Real reasons Lagos deserves special status —Hamzat, Lagos dep gov

The deputy governor of Lagos State, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, as a guest of the editorial team of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recently in Lagos, shed light on the bid to contain COVID-19 in the state and other germane issues. The excerpts: 

Your administration will be 300 days soon. What is your message for Lagosians  

The most important thing is that you love your neighbour as you love yourself. We must come together as a people. This is the most important time to uphold that. Think about others welfare and do onto others what you want them to do to you. Be safety conscious and care about others. If you are sick, take yourself to the hospital and not infect others. Do not drop garbage in the canals because some other people will be affected. Come together and take care of yourselves as a people.

 

Why is still a problem for Lagos State to achieve the listing of the additional 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) created out of the existing 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) recognised by the 1999 Constitution?

If you recall the creation of the Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) is a constitutional issue. You recall that we went to the Supreme Court and the judgment is about 1,400 pages. So, what the court said was that ‘Ok, you have the right but we cannot force the National Assembly to list the LCDAs.’ As a state, we, of course have the right. So, we went to court at that time because the Federal Government seized funds for the local governments and the court said it must be released but that however, there is a political system. The challenge is that of the National Assembly. Of course, we have written to that effect. Remember that Lagos State is one of the 36 states in the country;we have to keep working with everybody because the moment it is listed, you know the implications; other states will begin to say they want to list their own LCDAs.  I am not a lawyer; I know that all the senior lawyers in the country have said it is an anomaly to actually list local governments in the constitution. May be what should be done is to remove them from the constitution. For example, we said we have 774 local governments but Bakassi is no longer part of our country. Have we removed it and say we now have 773 LGAs in Nigeria? By listing the LCDAs in the constitution creates ambiguity. It is the state Houses of Assembly that make laws that govern the local governments. They can say the tenure of a local government chairmen will be five years. Oyo State can say it is three years. Each state should be able to determine its number of local councils. Of course, we are still pursuing it (listing); we are pursuing many things, including the call for a special status for Lagos and so on. We are pursuing so many other things, you know it requires lobbying and collaboration with a lot of other stakeholders.

 

But the listing ought not to be so difficult since the APC controls the state and federal governments?

You understand the characteristics of our country. A journalist once said we are like a man with 356 legs and it is difficult to carry. That is the challenge. I don’t think it is about political parties really. It is about the states; it is about the local governments; it is about the different beliefs, and so on. I think what will work is to look at all the states and see what each one can get. Our own argument has been clear. The truth is that we are the most populous state in Nigeria; we are the smallest in terms of land mass; we were a federal capital territory before. Everywhere in the world where that happens, there is usually a concession. That is why the tube in London gets 70 per cent funding from the central government. The New York subway is the same. So, if we want to be in that class, we must do the same. That is our argument and it is the argument we will continue to have. On the issue of special status for Lagos, there is a bill in the Senate by Senator Oluremi Tinubu. We are pushing it; maybe, we are going about it in a different way. It might not be in the newspapers. It is by talking to everybody that is involved in the process. It is really going on but in a different way. If something is not working in a particular way, you try another approach.

 

 What is the update on the South-West security outfit codenamed Amotekun, especially as it relates to the state?

We all know what Amotekun is all about. The design of the outfit is for us to be able to patrol our borders with neighbouring states. So, Lagos has only one neighbouring state: Ogun. If you are a criminal and you are trying to run from Ogun to Lagos or vice versa, Amotekun is there to chop you off. That is the essence. But you will notice that we sent the Neighbourhood Watch bill to all the other states in the South-West to look at it. Already, we have the Neighbourhood Watch in Lagos State. A lot of the Amotekun personnel will come from the neighbourhood watch so that the body will feed information on to Amotekun in terms of their area of coverage. They will work together and make sure that we are secure the land. Basically, since we have neighbourhood watch, they will be able to synchronise their operations for the good of the society.

 

There are arguments and counter-arguments over the debt profile of the state, coupled with borrowing. What can you say on the matter?

A popular musician from Epe, the late Ligali Mukaiba, sang a song that any business man that doesn’t use other people’s money will not succeed. The point he tried to stress was that: where do you get resources to build for today? There is something called constructive borrowing and there is destructive. If you borrow to buy a vehicle, you’re putting yourself in trouble. But if you borrow to build a house, the house will appreciate and then, you can sell it, especially if you are in trouble. So, we have heard this arguments before. I remember during Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s government when they took a bond of $15 billion, the opposition said, ‘Oh, he has mortgaged the lives of the young people.’ That loan has been paid. During the Babatunde Fashola government, we took N375 billion bond, that bond has been paid. Without that, we could not have built the Lekki Link Bridge. The estimate for reticulation of the Adiyan Waterworks is N78 billion; we are putting pipe. But, where is that money? So, when people make some of these insinuations, we should ask them: ‘okay, you say we should do this, we do that. How do you fund it? Is it from federal allocation now that the price of crude oil is $20 in the international market? All that Lagos gets in a month as federal allocation is about N8billion or N9billion. By the time you pay salaries, it is N1billion left. What can you do with N1 billion? Nothing! You can’t build a single road in Lagos with that amount of money. The critical question is: how do fund it? So, when people complain, I say that is fine. There are statistics that are benchmarks around the world. Therefore, in Lagos, our debt to revenue is less than 20 per cent. In the United States, it is 89 per cent. But we all go there, you see the airports, we see everything, we like them. But, do you notice their debt is a whole lot around the world? What is important is when we borrow, we must find a way to build up our revenue. So, we invest in things that allow us to build our economy. About three or four years ago, I went to Frankfurt, where building a new airport terminal. The guy in charge told me that it will lead to 18,000 jobs. They about $1.8 billion. The project has improved the economy of Germany. It has improved the ease of their businesses and everything. So the reality is that for me, I mean, I’m not worried about this belief that we can’t borrow, you must. That’s how everybody every businessman knows that every businessman knows that okay, you bring but you must have the will to pay back. So the irresponsible thing is to say not to pay back.

 

Many say there ought to have been an alternative in place after the restriction of bicycles and motorcycle operators and activities of unions in the bid by the government to contain COVID-19?

The most important thing for us is that people must be alive before they can do anything. When the life is lost, then there is really nothing else. It is the dead end. So for us what is important is: how do we secure this society? There are details and information that the government sometimes has that you can’t even share with citizens because they won’t be able to sleep. So, we take some of these decisions when we see that lives can be threatened and that is it. For example, look at a report by the National Drag Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); it is not a Lagos State Government organisationl; it is federal. That shows clearly the way drugs have been thrown around every state now on Okada and Keke Marwa, and the cultism that is germinating even in primary schools in our state is through this process. So, we would be really stupid, as a people, if we don’t stop that. Therefore, it is not about inconvenience; it is about our future as a people. We have to now decide what is more important for us. It is about the lives of our children. If their lives are threatened, then there is no reason for us to be here.

Your question presupposes that maybe we should have put in those other things before the restriction.  It will be too late if the lives of those children are not secured and we will be very irresponsible. That was why it was restricted in certain areas where we saw the upsurge. We underestimate the power of ourselves as a people. I will give you an example. Near my own house, the same day where we normally have Keke Marwa and the rest, I saw some of the mini-buses, about four of them. I stopped and said how did they come here? Their answer was that the government they should not use Okada and Marwa again. As I once counted about 20. So, I called the chairman of the local government to get a place where they can park properly so that they don’t obstruct traffic. So, there is no vacuum in Lagos, No (with the restriction)! What you will see is that we must find a way to unleash the power of the private sector to fill these things. Of course, we are talking to companies. They wanted to bring those mini-buses. But, we are saying that, why do you want to bring those some buses and create jobs for people in other lands; why can’t we establish assembly plants here? So, very soon around the Apapa-Oshodi expressway, we will begin to see the construction of assembly plants. That is more important than just to say we will create jobs for another country in India or somewhere else.

Why can’t we help our own people? Why can’t we solve our problems by ourselves and do things that will be sustainable as a people? It is going to bring some temporary hardship but the reality is that nobody builds anything sustainable without going through a process. So, the question is which process should come first? You want to save lives and then you have a sustainable way of solving that problem from bottom. We can bring in buses and then when they need spare parts, 80 per cent of them will shut down. Let us think through the whole thing and make sure that we bring in solutions that will now also create jobs that will lead to economic activities for our country. The biggest challenge that we have as people is that our economy is not developed enough. The reality is that our budget is too small as a nation.  Let us unleash that the potential of our economy by doing things better. It might be painful at the beginning, but let us do it so that the future generation will not go through what we are going through.

The challenge with the transport union is that it is a union; it is national and is bound by law. People say you can just ban them. The truth is that they are like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). There are things that ASUU does that I don’t support, but does that mean we should just ban them? No! We will keep engaging them; we will keep talking to them. The NURTW is a union recognised by law in our country. If we don’t like it, then let’s change that law but to us in Lagos, some of the things we are doing.

 

 

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