Steve Ayorinde: Governor Ambode’s Impact is Real, Remarkable

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Acknowledging a year that many have described as outstanding in the state, Lagos State’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, in an interview with
Adedayo Adejobi, appraises Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s performance and also highlights

what to expect in the New Year

How would you rate the performance of the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in the last one and a half year?
I would rate it the same way Lagosians have rated the administration. And their verdict, without a doubt, is that the administration has scored A+ in the delivery of services, as promised during the campaign to Lagosians, in terms of security of life and property; in terms of improved infrastructural development, of roads, traffic management, sports development, tourism and culture, health care, and of course, in job creation and opportunities for younger ones. There is no other way to show that our self appraisal, in the last 18 months, is in sync with those of Lagosians. Lately, there was an approval rating of 79% for Governor Ambode, the highest for any Governor in the country and indeed the highest ever attained by any Governor in his first two years. So, we really need no further evidence of the acceptance by the majority of our people. The popularity of the governor is not in doubt and this is attributable to his keeping his electoral promises and ensuring that truly there is continuity and improvement in Lagos State. We are satisfied with the rating we are getting, both at home and abroad.

It looks like the LAKE rice is the icing on the cake for a long list of achievements of the governor in 2016?
Without a doubt, yes. Our analysis shows that the acceptance that greeted the LAKE rice is perhaps the single biggest news item of the year in this country. And what this shows is that positive news can be very impactful. As we speak thousands of LAKE rice are still being pumped into the market for Lagosians to take advantage of. What this has demonstrated is the capacity to pursue a great vision with courage. Lagos signed an MOU with Kebbi in March and today, many homes are having the best Christmas of their lives because of the commitment and large Heart of a visionary Governor.

Is this a one-off intervention?
No it is not. The partnership between Lagos and Kebbi on rice will continue and will even transcend rice production. Lagos is the largest market in the country and it is has the comparative advantage in terms of disposable income, which is why we are entering into partnerships with other states that will impact on our people. But LAKE rice will continue into the new year and will continue to sell at those subsidized prices. But don’t forget that Lagos State is also developing its own capacity for milling through the Imota Rice mill. We expect that in the new year, our capacity to mill will be about 10.5 metric tonnes, since we will achieve 2.5 metric tonnes already at Imota and we are expecting another 8 metric tonnes from Abuja. So 2017 will be a year of rice aplenty for Lagosians.

Many people acknowledge that it”s been a great year for Governor Ambode and Lagos State. What stood out among his achievements in your opinion?
They are numerous. But our main achievements rest on a tripod – security of life and property, infrastructure development and job opportunities. In terms of security, it is crystal clear, that Lagos State has demonstrated leadership by the sheer amount of investments it has continued to pump into assisting the Nigerian police and other security agencies. Don’t forget that policing is a federal responsibility, and there is no state police in Nigeria at the moment. Even the Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd) and President Mohammadu Buhari, affirmed this fact, during the launch of security equipment, first, in November in 2015 and then, in May this year. They agreed with a majority of Nigerians that Lagos has shown more commitment than any other state, in terms of the support given to the Police. As we speak in Lagos, there is no police station that has not benefited from the support that Lagos state is giving, and there are 117 of them. At least, each police station, courtesy of the Lagos State Government, is enjoying a brand new patrol vehicle, that is being fuelled, maintained and repaired by the Security Trust Fund of Lagos State. There is no police station in the state that does not have a minimum of two patrol bikes, courtesy of Lagos State Security Trust Fund. The command and control centre in Lagos, without a doubt, is the most equipped in the country. It runs at par with what you have anywhere in the world, such that, any distress call, using our Emergency numbers – 112 and 767 – can be picked immediately and you will be attended to, regardless of what the distress call is about. You will also see that, in terms of the amount of investment we have put into the Emergency Rescue Operation in Lagos State, it is second to none, as alluded to, by the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who represented the President, when we unveiled the Emergency Rescue Operation Unit at Cappa, in Oshodi. Everybody has seen what our rescue operation wonder machines – ‘Charlie and Goliath’, the huge cranes, have been able to do at critical moments, even assisting neighbouring states like Ogun whenever they are in emergency situations. Again, there is clear evidence that, yes, we may not be able to eradicate crime completely in a mega city like ours, because there is no society that can totally eradicate crime, but what the state has demonstrated, convincingly, is that we have the capacity to go after every criminal and every kidnapper.

How well has the administration fared in the area of social infrastructure and worker’ welfare?
In the area of infrastructure development, we believe that we have done remarkably well. The first thing to note is that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has been very prudent, very resourceful and very creative in managing the resources of the state. Not a dime has been borrowed from any commercial bank since he became governor. Not a dime has been taken from the federal government for bailout. No single person is being owed salary or emolument in Lagos State. As a matter of fact, pensions have been and are still being paid. And as we speak, more than N11 billion has been paid on pension. So, for the Ambode administration, it is not just about being responsive to the huge work force, and we have almost 130,000 work force in state, and whose salaries are being paid on the 22nd or 23rd, like banks. Their leave bonuses and allowances are also not being toyed with, same with taxes and pensions. Also, those who have left the service are also being taken care of. Before the Governor took over, the pension arrears had piled up for up to five years. What Governor Ambode did was to clear off the arrears, and he now started paying on a regular basis. Workers in the state were paid their December salary well ahead of Christmas with a 20% bonus. This is also about the only state, as far as I know, that has been employing in different sectors – teachers, LASTMA officers, nurses and fire brigade officers. As you know, it is not the job of government just to be employing people, but to also create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. One of the key things that ensure that there are opportunities is when the workforce of the state itself is happy. You can imagine the rippling effect of the economy of the 28 states that are struggling to meet their obligations to civil servants. The large chunk of the government workers means a lot – the civil servants, the teachers, the nurses, the local government workers and many others. They are an integral part of the society. If they are being owed two or three months’ salaries, the effect on the society itself will be telling. But if they are getting their salaries, it means they can patronise those who are in the agricultural sector, those who are in the transport services and practically every aspect of the society. So, these things have a way of working together. Why businesses, in spite of the times that we are, are still booming in Lagos, is because the work base of the civil service and the public service is very solid.

Do you think the administration has achieved optimum feats where physical infrastructure is concerned?
Yes, very much so. Aside from the social infrastructure, from what I have described, physical infrastructure is also very important to this administration. Two flyover bridges, in Ajah and Abule Egba, were commissioned last year, and they are nearing completion. These two projects will be delivered just about the time we will be celebrating Lagos @ 50 come May. We think this is remarkable. In the last one and half months, this administration has fixed, repaired and rehabilitated more roads in an unprecedented ways. The evidence is there, from Ipaja-Ayobo, to Ago Palace Way, in Okota, that appeared to be jinxed hitherto, to Brown Street in Oshodi, to Ikoyi, to the massive construction, going on in Epe, to Badagry. Everywhere is being touched. And of course, the icing on the cake is the 114 road projects, per every LCDA which were simultaneously commissioned recently. Another set of 114 roads in a similar vein will be announced in due course. This is about Lagos at work; tax payers’ money in action and it is an undeniable testimonial of progress. And this is in addition to what the Lagos Works Corporation is doing, in fixing roads, including federal roads. You saw what we did on Apapa- Oshodi Road. It is a federal road, but it was so bad that Governor Ambode decided to fix that portion. The same thing happened in the case of Ile-Epo, on Agege Motor Road towards Abule Egba, not to talk of the brilliant idea of the Light Up Lagos Project, that has seen the metropolis being lit up, including again, the federal roads, from Ikoyi, to Victoria Island, to the Third Mainland Bridge, to Alapere and every other areas. It is not just about the street light alone. It is about re-invigorating the IPP projects and also bringing back communities that have been long forgotten, like Ibeju-Lekki, Epe and some other areas, who had never seen electricity in the last ten to fifteen years. Now, this administration is re-connecting them to the national grid, giving them transformers, generators so that they too can truly be part of the state. Don’t forget that the key mantra of this administration is that no part of Lagos will be left behind. You will see this concept of inclusiveness with what we have done with the 114 roads in every LCDA, in the Light Up Lagos Project, in road rehabilitation project, and even in entertainment, arts and culture. For the first time, Lagos State de-constructed the idea of Lagos Countdown that used to hold in one place on a single day. We decentralised it by taking the fun and the entertainment to the people. Therefore we had it for five good days, in five different locations, representing the five administrative centres of Lagos – in Lagos Mainland, Lagos Island, Ikorodu, Badagry and Epe. And we have even expanded the scope this year by running it for eight days instead of five days of last year. And it is not just about hip-hop alone, now you are seeing the likes of Adewale Ayuba, Salawa Abeni, Sir Shina Peters, Femi Kuti, Chief Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade sharing the same stage with their younger colleagues from the contemporary hip music in the spirit of oneness that Ambode’s Lagos represents.
The previous administration in the state adopted the use of every 100 days to render account of stewardship to the people. It looks like Governor Ambode’s is slightly different.
This administration has maintained the concept of continuity but continuity with improvement and inclusiveness. As a matter of fact, what further evidence of government of inclusion will the people want, if not in the government giving information and taking feedback directly from the people? Therefore, instead of the old 100 days of rendering account of stewardship to the people, we now do it quarterly, four times in a year, but not as a press conference. We take it round the three senatorial districts, whenever we hold the Town Hall meetings. It has even been held in Badagry, where, for the first time in the history of the state, the Executive Council Meeting was help there, outside of state house. The quarterly town hall meetings have been very effective and that is how we will proceed in connecting with the people throughout the tenure of this administration.

Lately, this administration has been concentrating on Badagry, and Governor Ambode has even promised to make it the hub of tourism in Africa. Is there any plan to make it the capital of Lagos as well?
Badagry is not the new capital, but we are saying that Badagry is as important as any part of the state. As a matter of fact, the announcement from Ambode is that, he will turn Badagry into the new hub of tourism in Africa that will be comparable to the best that you have in Dubai, South Africa, Thailand, Singapore and other countries. We have got all the natural resources, to achieve this feat. But it is just the political will and a good manager of resources that can turn this into reality. So, people should watch out for what Badagry will metamorphose into in the next two years, in terms of hotels, in terms of resorts, in terms of activities and in terms of the marina in Badagry that will transform into a destination of choice, not only for Nigerians, but for people from all over the world to come and visit. Badagry is so rich in history and heritage, that we just cannot allow it to remain the way it is. We need to spruce it up, and make it a world-class destination that people can visit and stay there. A few years ago, Nigerians used to visit Ghana, when they discovered that it was peaceful. It had good roads and constant electric power. Badagry can be another jewel by the sea that will attract the world and Governor Ambode is determined to provide the needed impetus to make this happen. Epe is another work in progress. We are grateful that the Federal Executive Council has approved the construction of the Badagry Sea Port. When that comes, you can imagine Badagry, just the same way that the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Ibeju-Lekki area will transform that area. In about three years’ time, people will marvel at what will come out from that axis. The Eko Atlantic is there also. Imagine the numbers of jobs that will be created. The Smart City Lagos, is coming around that axis. Imagine the billions of dollars in investments that will come there. A new airport is coming into that axis. In those days when Asiwaju Bola Tinubu asked Lagosians to imagine the opportunities that abound in Lagos, little did they know that in their lifetime, they would begin to see all those things come into fruition! We have a man who understands how money works, who understands management and who understands how resources can multiply, at the helm of affairs of Lagos State and that is why Lagosians are proud of their governor as a silent achiever.

One of the core policies of this administration is job creation and employment. Do you think most of the objectives have been achieved?
Yes, almost all the objectives have been achieved, In terms of job creation, all these developments mean that opportunities are being created in the state. If so many roads have been constructed with local contractors being used, if activities are going on and if concerts are being held, it means that jobs are being created. Forget the fact that Lagos State is recruiting in different areas. We have recruited 1300 teachers for primary schools. Now, we are recruiting another 1000 teachers for secondary schools; a few hundred engineers and architects for the Physical Planning Ministry. A few hundred for fire brigade and a few hundred for LASTMA have also been employed. It means that there are opportunities in Lagos. Of course, the big one is the N25 billion Employment Trust Fund, which has just rolled out. About 100,000 direct jobs are expected from that exercise. The N6.2 billion needed for this year is already being disbursed. This means, if you pump N6.2 billion into this exercise, to get people engaged, to encourage small businesses and start-up businesses, with loans of between N100,000 and one million naira, or even up to N3m for other young entrepreneurs in the Transport business for example, imagine how many people will be employed. So, when people now say that if you ban okada, or if you ask street hawkers to leave the highways, so that they don’t die needlessly, or get robbed or turn to armed robbers themselves, what would they do? I say to them ‘How much do you get on a daily basis when you have to kill yourselves to sell two pieces of sausage rolls on the highway?’ What is the total worth of the investment in an okada, maybe N150,000, at most? But now, we are saying that there are opportunities for you to get between N100,000 and one million naira for you to start your own business that wont endanger your life or the lives of others. If you are a barber, or a mechanic, or a hairdresser, or an artist or a young musician, who needs encouragement, and we can see that from what you are bringing, that what you need is just N500,000 or N750,000, and the government provides it, we will only collect administrative charges and assist your business to thrive so that you can repay your soft loan. This is what you can never get anywhere in any financial institution. Imagine if 300,000 people benefit from that directly or indirectly, and then they employ one or two other persons, what this means is that 100,000 direct employees would have fed 300,000 to 450,000 beneficiaries, in one single year with N6.2 billion. The following year, another N6.2 billion goes into the same exercise. Those who have benefited already will not return because they will be building their businesses. So, you will see that, for Lagos, it is a thinking government. The work plan is well-laid out, and we believe that, in about two to three years’ time, what Lagos would have become, in terms of opportunities, will be limitless. Again, of course, as people are investing, and we make Lagos much safer, and investors are coming, it is our young ones, fresh graduates and artisans that they will enjoy as beneficiaries.

It is gratifying to know that Lagos has become an oil producing state. How do you think this will impact on the people of the state?
It will have a very positive impact. Although we are trying to diversify from oil, oil and gas will still have its roles to play in creating wealth. The oil that was discovered in Badagry, Lagos, is a private sector venture. But, one, it has made Lagos a bona fide member of the league of oil producing states, now entitled to derivation funds from the federal government, taxes will be paid to the government in the state and massive jobs will be created. It means that oil that is discovered in Lagos may feed directly into the refinery that Dangote is building around Lekki Free Zone axis. It is projected to be the biggest refinery, if not in Africa, but certainly in West Africa. A petro-chemical company component of that, which is also coming, will transform Lagos into a more self-sufficient enclave, in terms of energy needs. Therefore, adding oil to it simply means that there is an undebiable blessing that had long been hidden but is now oozing out for the benefit of Lagosians. So, we welcome this additional source of income but we are not distracted by it.

The outrage sparked by the ban on street hawking seems to have abated. Do you think it is a battle that has been won?
It was never a battle. It was and will continue to be a dialogue with Lagosians. It is a dialogue that is well-meaning, because the law has always been there since 2003. There was a need for that law at that time. The need for that law is still very germane now. One, it is unfair to continue to expose our people, no matter their economic class, to the sort of hardship that they go through on the road, trying to sell a few oranges, sausages or bottled water. The chairman of the National Corporation Commission, in commending the Lagos State Government, said that if only we knew the amount of assaults and attacks – particularly sexual assaults – that these people are exposed to, that we would know that they ought not to be on the streets at all. In any case, what we are saying is that illegal trading, illegal market, street trading and street hawking are not allowed on our highways. Just like okadas are restricted from such highways. This is the necessary thing to do because we are trying to build a decent, tidy megalopolis that we all will be proud of. Why do our people go elsewhere and respect the laws of the land there, and think that Lagos should be a dumping ground, where anything goes? Lagos reserves the right to insist on the level of beauty and decency that it wants as a metropolis. Lagos has the right to say that it will no longer allow people, in the name of hawking and street trading, to destroy public assets, by digging potholes on major roads and highways, in order just to sell a few pieces of orange and banana. It is a crime against the state. And it is your tax and mine that people are destroying just to sell their wares. We say that it is not fair that those who have shops will now flood  the major highways, just to take advantage of the rush hours. We say that those who want to buy, because they are also criminalising it, are found guilty. They should buy their bread, gala and water, before they hit the highways, if they cannot wait for dinner because they reckon they will spend some hours in the traffic. There is nowhere in the world, there is no city in the world, that has population that is more than five million, that you will not encounter traffic. In any case, Lagos is not even among the ten cities with the worst traffic in the world. Go to India, China, Thailand or Indonesia, and you will see what traffic means and what road rage is. We are saying that we do not want those who will transform, by 6:30pm, when gun has already been planted inside the bread, harassing, sometimes killing people in traffic. Even those who are dashing off and around the major highways, just to get something to sell or buy, often get knocked down by vehicles on a daily basis. People don’t see that, and some people still argue that we should allow them to continue to die. When the unfortunate happens, it is the local government people that will now go and look after the body, take them to the morgue, identify and notify the families. We don’t have to allow that to continue to happen. And in any case, we insist that that, which will not be allowed in the states where some people are coming from, should not be forced on our throats. According to the police, 80% of those who engage in this street hawking, come from a single particular state in Nigeria. If they must come to Lagos, why can they not respect the laws of the land? If they cannot do it where they are coming from, is it fair to force it on Lagos State, and now blame Lagos for enforcing its own laws, in its own state?

There has been some muffled grumblings among some Lagos politicians that the governor has become inaccessible. What do you have to say to this?
I do not understand what being inaccessible means in this regard. When people say someone is inaccessible, what I think of this is that people are always quick to say that they can’t reach anyone who is saddled with the responsibility of public service. There are two things to note here: the first is what they want to reach you for. The second is, how many people, really, can you accommodate, in terms of personal relationship, once you have been given this type of job? I believe that if you carry the sort of weight that you claim you have, gaining access to the governor shouldn’t be much of a problem. I concede that a governor is not somebody that you pick up the phone and you just call, and you expect him to be there. A governor is voted into office to be busy; to serve the generality of the people. But then again, it is a question of the genuineness of the motive of the people trying to have access. It may turn out to be that, usually, 8 out of 10 times, those who make this sort of claim, make them for self-serving and flimsy reasons. But this is a governor that is always available anyway – at Town Hall meetings every quarter, where anybody is allowed to ask questions and engage with the governor and his team. This is a governor that has held several activities, political, business and entertainment-related where guests from every strata of the society had always been invited and welcomed. What class of politicians will it be then, that finds it difficult to meet the governor at such fora, and then suggests that he has been shut out if his intentions are pure? Something clearly is not adding up, if any politician of note claims that he is not able to reach the governor, I would hesitate to take that with absolute seriousness.

What should we expect from Lagos State government in 2017?
A lot, in continuation of the noiseless but strategic achievements that the Ambode administration is now known and celebrated for. 2017 will be an important year for Lagos. The state will be 50 and it will be an opportunity to celebrate. But we shall be celebrating for a good reason. In 50 years, Lagos has remained the only state that has remained indivisible since it was created. It has shown that something great can come from Nigeria and more than any other state, our state has demonstrated the spirit of togetherness and unity in diversity that has kept Nigeria itself great. A good number of the iconic projects started last year and in 2016 will be ready for commissioning. The flyover bridges at Ajah and Abule Egba would be ready. The Agege Pen Cinema flyover bridge will start. A new set of 114 roads will be announced and completed in 2017. The Online Vehicle Ownership Verification will continue. The Osgodi Transport regeneration would be completed. The Fourth Mainland Bridge will commence in the course of the year, the Smart City project that would bring about the installation of 13,000 CCtv cameras all over Lagos will progress steadily; five theatres will be built across the five divisions in the state and five stadia projects will start also across the five divisions in the state; and the channelization of our waterways, construction of more jetties and the introduction of standard ferries would come to transform water transportation in the state. The Cleaner Lagos initiative will ensure a cleaner environment and of course the Lagos City Marathon will hold in February. I may know of a few places worth visiting in 2007, but I know of only one place  to live in the new year. Its called Lagos.