perception. Security is real, you need to feel it and see it. I believe in the thought around regional security support architecture, so I was part of the conversation. But, even while we were having the conversation, my colleagues did mention and clearly that Lagos has what we want to replicate, which is your neighbourhood watch. It was also an idea borne out of forest and border issues.

Lagos, fortunately, or unfortunately, has only two borders: the Atlantic Ocean and Ogun State. Ogun State is not in any form a forest and the terrain of Lagos does not support heavy forestry, so in terms of the structure and what is meant to achieve, we do not fully fall into that geographical enclave. But, we are in sympathy support. One of the problems of governance is building structures and building layers upon layers and replicating the same thing.

So, are we going to kill my neighbourhood watch because I want to create a name, the answer is no! What exactly are they meant to do? There is nothing Amotekun is doing today that my neighbourhood watch is not doing. It is all intelligence gathering and a support arm for the security architecture, to be able to give them adequate and timely information and support because they cannot even arrest.

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I just explained to you that we just gave the Police 1250 able and capable men from my neighbourhood watch and they found them capable to work with. We need to put that number back into the neighbourhood, so we are going to recruit about 2000 or 3500 more to take them back to 6000. These are people that are at our various border posts, giving us weekly, monthly intelligence of what is happening in their communities.

They are right there in the community and are feeding us back. That is where it appears as if there is a disconnect. It is not a conflict; it is not to say that we are not in support, we are fully in support. It was conceived as forestry, border patrol force and handing over information. They are not arm-carrying and so there is nothing we are currently doing that is different.

Like I said from Berger to Mowe, it is all infrastructure that has been built there, so we can do that with the current security architecture in place. So, we are not in conflict at all. They also saw us doing training for body cameras. Those being trained are the ones we are using. I cannot force the Nigerian Police to use body cameras. I can only use my security architecture LASTMA and neighbourhood watch and they know the implication of it that they will be held accountable for it so they are currently going through training and we are building the backend of it if there is a need to call upon them.

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What measures have you put in place within the last two years to generate more money to accomplish all of that?
Nothing drops on luck. It is hard work. I was with a group of very influential and wealthy Lagosians that are Muslims to breakfast with them. I do that regularly just to fraternize the solidarity of my citizens and the conversation on the table was, Mr. Governor, you are doing so much for us, in fact, you should increase the property tax.

Go and see the value of the real estate given to McDonald, Jakande and other streets that we are pushing into Thompson and getting set to do Macpherson. So, property tax is one of the ways to go. That is why we are ensuring that we build the infrastructure. And like I said before, even if you do not use any of our government facilities, you will use our roads and that has increased the valuation of your own assets, so the least you can do is to ensure that you support the government in that area.

It is one area that we are going to come out a lot stronger and it is only by technology, to ensure that the officers will have handheld devices. That shows the real value and the current state of that property with the surrounding infrastructure as a basis for valuation to determine what the true value of the asset is.

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Land use charge I meant. It is the rich that needs to come out, come strong and support the weak and vulnerable in our society, that is how it is done everywhere in the world so that investment is also not lacking in their neighbourhood. It is to ensure that we speak to ourselves and use them as an intervention to say that these are the returns you are getting on your assets, but the least you can do is keep your environment safe and keep others safe too.

GIS is one of the things that we have almost completed, that is full land data documentation. We have not done very well in terms of how quickly we give out approvals, I will agree that we can do a better job in terms of the timeline of construction approvals; we are still very far behind.

So, we can use technology. If things can be done properly, a lot of people will come forward, get their building approvals and government will be able to get more revenue. Thereafter, you will be able to do subsequent transactions and exchange the movement around property and land. This is one area that if we do well can indeed double the current revenue of the state, whilst not increasing any fee or charge for anybody at all.

There are so many banks that have title documents that are meant to be perfected, I was once a banker and what they do is they get all the documentation that can make them perfect, but they keep it in their safe for two reasons, they do not want to pay the fee to the government. Secondly, they think it will probably take a long while before they get perfection.

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Now, we are saying bring it out now, we are ready to give it to you within a short while. You can even upload all of your documents online and bring them out because it is not a legal tender until you have a government seal on it. It is only when they have a problem that they run helter-skelter to make it legally tenable. So these are some of the transaction that we ask them to bring from inside their vault and safe and let us do it so that the revenue of Lagos will go up. The capacity and propensity are there and that is one of the things that we are going to be exploring.

In all these ambitious programmes and projects, where is the place of the Local Government in all these?
We appreciate and understand the separation of power. We believe that what people want is service. And so it becomes difficult for you and ordinary citizen to be able to say that this road belongs to state government or local government, they carry all of you together and say it is Sanwo Olu.

From that standpoint, first, you have that burden of responsibility to want to carry it but you are right with your observation to have asked where is their place. You see it is engagement that all of us need to continue to have and is to ensure that we put the right people that have the sense the serve and have the capacity to do it to put them there. There is another election that is coming up, you have the opportunity to educate both the citizens, the electorate and the aspirants. Indeed, do you know what it takes or have what it takes, do you understand what is expected of you to be done. For example, not one kobo of Local Government money has I touched, not one. I have never asked, in fact, they are the ones that I support. But, on security, when I am buying vehicles, I say to support me, not by taking their money. I do not even know how much they earn I do not.

They have their JAC (Joint Allocation Committee) meeting and I do not interfere, but the point is not lost on me to ensure that we continue to collaborate, to continue to engage with them and continue to say that we all have a role to play. Please play your own part and let the state government do its own bit.

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