Ambode: The Future Of Lagos Is Secure
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode lists infrastructure, security and job creation as the key priorities of his administration. The Governor described the key elements of his strategy going forward and his vision for the Lagos of the future in an exclusive interview with CNBC Africa’s Didi Akinyelure.
AKINYELURE: You have completed five months in office so far, what’s your general assessment of your time spent as the Governor of Lagos State?
AMBODE: It’s a privilege for me to have been elected as the Governor of Lagos State. I am humbled by the responsibilities on my shoulders. The past five months have been very interesting; the challenges as exciting as the possibilities. I have been up to the task. I have tried as much as possible to focus on creating solutions to challenges.
AKINYELURE: What is your vision and plan for the Lagos state of the future?
AMBODE: I want the state to be a place where anyone can live and work and feel safe in. Yes, there are other competing cities, but I want people to know that as we move forward, Lagos will be one of the best places to live and work in.
AKINYELURE: What are some of the things that you are doing to achieve that dream of making Lagos a model mega city?
AMBODE: My dream is a Lagos that will work for all of us and be a win-win for the government and everyone that lives in the city. I know we all desire a safer and more prosperous state. I am focused on that and together with my cabinet members, we will deliver all our promises to Lagosians.
AKINYELURE: You have mentioned that there are challenges that you need to address here in Lagos State. How are you setting your priorities?
AMBODE: Security, job creation and infrastructure. These are the three critical things I would like to focus on.
AKINYELURE: Talk more about your plans for addressing some of these key issues. We, of course, know that the Lagos State development plan is already in existence.
AMBODE: The Lagos State Development plan runs from 2012 to 2025. Obviously, we are three years down the road already. It comes with four pillars. The first one being Social Development Planning; we need to solve all the issues that relate to security. The second one is Economic Development; creating jobs for our people and economic growth. The third one is focused on Sustainable Development. Lastly, there is Infrastructure Development; we will address issues that relate to traffic and provide other modes of transportation.
AKINYELURE: Let’s talk about the specific action you have made in the area of security. We heard that contributions to the Lagos State security trust fund have reached 12 billion naira with the private sector recently contributing 1 billion naira. What will that trust fund be used for?
AMBODE: Security is the bedrock of economic growth. We’ve had a successful partnership with the private sector. My predecessor, Babatunde Raji Fashola had a major impact in that area and in the course of his tenure, we had 12 billion put together with 4 billion coming from the private sector. In the last four months, we had a fundraising with the private sector contributing approximately one billion nairas to support us. The private sector involvement is a show of confidence in this government. We have ensured that whatever support the security agencies need in Lagos, we have given them. The support coming from both the private and the public sector will send a message to the Federal Government that there is a need to pay greater attention to security in Lagos.
AKINYELURE: In what another way can the private sector contribute to driving Lagos forward and how can the public sector work with the private sector in achieving this?
AMBODE: With a safer Lagos, I will be in a better position to attract investment to the state, believing that the private sector will contribute to growing the economy. The private sector is the engine room for growth in any economy and it is not right to believe that the government alone can provide growth in any society. The involvement of the private sector is key. We are creating an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive. The creation of the office of overseas affairs and investment serves the purpose of simplifying the process of doing business in Lagos. Lagos is the cornerstone of economic business in Nigeria. If Lagos gets it right, the Nigerian economy will grow. Right now, we are attracting the highest level of foreign direct investments into the state. We will continue to see ourselves as enablers and regulators of this economy, creating an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.
AKINYELURE: Still on the creation of the Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment, what role has that office played so far in driving investment into the state and what’s the long-term plan?
AMBODE: It’s a one-stop shop. Lagos is the hub for investment, trade and commerce. This office is specifically created to pay greater attention to businessmen, to investors, local or foreign, anyone that is trying to set up a business in Lagos. We want people to be able to come into Lagos and start up their businesses within days, without having to go through a bureaucratic process. This office is directly under my own office. If you want to get your permit, your registration or you need land or anything that has to do with investment in the state, that is the place to go. This way, we can re- energize the economy, by paying closer attention to investment.
AKINYELURE: You also have a wealth creation initiative to harness innovation and creativity and boost entrepreneurship in the state.
AMBODE: The wealth creation ministry is targeting SMEs, the artisans and the youth who struggle with access to finance. The wealth creation ministry is also planning an employment trust fund providing access to cheaper funds, with the hope that these SMEs will recreate jobs. The ultimate goal for any growing economy is to create jobs and that is what the wealth creation ministry intends to achieve.
AKINYELURE: In terms of investment, what are the key sectors for big business in the state.
AMBODE: We are keenly interested in manufacturing, power, agriculture and investment in security. Lagos has the capacity to take on any sector of the economy. The financial services industry is huge here in Lagos and that is a major potential for us. When you look at the land mass in Lagos, one-fifth is water, imagine how much that can do for us in the area of tourism.
AKINYELURE: Speaking of tourism, you also have plans to showcase culture and tradition in the state by establishing museums and heritage centres. Talk about that.
AMBODE: Lagos is a melting pot, a cosmopolitan state. There is a lot of culture and heritage here that we need to harness. In two years’ time, Lagos State is going to be 50 years old. The city is in need of monuments and iconic places. It is a natural location for tourism and this is an area my government is working to harness as quickly as possible.
AKINYELURE: Talk about the importance of the retail sector in driving the development of the Lagos State economy.
AMBODE: The bulk of Lagos is the informal sector and the retail business is the engine room for the taxes that we get. We need to pay attention to that because many people in the state are in the retail business. It is about growth and it is about job opportunities for our people.
AKINYELURE: One of the promises you made to Lagosians as a matter of urgency was the removal of multiple taxes and fees from our tax code. Is there any update on those plans?
AMBODE: We have a law in place preventing multiple taxation of citizens. In moving forward, we will make use of innovative technologies in tax administration in order to permanently eliminate the issues of multiple taxation in Lagos.
AKINYELURE: A major priority for the state is the building of infrastructure to improve the lives of Lagosians. I’d like you to talk about your infrastructure plans for the state.
AMBODE: We need to create new modes of transportation. You cannot have a city with over 20 million people where the only mode of transportation is the road. Within the next two or three years, we aim to activate water transportation in Lagos. We plan to finish up the blue-line rail that moves people from Mile 2 to CMS and also provide other means that can ease the movement of people. Connectivity is key.
AKINYELURE: As you highlighted, Lagos is infamous for its traffic issues. What are some of the things that are being done in the short term to ease this challenge that a lot of Lagosians face on a day to day basis?
AMBODE: The traffic issues will not go away overnight. This is a cosmopolitan state and since I resumed office, more people have entered into Lagos than ever before and that in itself is a challenge for congestion. The immediate solution is to fill up the potholes, try to fix the roads and then make sure that the LASTMA officials are up to the task and doing their work, but that’s not all. We have a medium term plan to solve the issues of traffic using technology solutions. People need to understand that as we move on, they will see major improvements on the roads and they will also start to see other modes of transportation introduced in the state.
AKINYELURE: You mentioned in July that the construction of the 1.5 billion dollars Badagry deep sea port will commence before the start of the year 2016. Are we still on track?
AMBODE: We are working on it. The contractors are yet to move to the site, but I am confident that the deep sea port would benefit the Badagry axis significantly. We cannot afford to have just one port in the whole of Lagos State, so besides the Badagry deep sea port, we also think that we should commence work on the Lekki deep sea port. We need more than two or three deep seaports in Lagos.
AKINYELURE: Let’s move on now to talk about health and the work you are doing to transform the health sector in Lagos State.
AMBODE: I am not satisfied with the health sector. I want a health sector that is able to take care of every Lagosian irrespective of where they live or where they come from. Right now, we have about 26 general hospitals in Lagos. Some of these need to become specialist hospitals with international standards. Besides giving them equipment and facilities, we want them to cater to the needs of our people 24-7. We have supplied intensive care ambulances to all the general hospitals in Lagos. We have an emergency ambulance service where people can call in, on a free toll service 24-7. We plan to create a medical park; that’s what we are trying to put up in Ikoyi. The most important thing is to create medical services that would be available to every Lagosian.
AKINYELURE: What about the plans to provide free medical health care for children up to the age of 6, pregnant women and pensioners in the state. Is that still on?
AMBODE: Yes, this is a policy that I met on ground and I have already signed on to sustain it.
AKINYELURE: There is also the promise of free education for children up to secondary level and one meal a day for each student. Is that still on track?
AMBODE: Free education up to secondary school level is the right of every child. It is in the constitution, it is something I am committed to. We will continue to comply.
AKINYELURE: Away from that, in August, you announced the operation of a treasury single account for all transactions in the state commencing September 1st. Talk about the significance of that move.
AMBODE: The treasury single account is an international requirement. I believe that we should comply with international standards. That is what Lagos State has done and it has really helped us. We have been able to save money. I met transactions with huge interest rates; within the last three months we have been able to negotiate our interest rates to a level lower than the rates that are applicable to treasury bills. We have been able to save over three billion on a monthly basis. These savings have been shifted to capital expenditure.
AKINYELURE: You made institutional innovations to enhance efficiency. Talk about some of the moves you have made in that regard?
AMBODE: We must reduce the cost of governance in every aspect. We will make sure we carry out these reforms. What we have done is realign ministries, departments and agencies, saving personnel cost and recurrent expenditure. It has been very successful; it’s ongoing, we are not going to stop. Any area or aspect of governance where we find that we can reduce our expenses, we will do it. The most important part of governance is using such savings to create jobs for people and also provide infrastructure. That’s the direction in which this government is going.
AKINYELURE: You mentioned that your government has saved three billion naira monthly by reducing the cost of governance. Would you say that this is your biggest achievement so far?
AMBODE: Absolutely not. It’s just one of a number of achievements. We have done other things. We have reawakened the health sector, we have started recruiting teachers into our primary schools and the essence of that is to secure the future of our children with quality education. Besides that, we have started reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads. The areas of Lagos that have been left behind are the areas we are concentrating on now. We are in Ayobo area, the deep mainland, and in Kosofe local government. We are in places where the people feel they have been left behind. We are looking into the methods of reducing traffic congestion all over the state. In a few weeks’ time, we plan to commence the flyover construction on the Lekki axis. There’s also the Pen Cinema area in Agege. We are planning another flyover there. All in all, there are so many plans in place. We have completed the first quarter and we believe that by the time we are moving into the end of this quarter in December, a lot of these jobs will be in progress.
AKINYELURE: Finally, how optimistic are you about the long-term plans for Lagos state and how quickly can we see things improving?
AMBODE: We have a greater presence of security agencies on the streets of Lagos. We will improve the equipment going to them. We should be able to fight security by applying technology. We are going to reactivate all the CCTV cameras in Lagos. We will also make sure that the control command centre is reactivated and re-energised to be able to plug into every aspect of the technology that we produce. We will fight crime from the air, on the waterways and make sure that our roads are safe. In doing that, we can then start to look at how we can run our transport system 24-7, how we can make the economy thrive with people safe to open up their shops or offices 24-7. Once we pilot that, you will see that this is a greater Lagos that all of us will be proud of. I want everyone to know that the future of Lagos is secure. The prosperity of Lagos is there for all of us to take it and I strongly believe in a brighter and more prosperous Lagos. We are working towards this and I want everyone to plug into it. The future of Lagos is as bright as the sun shines.
AKINYELURE: Thank you so much for your time today.
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