‘As governor I intend to work with young people’
In this final interview with journalists as he rounds off his electioneering campaign, gubernatorial candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Babajide Sanwo-Olu, outlines his agenda if elected governor of Lagos State as well as his relationship with the Federal Government. Assistant Politics Editor, LEO SOBECHI, reports
What would you deem your most crucial challenge if you win the election?
It’s to get a lot of Lagosians out of poverty. I’m going to do that with my project team, by ensuring that we push more funds into education, health and social services. Currently, we do about eight per cent budgetary allocation to education. We will see how we can push it up to about 15 percent in the next four years. Same with health, too; we need to cover a lot of the vulnerable and poorest of the poor Lagosians under our Health Insurance Scheme. I believe that if we do well in education and health we will be guaranteeing the future of our children and Lagos State.
Did you enter into any bargain to serve just for one term?
I didn’t sign any deal with anyone. It is also important to say that it is only four years that is in INEC form. It’s Lagosians that will determine whether it would be renewed. There’s certainly no deal anywhere. The only deal that I will be having will be with Lagosians.
Do you think you can win this election and do you fall into the bracket of ‘Not-Too-Young-To-Run?
I know I will win. But I don’t fall within that bracket. There are lots of young people in their 30s and early 40s, who also want to do this. They seem to be saying anyone above 40 is too old to be governor or president. There is a lot of technological revolution going on out there and the younger people are pushing the boundaries. They have talent and energy, which we must convert for the good of the state and the country. As governor, I will tap into this and work with young people, especially those of them in technology, entertainment, and sports.
Do you think the process that threw you up would not hurt your chances?
Absolutely! This is because I earned it. I won an open primary election. Party members freely chose the flag bearer of their choice. The party in Lagos and at the highest level provided an opportunity through direct primaries for states and aspirants in various elective posts to emerge. The party in Lagos followed the guidelines as provided for by the National Working Committee of APC. It was open, free, fair and transparent primary election that brought me out as the candidate. The party members are happy that they had a say in who is their candidate. The good thing now is we have united the party members across all the divides behind a common goal and objective, which is to win the election on Saturday and to also win all our House of Assembly seats in Lagos.
Some people believe Governor Akinwunmi Ambode should have been given right of first refusal, but …
Yes, as a sitting governor he has the right to seek re-election just like any party member cannot be banned from aspiring to same office. The governor exercised his right. What happened was that people usually say candidates are hand picked, but in this case, the party decided to throw the contest open. The party said every card-carrying member must have a say; so we went through a direct primary. It has not been done since 1992. So, over one million people voted and I got the highest number of votes.
So, can you say your emergence was fair? Again, would you be your own man?
Very well. Yes, it was fair. At 53? Certainly, I am and I will be my own man as governor. I appreciate all the support and endorsements of the party structure. I also think that happened because they know me; they know what I have done, my contribution in government, out of government and all the various things that I’ve done. That’s why they’re supporting me.
This same question ‘if I will be my own man’ is a reference to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is our leader. It is important to say that Asiwaju has never had any negative influence on his two successors. He is always particular about the development of Lagos. If anything else, he pushes us to be better than what we have done in Lagos. He is my leader and a father-figure. I will be lying if I say I will not take advice from him. I will seek his wise counsel and guidance, just like I will take advice from Alhaji Lateef Jakande and anyone, who has had the privilege of leading the state from when Lagos was created 52 years ago. They all have rich experiences on the leadership and governance of the state. They say experience is the best teacher.
Your main rival, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, has based his campaign on ‘freedom.’ Do you think that Lagos is being remotely controlled and needs to be freed from a godfather?
Nobody is in bondage in Lagos. This man you’re talking about comes out every four years to contest as governor, yet he talks about freedom. Let me ask, ‘where was Mr. Jimi Agbaje was when his party, People’s Democratic Party, held Lagos State’s revenue for over two years?’ So, there was no cry of freedom in Lagos when PDP-led Federal Government failed to grant approvals for developmental projects. There was no cry of freedom when Lagos had issues with securing the right of way for Redline rail project from Agbado to CMS for six years and PDP refused to grant it. There was no cry of Freedom when Lagos was agitating for a special status for 16 years. But Agbaje is suddenly talking about freedom for a Lagos that has grown from borrowing money to pay salary in 1999 to the fifth largest economy in Africa. That’s unfair for the state and its people.
Is Lagos working?
Yes, it is working, but it can do better and faster, given the dynamics of where it was before now. That is why my running mate, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, and I are in this race to take the state to a greater level. We both have the credentials and the experience to make the state work better and smarter. We were part of the foundational work that started with Asiwaju Tinubu in 1999, through the Fashola administration that raised the bar in public administration.
If you win, what would be your disposition in terms of relating with the Federal Government?
You need the Federal Government to do a lot of things. Many things we need to quickly get out of the way. We need to work with them in certain areas like right of ways for rail, waterways, power, abandoned properties, etc. For example, when our government wanted to start a rail project, the PDP-led Federal Government refused to give us right of way on the Red Line, which would have enabled us lay rail track from Iddo to Alagbado axis of the state for mass transit. And because they refused, we had to do the Blue Line, which is a lot more expensive.
If the PDP-led Federal government had allowed us, we would have completed the rail project a long time ago and transportation challenges would have been better for commuters in the state. Also, we’ve had problems securing approvals to build jetties. The PDP-led FG refused to give us permit to build jetties for our people. Thankfully, the APC-led Federal Government of President Buhari has given us approval for the Red Line and we hope to work better with the FG in some other areas like housing. The Federal Government is also intervening in major road projects in the state already like the Sagamu-Ikorodu that has been abandoned for 40 years, the Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonsoki road which has been awarded to AG Dangote. The Agbara to Seme Border end of the Badagry-Seme Border Expressway has also been awarded by the Federal Government.
For many years, too, Lagos wanted to fix the International Airport Road up to Oshodi for redevelopment and the PDP Federal Government refused to give approval. Again that road is being paved now by the state government though it’s a federal road. The Federal Government has also given the State House in Marina to Lagos State. Already, the state is enjoying the benefits of being in the same party as the government at the centre. Imagine the Federal Government issuing certificates of occupancy and granting planning approvals on our land from Abuja without any recourse to us? These are some of the areas of collaboration that we need to explore with the Federal Government. I believe working together we will do a lot better for the benefit of every Lagosian, because at the end of the day, it is the people that matter.
You talk about your projection for Lagos State. What do you think helped President Muhammadu Buhari to win re-election?
I am very happy like every party man. Winning the presidential election is the ultimate prize for any political party. Like the president won his election, I’m certain we will win our elections in Lagos, too. President Buhari and our party deserved to win. In the last three and half years of his administration, he has lived up to his electoral promises. Recall that he promised to fix insecurity, tackle corruption and revamp the country’s ailing economy.
You know that our economy actually went into accession for over a year and we’re coming out of it. We’ve seen the numbers; we are growing, although you may want to argue that we’re not growing as fast as we should. We are beginning to do a whole lot in agriculture. For example, Nigerian farmers are doing a lot in rice production, which has given rise to partnerships between states such as Lagos and Kebbi. The figures have shown a major decline in rice importation into Nigeria. This is how the economy grows and certainly how it becomes sustainable.
The government did a lot on security and other areas of life and this is why I believe that Nigerians did the right thing by giving the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration a chance to continue for a second term so that they can wrap up all of the good initiatives they started in power, transportation, rail, roads, job creation, housing, youth empowerment, ease of doing business and national competitiveness.
Does the average Lagos voter understand that language as he votes in the governorship election?
I believe so. I believe that as politicians and even you as journalists should educate the people. We should tell them rightly that all of these are what will revamp the economy and bring back the jobs. We have seen real development in critical infrastructure. We have seen Ajaokuta-Itakpe-Warri rail which had been abandoned since 1987; the Lagos to Kano rail project where the Lagos-Ibadan leg is almost completed. We have seen the airports being completed in Port Harcourt and Abuja. The Abuja Light Rail project, among others, is massive project that helps the economy to grow. We cannot have a productive economy without critical infrastructure. So, the country is moving in the right direction.
Do you think that Nigerians trust your party?
I believe they do, because the president has honestly told us that if anything at all, he will never steal our money. What Nigerians should ask for are quicker and faster interventions where necessary. That President Muhammadu Buhari is a man of integrity is enough for me because that is what all other things are built upon. That’s what I also stand for. So, what we need to see from now is for the jobs to go up, the economy revitalized and wrap up a whole lot more. Take a look at ‘Ease of Doing Business’; Nigeria has never had it so good. The Buhari administration has removed a whole lot of red tapes that hitherto hindered business growth. We’ve gone through a phase where the stock market crashed. Thankfully, it is coming back. The power sector reform is yielding dividends and, in no time, I believe that Nigerians will be the best for it.
Are there indicators that Nigeria will get better in President Buhari’s second term?
I just explained to you that he has delivered on his electoral promises in his first term that will end in May. He will only consolidate on his achievements in his second term. The things he promised in his first term and the things he has been able to achieve are all evident out there. I have explained what he has done in the area of transportation and agriculture. Those are two major areas that throw up a lot of job opportunities for the teeming youth, not like the PDP and its candidate who were merely giving rhetoric, saying that they were going to create three million jobs… From where and how will they do it? Don’t forget that they were there for 16 years, yet they couldn’t do it and coming out of recession, they want to do it. We went for a commissioning of transmission line substation in Ilashe riverine area of Lagos a few weeks ago. Do you know that the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) revealed that it has commissioned more sub-stations in the three years of Buhari’s administration than in 16 years of PDP rule in Nigeria? And the regime spent over $16 billion in power without anything to show for it. This is a huge revelation as far as I’m concerned.
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