‘Ambode has revolutionised governance in Lagos’
Chief Lanre Razak is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos East senatorial district and the Balogun of Epe. In this interview with journalists including Paula Eseghene, he insists that massive infrastructures provided by the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration in two years are unprecedented in the state and has brought great relief to the people even as he charged the National Assembly to be fully supportive of President Muhammadu Buhari government. Excerpts:
How would you rate President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the past two years?
My assessment is very clear: I want to thank God that we have a credible person and a new government being led by President Muhammadu Buhari who is fighting corruption in Nigeria vigorously and fearlessly. If you take a close look at the quantum of money being expended annually in the budget and the end result before now, the amount of money that is utilized to meet the needs of the people is not up to 25 percent hence we now have whistle blowers exposing a lot of money hidden here and there. This is money that was budgeted by government but not spent on the needs of the people. And with this development, it will expose those who are privileged to be in charge, both politicians and civil servants but most especially the latter who have a lot of opportunity to be in charge of our funds and who deny Nigerians the benefit to really get result of what the money would have done for the country. It is a pity that Mr. President has been sick and we thank God he has a very loyal, cooperative, experienced and God fearing person like the acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo who is really assisting and working very hard. But so far so good, they have done a lot. In governance you may not see some results immediately but later the impact of your policies and programmes will manifest for the people to see. From all indications, we are getting out the economic recession soon judging by pronouncement of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele. The Buhari administration is trying his best and God is assisting Nigeria to ensure that we come out of the woods.
In your view, has Mr. President been getting the necessary support and cooperation of members of the National Assembly?
The members of the Senate and the House of Representatives have their share of crisis because of the way the leadership emerged. There are a lot of things involved; so far there is no clear commitment by the lawmakers to Nigeria and her citizens. If you look at most of the people that emerged at the leadership level of the federal legislature, you will see traces and signs of self need or personal interest being part of the propelling force for their emergence and hence with All Progressives Congress, APC in government and the party controlling a reasonable percentage of members of the National Assembly, yet the Assembly is not providing the much needed cooperation and support for the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. They have just passed the 2017 federal budget and this is end of May, almost half of the fiscal year that the executive has to utilized the money appropriated by the legislature for the benefit of the people. And if not for the selfish tendencies in the composition of the Senate leadership, why should Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP emerge as Deputy President of the Senate. Is that in the best interest of this government and the APC that dominates the Senate? Will he (Ekweremadu) wish the National Assembly to give this federal administration the needed support for the party to take the credit knowing full well that he belongs to the opposition PDP that destroyed this country for 16 years? Will he allow Nigerians derive maximum benefits from this democracy? It is very obvious that the people whose confidence and mandate were given to members of the National Assembly to do the needful and provide good governance, they are not doing it in the interest of the people and most of the time what they are doing is for selfish interest. People will react very soon and is happening across the world and the people are asserting their rights. For instance, it has happened in South Korea. In democracy, the legislator is expected to be the people’s voice to propel and guide good governance. Is that what we are getting? But they can cheat the people for sometime but certainly not all the time. Some of the lawmakers seem to have forgotten that the money they are stealing, they may not be in position to spend it because with the introduction of the Bank Verification Number, BVN, Nigerians are realizing that some people have more than 20 bank accounts with different names and they are the ones signing the cheques. You can’t do that again. A lot of things are changing for the better. Even if you are able to steal, where will you take the money to? Where will you spend the money? We should be conscious of what we do. Look at the whole of Africa. Zimbabwe was doing very well until it was handed over to the blacks at independence in 1980; South Africa was doing extremely very well until the blacks said we are the owner and we took over; what is the situation now? Is it a problem of colour? But for me, we must change our attitude. India was colonized and they are doing better now. Nigeria was colonized and we had our independence, how do we take our destiny in our hands, change our attitude and mindset for the better to enthrone good governance? Why should we continue to suffer in the midst of plenty? I appeal to members of the National Assembly to take their job more seriously and change their attitude in order to be very supportive of the government of the day so that Nigerians will stop wallowing in poverty.
How will the ruling APC overcome its challenges and resolve the lingering internal crisis?
I don’t see it as such. In the APC, yes, we have done magical things to bring the party to win the 2015 general elections through a merger arrangement. It has never happened in the history of this country for merger to succeed because of selfish interest of leadership, it has never worked. That is why I always want to commend and thank the national leader of the APC and former governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for his immeasurable sacrifices to ensure the success of the merger for us to have APC-led federal government. You know I know too well he root cause of the crisis and very soon we will resolve it and put it behind us because I know within the leadership, those who made the real sacrifices to bring about the success of this merger, they will provide a very strong platform and mechanism to ensure there is a peaceful resolution of what you call a crisis and definitely the party will move forward.
How will you rate the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration in Lagos state so far?
If Governor Ambode were to be a student in your class, what grade will you give him? Distinction I believe. He has performed wonderfully well and all that he requires is the support of everybody to continue this magical feat he is performing. You can imagine how many bridges, roads, lay bys that he has built in a short time to eliminate traffic bottlenecks in Lagos; save man hours making it possible for the transporters to be making quick turn around and this is a lot of achievement. There are certain things you may not consider serious in governance but the governor has introduced scientific approach in resolving hitherto traffic problems in Alapere, Oworoshoki and Third Mainland Bridge. All these he achieved in two years, a period that other people would have been settling down for real governance. He has also commissioned the two newly-built bridges in Ajah and Abule-Egba to help reduce travel time and boost economic activities within the corridors. He has been working round the clock to make Lagos globally competitive city-state, by improving connectivity in the state and providing permanent solutions to the challenge of ensuring a free-flow of traffic within the city. If you visit the Lekki axis now, the Jubilee Bridge has eliminated the traffic jam usually experienced in the area. We want to thank God for his life, we want to thank God for what the governor has done so far and pray God will give him good health and wisdom to continue the good job in the next two years and beyond.
Are there lessons that other governors can learn from Lagos state especially in revenue generation?
Mr. Ambode is a financial wizard and the way he has been doing it and implementing people-oriented projects, I believe other governors have a lot to learn and borrow a leaf from him. From his achievements, it is difficult to tell that he is a financial expert, also a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, or an engineer. If you move round the state there is no area of governance that he is not touching positively and making steady progress. I believe strongly that other state governors are watching and will like to emulate him. Take for example the LAKE Rice project, which is a joint venture between Lagos and Kebbi states to ensure there is food security in both states and reducing the cost of rice. That is why we don’t feel the pinch of the existing ban on importation of rice through the land borders seriously in Lagos state because of Ambode’s LAKE Rice.
What are your reflections on Lagos at 50?
In the past 50 years, Lagos state has been lucky to have men with good vision and commitment to run her affairs both military and civilian. Take for example the Alhaji Lateef Jakande administration started very well and recorded tremendous achievements for everyone to see even today decades after he left office. The next civilian government was led by Sir Michael Otedola now of blessed memory who was there for two years. Also, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu came on board in May 1999, you can still see the wonders he performed. He laid the solid foundation upon which immediate past governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN and the incumbent Mr. Ambode are excelling in governance. Recall that the annual budget of Lagos state increased by over 1000percent when Asiwaju Tinubu became governor. Then people especially taxpayers were worried that there would be additional tax burden on them but that didn’t happen. What he did was to plug existing loopholes and leakages in the revenue collection system and the money saved government made available for the provision of basic needs of the people. I know that Ambode is using that platform excellently because he was a civil servant then and working seriously on it. This year, we have N800billion budget for Lagos state which is the highest by any state government. When he unveiled the budget estimate, some people thought it was not possible to propose such a high figure but the governor has proved that it is indeed possible and achievable. Out of the amount, only 40percent of the targeted revenue is coming from the Federation Account while the remaining 60percent is being sourced from the internally generated revenue, IGR and the government is doing a wonderful job. What Tinubu did then I recall was to have a strong man to chair Lagos State Internal Revenue Service in person of Mr. Tunde Fowler who is now performing the same feat at the federal level as chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service. We in Lagos are lucky to have had Tinubu who introduced a sound and efficient financial mechanism to place Lagos at very high level financially and his successors have not disappointed but improved tremendously on his foundation.
What are your expectations on the forthcoming local government election in the state?
Luckily, the APC will walk over every other political party because the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is dead. They were voted to power but members of the party didn’t know how to manage their success and they destroyed everything and no serious politically minded person who saw what PDP did to this country between 1999 and 2015 will stand for PDP again. That is the problem, they will not stand for the party but I can assure you that the APC will record 100 percent victory during the council poll.
There are concerns over the high number of aspirants in the APC running for the chairmanship and councillorship seats. Will this not create a crisis?
It will not create any crisis. We are on top of the situation and we have a very good, effective crisis management mechanism in place to resolve possible crisis. But the point is in a local government there will be one chairmanship candidate for the party and if you have 10 aspirants running for that position that shows that the party is on ground, popular and strong hence a lot of people are interested in coming on board. And there is a well positioned platform to resolve any crisis but be rest assured that there won’t be any crisis at the end of the day.
What is the assurance that those who would be elected chairmen would complement the work of the governor at the grassroots level?
I can assure you that those elected on the platform of the APC will queue behind to deliver democracy dividends to the people. All the chairmen and councilors coming on board are already seeing the wonderful achievements of Governor Ambode, they must emulate the governor and provide quality leadership and good governance in their respective local governments and local council development areas. And the governor has provided a mechanism to ensure delivery of quality governance and be rest assured that all our chairmen and councilors will definitely perform excellently.