‘There’s Nothing Wrong with Getting a Loan to Provide Critical Infrastructure’

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Chief Lanre Razak

Segun James dialogues with Chief Lanre Razak, a member of the Lagos State Governor’s Advisory Council, the state’s highest political organ on the performance of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and the achievements of the Muhammadu Buhari administration

What is your impression of the state of affairs in Lagos?

For a six-month government, you don’t expect so much because it is a period of planning, studying your programmes before you move a step further to implement. But the opposite has been the case for the current state government and this shows that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu was prepared to be a governor. He hit the ground running from Day One. If you take a close look at what has happened across the state in the last six months, you will marvel at his achievements. When he assumed office, it was in the middle of the rainy season, and last year witnessed torrential rainfall which can be attributed to climate change and the roads were bad. But six months after, you can easily drive around the state to see the difference the Sanwo-Olu’s administration has made.

I can assure you that between now and March most of the roads would have been completed by the state government. The health sector too is being improved upon while the government has ensured that water transportation gets top priority.

There are several opportunities to operate an efficient water transportation system and rail service in the state. As a matter of fact, the state government is working round the clock to synchronize the road, rail and water modes of transportation across the state in order to achieve a perfect mass transit system and alleviate the suffering of commuters.

Will the massive ongoing construction of roads not cause inflation?

No, it won’t. When the government is spending money on development projects, it increases the money in circulation and boosts the creation of job opportunities in the economy. For instance, construction and rehabilitation of roads create a lot of jobs for the artisans and even unskilled people who will be paid and have more money to spend. This will substantially reduce poverty in the land as many idle hands are being engaged and that cannot cause inflation. Rather, the immediate effect is that more people would want to work harder to earn more money, put more food on their table and that is good for the people. And if the law of demand and supply is to prevail, I don’t think when more money is put in circulation with many people working and there is a major boost in productivity, it will result in inflation.

Despite painting a good picture of the situation in Lagos state, and even at the national level where the All Progressives Congress (APC) is also the ruling party, many Nigerians don’t see the Muhammadu Buhari administration as a performing government. What is your opinion?

I want to first comment on the performance of the APC-led administration in Lagos State before talking about the federal level. First, is the issue of the new national minimum wage which was approved for public servants last year. Lagos State government increased the minimum wage from N30000 national benchmark to N35000. Besides, the governor has given approval for the payment of three months’ arrears to its employees following the implementation of the pay increase and that is just one of the good things the APC-led government has done in Lagos State. At the national level too, you don’t need to tell a blind man who stands in the open arena that there is rainfall because he will be drenched. So don’t bother about those armchair critics who see nothing good in what the Federal Government is doing and the many achievements of President Buhari.

Also, it is on record that most Trunk A roads in Nigeria were not maintained for the 16 years the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was at the helm of affairs at the federal level. Today, you can list many of our highways that are being maintained or reconstructed. For instance, the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway which the present administration awarded has a completion date and I can assure you that the project will be completed on schedule.

Also, the Lagos-Ibadan rail standard gauge has been completed and being test run. On agriculture, the government has devoted huge financial resources and the results are there for all to see to the extent that Nigeria is almost self-sufficient in food production.

Above all, Buhari is a man who has the fear of God and he demonstrates this attribute in governance. He is also addressing the challenges in the education and health sectors. He is a listening president and he is not someone who crosses the river on the map but goes very close to it, takes his canoe and paddles it across.

Once he discovers anything that requires his urgent attention, he gets it done very quickly. These are some of the attributes we expect from a public officer of Buhari’s stature and I can assure you that by the time he completes his second term in office in 2023, a foundation for good governance in the country would have been put in place which will be difficult for any incoming administration to truncate because it would have become minimum standard and practice for all Nigerians. Also, during his tenure so far, the country has not experienced any fuel scarcity and nobody has gone to sleep at the petrol station to buy fuel amongst many other achievements.

Public debt is soaring under the Buhari administration which means that he will leave huge debt for the incoming government and the future generation to repay. What is your view on this?

My take on it is what is the president using the loan for? Is it to address the needs of the present and future generations and executed at a cheaper rate now? It is only when you are creditworthy and lenders know you have the capacity to pay back that they grant you a loan. Therefore, when there is a need to meet the needs of the present and future generations, you can go borrowing.

But if the money is borrowed and wasted on phantom projects then that will be unfortunate and I don’t support that. For example, if the Lagos State government tomorrow wants to build a 4th Mainland bridge and you refuse to execute it because the government don’t want to borrow, by the next four or five years, the project will cost the taxpayers more whereas it would have been cheaper and economical to construct the bridge if the state had taken a loan to do it earlier.

In other words, it is more reasonable to obtain the loan today and execute the project and start using the services than for government to wait until it raises enough money in the next four or five years to do the job because we are not wasting any resources but in actual fact getting good services and meeting the needs of Nigerians with such a loan. I totally support the idea of getting a loan to provide critical infrastructure or services not available after all the citizens have been shouting for the provision of such services which the government cannot provide due to lack of funds. I want to appeal to Nigerians to be very vigilant so that once the loan is obtained and contractors begin work, they should look out for anything untoward. They should make a noise and report to the appropriate authority and that is patriotism. The issue goes beyond opposing the government from taking a loan on the ground that will mortgage future generation. It is an advantage to place future generation on a sound footing by executing major projects that will benefit them than deny them provision of such infrastructure that will meet their needs.

What is your view on recent advice by the Senior Pastor of Latter Rain Church, Pastor Tunde Bakare to President Muhammadu Buhari to pick his successor in 2023?

That gentleman is a pastor and I think he should concentrate on his pastoral work. He shouldn’t be more Catholic than the Pope and crying more than the bereaved. My advice to him is if he wants to continue with pastoral job let him do that, but if he wants to participate in politics he should join a political party and actualize his dream. He is just trying to create a situation whereby people would label Buhari as not being a democrat but I trust that Mr. President will ensure that he does things in accordance with the Nigerian constitution as well as the constitution and manifesto of our great party, the APC that brought him to power. The 1999 Constitution as amended says all Nigerians of a certain category in age and education are entitled to freely aspire to the office of the president. It goes further to insist on zoning or enforcing the Federal Character principle in public appointments. So, does the pastor want Mr. President to jettison constitutional provisions, do his bidding and just handpick a presidential candidate for the APC in 2023? How will Nigerians and members of the party react to that? Recall that Buhari has made it very clear and I believe he is still standing by it that ‘he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody’. Majority of Nigerians elected him to rule, Nigeria is the country he was elected to rule and he will not go outside the constitutional provisions and handpick his successor. You are a living witness to what happened to those who handpicked their favourite as successors. You witnessed the political storm that followed and what happened to some of them thereafter. Bakare wants to disgrace our revered president by suggesting such a dirty game to Buhari and I know that Mr. President is more reasonable and committed to doing the right thing in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution which he has sworn to defend. He shouldn’t listen to Bakare. That is not a reasonable and sound piece of advice.

QUOTE:

it is more reasonable to obtain the loan today and execute the project and start using the services than for government to wait until it raises enough money in the next four or five years to do the job because we are not wasting any resources but in actual fact getting good services and meeting the needs of Nigerians with such a loan. I totally support the idea of getting a loan to provide critical infrastructure or services not available after all the citizens have been shouting for the provision of such services which the government cannot provide due to lack of funds. I want to appeal to Nigerians to be very vigilant so that once the loan is obtained and contractors begin work, they should look out for anything untoward