The Governor-elect of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, yesterday met with a group of journalists in Lagos to debunk, as fake news, a long list of promises which has been circulating on the social media.
There has been a long list of promises on the social media believed to have been made by you on solving, within six months, the many problems confronting Lagos. How do you respond to that list?
I saw the list, too. In Lagos, everybody is now a Sanwo-Olu. But the reality is that it’s just a wish list; it’s fake news. It’s not a bad thing in itself when people push you to achieve, but the truth is that you need to crawl before you walk. In our first quarter in office, we are hoping to have a working government running very quickly. We should be beginning to see huge solutions to traffic management, for instance. Also, in terms of areas where we need to improve on waste management solutions, we would be working on that. The Apapa traffic gridlock, I believe we have solved it but the sustainability is some of the things we need to do. We’ll also have to work around the civil service because all these things we are talking about, we need professionals who are in the civil service to work with. So in terms of capacity building and skills gap, we need to identify where the right professionals are in our civil service so we can utilise the right competences, the square pegs in square holes to work on all these solutions we are talking about. On power, within 90 days, I imagine we should have had a clear-cut policy working with the power distribution companies, the generating companies and all other key stakeholders on how we must ensure that Lagos is powered up very, very quickly.
How would you rate the progress of Lagos State in the 20 years of return to democracy?
I will say it’s been worth it, for us as progressives in Lagos and for residents of the state. If we want to be fair, today’s Lagos is not the Lagos we had 20 years ago. Lagos was not the fifth or sixth largest economy in Africa 20 years ago; neither did it have 23 million people. Lagos didn’t have a lot of what it has now, in health, in education, in infrastructure. Of course, we can say Lagos didn’t have a lot of traffic it has today and didn’t have lots of refuse. So, Lagos has grown to be one of the megacities in the world within that 20-year space.
Of course, that huge development has come with a lot of opportunities, as well as lots of challenges. But the progressive leaders have held their turf; they have done very well within the period. They’ve created wealth for a lot of Lagosians. They have built structures- bridges and extensive infrastructure, and have done a lot of work on education and health building schools and hospitals. There has been quality representation. When they started in 1999, the state was generating just a little over N600 million but now the state is generating billions of naira every month.
What are your plans for the SMEs in the state?
On my campaign trail, I met quite a number of very intelligent, young Nigerians, about six, seven thousands of them at various fora. One of the things we discussed we’d be looking at is the incubator centres we need to create for them; there will be clusters of incubator centres we can develop. The tech-up side, we’d begin to work on that.
On the ones that require financing and support, we’ll get the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund to quickly identify more beneficiaries to support them with grants or little loans so we can increase the numbers very quickly. There will be light industrial estates we need to revive. We will also need to work with the Central Bank because some of these things we discuss are beyond our control. The grants, the loans the Central Bank has been talking about, how well can they be accessible? The commercial banks will mention they want to be supporting SMEs, but how truly well are they going to be supporting them? These conversations must come from that angle.
If you have just a small corner tailoring outfit, it’d be difficult for me to say I’d be solving your immediate problem because your situation could just be power supply in your small shop. But we can pool that together to have a tailoring section in Obalende, for example. That’s the kind of innovation we’d do. We’d look for a place where they can share resources, maybe have about 300 tailors clustered there and we can develop a power solution for them as against developing for each person. On their own part, they must identify players in the same industry. Once they come together, it becomes easier for government to intervene for them collectively.
How do you intend to address infrastructure deficit?
Infrastructure is big- it’s roads, it’s power, it’s housing. On roads, there is so much of so little you can do during the rainy season. But you can do a lot of planning. You can also, when it rains, clear the drainages, remove what could block the manholes and fix potholes. During the rainy season, you need to be smart so you don’t waste materials.
On infrastructure, before the end of the year, the people will see our growth plan, in terms of which roads, which bridges we’d be completing within the next two, three years. We’ll be working a lot with the private sector on public-private participation so we can be using private equity, private funds to develop some of those competences in infrastructure.
How would you be transparent on budgeting and procurement?
The state government still publicises its budget year-on-year; we intend to continue with that. Beyond that, we intend to be doing what we call quarterly review of our budget performance so the people can ask us questions on the budget in the last three months: ‘You said you would this and that, why have you not done them? Is it because there is not enough money?’
In terms of transparency on procurement, we have a Procurement Law, we have a procurement agency. It’s for them to assess a bit more. Whatever needs to be published in terms of who gets what procurement, we’ll do it, if it’s not currently being done.
Business owners in Lagos complain a lot about multiple taxes. How would you give them succour?
There are no multiple taxes. It’s your perception. It’s a paradigm we need to change. It’s not true. There’s no tax that doesn’t have a law component to it. Taxation is a function of the law, so if the law is faulty let’s go back to it. Maybe you can talk about the people and how they collect taxes, which we need to work on. But then, that’s people, that’s culture. We need to correct the narrative.
Would you be giving priority to uncompleted projects the outgoing government began?
We’ve had several interactions with the government; we have a transition committee. We’ve seen documents. In terms of completion, yes, we will ensure we complete them and we will do that very well. There shouldn’t be any problem.
Every administrator has his style. What would be yours?
My style would be to be humble, transparent and accessible as much as possible. My administration would be engaging. I’d allow people to have their say. They may not necessarily have their way, but it’s an opinion, an idea, a suggestion you are putting on the table. If it’s not something in my view that Lagosians will benefit from, I’d give you reasons why it can’t be done.
I am a Yoruba man, we respect our elders. We’ll keep the cosmopolitan nature of Lagos going. It’s only if you don’t have any business in Lagos and you are constituting a security challenge here that you will not be my friend. My style will be to remain a governor for everybody.
Could you give us a peep into figures on the kind of treasury you would be inheriting?
I don’t have the numbers yet. As a finance person myself, we just have to be creative. Money will never be enough, but we can’t be giving money as an excuse not to perform.