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Lagosians will commute by rail in two years – Sanwo-Olu

In less than two weeks, Governor BABAJIDE SANWO-OLU would be two years in office. In this interview with select journalists, Sanwo-Olu speaks on how he is leveraging the THEMES agenda of his administration to actualise the Vision of a New Lagos. JOSHUA BASSEY, BusinessDay’s deputy news editor was there.

It’s about two years since you mounted the seat as governor, can you tell us what you have done so far?

Thank you. For me I know what it means every day to sleep and wake up. There’s a huge challenge on me, it’s a challenge of honour, it’s a challenge of immense trust, it’s a challenge of a sense of believe that people have in you.

In two years, I would say we have not disappointed the people that gave us the job. I say so because we started this government with our THEMES agenda. We went into it with all sense of purpose that we will break barriers, make audacious decisions and raise the level of governance.

Unfortunately COVID-19 came and slowed us down in some areas because Lagos throughout, and even up till now, is the epicentre of the disease. But that has actually not stopped us from achieving a lot of the things that we had wanted to achieve. This is so because we realise that stories and excuses cannot be what we should put forward.

So If I take each of the pillars in the THEMES agenda, you will see that we have indeed intervened extensively in each and every one of them.

How have you driven the agenda in terms of traffic management and transportation?

We’ve in the last two years created on an ongoing basis an opportunity where we can utilise the three modes of transportation that are available to us in Lagos: rail, road and waterway. For rail, we’ve not completed it, but I will say that we’re certain that before the end of our four-year tenure, rail will move in Lagos. The reason I say so is because we’ve spent more money on rail project in the last two years than we’ve done in the last six years. We’re now confident that we will take the two rail projects – Blue line and Red line to completion because we have seen the financial closures.

We have pushed through on how we can raise finance to complete them. For the Blue line, we’ve ordered the rolling stocks for the phase one – Mile 2 to Marina. The two terminals remaining are the Marina terminal and the Mile 2 terminal. Immediately after Marina, you will see a big trench that they’ve started excavating. That’s the construction for the Marina terminal. That will be the last parking point for the Blue line rail; so we’re convinced that we will see rail.

For the Red line, which is the most audacious one, we are certain that in the next two years, we will complete 10 stations. We have approved to build four overpasses. The federal government is supposed to build another four, but we’ve raised funds to build our own four. The plan around the rolling stocks has been finalised. So we’re saying that in two years’ time, Lagosians will be moving on rail.

Can you please tell us what you have done in the area of the Lagos Bus Reform?

For the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme, we’ve commissioned over 600 buses. Before the end of May 2021, we will launch another 100 high capacity buses. We’re also introducing what we call Last-Mile buses. These are 8 to 9 seater buses. There are over 500 of them, but we’re starting with 350.

You’re aware that we also recently launched the Lagos-Ride taxis. The first set of 1000 cabs will be arriving in Lagos in June or July. So we’re intervening in the three components of road transport infrastructure – the high capacity, the medium capacity and the taxi. In each of them, we do not say we’ve all the money, but we want to continue to be an enabler in all of these things.

We believe that before the end of the remaining two years of our tenure, by the time we add another 100 to it, we would be having about 700 high capacity buses.

On the Lagos-Ride scheme, we’re building a small assembly plant into it where they would be producing vehicles. The plan is to have about 5000 vehicles in our fleet. Same with the Last-Mile buses; we should have 5000 at the end of the day and, of course, the work plan to actualise this is out, so we can see it through.

What has been done about the waterways in Lagos?

The waterway is actually the third component of our inter-modal transportation plan. As we speak, we’re building 15 terminals concurrently in different parts of the state. We have in Liverpool, Ebute Ero, Ibeshe, Ajah. We have two in Badagry, and several others. Six or seven should be completed before the end of this year. So we see an integrated mass transportation system where our citizens will have the option to go on a bus, rail or the waterway. On the waterway as well, we’re dredging and putting buoys on the navigational system so that people can know how to navigate.

We’re also building Command and Control Centre where we’re going to have cameras to monitor our waterways. We have actually bought what we called Search and Rescue Boats for the Lagos State Waterways Authority – LASWA, so that people can be saved on the waterways. For us, all these go into traffic management where people can fairly determine their movement, such that a 30-minute journey does not extend to one hour or more.

On top of this, we’re continuing with our road improvement. We’re removing roundabouts, improving traffic signalling, installing traffic lights and embarking on junction improvement to reduce traffic in places where we have gridlocks across the state.

We’re also looking at a single payment system in our transportation master plan where a single card can take you in the bus, train and boat. We have the Cowry card, which the Lagos Metropolitan Transport Authority (LAMATA) has launched. About 5,000 to 8,000 of the cards are out there. The plan is to have about 200,000 over the next couple of mouths.

How have you intervened in the health and environment sectors?

In the healthcare space, I would say that COVID has been both positive and negative for us. As the epicentre, we had to put everything we had into it, and thank God we can say that we did a fairly good job at it. We (Lagos) are the one that saved a larger part of the country by taking some proactive decisions with everybody following suite.

We are now out of the second wave and we’re also monitoring to ensure that we don’t start the third wave. That’s why you see us leading the conversation for the federal government to block people from coming in through our international border posts. My health commissioner also just told me that as a state we still need to take some measures. This is to ensure that we do not have a new variant of COVID-19 that can even make nonsense of the vaccines that a lot of our citizens have been inoculated.

As bad as COVID-19 is, it is also a lesson experience around ensuring that we improve our infrastructure in the health space. In fact, not only have we recruited more doctors and nurses in the last one year than we have done in the last six years, we’ve also been able to raise the level of infrastructure in almost all our secondary health facilities. We’re currently rebuilding six of them as we speak. We have opened the one in Badagry, we have opened another in Eti-Osa; we’re going to open another in Epe MCC before the end of this month.

We are building a brand new hospital in Ketu Ijirin. It’s a mental awareness rehabilitation hospital, a 500-bed space facility. We are, of course, also building Massey Children Hospital. We’re also building another brand new hospital in Ojo, by the Military Cantonment.

We have a radiology and orthopedic hospital which we are going to open before the end of this month. It’s a private arrangement. We are also carrying out extensive renovations in our General Hospitals in Lagos, Isolo, Ebute Metta, Harvey Road General Hospital and Epe General Hospital where their capacities are being upgraded in terms of infrastructure. As we do all of these, we’re also asking ourselves, how can we reduce medical tourism outside the country.

We have also partnered with the private sector to open the first real cancer treatment centre in this country; the Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre. We know the level of support that we gave to them, and of course, the new Evercare Specialist Hospital in Lekki. As a government, part of the things we are doing is to develop a public-private partnership (PPP) with original equipment manufacturers so that they can supply all those scanning machines and high- end medical equipment in our hospitals.

These are some of the things COVID has helped us to achieve in our health sector.

Technology and education are critical for development. Can you tell us what you have done in these sectors?

We have had over a thousand projects in the education space. Just a few days ago I commissioned four schools concurrently. In a matter of days, cabinet members will be going round the local governments to commission projects. We have built over 500 new classrooms and 2000 hostel accommodation in our boarding schools. We’ve had over 100,000 new benches and tables in our schools. For the first time we built three brand new schools. Elemoro is one of them and there are two in the Badagry area. Those are some of our interventions in education infrastructure.

We have recruited about 1,500 new teachers. We have started Eko Excel which is a tablet hand-held device in the primary schools. We are not leaving primary school to SUBEB or the local governments. We are paying more money there than anybody has done in the last 10 years. The idea of Eko Excel is that all the primary teachers can have a single means of identifying what their curriculum would be, and also be able to time in and time out. So you will know which teacher in the class actually uploaded and treated those lessons.

We are ensuring that we can use technology as a strong enabler for our schools. You are aware of our 3,000 metropolitan fibre optics for Lagos. It is 3,000km fibre grid that we are putting in the city. We have done 1,800km, it is a PPP project but we are the enabler. We’ve given them the right of way, concessions and approvals that are required. What the grid will do for us is that the first 100 schools will have fibre before the end of the month to enhance internet capability. I have a list of 80 of those schools already.

In the private sector area, there are two marines that are landing in Lagos. So the amount of 4G-5G that is going to come into our system will make internet and data available. We have seen what COVID-19 has done for us, data is one of the things that we need. So we are building that infrastructure to be able to help that sector.

Also, last year we gave grants of over N250 million to Techpreneurs, using Lagos Science and Renovation Council. It is head by the vice chancellor of the University of Lagos. We gave the grants in categories- N10 million, N5 million, and of course, some got N25 million.

This year, they are asking for N500 million but we have given approval for N300 million. Let them go and identify young vibrant tech starts-up that we can support and be the enabler for.

We also are building the real Yaba technology hub. Google, Facebook are working with us on that. We had issues with land acquisition, so we had to pay up families around that place to have the land.

It is on 7.5 hectares of land. So we’re building a campus for techpreneurs and start-ups to support the industry.

We believe also that technology can be a strong driver for government policy. So we have own Alausa Campus Infrastructure, where we are using ourselves as a test case. On top of our 3,000 fiber optics is what we call A Safe City Project.

We say we’re building a smart city. The first set of 120 cameras are now live in different parts of the city and we are going to have 2,000. It is something that we are funding and it’s supposed to help us on security, traffic management and investigation. A city like this must use technology as a strong enabler to reduce crime. All of these are sitting on our technology infrastructure.

What has changed in the housing space, tourism and agriculture sectors in the last two years?

In two years, we have commissioned about seven to eight housing projects. We have added over 4,000 units to our housing stock, but there are still many projects in progress, which we are yet to commission.

All of these things are enablers. We really need to encourage the private sector to work quicker and faster than us. Giving out lands to identified developers that we can partner with to use their own equity and fund to provide houses that are affordable and assessable.

On agriculture, we just launched our five-year Agriculture Road Map. You also know about our rice mill in Imota. We will complete it this year.

On the tourism side, we continue to be an enabler. We have 18 different sites in Badagry that we are completing as a future tourism industry for the state. There are one or two private sector sites being constructed that we are supporting to create that tourism eco system in the state. Government cannot be into everything but we can intervene.

How are you driving the safety and security of Lagosians?

All of the things we have done will amount to nothing if there’s no secured and safe environment. And so security continues to be a major deliverable for our government. We won’t stop at anything to make sure Lagos is safe for every resident and business.

You know about our Lagos Security Trust Fund and how we are using it to support security architecture in the state. Like I mentioned, security is the way to go and we have started that. The CCTV we are building is for that purpose. We have enhanced and improved our Control and Command Centre. You are aware that we gave 150 constabularies of our Neighbourhood Watch to the Nigeria Police. These are part of our interventions.

We have been advocating for state police. We will continue to be an advocate for it because we believe it is the way to go and the right thing to do.

We are planning to further recruit more people under our Neighborhood Watch which is a strong information gathering network initiative that is helping our entire security architecture. Before the end of this month, we would be handing over 200 vehicles to the security architecture in the state with other supporting infrastructure so that we can continue to keep Lagos safe and secure.

You’re doing a good job on Lagos-Badagry road, but Apapa remains a nightmare. What’s the problem?

Let’s be fair. In terms of road, a lot has been by Lagos State and even the federal government. The problem around Apapa is gridlock not road.

In Ojo area, we’re starting the construction of Buba Marwa road which takes you to Ijegun. We’re also starting the Navy Town road. Both of them have been awarded. If the contractors are not there now, I am sure they will be there anytime from now.

We’re doing four roads inside Badagry in addition with the ongoing work on the major expressway. That road is a transnational West African road corridor.

Two weeks ago, I was in a meeting with the minister of works and housing. Actually, Lagos State does not have the responsibility to carry the burden of work on the Badagry Expressway all through to the end.

The current minister of works and housing was governor; I was in the exco when the decision was taken to expand that road from four lanes to 10 lanes all the way from Iganmu. There are one inner lane, two express lanes, and two outside lanes on each side of the road, making a total of ten lanes. A lot of people don’t know that is the scale of work we’re doing on that road all the way to trade fair complex.

While we’re carrying that burden, we will continue to have a conversation with the federal government to see what can be done.

We are in front of LASU now. We seem to have slowed because there was a bridge in front of Ojo Cantonment and Lagos State University (LASU).

That slowed down work around those areas, but it is moving on. It will soon get to LASU and move to Okokomaiko. The contractor has done the drainage and we have pleaded with them to go and do extensive palliative so that people can be relieved as the rainy season is coming.

We are also coming to the trade fair complex. I am going to do the road leading from within the trade fair into market. I have told my Igbo brothers that I am coming to fix that road for them.

Coming to the Apapa gridlock specifically, there are issues there. But people tend to look at Apapa from one angle whereas it is more than that.

It is the container trucks that are causing the problem, and they’re unruly. Not only are they the problem, which we are trying to solve, the petroleum tankers are the ones now that nobody can talk about. About 80 percent of the pictures coming out from Apapa in the last 2 to 3 months are tanker trucks. Now the real problem and the angle we tend to neglect is that 70 percent of PMS, AGO in this country comes from Apapa.

That is where the water is, that is where the tank farms are, that is where the infrastructure are built. 70 percent of tankers that go to every part of the country take their products from that Apapa. On a daily basis we are talking of 3,000 to 4,000 trailers and tankers that need to load of something.

So from an engineering perspective, it is a major infrastructural problem. From the fact that we’re not producing oil, to the fact that the tank farms were built around the same corridor is a major issue. That’s where all the tankers are going. Before you say Jack, NUPENG will say they’re going on strike and nobody wants to hear there is no fuel in this country.

Consistently we have had that conversation that in the same manner we are controlling the flatbed trucks that are carrying containers, we can also control the tankers, but calls will come from everywhere because it might not be a Lagos tanker, it might be a tanker going to other parts of the country.

So we ask the DPR and NNPC, how did you give approval? Are they not meant to have enough parking inside the tank farm which is what ought to have been done? If you have the capacity to take 500 trailers or tankers, at least you should have 400-capacity parking space, but they don’t have. Everybody stays on the road.

What has happened to the call-up system in Apapa?

The call-up system we introduced with NPA is only for the flatbed. There is no call-up for tankers. We have told AP Moller and other terminal operators in Tincan Island Port that if you call 200 trucks, you must have a means to keep the 200 inside.

Once there is a call up, they must move and enter the premises. Not that they will get to your gate and you start long story again. And you know the call-up is supposed to be electronic, if you waste time, there would be a queue.

So once you do your call up, you must have the capacity to take that number inside your premises. But there’s no call up for tankers.

So what’s the ultimate solution to the gridlock in Apapa?

I am not throwing in the towel. I am only being fair analysing the situation. Nigeria problem is very complex because we are also not refining petroleum products locally. My take is this – it is fairly short time to medium time solution.

Dangote is building a refinery. He is saying that half of what would be coming from the refinery, he can help us distribute. We wouldn’t need to come to Lekki Free Trade Zone. He is building pipelines to distribute it.

Secondly, we’re building the Lekki Port. It will take bigger vessels compare to the Apapa port. It will take four times the size of vessels that currently berth in Apapa. This will take the pressure off Apapa.

Thirdly, we’re doing the Eleko junction which will take you out of Lagos. From the Eleko junction to Epe, we are turning it into six lanes. Ogun State is also doing its own from Ijebu Ode to Epe. From Eleko you turn right and you head to the Benin Expressway in no time.

How do you generate money to finance these projects? Or is it that Lagos is just lucky with funds?

No, nothing drops from luck, it is hard work. A few days ago, I was with a group of very influential and wealthy Lagosians that are Muslims to break the Ramadan fast with them and I do this regularly to fraternise with my citizens. And the conversation on the table was that, Mr. Governor, you are doing so much for us in the Ikoyi axis. Go and see the value of the real estate at Milverton, Lateef Jakande and other places in Ikoyi. They said to me that they will ensure compliance if we increase our Land Use Charge. So, property tax is one of the ways to go. And that’s why we’re ensuring that we build the infrastructure around it. Like I said, even if you don’t use any of our government facilities, you will use our roads and that has increased the valuation of your assets. And so, the least you can do is to ensure that you support the government in that area. And so, that is one area in which we’re going to come out a lot stronger. And how do we do this, by technology. This is to ensure that the officers that will be going round have hand-held devices that show the real value and current state of that property with the surrounding infrastructure that is there as a basis for valuation to determine what the true value of the asset is.

And it is a point zero percent that they even get to pay. It is the rich that need to come out strongly and support the weak and vulnerable in our society. That’s how it’s done everywhere in the world. They are the ones that control ten figures and fifteen figures that you and I can use to do other things. So, investments are also not lacking in their neighbourhood. So, it is to ensure that we speak to ourselves and use them as an intervention to say that these are the returns you are getting on your asset, the least you can do is simply keep your environment safe and keep others safe. So, that is one area we believe we can generate more.

Like I said, GIS is one of the things we are doing. We have almost completed our full land data documentation. We have not done very well in terms of how we quickly give out approvals; I will be one of the first to agree because I believe we can do a better job in terms of timeline around construction approvals. So, we can use technology to strongly drive this. A lot more people will come forward to get their building approval if things have been done much better and government will continue to get more revenue. Thereafter, you can also do what we call subsequent transactions. That is the exchange of movement around property and lands. This is one area that if we do well, can indeed, double the current revenue of the state, whilst not increasing any fees or charges for anybody at all. Just the amount of transaction you can generate, the amount of time and the experience you have each time you come to Alausa. And as long as there’s that positive experience, you will come back again on a repeat job.

What’s the role of local governments in these audacious projects?

We appreciate and recognise the principles of separation of power. We believe that what people want is service. It becomes very difficult for you, an ordinary citizen, to be able to say that this road or this thing is for state or local government. They will tie all of it together and say it is Sanwo-Olu. A lot of citizens don’t even know the difference. So, from that standpoint, first you have that burden of responsibility to want to carry it. But you’re right with your observation to ask where is their place. You see, it is an engagement that all of us need to continue to have, and to ensure that we put in the right people that truly have the sense to serve and have the capacity to do the job at that grassroots level. Another election is coming up now. So, you have the pen, you have the opportunity to educate the citizens, the electorate, and the aspirants that want to come there. Ask them, do you have what it takes? Do you understand what is expected of you to be done?

I can tell you that not one kobo of the local government money or allocation have I touched. I am saying it on tape, not one kobo. I have never interfered or asked them about their allocations. In fact, they are the ones that I support. But on security, for example, I have asked them that I am buying vehicles, support me. Of course, not by taking their money, but they talk to themselves and go look for it to buy. I don’t even know how much they earn; I do not even see their allocation schedule to know it was this local government that gets this or that, not once have I seen it. They have their meeting, I do not interfere. But the point is not lost on me to ensure that we continue to collaborate with them, to continue to engage with them, and to continue to say, indeed, we all have a role to play, understand your own role and play it, and let the state government do its bits.

Is there a timeline to fully implement the law restricting commercial motorcycles in the state?

We are going to be hard but we also want to be fair. Fairness is to give human conscience to these things. We are fully aware of what the security implication is, the health implication, the accidents, the danger to life that it has cost all of us. So, the conversation is going on. For me, it is really to be able to also show on the fair side that there is, even if it’s not fully adequate, a plan for an alternative. And so, the full implementation around the Okada ban and the rest of it is going to come out after our launch of Last Mile and First Mile buses that are going to happen shortly. We need to wrap up what the issues are, find out who the culprits are and identify what are their sources. Who are the owners, where are they from and what are they currently doing? All of that intelligence are currently going on. Indeed, it can be an exercise that will have full compliance. I can assure you that we will leave nothing to chance to ensure that we get this right out of our system.

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