As the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode ticks round three years, the commissioner of Information and Strategy in Lagos state, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan in this interview with the Publisher Nigerian NewsDirect, Dr. SAMUEL IBIYEMI speaks on the achievement of the administration in the last three years and the vision ahead. Excerpts.
His Excellency Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode has spent nearly three years in office now, sir, when you look back, what message do you have for Lagosians?
This government came up on the platform known as the All Progressives Congress (APC) which has a manifesto and the manifesto is about how to promote education, gain access to education, health services, infrastructure development, security and welfare of the masses. In the course of the circumstances in which this government came in, security becomes a major issue and so, security of the state became another area of focus.
When you look back at the last three years, security of lives and properties in Lagos has never been secured like this with the current security arrangement put in place by the administration of Gov Ambode. On Land security for example, we have patrol vehicles deployed at almost 100 metres interval and street lights on major highways in the city. We have presence of other state’s paramilitary agents such as Lagos State Transport Management Authority officials (LASMA), Lagos state Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) and Lagos State Road Safety Corps.
In addition, we also have a combination of military operation ( OPS MESA) various security helicopters and in the creeks, we have Lagos state boats. What that means is that, when talking about land, water or air, Lagos state is well secured.
This security has enabled us to promote commerce which basically is the main occupation of most Lagosians. People wake up in the morning, go to their shops to make money and come back home. As a result of the improvement recorded on security, the average hours spent in productive activities by businesses in Lagos state has increased. With provision of street lights, security in the state is highly guaranteed. Instead of rushing home because of insecurity, people can now stay back in their offices and shops till around eleven in the night because the roads are well illuminated. This has increased the commercial productivity hours of businesses in Lagos state.
How has the government reduced unemployment crisis in the state and also effort put in place in reducing poverty rate?
The present government has focused more on the poor and the under-privileged and the state government set up N500 million fund for people living with disability to have access to finance so as to eliminate stigma associated with disability and reduce the rate of poverty in the state. The state government has also set up Employment Trust Fund for people who want to set up their own businesses and no fewer than 600,000 people have benefited from this scheme to be self-employed. They are also employing other people. If we use 600,000 people as a base in which an average of each would employ at least 4 persons to add it up to give about 2.4 million people. The state government is focusing on training because we realized that there is no enough vocational centres for most children who left secondary and primary schools, so we have encouraged artisans to develop a strong apprentice system that enables us to take off most of our youths off the roads. The position is that once we are able to take care of the lower segment of the public, stress for survival will reduce and the economy will improve. This made it possible for the economy of Lagos to expand while other economies of states in the country were compacting.
What measure is the state government adopting in ensuring modern transportation system in the state and reduce traffic congestion on the roads?
Speaking on transportation, we have recorded success on the Junction improvement project in which all the junctions that used to create problems on the road networks have been opened up. We are building new bus terminals at Oyingbo and Yaba.
When we solve the transportation problem of a state like Lagos, we have solved all problems. If you look at the current trend, it shows that more people are leaving their cars at home and taking buses to work place. Our response, is to bring 800 new buses and encourage them to take over the corridor of Ikeja and Island as a pilot phase of the project that will enable administration of Gov Ambode to bring into the state 5,000 new buses to complement the ones on ground.
Indeed the state government has done a lot to ease the movement of vehicles from one place to another through their various transportation projects even to the extent that an ordinary man who does not own a car can also move from place to place with world class vehicles.
Rail transportation is not an exception as the government of former Governor Babatunde Fashola ascertained the blue lines which are supposed to be from Okokomaiko to the Lagos Island. Moreso, cable works are now in place in an advanced manner while the next stage is bringing in coaches and allowing them to run a perfect signalization. That means the state government needs to invest more in the blue line so that hopefully by 2021, the rail line will be able to operate perfectly. We are also developing other three options and one of them is the red line coming from Alagbado to access the Island. We will encourage more people to come on the red line which will help to improve the Nigerian Railway Corporation line.
Talking about water transportation, a lot has been done to provide ferries and jetties. This administration has realized that there is not enough adequate water infrastructure in terms of signaling and the waterways work. One of the things the government is N doing right now is to set up water infrastructure. This will help to improve the topography of the water surface. Once the water infrastructure is in place, more operators will come into the water transportation business and more Lagosians will use waterways which is actually more than our land surface. With this, more people will enjoy going on water than on land.
During the days of Chief Lateef Jakande, people take boats known as Baba Kekere from Mile 2 through Apapa to the Lagos Island. It was quite enjoyable because it enabled people to see nature clearly. Currently, there is a high level private use of water roads for people who go on voyage, cruises daily. The government plans making boat entrance into more areas and put more ferries on waterways and enable more facilities to flow by it. We also have two airports coming up by two private investors at Lekki and Epe. That means the transportation plan for road, rail, land and air is going on very well.
What is the position of the government in ensuring food security in the state?
When you talk about food security, the state government is investing massively in this area so that Lagos won’t need to become over dependent on all the supplies coming into Lagos. Over the years, the state government had tried to attract graduates into agriculture with almost 29 agriculture schemes in Lagos. We have various kinds of peasant farmers who are operating in the state. The whole idea is to make sure that Lagos state develops a supply system to feed itself. The state government also has landed projects in other states as part of contractual and renewal projects. Hence, if you take a look at security in all areas, Lagos State has invested heavily and will continue to do so.
Looking at infrastructure, generally on transportation, can you give an estimate of how much you have spent on transportation?
I cannot give estimate of figures, until they are completed, that is when I can elaborate on them. However, it is evident to all that Lagos has become a huge construction site; work is going on all over the place. There are two strategies, the first one is to provide social infrastructure, but the more important strategy is to engage the workforce. Construction has the capacity of adding values to the productive sectors. This is because at each construction site, as we have new workforce engaged by the contractor, we have food suppliers and bricklayers among others. Investing in construction itself has the multiplier effect of boosting the economy of the state. That is also under current in the strategy to engage in infrastructure development. At the end of the day, what is provided is of beneficial value, but even while it is being provided, it is adding a lot of values to promotion of jobs and employment within the economy. Once the state government is able to put more people doing one thing or another, it will reduce idleness and also reduce crime, that is the logic. It is not just a process whereby more people will be engaged and earn income but it will help to reduce crime rate. It is a Labour-intensive project. People will be engaged to earn income. Therefore Lagos NMIA airport road project, Oshodi road project, terminals going on in Yaba and all over the city will help to engage the people.
This government is re-investing, re-injecting money into the economy in massive manner so as to promote and produce more able people on the job.
What are the new projects coming up?
We want to make sure other places in the state are motorable like Ikorodu to be like the new Abule-Egba, Ajah and the like. Government has done a lot in Alimosho as well as Command Road. One does not need to pass through the Old Agege road to Ota to Winners anymore. The parallel road being created can be used through Ipaja through Abesan to Ajasa and to Covenant University in Ota. This journey which used to take up to five hours from Ejigbo is now about one hour. The strategy of the government is that it has created another economy in that area with the construction of a parallel road network to Ota in Ogun State. For instance, hotels will come up and shopping malls will come up because people will not find any need to come to Ikeja to purchase necessary things.
This will also help to decongest the city centre.
What’s the achievement of the state government in the education sector?
Over 1000 schools were rehabilitated across Lagos state while the state also budgeted over 12 per cent for education. The high budget shows that we have recognized the need to revamp the education system. For Primary education, the state government will do more in this area. The state government is placing emphasis more on Yoruba language by employing more Yoruba teachers. We have just completed an education policy review. Yoruba language is the mother tongue which the children ought to be taught. Since there is no place on earth where children taught in their mother tongue do not excel better which is the scientific facts. We want to pass scientific knowledge to our children in the mother’s tongue. This is a fact that has been proved and established.
Prof Babs Fafunwa in 1973 made an experiment at Modakeke in Ile Ife, Osun State on how the use of mother’s tongue is effective in teaching the child. For a six year project, 1974- 1980, children were taught all subjects in Yoruba including Mathematics. And all the children passed excellently. The government is working to make such officials in Lagos State as much as possible for the children to be encouraged to speak Yoruba. The curriculum too, will be done in such a way that it can be taught in school since it is not a crime to teach the children in Yoruba in any subjects. This means the Yoruba language is going to be an industry because there will be translators thereby creating jobs for youths with no gainful employment. Several documents will have to be translated into Yoruba. Many students who studied education administration without jobs can sit down and see how they can be gainfully employed. The education policy at primary and secondary levels also includes increasing vocational centres to create jobs.
The government is creating more vocational centres to cater for those who cannot study biology, chemistry etc. but can learn carpentry or bricklaying as the case may be. This implies that Nigerians will not have to travel to Cotonou in Benin Republic in search of qualified bricklayers to build a house. It will also be cheaper to engage workforce in construction activities when all these artisans are available within the state. Those without work to do will become cultists.
Tertiary institutions are being worked upon for improvement in terms of facilities to be able to accommodate many secondary school leavers by providing boarding facilities in Lagos State University (LASU), improving the security and giving the university more attractive to international students.
What is the state government doing in the health sector!
On health issue, health is wealth, government has health insurance scheme which has been at the federal level for a long time as well as the way forward in Lagos state. One can choose to sign in for the scheme, choose a hospital close to your house, make a regular advance payment every month to the hospital and enjoy the insurance benefits. So, this will help to ensure that residents in Lagos will not wait until the family is sick before running around for money to treat them in hospital. About 60 primary health centres were rehabilitated. This is because the government wants to make sure that people don’t need to go to General Hospital for malaria, stomach ache or diarrhea which can all be done in the state primary health centers. More so, every year, the government is working tirelessly to increase the number of doctors every year and other health professionals are being engaged annually.
Lastly sir, how far have you gone about Land Use Charge?
On land use charge, the latest information is that people are paying. However, there are a lot of complaints that networks in banks are failing people. When people go to the banks, they queue up, when it is time to pay, they are told the network is down. Banks need to co-operate and should please ensure that lines dedicated to land use charge are given priority. We also want to thank them for believing in the administration of Gov Ambode, supporting us and appreciating the infrastructure that we are using the money to provide.