Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, tells ADEOLA BALOGUN in this interview how the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has been able to pilot the affairs of the state in the past one year
The past administration in the state was using every 100 days to showcase its achievement. What is the style of this new administration?
To start with, this is a government of continuity but we say continuity with achievement. The 100 days pattern is a way to render account of stewardship to the people after each 100 days. Largely in the past, it was strictly a media thing but for Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, there has been a slight adjustment. We do a quarterly town hall meeting. Hundred days would be more than three months but quarterly is precisely three months and the whole idea is to meet people four times in a year outside of the normal machinery that we engage in keeping the public informed, in getting the governor to engage directly with the public. We adopted the quarterly town hall meeting so that the governor can render the account of his stewardship four times in a year. In spirit, form and principle, it is the same 100 days pattern but again as I said, we want to be specific that four times in a year, the governor would meet the people. In rendering our account every quarter, we take the meeting to each senatorial district. We started with Lagos West last year September after which we went in February to the Lagos Central at City Hall. Then last month, we went to Ikorodu. By July, we will return to West but in another other zone.
Most of the things you see this government accomplishing came out of the direct engagement that we had with the people during the campaign. You will recall that there was no local government area that Governor Ambode did not touch during the electioneering. But not only in campaigning; we have a document that we revisit and review on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis; document that specifies the needs of each senatorial district and local government.
How has it been with Governor Ambode in the saddle for the past one year?
It’s been wonderful and challenging. You know of course that Lagos is a special state and it is also the heartbeat of the nation. If you take it as a city state, it is the most populous in Africa and the most populous black city anywhere in the world. For such a megacity, there will always be challenges but rather than be worried about the challenges, we are interested in the opportunities that the sheer number of people and the resources confer on the state. Lagos is bigger in terms of IGR than 31 other states in Nigeria and if you look at the GDP of the state, if Lagos were to be a country, it will be the sixth largest economy in Africa. It is almost like what California is to the United States. It means that the economy of Lagos is the number two after Nigeria in West Africa and number six in Africa. That says something about what this state is all about. That says something about the fact that one year ago, Governor Ambode inherited a state that is naturally prosperous and rich; the potential and the opportunities are there. Therefore, in the past year, what the governor has succeeded in doing is working in sync with the established pattern that Lagos has always had in the last 17, 16 years and he has also demonstrated vision and commitment by adding series of layers of progress to what is there and you can measure this in terms of security, in terms of what we are doing in the area of agriculture, in terms of number of roads that are being rehabilitated and the number of new roads that have been constructed. You can see it in the light up project ; you can see it in terms of entertainment and sports. For the first time in 30 years, Lagos held Lagos City Marathon; it had never happened. As a state, Lagos celebrated an international Jazz day. All these synchronise with the campaign promises of the governor who said he was going to use projects in tourism, hospitality, entertainment and the arts, sports all together to achieve excellence in Lagos State. If you are hearing about Lagos marathon being successful; you are hearing about Barcelona FC coming to have their youth academy in Nigeria; it is the 18th of such academy and the first on Africa soil; and if you are hearing about One Lagos fiesta; if you are hearing about Governor Ambode holding an evening of Jazz just like President Obama did in the White House, it all speaks to commitment he made during the campaign that he would use all the areas to create jobs and opportunities for the teeming youths of Lagos State so that they are gainfully employed and use all those to make Lagos a destination when it comes to arts, hospitality, tourism and sports.
You remember during the economic meltdown in 2008/2009, two major areas were not affected globally; entertainment as well as fashion. So the aim of the governor is to make sure that Lagos is the number one destination in Africa as far as entertainment, arts and sports are concerned. To have a state like that, it must be secure, there must be 24/7 economy which the light up Lagos is providing. Communities that had been neglected overtime in terms of electricity, in terms of good roads, are now being reconnected.
In the light up Lagos project, how is Lagos going to sustain it in the face of the general energy problem confronting the entire country?
Lagos has always demonstrated leadership and innovation. You remember that the past administration invested heavily in the area of Independent Power Project which powers most of the public facilities in the state like the courts, hospitals, Alausa secretariat and the state houses in Marina and Ikeja. This administration is continuing with that but the scope is now expanded through the light up project. Long neglected communities most especially in Epe area are now connected with the national grid through the IPP but the one that people see and applaud more is the light up project; more than 600,000 poles already done, more than 350 roads already touched by the light up project.
The issue of power generation and distribution might be a federal responsibility which of course has been concessioned to the various Gencos and Discos but as a state, within our own means, we are finding a way round it as it were. By the time we are celebrating the 50th anniversary next year, almost all the major streets in all the five divisions of Lagos would have been lit up.
Is it wrong to say that the light up Lagos project appears to be the most popular initiative by this government?
Well, I think that is not far from the truth. I think it is a project that has endeared the governor to the hearts of Lagosians. Yes, people say in the 60s, 70s, there were street lights and stuff in Lagos but what was the population then? Now we are talking about the biggest black city in the world, 21 million people and still counting. The light up project is a deliberate thing and we are happy that people see it as something very fresh. We have shown that continuity means that there would always be a layer of improvement but the most gratifying thing about this is that no Lagosian has said why are we concentrating on this project because they see it as touching the lives of everybody. There was a story about some weeks ago when people were still keeping vigil in fuel queues; people put few things on the social media thanking the governor that they were able to sit inside their vehicles and able to read papers and novels courtesy of the street lights.
What is the feedback in terms of crime rate after the donation of security equipment to the police by the state government?
We made the donation of the security equipment in November 27, 2015 and we also rebranded the RRS. A lot of people are debating about which one is more popular between the light up project and the security donation. I will say that those are the two flagship projects and game changers if you like in particular the donation of the security equipment.
To answer your question directly, three months after the donation of the equipment, the crime rate, according to the police commissioner and all other indices, has reduced significantly by 65 per cent. And it has to be like that because what we invested in security was massive enough to show to the whole world, particularly armed gangs that Lagos now has the capacity to take care of any crime.
A demonstration of this is what we did in collaboration with the federal agencies when those girls in Ikorodu were kidnapped in their school. In less than six days, we were able to rescue the girls safely. You will remember what one of the kidnappers said openly on TV that he tried to dissuade his colleagues that Lagos had changed and that with the calibre of equipment at the disposal of the police, they could not escape with the crime. That alone sends the signal that things are looking up. If crime could go down by 65 per cent in February, this is May and I believe by the time we are mid year, the rate would have further gone down maybe by 75 per cent. There is nowhere in the world that there is no crime, the message we are sending out is that the long arm of the law will get any criminal wherever they are in the metropolis.
Don’t you think that the use of the closed circuit camera will complement such effort?
Without doubt, that is the next layer Lagos is going. I will tell you something; wait for Lagos before the end of the year, by the time we are celebrating another year, you will see that Lagos has gone beyond what we did in November. You saw the set of rescue equipment Lagos rolled out recently as inaugurated by the vice president. A mega city like Lagos is now ready in terms of rescue operation during emergencies.
When the governor first came, he said he wanted the traffic managers, LASTMA in particular, to operate with a human face and a lot of people took that advantage to flout traffic rules. Why then did the government change its stance?
We weighed our options and without a doubt, one of the attributes of the governor is that he is a compassionate person. But of course, the decision to be more lenient as at that time came as a result of two things. One, in response to the demand of the people when we went round and were told that the officials of LASTMA were a little highhanded and we believed that we could deal with it by asking them to treat people with respect. The other reason was that we felt that technology could actually drive traffic management. But we soon realised that it is a mega city with its own peculiar needs and we called a stakeholders meeting and we came to a decision that we should implement traffic rules to the letter. What you see now is that we apply the Lagos State traffic law and that is why we now have the mobile court to take care of offenders. That is not all that we did, we have fixed more roads, more than 500 and we have succeeded in making traffic faster than before. We have also recruited more men to the agency and a number of LASTMA officials have been fired due to infractions. We are not only hard on the erring commuters alone, we also deal with the bad eggs in the system. Before Governor Ambode came on board, the number of LASTMA officials was about 2100, we have recruited more people, all of them are graduates. We are dealing with cerebral people who understand traffic management.
What informed the introduction of the Overseas office and employment and wealth creation ministry ?
When the governor came, he felt that the volume of direct foreign investment into the state should be handled by a special office. That is why he merged some ministries and created new ones. The one called Lagos Global, which is the office of Investment and Overseas Affairs, is basically a one-stop shop in Lagos State for everything about investment whether local or foreign. About $45bn worth of investment has come to Lagos in the last one year through the direct intervention of the office which the governor directly oversees. The whole idea is to say that investment in the state can go into any sector but rather than having commissioners and special advisers running after investment, why don’t we have a special office for our own foreign affairs even though that sounds like a federal concern. It is a huge role that requires a dedicated office like Lagos Global. The other one is the office of employment and wealth creation which basically deals with creating jobs. This is one of the campaign promises of the governor. He said he would make available N25bn in four years just to get start up businesses, fresh graduates with ideas to have access to funds. The money for the first year is ready and the necessary bill has been passed to law as Employment Fund Law 2015. The committee to run it has been set up and it is chaired by the former FIRS chairman, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru. By the time they roll out, about 300,000 young Lagosians will benefit in the first instance. The other fresh office is the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism which organised the One Lagos fiesta last December which used to be Lagos Count Down organised at a single venue. But it was expanded to five venues, five days, across all five divisions. Imagine the kind of economy that was created at every centre for the five days, the pure water sellers, the technicians, MCs, DJs, dancers, food sellers and all of that. Again, it is part of the campaign promises of the governor that no community or division would be neglected in any way. Why must it be the only Lagos Islanders that should enjoy the Lagos Count Down? You needed to be at Agege that day.
The governor has not borrowed a dime from any bank since he came in. Rather, what he has done is reduce the exposure of the state to indebtedness. Apart from the Federal Government, the state was one of the first to key in into the Treasury Single Account which is one major area to cut down on waste and ensure transparency and accountability. The governor has also brought down the amount Lagos would have been paying to commercial banks in terms of loans. What he met was 18 per cent interest on debt but he consolidated all those commercial bank loans into a single source and renegotiated repayment terms.
Would Lagos save whatever accrues to the state as a result of its new found status as an oil producing state in a special account and used for what?
I would say that it should be one thing at a time. Let us even enjoy the good news that Lagos is now officially an oil producing state. It’s been 25 years that the project has been on and we are glad that we have struck oil by an indigenous firm. We believe that more will come. It is gratifying that another indigenous firm will process refining soon. It can only mean that the fortune of Lagos will be enormous and remarkable. Just like the governor said, it means that Lagos will be able to share from the 13 per cent derivation revenue due to oil producing states. I think what is important is for people to see it that Lagos has the opportunity to have more money to continue to do the good things that the state is known for in the last 17 years. Dubai is an example of a city that works and the money is from oil. What Lagos has succeeded in doing so far did not come from oil but services, ideas, human capital and everything. If you add oil to the equation and with the crop of leaders we are blessed with, it means that we will all be proud. If you ask how are we going to manage the money, I will say look at what we have been able to do without oil in the last 17 years. We have people who understand how economy should run and by the time the money from oil starts to accrue to the state, Lagosians will be better for it.
At the initial take off of the governor, the opposition described him as an underachiever, would you say that the criticism spurred him on to embark on the giant strides?
There was a strategy in place when the governor first emerged as the candidate of the All Progressive Congress against all odds when it was thought that he was just a mere civil servant. There was a strategy in place after becoming the candidate to win the election that some people thought he might lose because of federal might but he emerged victorious. Therefore, certainly there was a strategy in place to run a government of continuity with an improvement. So if the opposition that you mention have now been for ever silenced and dazed beyond imagination, it would mean that those who were bellyaching and shouting initially were only doing so to orchestrate a particular script. But the attitude of this administration has been to stay focused and steer clear of distraction. The governor took everything in his stride and remained focused and now it has become obvious that the gentleman knew what he was doing ab initio; it didn’t matter whether he was criticised or not. What is important is that Lagosians can now see that they have a governor that is performing fantastically and they are applauding. For us, it’s even better that the criticism came early; we are now at the cruising level, we have removed the safety belt; the plane has stabilised and everybody can see that it is a smooth ride.
How does it feel being the information commissioner of a mega city state like Lagos?
It is a job that requires a very high level of professionalism, discipline, commitment and integrity. I do not think it will be too hard for a man who has had the privilege of editing the biggest newspaper in Nigeria where discipline and integrity are cornerstones in that company. It probably won’t be too difficult for a man who was an integral part of the turning of a dead brand owned by an exceptional billionaire to an award winning paper. More importantly, I do not think the job will be too difficult for a man who has had the privilege of serving in almost the same position as the director of media and communications for the gentleman that Lagos State is now blessed with as the governor of the state. It feels good; it is a tough job and highly demanding. It takes 24 hours to get it done; I believe we are giving it our best shot. It is a great moment and it is also a learning curve and an opportunity to serve.