The Man Who Wants to Lift Lagos Higher

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Babajide Sanwo-Olu

Vanessa Obioha writes that Babajide Sanwo-Olu the Lagos APC gubernatorial candidate may be ready chart a new course that promises to change the narrative of Lagos State

Babajide Sanwo-Olu was all smiles as he walked into the almost full hall of the All Progressives Congress office in Ikoyi where the conference was scheduled. He took turns shaking the hands of journalists as they introduced themselves to him, even though he was familiar with some of the faces there. Within minutes, he arrested everyone’s attention with his speech.

Prior to the APC Lagos state gubernatorial primary, little was known about Babajide Sanwo-Olu. His last post before he declared his intention to contest for governorship was the Managing Director of LSPDC. Some imagined that he dropped out of the sky.

As his town criers went around town, singing of his towering achievements and advertising him as the right man to rule Lagos state, Sanwo-Olu assumed another identity: Fashola’s Boy.

Indeed he is a Fashola mentee. It shows in his manner of speaking. Like Fashola, Sanwo-Olu doesn’t woo with ambiguous words. He speaks the language of the people, simple and clear. Having worked closely with the former Lagos state governor, Babatunde Fashola as the Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions, it is no news that he knows how to handle his audience, offering pragmatic solutions to problems without blinking or stuttering.

As the fight in the APC Lagos state over who to lead the state intensified, the narrative changed to that of the party’s national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s political game in the state. Sanwo-Olu became known as Jagaban’s poster boy, a title that the incumbent governor Akinwunmi Ambode once wore like a badge of honour.

If Sanwo-Olu was swayed by these monikers or not, he didn’t disclose at a recent conference. His answer to such insinuations was for the people to look out for his deliverables.

“There will always be narratives about my personality. People will always say this or that but I don’t think that should be the case. It is the case of what you can deliver. My record shows my achievements in the past nine years. I have done a lot which made these people with pedigree believe in me.

It goes to confirm who I am to a lot of these people. These are people that have worked with me, that I have worked with, that know my character, what I stand for, my capabilities of who I am, and what I can achieve,and what I have done. So it’s not just what we are saying, it is because we have worked, and we’ve earned it. Everybody that had issues with the party, directly or indirectly, I know all of them. We’ve all been together for 18 years. So, for them I was not like a card liner in any of the position. I’m a people’s person, so we can bring all of our burden, and we can all resolve it. And that is what I think I will bring to the people.”.

To be sure, Sanwo-Olu is not new to politics or governance. Though he is a surveyor by profession, he has been working in the corridors of power since the former deputy governor Femi Pedro appointed him as his Special Adviser on Corporate Matters in 2003, a title he disclosed was formed by him to specifically see how government and private sectors can work together. He has attained other positions along the line and even after leaving government in 2011, still played active roles in some government dealings. Under the Ambode administration, he headed the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC) where he once again made landmarks in his ability to make more money for the department without taking a kobo from the government. He glowingly told the newsmen that if anything, he has been paying dividends to the state. He also acquired knowledge in the area of government administration and civil responsibilities at the United States’ John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Some of his notable public sector achievements include the supervision of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) privatization projects. He set up and was the Pioneer Board Chairman of Lagos Security Trust Fund. The LAGBUS System and the Control & Command Centre in Alausa were subsequently established under his directives.

With just few months to the general elections, Sanwo-Olu has already rolled up his sleeves, ready to take up the herculean task ahead of him should he win the election in February. The following days will see him barnstorming as he prepares to face off his number one contender in the state, Jimi Agbaje of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He recently paid a visit to the Oba of Lagos state, Rilwan Akiolu who urged him to work for the people of Lagos through good governance that will improve the quality of their lives.

“Asiwaju Bola Tinubu started a very good work in Lagos and fought for the interest of Lagos. Babatunde Fashola also did very well and Akinwunmi Ambode who is presently in is also doing well. When you get to office by the grace of God you must carry on with the good work of your predecessors and take Lagos to higher level of development.”

Like previous governors, Sanwo-Olu comes with the message of ‘igbega Eko’ (to lift Lagos higher).

To do this, he has to curb the issue of traffic, housing and waste management confronting the state now.

Lagos is already groaning from overpopulation. Accommodation is costly while walkways and under bridges have been deployed as shelters by the vagrants of the society. As a surveyor, Sanwo-Olu offers ways to resolve the housing deficit. First of all, there is need to study what the deficit really is.

“It is real that there is a huge housing deficit. The solution is not a one mega solution that will fit all. We are dealing with the study to actually determine what the deficit is. Part of the things that I talked about while in LSPDC is creating financing. That’s why I said it was the private sector people that was putting money into public sector intervention. We will bring about some of the extinct model back. You can very quickly accelerate development with the private sector but with government policies. We also need to realise that the Lagos that we are dealing with, is the Lagos that have 1/3 of its very small 367,000 sq km, as water. Lagos is also a city that is below the sea level, covered all by water.

There is an ecological issue that we need to do it. It is pretty different from when you go to some other places in Ogun, and Oyo state, where you take half a metre and dig down and start your building. The moment you want to build two, three floors, you begin to have issues around soil texture, you begin to have issues around what kind of foundation. We always run away from this conversation and say affordable house, affordable this, affordable that. What exactly is affordable house? is there anything called affordable rod, is there affordable iron works? If I’m going to do for you a two storey building, I’m expected to use 16mm iron steel, will I bring that down and use 8mm instead? Well, I know that I know the challenge of building that and I know the effect of that. Or if I’m supposed to mix four bags of cement with half a ton of granite, and I mix it up, and I know in six months or thereabouts, it will crack. So, what exactly is affordable? We need to stop navigating these areas and let us have narratives that are proper; we can put all of those things well.

“What we should be saying is not that housing is affordable, but something that can meet the economic indexes of Lagos bracket of people. Let us look at the economic index of civil servants, let’s look at the economic index of middle market, let’s look at the economics of urban middle market, and the very poor. I have been uniquely opportuned to have been to a city called Bogotá, in Columbia. And part of the things that I have realised that we have not done well, is how to transfer title. If you can transfer title very well, you can unlock all the potentials that our city needs in housing. And what do I mean? If someone that is in Badia, if the man know very well that he can get a title at no cost to him, he will be able to put a commercial appreciation. The moment you have a title, there’s a commercial value already. . We are not going to relax, and sit back and to say to you 100,000 housing estates will be built. You know when we were in school then they said housing for all by year 2000, then they took it to 2010 again, now it’s 2022. All of those things are narratives that people talked about. If you go to Bogotá in Columbia, they have the best title model. How do we give titles to somebody who has shops? You have a building that has six shops, how do we give titles to them? World bank will always come and say that we need to do this or that. I was there in LSPDC, they gave us some money to do drainage system but it could still not solve 30% of anything that they gave us. It is research, it is consultancy… So you really don’t get hold of the 100% government money that you are taking from them. It is we, we need to think through our own local solution.”

Part of the problem of housing deficit according to the surveyor is waste of space.

“I see us wasting a lot of resources. If I go to your three bedroom, or your four bedroom flat, I see your space, there’s a lot of waste. If you go to London, and you come across a three bedroom flat, you will see once you land, it is there. If your need is two bedroom, why do I need to build four bedrooms? If your need is a studio apartment, why do I need to give you a two bedroom? It is because we have not been asking right questions. It is because we have not been doing the right study to know a need for people. For a population that we are dealing with, we need to interact about these things. It is smart construction. That in itself can give us a 20 to 25% improvements in how we do our work. It is not every flat that must have garden, no, because this is Lagos. You know what a two bed looks like in New York? Our culture must change, understanding of these things must change, we must understand and see that it is not the size, it is the functionality. It is not the size, it is what it does for me.

Also, I’ve been doing research on the difference between shelter and accommodation, and what do I mean? If you go to your very, very sore areas, they’ve done it in other country, you have what we call shared services. Have my room, you have your room, and they properly built it, we have a shared kitchen. That’s what a megacity needs. At the Ileya festivals and likes, if you want to go to your palace in your other state, you can go. You have all of the rooms, 20 rooms, you have the space there. Once you come here, everything is measured. Those are some of the narratives that we need to have, that is what we give us that availability.”

He reiterated his point that there is nothing like affordable housing and using substandard materials is unacceptable. However, he disclosed that there is an ongoing conversation with some Korean companies to provide smart models that can help them address the issue properly.

Waste is a monstrous issue which the present administration have failed to conquer. For Sanwo-Olu, waste will continue to be a conundrum residents change their understanding of disposing waste.

“It is an holistic solution that we need to think and come up with. Waste management won’t start from your kitchen, we have to tell ourselves the truth. It has to start with how we sort our waste. We have been talking about it for the past 10 to 15 years. We need to incentify the people so that they will take us seriously. If for example we come and collect waste and it has been sorted, we need to give you a reward, a reward that is beneficial, that is what we are working on. It’s either a token or a ticket if you comply to our rules. We don’t come from the angle of sanction, rather from the angle of a reward so it will help others to want to do it. In waste management, if you start from good sorting, then you can do recycling.”

Regarding established waste collectors such as the PSPs, the governorship candidate said that way they need most is financial support and are in talks with executives to see how they can develop models that will be beneficial to all. H pointed out that one of the reasons Lagos is still struggling with waste is the lack of communication.

“The mistake government usually make is they don’t communicate. Because you lock yourself in your room as whatever name you call it, and you don’t let people know what your challenges are and your new gate keepers cannot propagate or communicate it. Nobody is going to call for them to solve it, we are the ones going to solve it. We keep asking if something is wrong with us. No, it is just that we are not communicating the right way amongst ourselves. So, if I say to you comply, this is yellow bag, this is red bag, this is green bag, this is yellow bag, they will come and collect it in different colours, and they will comply, it becomes easier for an investor to take the red bag and deal with it, it becomes easier for the man that wants organic waste to go and deal with it. But the moment everything is muddled up, after one month, that’s not going to work again.”

In the area of traffic, Sanwo-Olu stated that there is need to enforce control an management. He offered a solution to avoid the traffic gridlock at most areas by expanding the traffic lane during peak periods.

“If there are four lanes on both sides of the road, we can expand the traffic lane to six lanes to accommodate all and close it once the peak period is over. It is just a matter of letting motorists know the exit an entry points.”

But bad roads are majorly the cause of traffic in Lagos state. With most inner roads in dilapidated state, Sanwo-Olu solution may only offer a respite.

Notwithstanding, the APC gubernatorial candidate modestly confessed that he can’t do the work alone and is welcome to practical ideas that will take the state to a better level.

OFF THE CUFF:

*On the ‘Ambode Issue’…let me state it here that there is no Ambode issue. He is my governor. We are one party and our goals are the same. A better and greater Lagos is our challenge

Sanwo-Olu clearing the air on the rumoured hostility between and Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

*When I look at my experience in public service, I realised that God has prepared me for this moment. I believe that my contribution to the public service made it possible to be appointed as acting Commissioner for Economic Planning, then Commissioner for Commerce and Industry and later Commissioner for Establishment and Training. My public service career has crowned the glorious achievements of my journey to the private sector where I had worked in the financial industry

Sanwo-Olu explaining the perceived divine intervention in his trajectory as a public servant

*I shall immediately embark on full restoration of the glory of the state and make the people the cornerstone of government. I will restore the environment that has become the source of serious anxiety to Lagosians. I will relieve residents of Lagos State of the persistent gridlocks and hiccups that has made life nasty and brutish for all of us

Sanwo-Olu making promises on some of the things he hopes to accomplish if elected governor of Lagos State

*My approach will not be to sling insults but to provide solutions to the problems of the day

Sanwo-Olu replying to an allegation against by Govenor Ambode

*I think it is important that I also thank the executive governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode for a good fight. I want to thank him for giving us the opportunity, to let this direct primary come to stay and we were able to have it. I want to thank him. I want to wish him the very best in the remainder of his tenure as the executive governor of Lagos State

Sanwo-Olu praising Governor Ambode for his role in the Lagos APC gubernatorial primary

*You have all worked tirelessly for the level we are now. I am indeed grateful and appreciate all your efforts. Lagosians, with what you have done for me, I cannot take you for granted. I will cherish it for the rest of my life

Sanwo-Olu promising not to take Lagosians for granted