Sanwo-Olu’s executive orders: Walk the talk
The Lagos State governor’s first decision in office to take transportation and traffic issues seriously is remarkable and he should be supported to walk that talk seriously. To this effect, he promptly signed two executive orders and declared a state of emergency on environmental sanitation and traffic management. As the morning shows the day, it is understandable that a new helmsman is under pressure to make an immediate impact.
However, there is need for proper understanding of what is on ground and thorough planning to ensure that pronouncements do not end up as mere rhetoric while an impatient public counts the days – for implementation.
The first executive order tagged Enforcement of Law and Order in respect of Traffic Sanitation Matters, pronounced a policy of zero tolerance for environmental abuse; entailing illegal indiscriminate dumping of refuse and obstruction of drainage channels. Recognising the critical importance of roads, the governor’s orders challenged two agencies. The Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) was directed to carry out its functions for strict enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. The road traffic agency was also told to institute a shift system so that operatives could work till 11:00 p.m. The second agency, Lagos State Public Works Corporation (LSPWC) was directed to commence an immediate identification and repair of all bad roads in the state. Added to this package is the promise to look into the Apapa Gridlock so that it will be resolved within a defined period.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has identified the critical nature of road infrastructure in the peculiar state generally believed to be the economic capital of West Africa. Therefore, the tier structure of responsibility for roads must be incorporated, ab initio, as the LSPWC carries out the inventory and conditions of roads needing urgent remedial work. In the same vein, all the local government councils must be made to accept responsibility for streets while there must be collaboration with Federal Government officials responsible for federal roads in the state.
The focus on roads derives from the fact that the transport mode accounts for more than 90 per cent of the movement of people, good and services not only in the state but nationwide. However, the other forms of transport are important. Thus, the Masterplan for Lagos Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (LAMATA) is for an integrated transportation system, entailing road, rail and water. Water transport in Lagos metropolis and the whole state is curiously, still a mirage. The light rail that is being constructed from Mile 2 to Marina is yet to be completed while its world-class relay station stands majestically near the National Theatre Iganmu. What has caused the delay? Answer to this may be part of the solution being sought by the executive orders.
Given the herculean task, there is keen public interest in the process and methodology by which Sanwo-Olu seeks to fulfill the demands on his shoulders. Already, there are reports of harrowing experiences by members of the public, at the hands of state agents who mount roadblocks immediately after a gaping pothole forces motorists to slow down. These “operatives” are not in any uniform but have two armed policemen in the gang of six. They would seize the vehicle and in driving away from point of arrest, they threaten to drive the car to LASTMA’s yard where they say “the offender would be booked and charged N70, 000 for not using a seat belt.” The unfortunate victim is then offered the alternative of paying a reduced amount to them. The collection point is at the construction site near LASTMA’s offices. As in a kidnap situation, while the unfortunate citizen makes calls for money to be brought, the uniformed policemen disappear and return in mufti. All the while, uniformed LASTMA officials observe the proceedings from a distance. Who are these operatives who extort money in the name of the governor? This is a shady issue that should be investigated and the syndicate sustaining it must be dismantled for the governor’s orders to be fruitful.
It is, however, commendable that the governor acknowledged the dire state of affairs in his state and the need to involve all stakeholders in the effort to restore “stability and accountability” for achieving the necessary improvements for better living. Good roads, efficient drainage system and clean environment indicate better living. However, for a long time now, the Lagos metropolis has endured a woeful experience with waste management for which a functional system is yet to be put in place. As for drainage, the governor has directed the Department of Drainage to move from LSPWC to the Ministry of Environment.
Let no one get it twisted, Lagos is a special city and successive administrations in the state have pursued the goal of developing an international megacity. Therefore, the new governor must see his mandate as a regional and trans-African assignment. Nigeria’s place and role in ECOWAS are well known. There is the need for urgent attention and collaboration with the Federal Government for the construction of the Lagos-Badagry expressway, which includes a rail corridor. A positive indication of this necessary synergy is the involvement of Lagos State government in the Presidential Task Force to end the gridlock in the Apapa/Tin Can Island ports complex.
It is indeed sad that the bad condition of a road offers the unidentified operatives an opportunity to strike. Therefore, an essential first step by government is a policy of zero tolerance for potholes. Just as no construction company can cover the whole country effectively, it is impossible for the LSPWC to handle the construction and maintenance of all state and local government roads. The governor must compel the local government tier to work. As has been demonstrated by the administrator of an urban Council in Kampala, Uganda, repair of potholes in streets and state roads is a specialised minor engineering work best carried out by the tier of government closest to the people.
On the whole, the state of emergency covered by Sanwo-Olu’s first executive orders must be extended to cover other facets of living. Accordingly, there are questions being raised about the creeping penchant for executive orders, in national affairs. In governance, a directive by the president, a governor or local government chairman is a de facto executive order and need not be specially labeled as such. Where such a directive requires an enabling law, however, the role of the Legislature may not be by-passed – at all times. But it must be noted by people in authorities too that the power of an executive order is not in the text; it is in its execution for public good.