Chief Lanre Rasak is a member of the Lagos State Governor’s Advisory Council. In this interview with Segun James, he urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to accede to Pastor Tunde Bakare’s advice about his succession plan. Excerpts:
What is your view on recent advice given by 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 actualise 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 had made it very clear and I believe he is still standing by it that ‘he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody’. A 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.
Those who had handpicked their favourites as successors before, you are living witnesses to 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.
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 him and I don’t believe that is reasonable and sound advice.
Lagos State is often regarded as a mini Nigeria and whatever happens in it affects the whole country. You are a Lagosian and the Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s administration is over six months in office, what is your impression about the state of affairs in Lagos?
For a six-month-old 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 Sanwo-Olu was prepared to be a governor. He hit the ground running from day one, when he assumed office on May 29, 2019.
If you take a close look at what had 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 could 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.
The Western Avenue, the road leading to Ido in Lagos Mainland, Ikorodu road, the Lagos-Badagry expressway that was once a nightmare to motorists and abandoned for about five years are being maintained or reconstructed and work is in progress. I can assure you that between now and March, most of the roads would have been completed by the state government.
Also, the governor has set up a special committee to look into public secondary schools so that the academic standard in public schools compares favourably with what obtained in private schools. The health sector too is being improved upon while the government has ensured that water transportation got top priority.
There are several opportunities to operate an efficient water transportation system and rail services in the state. As a matter of fact, the state government is working round the clock to synchronise 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 both motorists and commuters.
On traffic management, the governor has through the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) achieved a lot to the extent that the first and second roundabout that had been causing traffic gridlock in the Lekki Peninsula are being addressed and this is not by chance but a product of good planning, effective execution of plans and monitoring on the part of government.
Similarly, he has been attending to health facilities, infrastructure, information communication technology, ICT, as well as working on ways the government could boost electricity generation and distribution.
Despite painting a good picture of the situation in Lagos state, and even at the national level, where the APC is also the ruling party, many Nigerians don’t see the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration as a performing government. What do you think?
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 to workers in the state.
Besides, the governor has approved 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. For example, the Nigeria Railway Corporation before 2015, when the incumbent administration took office was in comatose and almost impossible for any train to move on the old tracks but the narrative has changed for the better.
Specifically, the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge, which the PDP-led administration started and could not complete for 16 years, has been completed during the first four years of President Buhari in office. Train services on that route have saved many Nigerians from avoidable hardship especially, travellers who were daily confronted and tormented by bandits on the Kaduna-Abuja road.
But immediately the train flagged off by the president, most people opted to travel by the trains, which had saved the lives of travellers and property. This is a major achievement. Also, it is on record that most ‘Trunk A’ roads in Nigeria were not maintained for the 16 years the 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 insecurity and particularly, the war against Boko Haram insurgents, you and I know that it is easy to fight a conventional war than a guerilla war for many reasons. The security forces don’t know the operational base and residence of insurgents, who launch attacks from their hideouts against soft targets and disappear.
It is very difficult to fight such a guerilla war, because if care is not taken, innocent people will be killed in the process of battling the insurgents and that will be terrible. So, the president and commander-in-chief had been very scientific and tactful in the war against the insurgents by the Nigerian Armed Forces.
For me and I believe too, every right-thinking Nigerian, our military has been winning the war on terror though there is room for improvement and I believe the insurgents will be defeated ultimately. The president deserves credit; Nigerians should give him credit.
The debt profile of the federal government is soaring under the Buhari administration, which means that he will be leaving huge debt for the incoming government by the time he leaves office in 2023 and the future generation to repay. Are you worried?
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 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, the Lagos State government tomorrow wants to build a 4th Mainland bridge and you refuse to execute it, because the government doesn’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 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 shine their eyes and if they see anything untoward, they should make a noise and report to the appropriate authority. That is patriotism. The issue goes beyond opposing the government.