In this interview, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, spoke on topical issues affecting the state, including how they are dealing with traffic robbers, congestion and the efforts they are making to rebuild the city in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, among other issues.
Lagosians struggle with traffic congestion on a daily basis, what is the government doing to fix this?
The government realises what the people are going through. We go through the same traffic situation as well. You know that the governor doesn’t use sirens, so he was in traffic yesterday. It is a situation we cannot help immediately because the federal government wants to finish work on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway as early as possible. They also want to finish work on the one in Oworonshoki.
Traffic robbery is another ill in the state; how is the government synergising with relevant security agencies to tackle this?
It is not just about traffic robbery; we are talking about security generally in Lagos. Recently, the governor invited the president to hand over equipment to security agencies.
The police have been arresting and parading suspects, but you can’t do that again because the House of Assembly has passed a law against that practice.
Traffic robbery has gone down. There is no state of this size that will not have cases of robbery. The government is doing everything in conjunction with security agencies to see that we don’t have such a terrible situation in Lagos, which is seen by many to be the safest state in Nigeria now. That’s why you see that Lagos is flooded by people from other states and West African countries every day. They see the state as a land of opportunities.
The state seems to be having difficult times with commercial motorcycle (okada) operators. When is the government going to implement the decisions reached at the recent stakeholders’ meeting on security?
We have stated clearly that commercial motorcycle operation is not part of the greater Lagos journey we have embarked on. It is not part of the 21st century economy we are trying to build in Lagos.
We never said we were banning okada; we said we were restricting them from some roads.
We have about 10,000 roads in Lagos but we have restricted commercial motorcycles from about 450 or 470. Those ones you see fighting the taskforce are the ones who are insisting on plying all these roads and using their bikes for criminal activities. They are the ones who insist on riding against traffic. That is why the taskforce is after them.
Going by the recent stakeholders’ meeting on security, majority of Lagosians said they didn’t want commercial motorcycles in Lagos because they are a pain in the neck. For example, they cause a lot of accidents and use the bikes to commit a lot of crimes.
Some people have also asked for an alternative; and that is why the governor launched what we call first and last mile buses, which are meant to go to where okada people are going now. They can pick people around their homes and bring them to the nearest bus stop.
The plan is to have 5,000 of such buses, but for now, we have 500. The buses are going to be assembled here in Lagos. And very soon, we are going to have Eko-cab that would be assembled in Lagos.
I have told you what we are doing on waterways and the rail that is coming up. When all these come into play, I don’t see how okada can be a means of transportation, unless for people who don’t value their lives and those who want to use it for criminal activities.
For people who are asking what the okada people would be doing, there are opportunities to own or drive some of the buses mentioned earlier. All they need to do is join a cooperative and apply to the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). The company will give them the buses after collecting 20 per cent of the cost. They will be monitored to pay back the loans. This way, nobody will be unemployed.
Also, we have so many opportunities in agriculture. If people want to farm, they can get lands. And those who want to set up their businesses can send proposals to the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund.
The delay in appointing a substantive vice chancellor for the Lagos State University (LASU) is causing an uneasy calm in the university community. Why has the process taken this long?
The process has taken this long because government wants to get it right. Now that the governing council has been instituted, we can begin the process afresh.
Didn’t they select the preferred candidate of the governor?
The governor didn’t tell them that he was going to back any candidate. Even those who are defending the disbanded committee never said that.
What has happened to those assets destroyed in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest in Lagos?
I do not know of any of those things that have been replaced, apart from the court. You know the Lagos High Court, Igbosere, is the oldest in Nigeria. The people who went to burn that court did not have any sense of history. What we have done is to just get a kind of a makeshift place for judges to be able to sit. The court has not been replaced. It is a very huge loss. So many iconic buildings were burnt in Lagos. About 200 brand new buses were also burnt. Replacing these things is not a day’s job. That’s why the governor set up what we call the Re-build Lagos Trust Fund.
The state seems to have taken a hard stance against protest in the aftermath of these destructions, but some have argued that it is against the fundamental right of the people?
The state has never issued any statement to say that people should not protest. It’s a constitutional right of the people to protest and the state is led by a democrat, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu. You can recall that he joined them during the #EndSARS protest. He carried a placard and addressed them twice. Before he addressed them, the deputy governor, Dr Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, also addressed the protesters to say, “Your voice has been heard, far and wide, loud and clear; don’t worry we will attend to your needs.”
The governor went a step further by taking the message of the protesters to Abuja to meet the president. It was as if war came to Lagos because so many government and private assets were destroyed and lives were lost.
So the police came out to say that the pain of the October last year protest is not gone and it would be insensitive for people who lost loved ones to hold another protest. Family members of policemen who died are still mourning, so it will be unfair to stage another protest here. So it was the police, not the state government.
The state government has no power to say don’t protest, but we don’t want that kind of thing again; it is not good. Unity must be restored in Lagos.
When is Lagos going to pass the anti-open grazing law as agreed by southern governors recently?
Well, I do not have access to the thinking of the governor or the attorney-general of the state, Lagos agreed with everything said at the meeting. The governor was there, so if he was not going to do it, he would have raised it there.
How has the administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu fared in the past two years?
Based on these 6 pillars you can judge the administration. In the area of traffic management and transportation, there are so many roads that have been constructed and reconstructed. Recently we completed the network of roads in Ikoyi – Mac Donald Road/Lateef Jakande Road, Milverton Road and Thompson Avenue. We have also commissioned Ijede road in Ikorodu and of course the Pen Cinema road/flyover which we met at 20% has been commissioned. We also have the Lagos/Ogun boundary roads, and the Oniru road network in Victoria Island. There is also a reconfigured junction improvement Programme because we felt some of the junctions and roundabouts were obsolete and they were creating problems instead of solving traffic congestion, so we had to reconfigure them. If you go to Allen Avenue, you will see that it has changed, it used to be a big roundabout which was causing traffic problems, but now if you go there, it’s free and if you go to places like the Lekki roundabout and Ajah, they have all been reconfigured, the way we did Allen Avenue and now traffic is moving better there, same for Ikotun roundabout. If you look at places like Oshodi, we commissioned the Abule Egba- Oshodi BRT route, that journey used to take from Oshodi to Abule Egba about two hours, but today it takes an average of 35/40mins. So, if you look at the first pillar which is transportation and traffic management, you will see that the government has really done well.
If you look at the area of health, which incidentally is the one giving us the most accolades because of the management of the COVID-19 crisis. About 80% of the international flights coming into Nigeria come through Lagos and you know COVID is an imported disease. So, when the index case was reported, many felt that we were going to be picking bodies on the streets but thank God for the ingenuity of our health workers and the leadership of the incident commander, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the deputy Incident commander, Prof. Akin Abayomi we didn’t have that kind of scenario because of the way we prepared for it. We have used COVID-19 as a platform to raise the bar in healthcare in Lagos because it allowed us to bring brand new equipment to reconfigure our hospitals to do many things, for example, four to five hospitals are renovated now.
I forgot to mention the railway we are also doing; we are the only sub-national anywhere in the world that is funding railways from its balance sheet. it’s not done by any sub-national, it’s only the national that is constructing railways. You can see the one that the federal government is doing, the kind of money it’s consuming. The good news is that the blue line that will run from Marina to Okokomaiko will be completed before the end of this administration, same thing as the red line because the money we need to spend for the red line, which runs from Oyingbo in the first phase to Agbado, is already there. The owners of properties that will be affected by the rail line have been compensated, and for the first time, we are not just compensating owners of properties, we are also compensating tenants because they will have to look for some other places to stay.
Even on waterways a lot has happened. We are building new jetties, about 15, then we have just brought in seven more ferries, so right now we are operating like 21 ferries, new routes have been opened, so people who don’t want to go by road can now go by water. People are getting more confident to go on the water ways because for the past two years that the Lagos State Ferry Services Corporation (LAGFERRY) has been operating, they have not recorded any accident. The idea is that if we can get it right on the water ways, on the road and the rail, there will be less pressure on the road and people will be able to move from one end of the state to another as fast as possible and this will help our economy and GDP and also help people in terms of their health.
Like I said in the health sector, we are renovating our hospitals, we are also training our people to get more experience in combating COVID-19, and we have recruited more health workers than any other state government that I know of, in fact we have hired almost one thousand of them.
In terms of education, we are training our teachers, we are giving them handheld devices to be able to do their notes of lessons under an arrangement we call Eko-excel. Eko excel is geared towards reinvigorating the potential and opportunities in primary education so that all of our schools will be teaching the same thing at the same time. The device helps us to track what each school is doing, also helps to track what the teachers are doing too, because if a teacher is not in school, or if he or she changes school, the device will help to trace the movement of the teacher, so it has increased outcome in primary schools and then in our secondary schools, so many awards have been won. The teachers are encouraged to do more, because the government has been able to reward them. For us in Lagos, payment of salaries and allowances is not seen as an achievement as it’s seen in some other places. Our teachers and education workers are being rewarded in exceptional ways; teachers are being promoted, given cars among others.
We are also excelling in the management of our tertiary education. LASU for instance is highly ranked in the world. Recently, Cornell University, USA signed an agreement/partnership with LASU.
I can spend hours speaking on what we have achieved in all the sectors as captured in the THEMES agenda.
We are going to see remarkable improvement in almost all the sectors.
Road users on the Mile 2-Badagry expressway are complaining over the pace of work there; is the project too expensive for the government?
It is very expensive, but that is not the question. The Lagos State government is doing the project with the federal government. Our own starts from Mile 2, up to LASU gate, which is almost completed. The federal government should take it up to Badagry and the border with Benin Republic.
The minister of works and housing visited the place and promised that the federal government would never abandon the road. Lagos state is keen on that road. As I told you, the blue line goes all the way to that place, and without fixing the road, there is no way the rail can operate effectively around that corridor.