It was late Wednesday afternoon and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu was far from retiring for the day. Ordinarily, he should have been tired from the series of meetings that won’t stop coming – time after time – he showed no signs of fatigue either. The essence of his many meetings was also predictable: addressing the Covid-19 pandemic from their different manifestations. Thus, the interview with THISDAY was not different. Without having to patronise him, Sanwo-Olu too knew his approval rating had gone up this period, because he isn’t doing badly. For a man, who had suffered scathing criticisms since assuming office – from deplorable state of Lagos roads to the backlash from restrictions placed on commercial motorcycles and tricycles, not also forgetting the recent Abule-Ado explosion – the Covid-19 challenge has only turned out the biggest test of his leadership. Confident and bursting with the kind of energy required of a Lagos governor, Sanwo-Olu said he’d been able to tame the virus, because he started preparing for it early, after his Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi alerted him that the Wuhan, China health crisis would hit the whole world in no distant time. Although he’s so far left nothing to chance in the management of the emergency situation, Sanwo-Olu is however not oblivious of the fact that the battle against Covid-19 is one he cannot afford to lose and that much he reveals in this interview with THISDAY on Sunday. Excerpts:
Your show of leadership in the face of a global health crisis has been impressive especially, as COVID-19 ravages everything in its path. How challenging has it been for you to navigate through these times?
It’s been tiring times, to be honest with you. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, nobody could tell a few months ago, a year ago, two years ago, this is how things would turn out. For everybody including myself, it’s been a strong learning curve. It’s been a very strong and difficult moment for all of us and I think there’s no business school, political school that could have given one enough tutorial on what we’re getting into.
But we’ve been lucky in Lagos. Beside the leadership, I think we’re lucky in terms of institutional knowledge and also in terms of the crop of cabinet members that we’ve put together; and specifically, to talk about my Commissioner for Health (Prof. Akinola Abayomi).
We must give credit to the man, who professionally, had mentioned to me towards the end of last year (2019) urging that we should prepare for COVID-19, noting that there was trouble coming. In January, specifically, after we’ve cleared off the budgetary matters, the commissioner said to me that the pandemic was coming and it would get to us and what we needed to do was to activate a few things and I agreed with him.
As a professor, he was part of the team that dealt with Ebola. Among the things he said we needed to do was to upgrade the state’s health infrastructure like the infectious disease hospital and that we needed to set up a ‘control-and-command centre’ in anticipation of what was coming.
We didn’t claim to have the knowledge of what would happen but I gave him the go-ahead, the cooperation and the approval to start preparing in earnest for the pandemic. By the end of January or the first week of February, we had set up an incident command, where I designated as the incident commander and the commissioner for health was designated as the deputy incident commander.
Well, at that point I had no idea what that designation meant but it was such a fanciful name that I wholeheartedly embraced. Be that as it may, things began to be a bit disturbing from the reports we were getting from international media on how China was grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. Every day, it became something that I was interested in and was schooling myself.
During that period, it was discovered that many of the facilities were rundown and we needed to do some rebuilding – building up capacity and re-training personnel. From the end of January all through February, we started out rapidly fixing what needed to be fixed; renovating and making generators functional.
Let me admit, there were moments I became worried even before the index case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nigeria -February 27, a Thursday. Ten days before the recorded case, the commissioner started calling every evening and each time I saw his call, I was awaiting the bad news that index case had been recorded.
But he’d say, ‘No, no COVID-19 case yet but we need to buy this, buy that.’ I’d say, ‘okay, no problem’, until that particular Thursday, when he called me. It was around 10:30 pm. He said to me: ‘Mr. Governor, we have our first case!’ Of course, my heart just sank. Immediately, we activated everything we’d put on the ground. ‘Everything’ included that we needed to come clean; we needed to be transparent. We needed to tell the citizens and everybody where we are.
I said to him we needed to call the health minister, the NCDC (Nigeria Centre Disease Control) and the President (Muhammadu Buhari). I pointed out that, before we wake up, if we didn’t push this message forward, Nigerians would have got wind of it. About 11:30 pm, we sat down to draft a message and we waited. We waited because the issue on hand is a national issue.
It’s not something Lagos was keen on taking the shine. We believed that the federal government should take the lead in the matter. We agreed that the national government should make the official announcement.
By the following morning, the whole airwave had gone agog with the news. The journey had just started. We were able to absorb that first case, because we were ready and we knew what was expected of us. I visited the facility, where the patient had been taken.
And because the hospital is an infectious hospital, COVID-19 is new; it’s something we’ve not seen before. But we have other infectious diseases – tuberculosis, HIV and we were dealing with Lassa fever. As of that time, the fever had killed between 160 and 170 patients. Therefore, there was a need to separate the COVID-19 unit from the other infectious diseases’ unit.
It was like a repetition of Ebola, which occurred a few years ago and it was in the same infectious disease centre that we handled that. Also, in that facility we have what we call the biosecurity lab. It’s a level-three biosecurity lab – first class! It was one of the best in Africa. It was built by Lagos State in conjunction with the Canadian government, the post-Ebola era.
The infection rate has been relatively low in Lagos State. However, there are modeling indicating as high as 39,000 persons may likely be infected in the state. That’s scary, what’s your reaction to such high numbers?
You’re right. People will do all sorts of empirical modeling based on the trends of where the virus has emanated from and thus, they’re able to plot graphs. Yet, some of the things people didn’t understand is that we needed to look at where this thing is coming from. At the time COVID-19 got to Nigeria, it was only prevalent in developed countries, and of course, China where it originated.
If you do an economic comparison, you’ll realise that a lot of those jurisdictions have many average citizens that can afford international travels. Since it’s a disease that has to be ‘brought in’, the question is how many entry points can we possibly have? In France, for example, there are more than 20 international airports. Think of the UK and the US’ airports too, indicating that journeys can start in any part of the world and terminate in these entry points.
Similarly, consider the economy in Europe. You will notice that inter-country trips can be made by road at cheaper rates. Movements in these places are fluid. Our own modeling doesn’t, as a matter of fact, have to follow theirs. So, we sat down and looked at the realities on the ground here. Where are our entry points? It’s (coronavirus) not a domestic disease. It’s ‘imported’ into Nigeria. Apart from Abuja, Lagos has at least 70 per cent of international travels. We can count the number of international flights into Lagos. That’s number one.
Number two and mind you, I’m talking about first-time carriers, what’s the average earning power of the people, who are travelling? Apart from the middle, upper-class people, who travel, the top set of people are the ones who actually go on repeated travels all the time. It’s not a model in which you see people earning less $1000, who need to do international travels to the UK.
On that evidence, I saw that it was the same set of people who are moving in and out and it’s not a large percentage of our population. Thus, I said to myself that if we could quickly block that entry, we would be able to stop the spread of the virus. However, these aren’t facilities under the control of the Lagos State government. We’re subnational. That decision (to block the entry points) had to be taken by the federal government.
Thus, in terms of the modeling, I knew that people were using the economic indices of where those cases were coming from to reference the likely cases that occur here. But it’s not that simple taking into cognizance the number of entry points of other places compared to ours. Beyond the first level of control, is the strategy to curtail the level of transmission.
But why did the Lagos State government refuse to reveal the identity of the first index case?
The patient has a right to privacy, which also includes his medical records unless a patient decides to make public his or her own medical issues and records. Medical practitioners have ethical responsibility to respect the privacy of their patients in terms of their medical records and related issues. Among the patients discharged from the isolation centre, there were those willing to talk about their experiences but didn’t want their identity revealed and there were those willing to be identified publicly.
Despite the numbers, fatalities still remain very low. What’s the secret behind the treatments of the patients?
In truth, it’s a combination of many things. We don’t have a magic wand yet to wave the virus out of the land. At the moment, maybe we have a lot more patient-doctor ratio to the extent that we could treat the patients quicker and more effectively. Second, there’s something about us and that may boil down to the level of our immunity; we’ve developed some level of internal resistance.
Could it also be because we’re in the tropics? On a lighter note, people also say that perhaps it’s because Nigerians are tough-skinned having been used to tough times. It’s certain that the health professionals are using a cocktail of medications, which I don’t know.
The fatalities we’ve recorded were linked to underlying medical conditions the patients had. And hear this: Nigerians believe we pray a lot and we can’t rule out the efficacy of prayers. Think of the health professionals on the frontline, they must be praying each time they’re going in there to treat the patients. The positive outlook of the patients is also important.
Clearly, no leadership could have envisaged and prepared for this kind of challenge. So, what are your takeaways from this?
One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is sincerity. Sincerity is important. You must be able to reflect what’s inside of your heart. The first thing is, we want to give our people the best possible care that we can offer them. Two, we want to encourage our staff not to look back and to know that we’re with them all the way. Three, We needed to see how we’ll use leadership as a tool to ensuring that we redefine governance.
Where we need to use leadership as a tool to redefine governance, I said to myself if nothing one needs to transparently continue to communicate with the public. Even if we’re drowning, we need to escalate issues, give hope and assurance by just saying to people, ‘You know what, the situation is bad but we’re going to get better.’
When you don’t say anything all sorts of things cross people’s minds and there’ll be nobody to dispel any wrong notions. So, I decided that I have to be out there to let people know what we’re doing. It’s only when we’ve told our people what we’re doing that they can hold us accountable. Not saying anything will suggests we don’t have a plan.
Since we have a plan, our message is that everything is going to get well. We’ve provided various facilities, medical equipment and we can do better in those things. We need to tell the people what we have done, what we’re doing and what we need to do; and the places we need to get to and a real way to do it is to show leadership and transparently come forward and speak to the people.
The people need to believe in you. We just need to continually carry the people along. Every day meetings are being held and I ask the team to let me know what needs to be communicated to the citizens. You know, what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. So, we said to ourselves, we’re going to tell people we’ll do this and that, then, we go out to do just so. That’s the essence of governance. It’s been an eye-opener for me. With all sense of modesty, it’s also been a lot more than one can imagine.
Has the lockdown really been effective the way it should be?
It has, to be sincere. You know the Lagos gridlock. Traffic issue in Lagos is something we still need to solve. Here’s why the lockdown helped in halting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. So, we’re tracing some individuals, because somebody in an aircraft has tested positive for COVID-19, leading to trying to identify all the people who sat close to the confirmed COVID-19 patient.
So, some mapping is required to know those likely to contract the virus because of their seats’ proximity to the confirmed case: where do these people live? What do they do? Where are they going? The surest way to get these people is to visit them and take their samples. Initially, it was taking us three to four days to track people in the early days. The logistics were heavy. That’s number one.
Number two, we also realised that they’ll probably be infecting the community and one effective way is to slow down the movement of people. It’s only when you move there is the likelihood that people who don’t know you from anywhere, in a bus or somewhere else can get it. An ‘innocent’ sneeze or cough can do a lot of damage to other passengers in the bus.
But when people are restricted to their homes, the spread can be contained to a great extent. That’s the whole idea of the lockdown apart from making mobility easy for those involved in contact tracing, it’s a solution that’s proven as it can be seen in Wuhan province (China). We’re fighting an invisible enemy that turns on its head our cultural and traditional values like warm-hearted greetings and gatherings that dwell much on physical contacts.
Let’s look at the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the economy, governance and the social life of Lagos.
It’s heavy. It will be heavy. All of our indices are somersaulting. It will be heavy. First, we should look at what kind of economy are we running. At the federal level, we’re running a mono-economy with foreign earnings largely dependent on crude oil. As of today, the oil price has plummeted from $60-something to $20-something indicating that our earning power economically as a nation has crashed and we’re just getting out of the first quarter.
We’re also an import-dependent economy. If we’re export-oriented, maybe our staying power will also show, at least, we’re producing. We’ve improved on food production and local consumption in the last three to four years better than what it used to be. There are many rice farms, mills. Just imagine we now need the dollar to import rice. We’ve stopped the importation of tomato puree. We have many agro-allied companies.
However, power hasn’t been efficient in the country. These are some of the drivers that ought to help the cost of production even in that economy so that when you break down your cost of power you can pass that onto your customers. At the state levels, where are our IGRs? Where do we source all the money? Income taxes aren’t sure at this point. Now that many firms have shut down completely or partially, we don’t know the effects in terms of rationalisation; we don’t know the effects on employment and the lack of it.
Consider VAT (Value-Added Tax): you can only exert tax on what’s consumed. Consumption has drastically reduced. Once you don’t have revenues coming, it becomes also difficult for the government to be able to progressively deliver some of the economic agenda, be it development, capital expenditure or even recurring expenditure like (payment of) salaries. It’s really going to affect us.
In view of this, all of us have to think out of the box. All of us have to think through this time and we need to tighten our belt. The government now needs to be very proactive and prudently put limited resources to the best use. In Lagos, we’re designing ways to further reduce cost of governance. We’re now obligated to think more creatively on how to solve the challenges and problems confronting us in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the social side, how are we going to deal with it? As it is, we have to maintain social distancing; you shouldn’t touch me and I shouldn’t touch you. This new reality is absolutely alien to our culture as a people. This will require some re-engineering of our psychology to grapple with the fact that a friend is here and you can’t give him a warm handshake. You can’t hug him. People must understand this new reality; our new social culture demands some level of physical distancing.
More important, we need ourselves to be there for each other. We can expect some mental issues to come out of this new norm that we all find abnormal. Think about falling into depression in this period. Well, I also heard that this new norm has its own good side too: we heard that some families are reconciling with one another, husbands and wives who have to endure long-distance relationships have now come together.
Parents are getting to understand their children better. We should also be mindful that there’ll be some social tension in homes sometimes resulting in domestic violence and it’s sad to admit that there had been reports of domestic violence. These are issues we need to manage and communicate across all strata in whatever forms. We must do everything to get our lives back.
For example, we’ve developed a tourism strategy. I’m sure I’m leaking my strategy. This year, it can be envisaged that hardly will people go for summer; the financial strain brought about by COVID-19 and the post-coronavirus fear. Therefore, the question we need to ask ourselves is: what are the things we need to do jazz up the social life of people after the lockdown? We’ll think through this and see how we’ll create a local economy; revamping the beaches, promoting memorabilia, boot camps for children, etc. We must create that economy. Once it’s a naira economy, it’s good for us. Let’s make our local currency strong.
What’s the cost of managing the coronavirus crisis?
Even today as I speak with you, spending has been signed on some expenses, because I’m committed to a 24-hour turnaround time. There can’t be bureaucracy in all of this. However, I’ll give you some idea around that. Last year, when we started the preparation of the IPCs (Infection Prevention Control), I said to myself in the budget that let’s even wrap up before our expenses in health. It’s only what you’ve earned that you can spend.
We raised some bonds last year, which we were lucky that early in the year, we had some headroom with the bond, which we’ve started spending for our health facilities. About five health facilities are concurrently being renovated. If not for the lockdown, we’d have opened two health facilities as well in Epe and Badagry. We’ve, therefore, started spending a bit on health, because of the fund we had from the bond’s proceeds.
Once the health commissioner told me they needed to activate the IDH (Infectious Diseases Hospital), I was more than willing to give approval; everything is being monitored though. Vehicles, new equipment, training, welfare, etc. are part of all interventions we’re engaging in currently. There are about 10 isolation centres that people don’t know exist with 60-bed, 80-bed capacity.
All of our health workers stay in these facilities when they can’t go home. We’ve anticipated that even in the event that we have an ‘explosion’ in the number of confirmed cases, we can put people in Epe, Animosho, Ibeju-Lekki. As we speak now, we’ve had to pick 67 Nigerians stranded at the border. They’ve been lodged at our facilities in Badagry. We’ll test them and quarantine them for 14 days. They’ll be fed.
We had 17 students from the Seme border a couple of days ago. We took very good care of them. When we confirmed that they tested negative to COVID-19 we allowed them to join their families. For Lagos State, it’s really not about the money now. It’s more about how quickly can we get post-COVID-19. How quickly can we get our people, who turned negative to go back home? The main goal of governance at this stage isn’t financial. It’s really about how do you help your citizens; how do you get your people out of this unfortunate situation.
To be transparent, people are supporting Lagos tremendously, starting from the federal government of Nigeria; they’ve given us some recurrent money and some new funding post-COVID-19. What we’re going to do at the House of Assembly in order to obtain a big expenditure framework. We have to be fully prepared for this kind of infectious disease.
We’re going to be building infectious diseases research and training facilities – purpose-built. We’re going to build a 300-bed isolation facility and office complex. We’re looking at building three to four-storey building at the Yaba facility. That’s the plan. We can’t over-prepare for catastrophe like this. Then, we’ll go back to see how we’ll revamp our entire health structures.
What are the total bed-spaces at the moment?
In Yaba, we have about 120 beds. We just commissioned the Onikan isolation centre; it has 110 beds. That’s 100 regular beds, four wards – two for male patients and two for female patients. Then, we have the 10-bed ICU ward. We have at Gbagada, kidney and renal centre; it’s going to take 180 beds. Aside from that, there are another 10 at Gbagada; there could be a spillover and that’ll take 250 (beds).
Inside IDH Yaba, there’s a ground zero that can occupy 250 beds as well. All these are in addition to the 10 other facilities I earlier talked about. They’re private facilities that we’ve temporarily acquired; some of them have 50, 60, 80 and 40 beds. That one will give about 200 or 250 beds. If it happens that these places are stretched, we have two other plans. We can activate a tent at the Agege stadium. We can activate another tent at Surulere’s Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Within 10 days we can put these tents. We have over 2000 beds bought already in the event that they’ll be needed. We just have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. To echo the WHO’s secretary-general’s words, you can never say you over-prepared for a pandemic. When you’re faced with a pandemic that defies race, boundaries, skin colour, gender and economic status, you’ve got to build that capacity. We’ve even built capacity in terms of ventilators. We have in all of our hospitals that we’ve tracked – about 80 ventilators. But for COVID-19, we have about 40.
Are you likely to ask for additional financial aids given the extent of what Lagos needs to fight this invisible but common enemy?
To be fair, we still have sufficient funds. The federal government has been very magnanimous and a lot of citizens have supported us. These individuals will be thanked privately and publicly at a future date for what they have done to help us.
Three things: how much has been donated so far to the Lagos government; how many people are still being traced; and with a gradual progression in the number of confirmed cases in Lagos, don’t you think the state will reach an explosion as being experienced in Egypt and Algeria?
In terms of numbers, if you take out the federal government’s financial support, I think, additionally, we’d have got about N3 billion from the well-meaning organised private sector. Just before the coronavirus pandemic spiked, we were also raising funds for the Abule Ado fire disaster.
Regarding how many people we were tracing, I don’t know how many people were traced to. As of yesterday (Tuesday), I think we were still trying to track about 1000 persons. There’s the likelihood of double counting in some cases; they could also be traced in Abuja. They could also be traced in Ado-Ekiti. But we’re still tracing all these people via their mobile telephone numbers. But that’s not geo-specific. We also realised that a lot of them didn’t give their real or home addresses. We don’t know where these people are. But note the progress: we started the contact tracing from about 5000 persons.
Recall the issues of temperature and entry points that I mentioned earlier. African countries like Egypt and Algeria are close to European countries than Nigeria. Two days ago (Monday), was when we finished the first cycle of 14 days; the first time we locked our border was two weeks, two days ago (Monday), that suggests that everybody that had come in from abroad would have been ill within that time or got well. The only other set of people now is the secondary or tertiary carrier –second level or third level carrier.
That’s why we’ve decided to look into community infection. The first set of people that had come in and haven’t shown themselves up that they’ve fallen sick or had some crises, they’ve either been sick and got well. The day we closed our border was the last day the last set of people came in.
Therefore, the last set of people should have coronavirus or should have been healed by last Monday. But, in the case that they were asymptomatic, they might have infected other people and who also may not be manifesting the symptoms. That’s why social distancing is now the solution.
Do you think people are observing the directives on social distancing?
It’s a new culture. Let’s be real. We have to shut many avenues that can easily lend themselves to people gathering together.
Nigerians are becoming impatient about the lockdown. How do you hope to sustain this in the event of an extension and what are you saying to the people?
We must be realistic about this situation. My wish, which isn’t scientific, is that all this ends as soon as possible. The health professionals will advise us. We still have about three, four, five days to make that decision. If, from the look of things, the situation of things isn’t improving, and we may have to extend the lockdown, it’ll be the responsibility of various leaders to encourage our people, to persuade them, to help them understand that the decision is taken in the overall interest of all of us.
So, what do we now need to do? That’s why we’re working on what sorts of palliative or succour can we give our people? In this situation, there’s nothing too much or too little. The federal government has opened its national green reserves. We hear that very soon, the federal government will send hundreds of bags of rice to us. Lagos State, however, has started something. In all modesty, we started the first food intervention in the country. I knew we’ll not be able to reach everybody in the first instance and I knew the pressure would be on us.
We’ve learnt our lessons. We’ve started the second batch. We’ve redesigned the model that we believe will further get to the vulnerable, the physically challenged, people that really deserve all of this welfare. Still, there’s a third round underway which will be carried out through the local governments. There are still the provisions from the federal government and the private sector, which we’re still pushing out. It’s a case of how quickly we can push these out and how patient people can be with us to ensure these things get to the right people and as many as possible.
When the criticisms on bad roads in Lagos started mounting, the insinuation then was that Lagos was broke. Was Lagos really broke and what’s the current debt profile of the state?
‘Broke’ is a very relative word. Is America broke? I’ll say yes. Why? Because if you look at the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio, you’ll know it’s a broke state. But America understands the economy very well and you know the beauty? The country is lucky to have a universal currency. The country didn’t have a budget but it has just released the biggest stimulus in its history – $2.5 trillion. That’s being broke! But one needs to understand how the economy works.
One also needs to know what line he’s pushing his resources to. We’ll be broke, because of what we have and what we require is far from it. The total budget that we’ve pushed is less than $3 billion. That amount of money isn’t up to what’s used to finance a child school department in the city of New York. It’s not up to what’s used to finance a fire service in the city of New York. It’s not up to what’s used to run public buses in the city of Chicago –city not state.
That’s what we use for over 20 million people, for capital, for overhead, to be able to build roads, to be able to build schools. It’s a function of where we are and what we have. The question is: if we give you all these things, do you have the capacity to deliver? The answer is yes. Year-on-year, Lagos State has shown and demonstrated that if it has revenues, it has the capacity to utilize those revenues especially, for capital expenditure.
I was once the commissioner for budget and planning, so I understand it very well. The current budget we’re running, we did a budget – capital to recurrent – even with the increase in the minimum wage with the largest public service apart from the federal government’s, we have the largest overhead and we’re the first to agree that we’ll even pay slightly more than the minimum wage. We realised that the living wage in Lagos isn’t the same as the other parts of the country.
So, if we have the capital, where do we need it the most? That’s how we design the budget. Can we do capital expenditure that can give us better leverage in terms of how people communicate and move in our city? That’s how we know that public transportation and traffic management are critical phase of our projects. The same thing with health and education; infrastructure and road construction, how well can we push this narrative in such a way that can galvanize better things happening in the system?
Back to your question: are we broke? We’re broke to the extent that, that’s how much money we can raise. But if we can raise more money, we’ll utilize it well. In terms of the capacity, Lagos State has the capacity to do a whole lot more. What’s our debt profile? I don’t have the exact figure right now from the top of my head. The most important one is that we just raised N100 billion on our bond issuance. It’s the highest sub-national bond anybody has raised in this part of the world before. The market was comfortable and happy with us regarding what we planned to use the funds for.
Maybe our external borrowings, which you can reference is a bit more than that. One thing that we shouldn’t lose focus of is this: Lagos State still has a lot of capacity. For us, the fear isn’t to ask ourselves, when is it going to rain? It’s the tsunami we’re facing now. The rain is now! For every day we delay on improving infrastructure, on improving education, health, not only does it get more expensive down the line, we’ll continue to harm ourselves.
You claimed all your indices are somersaulting as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. But looking at your IGR, it’s apparent Lagos is doing poorly in capturing the informal sector. Are their plans to become more aggressive in terms of capturing the informal sector in your revenue net?
You’re dead right. So, what we’ve done are two things: we realised we don’t have data. There’s a dearth of data. We just see movement of people, but where are they going? We must have the database to capture these people. But for COVID-19, we’ve actually decentralised our strategy on how to reach out to the informal sector.
We’ve set up five different, private-public companies to help us generate that data. Sometimes you need to incentivise people to ensure they provide reliable data. As a government, we want to also transparently deliver good governance. That way, we build public trust.
Some of the projects started by the previous administrations and which remain uncompleted are the monorail (blue line) and the Oshodi bus transportation system. Why is that especially, that it’s always been the same government and party?
I’ll take you down memory lane. The original Lagos-Badagry road used to be a two-lane road. We took an audacious decision at that time and decided to dream big. People dreamt big when we were growing up and we said to ourselves couldn’t we dream big and in our lifetime do such a big project like a rail project? The existing rail, the Agbado rail was federal government-owned with existing corridor. It was the easy way to realise such a dream but some political differences between the two major opposing parties in the country didn’t let that happen.
So, we decided to look for another one. That was the concept when we did the master plan of the blue line by deciding to expand the road. We pushed that project from two lanes, meaning from four lanes to 10 lanes and put a rail in the middle. What we didn’t realise was that we were the only subnational anywhere at that time that was taking a rail project by itself.
People were agitated, saying, ‘Rwanda started its rail project and they’ve completed it. Kenya started its rail project and it’s completed.’ All of those rail projects are national. That’s why Abuja can start and complete a rail project. It’s sovereign. We’re limited in what we can raise as a state compared to a sovereign. So far, we’ve crossed the bridge.
I’m glad to announce to you that we have an international finance company that’s working with us now and part of the things they’re doing with us is to raise capital, finish the project and also put the rolling stock on. So, what am I promising? From the timetable we’ve seen, by 2022 you’ll see the train; that’s what we’re promising before the end of our first term.
The Oshodi interchange is a big project. What’s the objective? It’s a terminal. The design model is large. But we’ve taken it up and as we speak, the contractor is still on site. It’s already being used and we’ve not abandoned the project. The Pen Cinema Bridge will be commissioned by July-August this year.
Every Lagos governor has always left a legacy. What legacy do you want to leave as the governor of Africa’s most populous commercial city?
The greatest legacy that I’ll want to leave in Lagos State, although it’s still early days, is for people to know that I ran a government that has a plan for my people to be better than who they were. I want to leave my people in a way and manner that both economically and in any other form that I’ve impacted their lives positively in one way or the other. I believe that the greatest gift that God has given all of us is human beings; it’s ourselves. Yes, we need all of the infrastructure; the brick and mortar; schools, hospitals but beyond that we need to build people’s hope. We need to build people’s conscience.
We need to build a set of people, who have values that should be the greatest driving force to understand and appreciate that living isn’t only for themselves or about themselves. It’s about living for others, because only and when we truly live for others that we can achieve that tomorrow that we all crave for. Indeed, if it’s just about the fact that I’m a rich man today or because I’m a governor today; I’ve made so much money and don’t even have the opportunity to spend the money, then, I’ve become a wasted man on this seat.
So, what I want to give you is that you need to build yourself; you need to understand and appreciate the fact that you can be a better person and be a better neighbour. When we improve ourselves, we can together improve our communities. Money will never be enough. But people’s belief, conscience, ideas, these are things that hold nations (together) better, because when we all agree and say that ‘this is bad’, let all of us know that in truth, it’s bad and will not do it. That’s the greatest thing that we need to do for our tomorrow.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown that we’re as strong as our weakest link. It’s shown how vulnerable we are. We have aeroplanes that we cannot fly. We have cars we can’t drive. But when we have a collective responsibility and we say ‘sit down at home’, that’s the strongest weapon we have now. It’s the belief that I don’t want to hurt the next person. That’s the legacy I want to leave. If I’m able to convince my citizens and lead them on that path as we live for others, probably we’re on the right track where other legacies will follow.