Saturday, April 2, 2016 12:42 pm
Mr 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.
The 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.
You 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.
When 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.