The Niteshift Coliseum, on 34, Salvation Road, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos, on Saturday, January 31 and Sunday, February 8, 2015 played host to the two leading governorship candidates in Lagos State – Messrs. Jimi Agbaje of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Akin Ambode of All Progressives Congress (APC). The two gentlemen entertained questions from members of the high profile celebrity hang out on their plans for the Centre of Excellence, if elected. YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine was at the two Grand House Receptions (GHR) which attracted dozens of high calibre guests like Gov. Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Minister of State for Works, Olorogun Sunny Kuku of Eko Hospital, Mr. Yemi Akeju of Ideas Communications, Chief Tony Okoroji of COSON, Mr. Ebun Sofunde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Tunde Braimoh, former Kosofe local government Chairman, Airline Captain, Chris Najomo, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora among many others. Here are how the question and answer sessions went…
TRANSPARENCY WILL BE MY WATCHWORD – Akinwunmi Ambode
Why do you want to be the Governor of Lagos State?
I see a Lagos that is clean, secured and more prosperous, which is driven by a robust economy that has fairness, equity and justice as its major drive. My message remains the same and my message remains Lagos where L stands for leadership. I intend to build a strong leadership. I have been accountable all my life. I want to be open and transparent to all of you and be accountable to everyone. I am going to give all the tenants good governance and good governance means total inclusion and total openness. I will be open. We will allow Lagos to work for everyone and we will be transparent enough to make Lagos work for all of us. We will create opportunities for everyone that lives in Lagos; opportunities for artisans, businessmen, entertainers. We will give you selfless and quality service.
Tell us some of your manifesto.
There is nothing I want to say that is new. But we are here to interact and also for me to take one or two lessons to work on. The cornerstone of my manifesto is – Lagos is traditionally a traders’ community. There is so much commerce here. So, in order for Lagos to thrive, one major issue is that of security. If we are able to secure Lagos safely, light up Lagos and let our streets be safe, we will be able to do our business and make Lagos run an economy that is 24/7. It will create business opportunities for all Lagosians and create more jobs. My duty is to create an enabling environment for business to thrive in Lagos. We will allow investors to go about their businesses very well, so that they can comprehend my efforts and allow us to create more jobs for all our breadwinners. I have also put in one of my programmes, Project THESE. It is a solution to the job we need to create at the lower level and for the younger ones. THESE: T stands for tourism, H-hospitality, E-entertainment and arts, S-sports, E-excellence. I want to combine these to put stakeholders in one place and drive Lagos to the next level. If we are able to achieve these, we will be creating job opportunities for all our artisans, and houses of entertainment will be a place of pride and a tourist centre, and that’s the future of Lagos. The end of dependence on white collar jobs is here and the younger generation will be looking for that person that has the political will to drive the business of Lagos to the next level. In the last six years, we have witnessed an irreversible growth and development of Lagos. Lagos is safer and more prosperous. We need to take Lagos to that point where we give governance back to all our communities, and that’s what I intend to do. If you are able to join us, I will make Lagos work for all of us.
What is your vision for consumer protection in Lagos State?
It has been established, but the implementation has not commenced. We would spend more time and resources on enforcement and together with stake holders, we will make sure that the law is effective. I assure you.
What is your plan for technology in Lagos State?
We have a Ministry of Science and Technology in Lagos State service. They are doing so much on technology, but we are not satisfied. I strongly believe greater opportunities will come. The future of service in Lagos and the creation of more jobs is in our ability to trigger political will for investors that have World Bank technology. I believe that we have been using the public private partnership. In other areas, we have succeeded – like security. We have tried to be advanced, vigorously, under the technology, so that we can allow entrepreneurs that are looking for opportunities, to be able to drive it. Government cannot do it alone. It is important that investors that we are bringing in will create that enabling environment, then we will join hands with them. Although some things have been done. You can imagine the effectiveness of Lagos State signs on some of these companies and give them tax incentives or create the enabling environment that will make them carry on their businesses, in a manner that in no time they will get their returns on investment as quickly as possible. It also opens opportunities in the area of internet technology and service delivery.
Our desire to see Lagos integrate every tribe into whatever it’s doing is high and we haven’t seen something offical in this respect. What will you do about this?
If you go thorugh the manifesto of APC, you will find that after this election, APC will eliminate the bio-data that we fill in official circles. Things that relate to tribe, state of origin and things that discriminate. The party is trying to pursue that now. We must once and for all try to eliminate tribalism or anything that can discriminate against other people. Beyond giving appointments to people, we should be able to employ Nigerians from any part of this country, irrespective of where you come from and we should be able to engage people based on their Nigerianness and nothing else.
In the area of sports, nothing much is happening. What will you do better?
You might not have heard about it, but the involvement of government in sports in the last seven years has been on upward swing. We have been doing a lot for sports. Dont forget the fact (that) it was just some years back that Lagos State hosted the African Nations Cup. I will only add to whateverMinistry of Science and Technology has done in sports. I am integrating sports with other sectors to push it up and I intend to create community sports centres in almost every part of Lagos State. You will find also that we need more sports facilities for school children. We will do that so that it will allow our children to be able to get balanced in health and (have) a good mental balance. We believe (that) when we start this community sports, we are creating jobs in our community, we are allowing sports to be a routine in our normal day life. It’s sad enough that we don’t have much interest in the Lagos Premier League. I believe we should also have sports academy in Lagos State, so that we have boys academy and girls academy that will allow our younger ones know their talents from a young age. So, we will have champions in Lagos. It will amaze you that one fifth of Lagos is water. The total area of Lagos is 3877 square meters of which 734 is water, but we have not been able to provide champions as swimmers from Lagos State. How many swimming pools do we really have? It’s not as if we don’t have people who cannot be champions. We have been able to bring out champions. We have been able to bring out champions from Ajegunle. There is no sports complex in that particular area of the city. So, the future of sports is for us to be able to tap from our indigenes and provide facilities for all of them to be able to bring out the ability in them, and that’s what government is supposed to do. We will do it for them.
Why can’t local governments have access to market?
If we all decide to say what is our dream Lagos, if I throw out the question here, a whole lot of people would give diverse answers of what a dream Lagos would be. But a dream Lagos that is funded by tax payers’ money is sometimes not achievable because the kind of things you want to put in local governments or in the state government, the funds are not enough. You have to go to the capital market to look for additional capital and that’s the ability to go to the bond market. It’s been done before. Lagos Island has gone to the bond market and that was the Sura Market at Sandgross. There is nothing stopping local governments coming together to have access to the capital market. Once the requirement of you having access to bonds is fulfilled, investors would be interested in putting their money into whatever projects that local government decides to do. But as we move forward, I believe state government can partner the local governments to have access to the capital and also have access to bonds in which joint projects can be executed. So, we can have value for the money we get from the capital market because whatever money you get from the bond market, you must pay back. Lagos State is a cosmopolitan state and we are not denying that fact. What is of major interest to me is to protect every Lagosian and resident. My vision is to secure Lagos, to create a more prosperous Lagos to be very unique and comfortable to indigenes and non-indigenes. That is the main focus. I will not discriminate against non-indigenes. That is the main focus. I will not discriminate against non-indigenes and indigenes of Lagos State. I will ensure everyone’s interest is protected.
What are you going to do differently?
We have had a history of excellent governance in the past years. I dont want to be different because they have been winning. I also want to perform.
The Hausa community in Lagos are complaining that they requested for land to bury their dead relatives and this issue has not been addressed. What will you do about this?
This is going to be a government of inclusion. We are going to engage everybody for the betterment of everyone. Whatever it is that we need to do together to show trust, I will do it.
What will you do about multiple taxation on small scale businesses?
I intend, together with everyone, to harmonise tax in Lagos, so we dont have tax collectors coming to meet you in your place of business. I think there are better ways of collecting taxes. We should be able to apply solution, and pay your taxes before officals close your shop. We need to get away from that mentaility that until we force people, they won’t do what is their civil obligation. I promise we will do reforms that would make life comfortable for our tax payers.
What would you do to provide shelter for the common people?
I thank God you know that government can’t do it alone. It has to be done with public private partnership. In doing that, we will encourage the private sector, we will upgrade the platform that would allow land administration to be more comfortable for our people, allow them access to Certificate of Occupancy. We will make it easier. There is a programme called Lagos Homes. I will take it to the next level that will allow people rent and own an apartment, because it’s not everybody that can afford mortgage. We will be able to provide studio apartments for the youths, so they can rent it. We will also expand the years of the mortgage. Nothing will stop us from reviving it.
What will you do to tackle the omo onile syndrome in Lagos?
Nobody likes the menace and the nuisance. We will look into that. I believe it’s more about engagement and enforcement. Even when you report them to the police, they sometimes connive with them. But again, we will enforce our law on land administration and make sure we enhance the ability of the government to take control.
I WILL RECOVER EVERY LAND STOLEN FROM LAGOS – Jimi Agbaje
If you look at the budget of Lagos State for the past two years, it is about N490 billion. Comparing it to other states, Lagos State’s budget for a year is four states’ budget put together. Yet this does not reflect in some local areas in terms of infrastructure. What would you do if you become the Governor of Lagos State?
I think there are three arms of government. We have the federal, state and local government. It’s like asking the Federal Government in Abuja to repair roads in Alimosho. This same thing is happening in the state. Maintaining state, local roads is the responsibility of local government, but unfortunately the local governments are not functional. We have made them more of political machinery than governance structures. Not until we begin to see the local governments as governance structures, we may continue to experience this kind of problem on most of our local roads. The local governments must be the beginning of governance in their communities, not just for roads. You want to run the health scheme, social scheme and others, they must begin from local government.
There was this proposed project about an airport at Lekki axis, what is your view about this?
The Lekki axis is gradually being developed. We are having a deep sea port there and Free Trade Zone. I think it will only make sense to have an airport there. In fact, what we should be looking at is to have what I will call aerotropolis. In other words, we are looking at Lekki as a city on its own. We are considering a lot of things around that place like a semi autonomous urban community.
Considering the level of education at the moment, what would you do to give good structures and quality education?
Education today is about renovation and creativity. In Lagos State, if you look at our last O’level results, you will discover that many students failed badly. That means there is a problem. What we found is that government is concentrating more on secondary and tertiary institutions, whereas primary education which is key is being neglected. Today, there are more pupils that go to private schools than public schools. Of course, we know that many of the private primary schools are not up to standard and so students have very weak foundation at the primary level. A primary six graduate cannot read, write or speak good English. There is nothing they would teach such student at secondary level that he would understand. We need to change that and pay more emphasis to our primary education. Many people that change our world today like Bill Gates were university dropouts, but what works for them is their basic education. It is important we get education right at the public level, because each year, when majority of our students fail O’level, that is the beginning of the creation of touts. Once we have hundreds of thousands that come out like that from school, it is trouble for our country.
In continuation of quality education, extra-curriculum activities like sports are fading off due to insufficient space and many spaces have been converted to something else. What is your view?
The reality today is that there are more people that need more schools today. So, it will be difficult for government to have schools like St. Gregory’s, Finbarrs, Queen’s College and a lot more. And so what we find as the first duty of government is the quality of academic programmes that the children have, which is key. Government must ensure academic excellence. In terms of extra-curriculum, we need to share some of these facilities. Many schools have no space for sports facilities. We should look at sports as not just social responsibility, but business. The moment we see it as business, we begin to invest into it and make it interesting. I want Lagos State to have its own league that revolves around the local governments.
What would you say to people that love Jimi Agbaje’s personality but hate the platform on which he is contesting?
For Jonathan, there are many things he has done, but under reported. Let me speak as an individual. Jonathan’s achievements have been under-reported. We have a situation where propaganda is rampant. You can’t take that away. It’s part of life. It got to a stage that you preach the weakness of your opponent to the extent that you are exhausted. Talking about democracy, Jonathan does not interfere in the affairs of INEC and he demonstrated it in the state where PDP lost an election. That you abuse him today is because he allowed it. I doubt if anybody can talk to Obasanjo the way you talk to him today. He also talked about power; in six months, we would have power. He thought we could have it, but later he understood the government could no longer deliver power and so he privatized it. And for those that know how government is run now, I believe Jonathan had to go against powerful interests to bring about privatization. Now, the people that bought the power sector cannot afford to fail. About agriculture, Jonathan has done so much. We have less importation of food than before because government’s agriculture policies are working. Now, let’s talk about the negative aspect the opposition is harping on, saying he did not fight corruption. Corruption is everywhere. Can anybody tell me where the opposition party charged any corrupt senior politician? For these reasons and many more, Jonathan is my candidate. Let me talk as a politician. Who are the people that want to take over from Jonathan? Buhari and Osinbajo. Who will be controlling the affairs of this country? So, for my friend that said he would vote Jimi, but he would not vote Jonathan; if Jonathan doesn’t win the presidential election, Jimi may not likely win. So, if you want Jimi, vote Jonathan.
Talking about on-going projects, will they be stopped?
I said I support the airport project, so on that one, there would be continuity on all capital projects.
Lagos State has 57 local governments, but Federal Government only recognizes 20, what can you say about this?
Talking about 20 local governments and 37 LCDAs, making all 57; you know it is not constitutional. It is not because Federal Government does not recognize it; they are bound by the constitution.
Back to schools, how would you deal with mushroom schools?
I believe the solution is that we must make our public schools open. In other words, if we do what we need to do for our public schools, then, there will be no need sending your children to mushroom private schools where they would achieve nothing. In case of lunch in school, it’s a good thing, but it requires a lot of logistics. We cannot stand the risk because the food must be good.
Considering the debt portfolio of Lagos State, what is your reaction towards this?
About eight years ago, the debt portfolio, according to the government itself, was about 57 percent. We were owing about 57 percent of what our income was. As at last year, it was 112 percent. So, by that account, Lagos owes so much money. So, for two years, the economy would be so strict considering the devalued naira. Unlike what Governor Fayose said, when we get in there, we will know the truth. But we need to be careful as to the promises we are making. So, talking about lunch, I am not committing myself to lunch, but first, good quality education.
Talking about corruption, using Lagos’ funds to acquire assets. What are you going to do about this?
The major asset Lagos State has is land and a lot of our land or people’s land has been taken, ostensibly for public use and converted to private use. I have made it very clear that such landed properties belonging to government, of course, would be recovered. Talking about tax consultancy, my understanding about tax consultancy is to come in and do a job and go out. Allow the system to run. A situation where the tax consultant has been there for 16 years means that tax consultancy itself has become part of the system. We should allow the system to work. Those that are paid for tax’s internal collection should be able to run the system on their own. On that note, I don’t see why we should continue to have tax consultants indefinitely.