Ayorinde: Ambode Has Redefined Governance

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Mr. Steve Ayorinde is the Commissioner for Information & Strategy in Lagos State. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Ayorinde provides insight into how the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has redefined governance in Lagos State in the last ten quarters and what would be its focus in the next six quarters

The administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is already 30 months old. So far, how is the journey?
It has been a great journey. It has been indeed wonderful. Either 30 months or two and half years, we actually look at it in a deeper strategic perspective. Therefore, what we see is the first ten quarters. Already, ten quarters have gone. We have six more quarters to go. It is important for us to approach our steps on a four-year journey on quarterly basis. Yes, we have four years. For some people, it might be long. But actually, it is like four days. If we look at it perhaps on monthly basis, it might be too hasty. So, we look at it on quarterly basis. It means in two and half years, your first ten quarters will have defined what you actually seek to define because the last eight of the 10 quarters means your first two years after the first six months of the inauguration. Those are crucial years. We are just crossing that path because the first two years after the first six months as well as the next one year means four out of the remaining six quarters are extremely important. We are happy because if you look at the last eight quarters, we have succeeded in redefining governance. How have we succeeded? We have fulfilled our electoral promises in terms of key areas we promised to touch. In that fulfillment, it means that some are done deals and the others are at the stage whereby we can say we have established solid foundations that we are now building on. So, the last eight quarters are erected solid foundations that the next quarters out of the remaining six will be built on. If you look at it from three main areas: security of lives and property, job creation and employment as well as infrastructure development, we have scored very well. Of course, we are equally building our deliverables on these foundations that we have erected.

What then will be the focus of the Ambode administration in the next eight quarters?
We have actually started in three main areas in addition to the three core areas we have already established. Remember, the three we have established are being relegated to the background. But the focus is what we are already facing. We are focusing on the environment. It is important to us because of the position of Lagos State as the most populated state in Nigeria, the most populous city state in Africa and the city with the largest concentration of black race anywhere in the world with 24 million people still counting. Therefore, when you have a mega city like Lagos,` it comes with its own attendant issues of the environment, waste management, flood control, landscaping and beautification. With the step-by-step approach to the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI), we believe permanent solution has come for the state’s environmental challenges. We can see what the government is doing on the one hand with the VisionScape Group, which is the driver of the CLI and the manner we have been able to resolve the lingering misunderstanding with the PSP operators. We are now settling out of court and there are back in the fold so that every can now cooperate with the state government. Now that they have seen the larger picture, they have discovered that the Ambode government is not ready to sideline anybody. As the core component of our effort to look after the environment, the CLI is germane and will resonate throughout the remaining six quarters. We want a Lagos that will be a lot cleaner. We want a Lagos that will be a lot greener. We want a Lagos where parks and gardens will return. We want Lagos where parks will be more functional with free WiFi service. This has reflected in what the new management of LASPARK is doing. Apart from what the Ministry of the Environment and CLI are looking after, LASPARK, which is in charge of greenery, gardens and parks, is also beautifying every open area in Lagos State on a more sustainable basis. We want sanitation to be key. The whole package for the environment is one of the key areas we are focusing in the next six quarters.

How was the court suit with the PSP operators resolved?
The PSP operators opted to discontinue the lawsuit having reached an amicable resolution with the Lagos State Government. It has nothing to do with the overall import of the CLI. In the last six months, it has been one step after the other. It is not a 100-metre dash. It is a marathon. Therefore, you have to approach it gradually and steadily with good breath so that you do not go out of steam. Along the line, we have launched environmental corps. Already, we have recruited and trained 27,500 people who will be involved in street sweeping. Because most of the things that will be used are regrettably coming from abroad, we have ordered about 1,000 electronically monitored compactors. We are also distributing electronically monitored waste bins across the state. For the first time, 27,500 are already employed directly into the scheme to look after every part of Lagos State. Unlike the previous order that concentrate on basically Lagos Island, we want Alimosho, Ayobo, Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu, Ikotun and Iyana-Ipaja among others to be as clean as Ikoyi, Ikeja, Maryland Surulere or Victoria Island. That is the focus of the CLI. Like I said, it is not a 100-metre dash. But we are approaching it gradually, and people are cooperating with the state government.

There is so much expectation with respect to the plan of the state government to reconstruct 183 inner-city roads. Are the local governments not cooperating enough?
The road projects are not largely within the purview of the local government. What happened was that we needed to go through the bid all over again. Yes, we have had a pre-selection after our initial advertisement. But the quotations became unrealistic after exchange rate stabilized. What contractors quoted then was no longer obtainable. We need to go through it again. But because it was realised that rather than just going though what will have appeared to be simpler process of saying all those that were considered to be successful will represent their budget, we thought it better to start afresh so that we will not go into the problem of saying this was what we quoted, this was what we bid for and this is the variation because to dollars. We do not want all those little shenanigans to stall the process. We readvertised and called for fresh bids. People have submitted bids afresh on realistic budget templates. So, winners for the bids are already being selected in the ranks of all local contractors that submitted bids. The winners for the bids will be announced any moment from now. Immediately after the announcement, the contractors can go to work. If we could achieve 114 inner-city roads within six months, of course, 183 inner-city roads will succeed. And then, it will touch all the 20 local government areas (LGAs) and 37 local council development areas (LCDAs) in the state. As we did the other time, between six and nine months, we will deliver all the roads.

Tourism occupies a prime place under the Ambode administration. And much has been done to promote Lagos beyond its shore in the last 30 months. What then are the gains of Ambode’s tourism campaign?
A lot more people, who visited Lagos State in 2016, were captured as tourists and visitors. In the first three quarters of 2017, the figures of people coming through our airport, people staying our hotels and investors showing interests to build more hotels, resorts and restaurants, have increased sustainably. The figure for the first quarter of 2017 is a lot higher than the preceding year. In the same way, the figure of 2016 is a lot higher than the preceding year in terms of touristic activities. Of course, this can be traced to the assurance that on the one hand visitors and tourists have in the commitment the Ambode administration has accorded tourism and cultural products as well as the assurance that the investors are getting, first through other investors that are coming. Do not forget that in 2016, about 90.1 percent of investors that entered into Nigeria came into Lagos. Second, they are getting assurance from their airline operators, consulates and embassies. But you cannot treat tourism in isolation. You also need to talk about internal visitors – local and domestic. We know it with the security of people that is at the top notch, with the number of hotels that are springing up and with the number of contents that Lagos is providing for tourists and visitors, even locally and domestically.

In this context, domestics mean people coming from West Africa. A lot more people are coming. When they come, we see it in our tax records. We see it in our tax collection. Do not forget Lagos State owns 25% of Eko Hotels and Suites. As at this year, Eko Hotels and Suites is probably the most profitable hotel entity in the country. You can trace that to the volume of visitors staying there and the volume of entertainment activities that are targeted at the residents, local and domestic visitors as well as international visitors. It might not be what you see in Dubai or even in Cape Town as now. But we have since left where we used to be five or six years ago in terms of tourists coming into Lagos State. They are now coming in droves because the Ambode administration is making deliberate and painstaking effort towards tourism. We are cleaning the waterways. We are channeling the waterways. It means that this administration is not thinking of water transportation alone, but also of tourism on the waterways.

The body language of Governor Ambode says a lot to the heart of tourism promotion. He is the first governor that expanded the scope of Lagos countdown from one to five locations. And he attended each of the five locations in the two previous editions. He says one of the best cultural ambassadors that Africa has ever had is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He says each time when visitors come, they want to come to Ikeja. Apart from Lagos Island, one of the key areas those visitors – whether they are business travelers or they are religious tourists – come to is Ikeja. Guess what they want to see in Ikeja. They want to go to African Shrine and they want to go to Fela’s house, which has been transformed to Kalakuta Republic. This is what the governor did very smartly. He supported Fela’s legacy and assisted in completing Fela’s museum to coincide with the 20th anniversary of his departure. Ambode then became the first sitting governor to go to African shrine to witness a concert. That sends good assurance to investors and visitors.

How is the Lagos State Government handling the refusal of the Federal Government to comply with the judicial pronouncements on the power of the state governments to control their inland waterways and collect consumption tax within their territories?
Lagos is a law-abiding state. I do not think there is any problem. However, we notice some degree of overzealousness, perhaps ignorance on the part of officials of some agencies of the Federal Government. We are lucky because Lagos State is in the party with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The manner in which Lagos State used diplomacy, wisdom and dialogue to get an approval for the takeover of the Oshodi-Airport road and Presidential Lodge is the same way we are already approaching the two issues relating to the power to control inland waterways and collect consumption tax. Without doubt, Lagos is always on the right side of the law. You cannot go wrong when you are acting legally. Therefore, it does not matter how long it is for other party to see reasons. Impunity cannot survive in democratic era. We believe both the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) will see reasons to respect what the law says.