Lagos Governor, Akinwumi, Ambode, said the state is on rapid progress to a greater height. He made this known in a session with some editors on his dream for a new Lagos. Excerpts:
In realising the new Lagos, there have been displacements and victims are saying you are not paying compensation. How do you intend to address this?
My politics is about the people and I understand it very well. If there is any administration that has been really humanitarian, I can pride myself to be one. There is nowhere I have ever gone on demolition in overriding public interest that I don’t try to compensate them even in areas without legal standing. As much as I want to regenerate Oshodi to be a fantastic place, I have paid almost N700million to the traders and people there and they don’t have legal occupancy. The land belongs to Lagos State and if I were to stay on legal standing, I should not pay anybody but again I have said I want to serve the people. I made up my mind that instead of dislocating them, I can re-arrange their mode of business and so I paid some of them like one year rent. You can go and check.
To be specific in Abule Egba, we have had to demolish houses and we are in the process of compensating them. But so many of them don’t really have papers but I have made up my mind that I would still compensate them anyway. Yes, we have brought development, we are going to improve on the economy in the area but I should not punish them unnecessarily. So, as we speak, we are in the process of paying them. Let them just be patient. But in every other place I have gone, we ensure that we give them something. The same thing is happening in Ojodu-Berger. I have had to buy back the petrol station to allow the pedestrian bridge to drop there and I had to pay the person that owns it. I paid the market and just to allow that pedestrian bridge to drop, I have paid about N150million in that place. But you know what, they also don’t have papers and that is a reflection of the kind of government I am running.
What is the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) all about?
I am a dreamer and i want the people to dream along with me. This is like a vision. I have been given the opportunity to process something and improve on it. That is the singular opportunity that this office bestows on me and I don’t want to misuse it. I have lived in this city for over 50 years. What i see is wrong, I don’t like it and i want to change it. I don’t like yellow buses, is it possible for me to change it? The answer is yes. I enter Lagos from Ibadan and the first thing I see on the right side is a dumpsite. Should I sit down and continue to watch? The answer is no. The city is very dirty. It is not healthy and our total well-being is defined by our health status and our productivity but the health status has been diminished by the state of what we have. Now, the first identification of this dream is that government must provide the infrastructure to make the city clean. Secondly, do I have the resources to keep a clean city? I don’t but how do I get the resources? Should I tax my people to death? The answer is no. Under the prevailing condition when the country is in a recession, can i go and meet them to say ‘pay me more to collect refuse?’ The answer is no. What then do we have as a government? We have about 150 rickety compactors and the private sector participants also have some compactors. We added everything together and mapped Lagos and findings showed that what we have is not enough. So, when what we have is not enough, people start to put refuse in the drains and, at the end of the day, government spends more public expenditure to clear the drains, spends more money to give free drugs in the hospitals to children and all that. So, government now thought of going frontally to face the issue of refuse to reduce public expenditure in those other sectors, and the first step was a review of the laws to make them investor-friendly so as to allow Public Private Partnership in the business of collecting refuse not only in Ikoyi but also in Ayobo. So, we have consolidated all our environmental laws and i also told myself that it is not by making people to sit down at home three hours once a month that would make the city clean. That is not competitive. They don’t do that in New York and so, we accepted that punishing people to stay at home for three hours in the name of sanitation would not clean the city. What this new law is trying to achieve is that we can invite private sector investment in the collection of refuse. What you have in Igando and Olusosun are not landfill sites, they are dumpsites. Land-fill sites are clinically engineered and treated but what you have in Olusosun and Igando are bombs waiting to explode and we cannot allow that to continue. So, the whole thing about the consortium is that can we divide refuse collection into different layers. The consortium coming will be collecting domestic refuse across the state. The existing PSP operators that really don’t have enough capital to carry out domestic refuse collection, we will make their business bankable and then push them to commercial refuse. So, they can go to the companies around and collect their money directly. With that, the PSP operators will be able to employ more people and be bankable because they can go to bank to say they have clientele so and so companies, this is the total revenue they give them in a month and so ‘can you give us this amount to buy new equipment?’ In this new arrangement, all the people need to do is just pay your public utility levy which is once a year and your refuse is collected 24/7. The template we are using is that in every ward, we will employ 100 street sweepers which translates to 27,500 people that will be kitted the same way all over the state. On our part, we will invest in equipment just like you see in London and say that we don’t want to ever see the streets dirty. And the design of the arrangement is this, the company is not paid except on the tonnage of the refuse collected and so it is in their best interest to collect more. So, it is a reform and when you have a reform, it comes with all forms of difficulties but the good thing is that we have started. The consortium will also have to provide us with new landfill sites and people will also start seeing a lot of changes on the transfer loading stations that we have around. The ultimate goal is to increase the GDP of Lagos. When I have a healthy people, they are likely to be more productive and productivity is about services and goods. So, if there are more people working day and night, government will get more tax from them and that is where we are going.
Can we get insight into your vision of feeding Lagos? Your government invested a lot on the Lake Rice initiative but what is the rationale behind government selling rice?
Let me tell you where I am coming from so that you understand me. The federal government decided to ban importation of rice and this has always been in the hands of the private sector to the extent that, when they give you the license and you are just able to produce a particular percentage here, you are given license to import more and i don’t understand that kind of license but the truth is the Lake Rice intervention was about standing up for leadership in the interest of the people. If you are driving a policy and you cannot drive it by example, your policy will never work. It was a wake-up call. People will see more of the Lake Rice. We are going to have our own mill. I don’t want to be a rice seller but I can be a catalyst to drive a policy to be effective and immediately we made our pronouncement, the price of rice crashed. That is governance.
How far have you gone on education? Your government promised free meal for pupils of primary schools but nothing is happening in that direction.
If there is anything I have not done properly in the last 22 months, maybe it is the issue of A-Meal-A-Day. Yes, it was in our manifesto but in practical terms, we are still on it. The number of students in Lagos and the budgetary provision also do not really match for us to start. I don’t like a situation whereby we come out for two to three months and then stop. I like to sustain it when we start and don’t forget also that the project is a combination of resources from the federal in partnership with state governments. So, obviously, in terms of provisions and resources, we in Lagos think we should have a long drawn sustainable plan and that is why we have not started it. What i can assure the people is that we are working on it.
Still on schools, many of the infrastructures in public schools in the State are in dilapidated conditions. What are you doing to reverse this trend?
I did a study last year and it has to do with rehabilitation of schools and also provision of schools in the riverine areas. The result showed that we need about N60billion to put our schools together. But we started the massive rehabilitation of our schools last year and you can go round to confirm. We expended about N10billion trying to put the worst set of schools back in place. This year, a major intervention is also going to take place from our budget to see that the existing schools compete favourably with the private sector schools.
Lagos is surrounded by water but pipe borne water is a problem in the state. What is your government doing about it?
If there is any sector that we have actually not been too impactful, I would say it is the water sector. What Lagos requires right now is 700million gallons per day of water. But the capacity that Lagos has is 210 million per day. So, there is a deficit of about 500 million gallons per day. But the investment in the water sector in the last 50 years is the result of the deficit we have now. But, what we have tried to do in the last 20 months is to see that even the ones that we say are our mini-water works and major water works should be working hundred per cent efficiently. In addition to that, we are doing a new major water works in Adiyan but the ultimate solution is the same thing that i have applied in other sectors which is to invite private sector participation in water solution.
Is it true that there is a plan to start to tax people for sinking of bore holes?
It is not true. If i have my way, i don’t even want people to dig bore holes anymore because the accumulation of those bore holes altogether put Lagos in danger. If we provide water, people don’t need to dig bore holes and that is why we want to accelerate private sector participation in the provision of water to solve that problem.
What are your plans for security surveillance on the waterways?
That is one area that we are focused on right now. We have improved on land and we have been able to secure the city properly but the issue of waterways, we are applying technology and i can tell you that we are investing heavily on our waterways.