INTERVIEW: How Ambode Tackles Lagos Mega Challenges – Steve Ayorinde

imageMr Steve Ayorinde is the Lagos State Commissioner for Information. In this interview with TheNEWS and PM NEWS he narrates how Governor Akinwumi Ambode has been coping with the challenges of Lagos, a mega city.

Q: During the last administration of Fashola, it had 10-point agenda, how many point agenda does the administration have?

A: This administration has chosen not to sloganeer, our intention is to hit the ground running and get the job done. That is not to say that there are no specific agenda that we are following. There are two ways to look at that, the first component is drawn on the fact that His Excellency has said this administration would rest on a tripod and if you look at what we have been doing in the last 10 months, you will see that everything, more or less, formed round that tripod, which is the security of lives and properties in the state, infrastructural development and job and wealth creation which cuts across every other aspects. That is the first component.

The other component is to continue with the developmental focus of the last administration. You will recall that when Governor Ambode won the election, his predecessor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, handed over the Lagos Development Plan to him-2012-2025. You will see from the development plan that there is really no government that will want to rule Lagos successfully that will deviate from the developmental plan. There is the economic component of it, that is the economic development plan, environmental sustainability, infrastructural development and the issue of security.

Whether you look at it from the Lagos Development Plan 2012-2025, if you look at it from the tripod, you will see that this administration has embedded them in the tripod. You will see that certain things are recurrent-security, social infrastructure and job and wealth creation.

How has the N4.7 billion security equipment launched by the governor last year helped in the war against crime?
This has been the biggest ever single donation by any state government in history in spite of the fact that the Security Trust Fund, STF, has been one of the signature tunes of Lagos State. You see that what we did last November was to add to the layer and to say that the time we are in now requires bold and courageous effort in tackling the issue of security and we can say without contradiction that it has been one singular game-changer in Lagos State. You will see that from November to March, we can confidently say that since we made that huge donation of asset to the police, as his Excellency had said recently, that crime rate in the state has reduced by 65 per cent. It means that we should be glad because in spite of the influx into Lagos and the challenges, people still flock into Lagos.

The reason is obvious. About 27 states, out of the 36, if you recall last year, had to rely on the bailout package of the Federal Government. A good number of states are still struggling, the same way that a good number of countries all over the world as a result of the crash in oil prices and the general austerity measures. So, you will see that travelling abroad for greener pasture, particularly for those who are not qualified, the incentive to travel abroad is no longer there; as a matter of fact, people are trying to return home and therefore, in a country like Nigeria where you can count the number of states that are really functioning very well financially speaking on one arm, you see that Lagos becomes the destination of choice for everybody and you find all kinds of people coming to Lagos to try and eke out a living for themselves, it will put a lot of pressure on the infrastructure and on our security. But we are glad that that singular effort we made in November has yielded fruit. To ensure that we will not keep our eyes off the board, every month is our security meeting chaired by His Excellency at the State House and the entire leadership of security bodies in Lagos State are always present.

imageThe Commissioner of Police, RRS and others are involve reviewing how those equipment we donated are being utilized; reviewing the welfare package that came with that N4.8 billion. So we are happy; we have done our best and we have seen that the police and the RRS are living up to their billings because they recalled what His Excellency said during the commissioning of the equipment that the state will no longer take excuse from the police for not delivering and don’t forget that policing is a federal responsibility; all we have done is to assist them.

Last month, there were kidnapping, Mile 12 crisis and collapse building which killed 34 people in Lagos, can you say this period has been the most challenging since Governor Ambode took over power?
I will describe the last three weeks as eventful. Lagos compares as a mega city with its peers. If you go to Mumbai, Bangkok, Rio, Malaysia or New York, London or Paris, you will see that the whole point of being a mega city is that you have challenges to attend to on a daily basis. Those weeks were eventful, but how do you measure a state that is responsive and responsible? It is in how you are able to tackle the challenges that come your way.

You said collapsed building, if you add the one that happened in Mile 12 few days ago to it, just a balcony, I will says that it is just two structures. The Mile 12 building is old and you see how prompt our people were in moving there. If you remove that, the Lekki one was particularly disheartening, disheartening because we can understand dealing with old structures that are more than 10 to 20 years old when no oversight functions are as strict like we have it now, but when a building in highbrow area, from a developer that is very popular, one will feel very sad that it had to happen, but we saw what this government did, we rose to the occasion and dealt with it.
The first thing we did was to demonstrate that this government is able to respond in good time and salvage the situation. We deployed the full armoury of Lagos State machinery, every agency that needed to be there was there in good time rescuing people and trying to save lives. Beyond that, what we did was to quickly arrest the situation; first to say that it would be in the interest of the developer and the owners of Lekki Gardens to hand over themselves to the police. Even almost before we finished that, the police had swung into action and they had arrested the two key people there. It was not the Lagos State Government that arrested them, they went to court and got a remand order for 30 days so that they could properly investigate what had happened.

That is on the side of the police, what we have done was to say that we will not continue to blame outsiders, but to also look inward and deal with the issues inwardly. Immediately, a committee was constituted to look at what might have happened and it turned out that there were transgressions so to speak and that some people were not diligent enough and we saw that there was compromise and His Excellency dealt with the situation, he fired four key people, including the General Manager of the Building Control Agency that ought to have been more attentive to their duties.

In addition to that, you saw that His Excellency constituted a committee that will look into this sort of things so that we can add more to our effort in ensuring that similar misdemeanour does not happen again. That is ongoing, we will prosecute the case at an appropriate time to a logical conclusion while we are also dealing with the infraction we might have noticed inside. That is the only way we believe we can send proper message to the outsiders that we will not tolerate anybody toying with the security of lives and properties in Lagos State, that we will enforce the laws that are already there as long as building of structures are concerned and you will see that that is being done.

imageYou said kidnapping, six days before they were rescued, you saw the governor announcing to the whole world that this state has the capacity to go after crime and criminality and that we will find the girls and go after the criminals wherever they might be and precisely six days, God helped us to deliver on our promise to Lagosians, not only did we find the girls and rescued them in one place, we have also as of today arrested six of the kidnappers and we are dealing with the situations. What that shows is that we have a chief security officer who is alive to his responsibility who is able to galvanise all the security agencies in the state and their headship to say that this state belongs to us and not to criminals, vandals and kidnappers.

The other thing you mentioned is the Mile 12 crisis. This is not the first time this will be happening, it is just that the one that happened last month bore all the appurtenances of things you will experience in a city that is populated by all the tribes in Nigeria. Again, it reminded us of the undesirability of having commercial motorcycles in a mega city like Lagos. We were able to trace what happened to the fact that an okada rider had an accident with a pregnant woman and he refused to attend to her and take her to the hospital claiming that those who have been collecting levies from him should take her to the hospital. Unfortunately, this degenerated into fracas which had a bit of ethnic undertone.

Again, what we did was to say let the police do that which was necessary and they moved in immediately to calm the situation and made more than 50 arrests and a good number of them will be prosecuted. What we also did was that while tension was high, we shut down the market so that we looked at the direct causes and remote causes of the problem. We held meetings with the stakeholders. The stakeholders have since met with the Oba of Lagos and then another meeting with security agents and government officials and our resolutions were that based on what they recommended, three things were arrived at.

The first one was that ultimately, the market will have to move; you will see that the Lagos State House of Assembly also agreed with that proposition, considering the urban renewal challenge in that area of Lagos, it might be necessary to revisit the proposition of 2004 when it was suggested that it was high time the market moved away from that area. Everybody is now on the same page that the market has to move but before the market moved, the stakeholders recommended that to bring a lasting peace there, it might be necessary to consider restricting okada operations in the area totally and that is the proposition that the government is considering favourably. Also we considered clearing off all the shanties. There is a particularly notorious area there called ‘down-below.’ It is a shanty and we recognized that the police is in the process of clearing that now so that we don’t have people hiding where they are not supposed to be and wreaking havoc on the citizens.

In all, we have a responsible government that was able to turn the tide to show the citizens and the entire world that in all the three cases, we can be on top of the game and that this is the Lagos style, let everybody copy us. The market has now been opened. As for the collapse, government is carrying out integrity test on the buildings owned by Lekki Gardens to know that we are not sitting on a keg of gunpowder.

What has been government’s motivation in the light up Lagos project?

This is a major signature project for the state and we are motivated by the fact that we will not accept the appellation that Africa is a dark continent. We know that when you travel to all the mega cities I have mentioned earlier, especially when you travel at night, one of the things that will draw you to such cities is the fact that as soon as you approach the runway, you will see the expanse of land well lit up by street lights. That should be the standard features of a 21st century city, not to talk of a mega city. Therefore, the governor thought it that Ikeja is the capital city of Lagos and the International Airport stretches to Oshodi and others, but it is actually in Ikeja. He said to himself that he wanted to make Ikeja a true capital of Lagos. You see the demonstration of what he did by moving to the government house which his predecessor built, thereby becoming the first Lagos State Governor to actually live in Ikeja where he works. He felt that he needed to live by example.

Therefore, the issue of Light Up Project, starting from Ikeja became necessary and because he lives there. In fulfilment of his campaign promises that security will be paramount, there is no way you will invest so much as we have done without adding to a layer of it in a structural and societal manner and one key way to do that is to say that we don’t want the headlamp of the more than 150 vehicles donated to the police to be what will light up the area when they are going after armed robbers; let the whole place be well lit. Apart from the fact that the place is lit up, it is welcoming to visitors and tourists, it assists the police and people living in the state. It is a multi-facetted kind of reasoning.

We also realized that if you are very prudent and you are very attentive to details as the governor is, you will realize that as a matter of fact, you won’t spend that outstanding amount of money, you can get it done with a tidy sum; that is why we said we should not limit it to the metropolis-VI, Ikoyi and others, it should go all over and everywhere, including the roads that are known to be federal roads. You saw that we devoted a good chunk of money and time in re-fixing all the light on Third Mainland Bridge which is a federal road. So, what we are saying now is that if you are moving all the way from Victoria Island, to Ikoyi, to Third Mainland Bridge, down to Ogudu, to Alapere and all the way to Berger, you can have smooth and fantastic ride from say 7.00pm to 7.00am the next morning because everywhere will be well lit up.

We are also saying that to move into Ikeja, to Agege, Agindingbi, CBD areas, we are now going towards Oshodi, we are saying, let us light up Lagos. It is a project that is after our heart, it is a project that the governor is very much involved in and being driven by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. We believe that in a good time, particularly, few months when Lagos State will be celebrating 50 years of its existence as a state, by that time, it will be obvious to people that we have a governor in Lagos State who by that time we can conveniently say he is the man who succeeded in lighting up the world’s biggest black metropolis because the largest concentration of blacks all over the world in a metropolis is in Lagos.

imageWhen the LG funds were seized by the then president, Ambode was central to the template that gave birth to the LIRS and a new template that now grew the IGR of Lagos from N600 million to N6 billion, to N10 billion and a lot beyond. If he could do that as Accountant General, how much more he could do now as the man in the saddle. With what he has been doing so far, it is clear that this man knows how to manage resources.

What is the source of powering the lights?

We are using generator largely at the moment but we are moving every of them to IPP in good time. You will recall that one of the good things that Fashola did was to put the government establishments under IPP and that is where we are going.

Ikorodu has been a den of criminals and oil vandals for long, what plan does this administration have to tackle this menace?

The kidnapping thing happened in Ikorodu and we succeeded in dealing with it. Like any part of Lagos, there will be issues of crime and criminality at that time. As soon as such challenges arise, what we do as a government is to deal with it appropriately. You recall the so called one million boys cropped up in Badagry and what we have to do was to move in and deal with the situation. Yes, I agree with you that around the middle of last year, there were major issues concerning miscreants so much so that the governor had to speak with the FG to release its support to bring down the crime level. So, if it becomes necessary, if we need to call on the FG, we will do. Police is a federal agency, if we need, we won’t shy away from calling their attention to help us. Lagos, ordinarily ought to get more support considering that fact that it is the largest. About 65 percent of VAT is generated in Lagos, so we cannot afford to toil with Lagos.

We are more than capable in tackling Ikorodu challenges. Don’t forget that few weeks before the kidnap; the governor actually visited a few LCDAs in Ikorodu, particularly as it affected the activities of pipeline vandals, read the riot act to them to say that Lagos will no longer fold its arm and that we will do all things possible to deal with the situation, it was there he also promised that one of the things that was needed was to open up the area from Ikorodu leading to Arepo in Ogun State and he did promise that there will be a connecting bridge to be funded by Lagos State in conjunction with Ogun State and NNPC to open up that place. When you have a proactive governor looking forward, evil will necessary try to fight back. Our job as a government that is responsible is that we will not allow them.

But that is not the only thing we see in Ikorodu. For example, you will see a demonstrable evidence of good transportation system, with the expansion of the BRT corridor and the information at our disposal now is that at least a minimum of 15 per cent of people plying Ikorodu and Lagos Island have chosen to be dropping their vehicles because of the efficiency of the BRT. The new BRT we have introduced, about 400 has air condition and have facility for physically challenged people.

Issue of gridlock is a problem in Lagos State and people have been complaining, how is the government tackling this?

You will see that the complaint has reduced in the last six to seven months. The complaints were high last year during the rains, particularly around September. What is important is that we should be mindful of the situation. Lagos is the smallest in Nigeria in terms of landmass but the most populated. Not only the smallest, as small as it is, 23 percent is landmass while the remaining 70 percent is water. Therefore, that naturally will create a major urban renewal challenge. How many skyscrapers do we have here? Everybody wants to own a house and a car, therefore, that expectedly will put a lot of pressure on the road. Lagos is also below sea level, any small rain means that water will overflow and slow down traffic. If the roads happens to be bad, it means you have almost all the forces conspiring against you. So, what we have done is to have a traffic summit to take a holistic look and confront the challenges and find ways to deal with them one by one.

We said okay, what we need to do is to get traffic moving. If there is no slowing down, you will see that, yes, the trail of traffic will be long as you see in all the mega cities of the world, even in cities where there are alternative transportation system. Go to London that has had underground for almost 130 years. During rush hours, even inside the tube, three, four, five tubes will pass and you will not be able to enter. You know that the congestion rate in Central London is something that will discourage you from going with your car. The challenge in Brazil was so huge that in Rio and Brasilia at a time that the Brazilians now opted for helicopter taxis so much that today you have more than 400 helicopters taxi complex running helicopter shuttle. We are not there yet, if you check the list of 10 cities with the worst traffic, Lagos is not there; you have in Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand, Jarkata, Mumbai. I have been to Mumbai before, I used to think we drive rough in Lagos but in Mumbai, your heart will be in your mount and God helps you when the rush hours start.

Does that exclude Lagos? No it doesn’t, but it helps in having a broad view of how mega cities work. Your question was specific. Those things are there but what are we trying to do? We want to be efficient in fixing roads and let us take it holistically, in the last 10 months, we have empowered the Public Works Corporation to say that you’ve got nothing else to be doing rather than fixing roads, rehabilitating and repairing roads. Nothing less than 350 major roads in the last 10 months have been fixed. We are going commission Queen’s Drive in about two weeks, go to Acme, go to Ile Epo, go to CBD. Go to Brown Streets, go to Ago Palace Way; all these roads have been spoilt over time and then you have a government that says just give me time, I will fix them. Look at Ayobo Ipaja Road, look all over you, there is no major areas that we have not touched, Epe is witnessing for the first time a deluge of road rehabilitation and we didn’t say it will rest with PWC, even the Ministry of Works is busy working on major roads, we are working on Freedom Road and at the same time, we are working on two major flyovers to deal with the Ajah and Abule Egba traffic, these are all in one year.

imageAnd then we added a layer to road construction. We are saying that there are more than 9,000 roads in Lagos State and about 6,000 of them belong to the local government and therefore for you to actually let people feel the impact of what you are doing, you must do more of the interior roads and then we called the Executive Secretaries, 57 of them to say that it is show time, we need to work and Lagos State Government will support you, we say that every year we will pick some roads, which is again speaking about the governor’s promises that in addition to what Ministry of Works and PWC are doing, each LG and LCDAs in Lagos must pick two roads each year and fix them, we will give you 30 percent of mobilization and we will set you up and then you set to work and that is N75.5 billion for 114 inner roads. The inner roads will have the same template, all will be with street lights, standard drainages, walkways. On roads alone, that can guarantee that traffic will improve substantially.
This is a major signature project for the state and we are motivated by the fact that we will not accept the appellation that Africa is a dark continent. We know that when you travel to all the mega cities I have mentioned earlier, especially when you travel at night, one of the things that will draw you to such cities is the fact that as soon as you approach the runway, you will see the expanse of land well lit up by street lights. That should be the standard features of a 21st century city, not to talk of a mega city.

We are also working on waterways, and you have seen what we are doing, yes, there will always be little challenges at the teething stage but we are saying that yes we are doing less than 300,000 people being moved on water daily, we are saying that with the policies we are putting in place like life jackets and building more jetties and encouraging more investors and we are channelizing the waterways and by this time next year, we hope to move one million people through the waterways daily. By December, we would have added a layer to it, we would have completed the Blue Light Rail System. We will be moving about 400,000 people in the first instance by rail daily. So if you have half a million people on daily basis by rail and a million people by water daily, BRT expanded to reduce dependence on vehicles by 25 percent, it means we would have succeeded in decongesting the roads. The whole concept of what we trying to do is to say that Lagos can be a smart city. Smart cities runs using technology, being digital; that is part of what the governor is concern about. We are saying give us a little time and by the time we celebrae out 50th anniversary next year, people will be glad that this administration has done much.

Many States are owing salaries and Lagos is still paying despite economic hardship, how sustainable is this?

It all has to do with management, indeed, it is sustainable, and when we talk about sustainability, we don’t want to talk about the fact that Lagos can be an oil producing nation. When I mention it to people, they said don’t go that way because anywhere there is oil, troubles always follows. Great cities runs on IGR and taxes and levies are major components of IGR and you will see what we have done with our budget of 2016. At least, 70 percent of our revenue for this year is expected to come from IGR, 70 percent of that 70 percent projection will come from taxes alone. You know taxes are not the only thing when it comes to IGR, there are others. This means that with or without the federal allocation, if Lagos cuts its coat according to its size, we can be okay. It is not so much about the money coming in but the management of the resources and we are glad that the person we have at the helm of affairs happened to be one of the people who designed and executed the plan that Lagos needed to and could survive on its IGR; I am talking about Governor Akinwunmi Ambode who at that time with the former Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is the architect of the super modern Lagos we have today, Ambode was the Accountant General.

When the LG funds were seized by the then president, Ambode was central to the template that gave birth to the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) and a new template that now grew the IGR of Lagos from N600 million to N6 billion, to N10 billion and a lot beyond. If he could do that as Accountant General, how much more he could do now as the man in the saddle. With what he has been doing so far, it is clear that this man knows how to manage resources. The first thing he did when he became the governor was to look at the book and you know the advantage that he had, apart from being an accountant, he was an accountant who was in the system and was also the Auditor General.

He knows what he is doing and understands the system. He said there is no state that is worth its salt that won’t borrow money but borrow sensibly and apply the loan sensibly, so when he became governor, he looked at the books, especially our exposure to Commercial Banks and he said we could do a little better. Thank God everybody is talking about TSA. What he did was to consolidate the loans in commercial banks into one single pool and he said to the banks, you will deal with our loans because we concentrate everything here because of TSA. However, if you are going to have all these things with you, I believe we can do things better in terms of the percentage we pay on the loans. He succeeded in negotiating a crash from the 18, 19 percent that Lagos State was paying on the exposure to about 12 percent. Guess what that amounts to, it means that every month, rather paying about N5 billion we were paying before, now we do less than two billion, which explains the N3 billion that we said we have been saving everything month. We have had since that time extra N3 billion that we would have been paying to the banks, we have freed such money and diverted them to infrastructure, to institute the Employment Trust Fund of N25 billion.

We have paid the first tranche of N6.3 billion which the committee will now have course to dispense judiciously to those start-up businesses to those young people that can employ on their own between two to five people all over the state. The only requirement is that you must be a resident of Lagos, have a LASRRA card and have an idea that can translate N100,000 into N200,000. Those are the people who can’t go to the bank to ask for money without collateral. The N25 billion will cater for the people. If we throw out of N6.3 billion every year, if we throw N1 billion each to the five division of Lagos, that is only N5 billion out of the N6.3 billion. Really, if people know that they can have access to a million loan that won’t strangulate them, how many people will want to remain area boys, or will want to remain as a prostitute; we are creating opportunities. That is because there are no such opportunities, we are able to create such opportunities because we have a governor who understand finance, business and how to make and double money.

Is it sustainable that the Lagos State Government will be doing 70 percent of its revenue without going to Abuja? I believe it is if you know our medium term plan, you will see that it is possible. What is the good of Lagos State? It is land, we can do a whole lots of Agriculture; it is not just about tax alone. The governor created an office on Food Security with a special adviser to head it and he said, if we had the kind of Mile 12 situation being shut, what if the market was shut for two months, can we survive or if there is no food coming into Lagos, can we survive. Our research has shown that for us to survive, there is need for food security. Lagos will be self-sustaining in the area of food security, by way of incentives we are giving to people in fish farming, aquaculture and so on; we have no doubt, if you look at the success rate we have recorded this year, because there is a change in attitude and somebody who understands economy, the LIRS made N24.5 billion in January this year alone. This represents all time high in the last 10 years.

This is happening in a year the doom sayers are saying will be the worst in history. What has happened? People asked us, did anything changed? No, it is the mental preparation that changed. This is why you need to pay your taxes, we recorded in December/January this year 95 percent compliance in terms of people filing their annual returns to LIRS because we communicated to them effectively.

When will Lagosians start benefitting from the Employment Trust Fund?

The benefit will start rolling in before we celebrate the first anniversary. Other things are ready. The House of Assembly is ready, the committee is ready, the money is there and in a matter of weeks you will see for yourself.

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