BABATUNDE GBADAMOSI: I’m Better Than Ambode, Sanwo-Olu and Jimi Agbaje

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Babatunde Gbadamosi

Now a governorship aspirant of the Action Democratic Party, Babatunde Gbadamosi had twice contested unsuccessfully the governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party in 2011 and 2014. Defecting last year from the party, he has not given up his hope of becoming the governor of Lagos State. Ahead of the 2019 gubernatorial election in the state, Gbadamosi is banking on personal integrity and not party affiliation to realise his dreams. He fielded questions from Bayo Akinloye on how the ruling All Progressives Congress and the PDP have thus far deluded Lagosians. Excerpts:

Some people, perhaps from your camp, said they want a ‘real’ Lagosian to run for Lagos State governorship. Do you think it takes a ‘real’ Lagosian to run for governor of the state and make it more successful?
It depends on what you mean as a ‘real’ Lagosian.

I’m talking about being an aboriginal Lagosian.
Well, I am an aboriginal Lagosian. Perhaps, there’s something to be said for the passion, the pride and the sentimental investments into a territory that comes with being off that land. There’s something to be said, perhaps, for the sense of attachment and therefore, a greater desire to see one’s name etched in the sands of time in the place of one’s heritage.

Do you think since 1999 – people say with the exception of Babatunde Fashola – there’s an impact on governance of the state because the individuals at the helm of affairs aren’t ‘real’ Lagosians?
I think so. I think the one brief period when we had an aboriginal Lagosian run Lagos we saw a difference. Even though there was a monkey perched comfortably on his back, he still made strides in the right direction. He was being pulled (backwards); he was on a short leash but he still managed to get some things done. I have no godfather. I am a man of the people and for the people. I have supporters – across Lagos – that are genuinely supporting this cause. My dream to govern Lagos isn’t about who’s a real Lagosian and who is not.

Twice, you had contested as a governorship aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party and twice you lost the primaries. Why are you contesting again to be a governorship candidate now on the platform of Action Democratic Party?
It is for the same reason I ran (to win the PDP governorship ticket) in 2011 and 2015 – I need a better Lagos than this. I need Lagos that’s closer to the more developed territories in the world than we are now. I need a Lagos that is not in the bottom three or in the top three of the world’s worst places to live – you know of the United Nation’s league of cities. I need a Lagos that delivers more per capita happiness to its people than what we’re experiencing at the moment. I need a Lagos where the average travel time can drop from about four hours – as it is at the moment – to about an hour, maximum, for commuters. I need to see a Lagos where productivity is at an all-time high – higher than it’s ever been before and it’ll continue to grow. You know, before Donald Trump assumed office in the United States, there was a belief at some point that the DOW index had reached its record high around the time (Barack) Obama took over, only for it to outstrip that high when Trump took over – only to show you that infinity is a concept that we need to understand that you can continue to grow to infinity. Growth isn’t limited by human imagination; you have to keep growing. The possibilities for us in Lagos are infinite but we need to explore them; we haven’t started to scratch the surface yet.

Do you agree that the current Lagos State government has made some progress in that direction and you intend to build on that?
I totally disagree. The current government hasn’t done any of the things it ought to have done in the last three years. I witnessed the (former Governor of Lagos State, Lateef) Jakande administration, so I know what progress looks like. I know progress is when a government comes in and builds a thousand schools in four years. I know progress when a government comes in and builds 20,000 affordable housing units and delivers them to the people without any cronyism involved. I know that is good governance. I know good governance is when you build a thousand new schools and then make free education accessible to every child in the state. I know that good governance is when you build 20 brand new general hospitals where there are none and then go ahead to provide affordable health care – free health care in most cases – for the people of the state without living a debt overhang behind. I know that’s what good governance looks like.
In the last 20 years – the achievements that were recorded by the Jakande administration in four years – the last 20 years of administrations of Tinubu hasn’t been able to meet up with 10 per cent of that in terms of achievements. So, has the last government done well? Absolutely, not. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination.

It appears you want to replicate the achievements of Lateef Jakande or improve on them. In what concrete terms do you intend to do that?
Let’s take them one by one. The question you asked is whether I want to build on the achievements of the Jakande administration. Absolutely! What I want to do is for instance in the area of education – and I think this is perfectly achievable within our current means, we can actually do this. What I plan to do is build more accessible schools in Lagos so that our children don’t have to travel too far to go to school. Again, this was the point of the Jakande administration building so many schools. His administration wanted to reduce the amount of commuting that children do to get to school – that’s the same thing we’re going to be doing. A situation where there are more private schools in the state than there are public schools doesn’t make sense. We need to increase and improve the public sector offering in terms of education. We need to bring the school closer to the children. We need to depopulate a lot of schools. So, what we’re going to be doing is that as we’re building more schools we’re going to be shaving off the population from existing schools and moving them to the new schools. Therefore, there’ll be more schools per neighbourhood than there were before and the class numbers will drop – that means the education quality on offer will improve because there’ll now be more attention paid to each child by the teachers. If we’re able to put the schools in the neighbourhoods, that’ll means we’ll also be able to take up more children than were taken up at the moment. That way the overall quality of education we’re offering will improve. The number of children we’re able to reach, in terms of providing them with adequate education, will increase exponentially.

OK, can we afford to do this? My immediate answer is yes. We can within our current means – within what’s currently available. Between N30 billion and N40 billion per month in IGR should be able to give us that as long as we keep public procurement sane – and that’s the most important thing here. Public procurement has to move away from the era N1 billion per kilometre road; N6 billion per kilometre expansion project for roads like the Lekki-Epe road – N6 billion per kilometre. We need to move away from that type of madness and begin to move more towards private sector-styled procurement where the Dangote Group is building four kilometres of new roads within the refinery complex at Ibeju-Lekki at the cost of N250 million per kilometre by Julius Berger, no less. If they are able to pull that off, how come the state is paying N1 billion per kilometre? We need to address this and once we address issues like this you’ll see that our tax-naira will go much further than it’s going now.

What’s your blueprint for health care delivery?
As far as health care is concerned, there are a number of things that needs to be done simultaneously. The first one – this will also apply to education; in fact, this will apply to the entire public service – is to look at the compensation culture in the public service. It’s really disgraceful. It’s closer to slavery than it is to a compensation culture. We need to move away from that and start giving people not just a living wage but we need to start paying for their time. If you employ a civil servant and say to him your job is to carry this file from this room, to the next and so on, with a distance of about 50 metres a day and you’re paying him N20,000 per month for that, you can’t expect much. There are certain jobs that’ll be wiped out but we’ll also create jobs in other areas where we need more productivity. We’re going to reorganise the public sector: we’re going to make wages better than they are now. We’re going to make compensation better than it is now. We’re going to provide better housing for public sector workers. We’re going to provide better transportation systems (including fixing the roads) for them so that the whole struggle of getting from home to work begins to end.

Your aspirations are high but shouldn’t you start off your desire for political office by running for local government chairman or a state lawmaker?
A local government chairman doesn’t have the executive powers and no constitutional immunity; he can be removed at the whim of the governor as we’ve seen in the past in Lagos. So, if you’re making so much progress some people might be jealous and remove you. We know that this is the Nigerian situation but it is unfortunate. If you’re a legislator either at the state or federal level – especially at the state level, you’re at the mercy of your governor. You can be dealt with and you can be removed. You don’t have as much as a direct impact as a governor with executive powers and a budget will have on the lives of the people. As a governor, you have a budget and a direct responsibility towards the people and you’re able to make more of an impact if you have an iota of altruism in you. I’m still a governorship aspirant at the moment. We’re talking to the party faithful and confidence is high that we’ll win the right to represent our party on the ballot.

Apparently you left the PDP because you want to contest the Lagos State governorship having failed in your bid in 2011 and 2015. Is that correct?
In part, yes. In 2011, I was still new; I was only three years in the PDP at the time I ran for a ticket. The truth is not many people knew me in PDP as of that time. They didn’t know what I stood for. They didn’t know who I was and what I had achieved and so on and so forth. I could quite well understand that situation then. In 2014, things have changed substantially. I had taken on the APC, ACN almost single-handedly between 2011 and 2015 on behalf of the PDP with a view to getting Lagosians to really see the ACN for who they were – and it worked. In the run-up to the PDP primary in 2014 and 2015 election, the sentiments, the prevailing sentiments in Lagos was that it was game over for the APC; that they were gone from Lagos. And then, the primary held; a large sham where 816 delegates were accredited for the primary and they counted 863 votes – that was captured live on the TV and it turned so many people away from the PDP, myself included, that the result was that the PDP lost the election; an election that they were coasting home to win. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, so to speak by conducting a fraudulent primary in which the person that emerged – and I warned them that the person that emerged might not be interested in winning the election – might just be interested in emerging as the candidate. To a large extent that actually played out; that in fact, did play out because he didn’t win the election and he didn’t fight hard enough to win the election in my opinion.

So, he didn’t win it. And now, in 2018/2019, we’re set for another election; I left the PDP because I realised that they were not interested in winning elections. They were only interested in participating since 1999 despite having enormous resources available to them in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. The immense electoral resources available to them didn’t win them the election not because they were not popular but because they were not interested in winning elections at the highest possible level in PDP in Lagos. I don’t want to dissipate my energy in such a party that seems to be in cahoots with the ruling party.

Do you think the ADP has the electoral muscle to win the governorship election in Lagos?
I’m not sure this is going to be about ‘muscle’. I’m not also entirely sure this contest is going to be entirely about one’s party platform.

What do you think it’s all about?
I suspect it’s going to be about the individuality of the candidates than the actual party itself. That’s the feedback that we’re getting from all our research in Lagos: that people are fed up with the APC and the PDP. They just want a good person. It doesn’t matter what party the person comes from. I dare say that intrinsically that any person that doesn’t have a godfather will by default be a good person to start with – that’ll add to their goodness a great deal and then you can start looking at the individuals for their qualities. Given my experience, my background, my knowledge and my pedigree as a person, I believe I’m probably the best quality out there right now.

What exactly are you bringing to the table?
I’ve run what’s called the Amen Estate – in Ibeju-Lekki – for the last nine years. We’ve built that from the scratch. We went to a densely-forested area of Lagos and built an estate that functions better than all of Lagos in the last nine years without collecting any personal income taxes, land use charges, vehicle licence fees, any lock-up shops fees, etc. We don’t collect any taxes from Amen Estate residents and yet we provided them with 24-hour electricity, 24-hour water supply, good roads, and no flooding. We’ve done that without borrowing a dime. This is the key: streaming public sector procurement and bringing in some common sense to bear. So, we want to bring some sanity to public sector finance and the only we’re going to be able to do that is if we have someone like me who has the experience.

Don’t you think that’s not enough experience to run a state like Lagos?
Yes, it is. The question you have to ask yourself is: what does it take to run Lagos? It takes personal integrity, that’s number one. You have to be honest. If you’re not honest, you get into a public office and you see the money, you’ll go crazy like some have done in the last 20 years. Let’s call a spade a spade; and not an agricultural implement. The truth is some people got into public offices in Lagos State and went completely crazy and started rolling around in money. They need to have private jets. They need to own the best hotels – at whose expense? At the expense of a poor child dying of malaria in the 21st century; at the expense of a child that should be in school, selling sweets on the street because their parents can’t afford to send them to public schools. Of course, they may say on paper that education is free in Lagos State but it’s not. If it is, children hawking on the streets while they should be in school wouldn’t be seen at all. So, integrity, that’s the first thing.

It is often said that vying for an elective public post is like a popularity contest.
Yes, it is. It’s a popularity contest.

But the public don’t seem to know who you are. Don’t you think so?
It’s because I’ve not started campaigning yet. INEC hasn’t blown the whistle but those who know me do know me – and they’re quite numerous.

Unlike you, some governorship aspirants by virtue of picking a nomination form are already popular.
That’s true – that may well be true. But we’ve learnt over time that popularity alone is not the answer to good governance. I think Nigerians are beginning to realise that. There’s a way in which hunger does reset the brain. I think that Nigerians are going to realise that adulation of any individual doesn’t necessarily translate to salvation.

Do you still think you’re better than the likes of Akinwunmi Ambode, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Jimi Agbaje, etc?
If I don’t think I’m better, I won’t be contesting. If I didn’t I have something better than they have to offer the people of Lagos, I’ll be sitting in my house sipping my pina colada, watching proceedings on CNN like everybody else – or, on Arise TV like everybody else.