Lagos State Governor Akinwumi Ambode, in this interview held at the Banquet Hall, Lagos House, Ikeja at a gathering put together by the Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment (Lagos Global), speaks on how he has been piloting the affairs of the state, the strategy to improve on the ease of doing business in order to make the state the one-stop-shop for local and international investors as well as plans to revolutionise key sectors for efficient service delivery. Anayo Okolie brings excerpts:
Take us through the rationale behind the creation of the Office of Overseas Affairs?
Thank you for that question. When I won the election sometime in April 12, 2015, one of the tasks that I had was to see how I could improve on the ease of doing business in Lagos State and in doing that, I also believed we needed to do some kind of public sector reforms to be able to drive the vision which we had actually set for ourselves and in doing public sector reforms.
In doing these reforms, you also needed to have set up some kind of structure or institutional framework that would drive that vision and the vision is very simple; we want a safer, a cleaner and a more prosperous Lagos and one of those structures would be that if you want to tackle bureaucracy in the civil service, you need a location where you could do 24/7 non-stop service to investors. It was very clear that we could create a new face that we could just refer to as Office of Overseas Affairs and Investments and without actually competing with the Federal Government, we needed to find a place where foreign investment and investors could actually come into the civil service and have like a 24/7 beyond just going from one ministry to the other and it became imperative that the Office had to be established.
What mandate is Lagos Global charged with and what role does this office play regarding your vision?
You know the vision is very clear; a safer, a cleaner and a more prosperous Lagos. In driving that vision, it is also very clear that we have to do a strategy to drive the administration in such a way that we are running this administration on a tripod. It’s just three simple issues; security, job creation and then improvement of infrastructure and on that tripod, the first thing to do to allow us make investors safe is to make Lagos safer and you’ll see that we’ve driven that in such a manner that Lagos has become safer when you compare it to the last 18 months. If it is safe, more businessmen and more investors would be interested in coming to Lagos to do businesses in our environment. So the role of the Office of Overseas Affairs is to be able to intervene in that process and when more investors are coming to Lagos, we are in a position to now say that more jobs would be created and then when you create more jobs, it’s also possible that we increase our revenues which we will now use to improve the infrastructure. So the intervening of instruments is where that mandate has been given to the Office of the Overseas Affairs and Investments to ensure that they create jobs, to also ensure that we grow our GDP and ultimately create happiness for Lagosians.
What are the incentives available to investors under your administration?
First of all, is to say that we come with a huge sense of credibility. We are extremely transparent about the transactions we do. We are only looking for value, you don’t need to know anybody as an investor in Lagos, once you bring value to the table, we are willing to do business with any investors.
But you know, beyond that, like what Professor Ademola Abass has just said, we believe strongly that we do not necessarily have to do a public private partnership with investors that come into Lagos, our business is to create an enabling environment for business to thrive. We are not businessmen, we are enablers. We just create the space and when we see there is value, that can create so much impact on our people, we are willing to sacrifice. So, we do sometimes, wave land charges, wave fees, because we know that in the medium time and in the long run, it is going to improve on the GDP and bring jobs to our people.
So, we are not out there to choke investors and say that you must go and bring this or bring that, we are looking at the future and that is why I said it is in line with our vision, it would make Lagos more prosperous. So, where we have incentives and even allowing people have tax waivers, we can as well say you should not pay PAYE as much as we want, depending on how impactful or how valuable those investments are because there are a thousand and one people who have investments that do not come to government to do their business, so when you come to meet the government, government should be able to create a better enabling environment for investors, so those are the things that are lined up. But the truth is this; it’s more about value propositions and it’s more about what it does to our people and it’s more about the tripod, creating jobs; are we going to use the revenue to create more infrastructure and at the end of the day do you bring true happiness to Lagosians? Then we are willing to partner with anybody.
Your administration has prioritised putting in place key reforms; there are reforms in civil service, judiciary, land, tax and also development of free trade zones. How have these reforms impacted the drive for local and foreign investments?
Firstly, the simplest impact of our reforms can be found in the level of productivity that is being churned out by Lagosians now, through the ease of traffic management that we have just put in place. Where we used to transact business from point A to point B for two hours in traffic, right now that has been technically eliminated to about 30 minutes, that one and half hour saved has made Lagosians to become more productive cumulatively and in that sense it is going to grow our GDP, that’s the way to look at it.
And then beyond all that we are doing, you see that our civil service also has become extremely responsive to the yearnings of the people and service delivery has technically improved over the last 18 months. Another thing you can quickly point to is the work we have done in our judicial and security sector reforms, they look so intangible, but the truth is this; we’ve been having the rule of law properly upheld in this state, so when you put all that together, that is the main thrust of when you can now say confidently that investors can have an enabling environment to do their business and you can see that they are coming in droves and it’s not officially documented, but we know that the FDI that we have gotten in the last 16 months is greater than what has been done in the last 10 years.
Your state is the fifth largest economy in Africa and we are glad because this is where we do business. One of the major constraints that we have in Nigeria today which has relatively impacted in our foreign exchange earnings is the importation of white product, otherwise called petroleum. Are there plans by the Lagos State Government to set up or encourage the setting up of a refinery because for over 23 million people in Lagos, we don’t have to depend on importation of petroleum. Do you have that in the works?
Thank you for that question. I absolutely agree with you. For a population that is 22 million and still rising, you need energy security to protect the prosperity of Lagos. Beyond the fact that we are not in the right position to drive our energy needs, we have decided that we are going to collaborate with the discos and all the stakeholders in the energy sector to come out with a roadmap that actually addresses the security of energy supply and even petroleum supply that we have made. Like I said, we have investment vehicles in the state that can actually drive the future of wanting to have our own petroleum supplies in Lagos.
We are thinking of it, I don’t want to preempt the outcome of that advisory council, I guess in another few weeks, they would come out with their recommendations, but I can tell you that it is likely going to be in tandem with the kind of desire that you have just requested of us. But in totality, it is not really so much about petroleum supplies, it’s about the energy, security of a thriving commercial capital in the country that is being driven as the fifth largest economy in Africa. We cannot afford to sit down, we have to start thinking about protecting the city and making it more industrial and more investment friendly and that is the way to go.
If we have 23 million people, the question is what is your plan for these citizens of Nigeria who are Lagosians to access government services given the age of technology particularly with respect to the fact that businesses or economies today are driven by small and medium enterprises? We keep talking about mega investments, but there are Lagosians who want to access government services, so that they can contribute their quota to the development of the state. What is your plan to use technology to provide access to governance?
If I had my way, I would virtually want every service in Lagos State to be done through technology, but the truth is that while we want it to happen, we need the infrastructure to make it happen. It’s not enough for me to have the application; I also need the hardware and the infrastructure to drive it. How much of the taxes that I am getting from the citizens can I to devote to technology? So, we are limited by the resources that we have.
It is not politically correct right now in a recession that we would say we want to increase taxes; we are not going to do it, but again we can get more efficient in the collection machinery that we are using by also applying technology to improve on our collection machinery so that we would get more taxes to be able to serve the people. But like you have just said, the ability to be able to permeate the SMEs, the artisans and the individuals is our major drive, that’s why I decided that we are having a N25billion Employment Trust Fund which we would commit N6.25billion every year for the next four years.
That money is not for the big investors, it is to be able to tap into the SMEs and into the creative talent of the younger ones and be able to rise above what it is that we think is poverty and in doing that, we are going to use our identity card project to allow people to be identified and then more importantly, to use it for data planning, economic planning and financial planning, so that each person can use that same technology that we are trying to do to have access to the services that we are providing.
It’s herculean, sometimes you want to do it in a PPP way, we have already awarded a contract with Thomson Reuters in which we are going to do a Geographic Information System (GIS) and be able to indentify every property in Lagos state and also indentify every individual and I can tell you we need a census of those who are living in Lagos state, we need to know who are our residents, we need to know those who are coming in and going out. Without doing this as a backbone, we cannot actually allow a whole lot of people have access to the services. It’s something complex, but it is doable.