Ambode: Hard Times Await Criminals in Lagos
October 29, 2015
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Ambode: Hard Times Await Criminals in Lagos

Recently, the Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, featured on a radio programme in Lagos, during which he spoke on the socio-economic challenges facing the state including the threats to security. Here are the excerpts
It is precisely five month you took over from your predecessor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola today. How has Lagos been for you – adventurous or what exactly?
Actually, I will not like to use the word adventurous. The truth is that Lagos has always been my life. I worked here for 27 years. It is like coming back to do the same thing I know how to do. This makes it very interesting.
Being directly at the helm of affairs in a state with the population of over 20 million, how are you coming?
I can tell rightly that I have been prepared for this. I have always been looking forward to a day when I will be able to make positive difference in any place I find myself. The truth is that I have always prepared myself for leadership. With all things I have done in my life, this is one challenge I believe I can overcome. Already, I am in it. I am going to do it. Obviously, people will see it.
After inauguration on May 29, electricity supply improved tremendously. But suddenly, it dropped nationwide. Of course, Lagos is the heartthrob of Nigeria. How is the electricity supply issue being handled at national level?
It has been discussed at the national level. But we need to explain to our people. We are in a situation whereby we need to understand deeply what is going on. There is no way you will use the same platform after coming from political campaign to elective office. Being the CEO, you need to understand everything that is going before you can launch and proceed. What you have seen at the federal level is almost the same thing that is happening all over the states. The issue of electricity supply is deeper than what we are experiencing. When you are changing the management, you will see quick responses to the issues that are germane to electricity. More fundamental issues relate to supply and demand of electricity. That is why something is looking improving initially. But suddenly those issues are propping up again. So, we need to understand what the issues are really and address them headlong. That is what the federal government is trying to do also.
Lagos is a potpourri of Nigeria. At the same time, Lagos is a place every person wants to go. How are you managing the number?
Right now, Lagos is 20 million plus and it is still counting. Ever since I was sworn in, we have more people coming into Lagos than ever before. There are more foreigners. There are more Nigerians coming into Lagos as well. Lagos is the only state that is actually working now because from other states, people are shifting towards Lagos State, believing that Lagos is where their prosperity is. That is what we are preaching that let us make Lagos more prosperous. That is the truth.
We actually want a more prosperous Lagos. We want a Lagos that is safer. We want a Lagos that is cleaner. With the efforts that we have been making, more Nigerians believe in Lagos and they are coming in. With all kinds of opportunities that you can get in Lagos, they come with challenges. In those challenges, you will see issues that relate to gridlocks. You also see the issue that relates to more people coming into Lagos without having places to stay. I mean typical issues that relate to any cosmopolitan city state around the world. That is what you get in Lagos. We also find out that more foreigners are in Lagos more than ever before because they believe the time is ripe for Nigeria to thrive. When you look at commercial activities in Nigeria, it is Lagos that drives. So, it is Lagos you have look into.
Out of the foreign direct investments (FDIs) that came into Lagos in the last few months, Lagos received over 99.1 percent. It is actually a plus. But for every opportunity, there are other challenges coming with it. That is why we are in government. We are believing we will create a very good balance to make sure that Lagos becomes more thriving and that there is more commerce coming into Lagos. At the end of the day, there are more job opportunities for the younger ones, whom we have sworn into oath to protect.
We are coming to security questions in Lagos. Some members of dreaded terrorist group were arrested in Lagos State. Is it confirmed?
It is confirmed. It is something that is continuous. It was not as if it was the first time such suspects were rounded up in Lagos State. A lot of things have been done quietly several times in the past years. We just want to assure our people that our security agencies are working. They are not just working, but also are going to ensure that Lagos is continually safe. That is just the message to every Lagosian. Absolutely, people should just go about their normal duties.
There have been a lot of gridlocks in the last few weeks? What is the state government doing about traffic challenges created by tanker drivers?
In the real sense, it is not limited to tanker drivers alone. Like I said, Lagos is a city state. It is a cosmopolitan. It is compact. With the population we have, these are things you see in this kind of situation. The supply of petroleum products is limited to Apapa axis alone. The other alternative is Mosimi in Ogun State. But because of pipeline vandals, there has not been any supply from Atlas Cove in Lagos State to Mosimi in Ogun State in the last few months. Rather than stopping at Mosimi for supplies, all other states end up coming Apapa. So, we have more than 3,000 tankers in Lagos alone on a daily basis. We are in talks with the federal government. They control fuel supply. They also control Apapa-Oshodi expressway.
There is a tanker terminal that the federal government is actually building in front of TinCan Island, which tankers have not been able to access. This is because there is a federal government’s project that has been left uncompleted. In the last few months, all our effort is driven towards the aspect that the contractors should return to the sites and complete their projects. I am happy to report that the contractors are on the sites. In that wise, once the federal government is able to finish that bridge to link up with the TinCan Island terminal, at least, we will be able to get over 1,000 tankers off the roads. In the interim, we have put a taskforce in that place. We are committed to doing that until they finish executing the projects or we have resemblance of public order and safety in Apapa axis.
Traffic congestion is not limited to Apapa alone. When there is a spillover from Apapa, it goes to Western Avenue. And from there, it spills over to Ikorodu road. And from Ikorodu road, it spills over Third Mainland Bridge. We have such issues during the rainy season. You know it is very obvious. Whenever it rains, there will be congestion on Lagos roads. Lagos is below sea level. Lagos roads get deplorable easily because of our geographical location.
Perhaps, you have to consider talking to The Netherlands. Amsterdam is some feet below sea level. But they were able to manage the water back to the ocean. If Lagos is below sea level, is this not one aspect that is worth considering?
Let me tell few things about Lagos. Lagos has a shoreline of 180 kilometres from Badagry to Epe. In the short term, we do all things to ensure traffic flows. In the medium term, errors of the past have to be faced and resolved, perhaps during my tenure. We cannot depend on one mode of transportation to move 20 million people in Lagos State. That is the truth. Any time you land at Heathrow Airport, London and you need to move West town, it can take you two hours in the morning.
But you can never experience that in London because they go through the tube. Also, they use water transportation. That is where Lagos is heading to. You know my predecessors have done so much in that respect. We have a blue line that will move from Mile II to CMS. We also have the cable car that is coming up. Water transportation can solve a lot of these challenges. One feet of Lagos is water. Yet we cannot move people on water. That is why I am inviting investors to take advantage of water resources and invest there. Perhaps, in two years, we will have been able to resolve the issues of traffic congestion permanently.
There are many abandoned projects around Obalende; the road that links Ikoyi Club to First Avenue and all over the state. Why are these projects abandoned?
We cannot call them abandoned projects yet. Some of the contractors have been paid. We are trying to bring them back to the sites. There are some of these projects that still need funding. People need to understand that so much has been done to ensure that these people are paid. The truth is that the federal government is not actually doing well. Nigeria is experiencing some hardship in terms of revenue coming into coffers. We all know the price of crude oil has gone done. It may not come up in the next one year. We will have to continually look inward and fund our projects from our internally generated revenue (IGR). But we will make sure that all our projects are activated and every contractor comes to the site.
Crime is also on the increase. What are you doing about this?
I like Lagos residents as much as possible. Even as the CEO of Lagos State, the police are not directly reporting to us. We are only complementing and supporting the state police command. As we speak today, there are only 33,000 police officers in the state to watch over 20 million of us. Obviously, we will do whatever we can do. We will continue to support them in terms of equipment. But we are committed to using technology to support our security agencies.
That is what we are doing. In three or four weeks, you will some of those things we are talking about. I am happy private sector is supporting use heavily. Just recently, we did a security trust fund appeal. We were able to get good money from private sector because they know we are committed to solving security challenges in Lagos. I just want to appeal to Lagos residents to bear with us. We are limited by these factors that we have enumerated. We cannot fold our hands and be drowned by our challenges. We are already on the drawing board. We are joining hands with all security agencies to ensure that security is of utmost importance to us. Without security, we cannot attract investment.
The trend of armed robbery in Lagos State, even before you assumed office, showed that the armed robbers are taking advantage of waterways to attack and escape. In Lekki, they escaped through waterway. In Ikorodu too, the same thing happened. In FESTAC, the robbers escaped waterway. Is it not possible for the state government to purchase helicopters to the police for effective hot pursue?
I am equally disturbed about the new trend of crime rates. But the waterway ought to be secure by the Marine Police and Nigerian Navy. We can only support and complement the effort of these security agencies. We have been doing that in the past and we are more committed to it now. I can tell Lagos residents freely because this is of major concern to me. We are committed to supplying three helicopters in three or four weeks. The helicopters are purely for rescue, security and surveillance. We have actually been doing a lot of traffic, security, recovery e.t.c. We have a huge plan coming and Lagosians will see it before the end of November. We are not providing just one helicopter. We are providing three at the same thing to make sure that we are able to support from the air. We are also in the process of procuring platforms and gunboats for the Nigerian Navy and Marine Police to enable them protect and secure our waterways effectively. We know the federal government cannot do it alone.
Aside, this is more about Lagos and we cannot afford to continually wait for the federal government. Now that the All Progressives Congress (APC) controls Federal and Lagos State Governments, there is actually cooperation between the two governments. But what people do not understand is that the 2015 appropriation law was enacted under the previous government. So, you cannot expend monies, which have not been appropriated. You need to flow with the budget that was approved by the National Assembly till the end of the year. We want to be accountable. We cannot spend what has not been appropriated for. Until December, we have to flow with the current appropriation law.
Lagos residents are worried with the way commercial motorcycle riders operate with impunity. Life means so much to us. How do we ensure that they are not a threat to us?
Personally, even without being a governor, I cannot be happy that in a city state like Lagos, we have motorcycles moving people around. It is not right. It is not acceptable. But it is a means of employment for our people. Even when they were restricted from highway and bridges among others, some of our own residents went to court to challenge the government. It is neither here nor there. It is one of those things we have observed. If we have our way, we will prefer we move people in a civilized manner. In addition, Okada could be a security threat to all of us. Most of the crimes committed have been traced back to commercial motorcycle operations.
While we are trying to create a balance of job opportunities and sanity on our roads, we need to look at the security issues associated with commercial motorcycle operations at the same time. That is why they were restricted to some routes across the state. When we check our statistics, by restricting them from highways, we have reduced the number of patients in our orthopedic hospitals. One life saved is more than whatever revenue I am generating from commercial motorcycle operations. People have to understand that these issues that confront government and that most times you create a balance and sanity in the metropolis.
What do you have on the table to make Lagos like New York?
Let me be straight with you. There are 9,953 roads in Lagos State. Precisely, 3,000 of these roads belong to the state government. About 6,835 belong to local governments in the state. These are basically inner-city roads. About 117 belong to the federal government. But are the roads enough? No, they are not enough. Have we even been able to sustain them and ensure that the roads are good? The answer is neither here nor there. The resources at the disposal of the state and local governments are not enough to even sustain these 9,953 roads. There are issues in other sectors that require equal attention. So, we need to create a balance. Do you want to increase taxes so that you can use the taxes to build all these roads? The answer is No. We do not want to put more burden on our people.
You continually navigate between creating a balance of sanity and being fair. At the time, we need to do the work. People need to understand that we will do the basic things that we need to do right now. Already, I have committed 114 roads to local governments that they must do it jointly. The roads will be standard roads. On my part, we have done 220 roads in the last five months. But I am more critical about the ones where our people are massively settled and they have been complaining for years and craving for attention. We have been very responsive to these areas.
There has been all kinds of stories about officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA). What is the government doing about LASTMA?
Ever before I came into office, I have always said I believe in inclusive governance. One of its basic principles is that you must give people a voice. When people talk about what they want, I listen to them more and try to act promptly. One of the things I picked up when I came into officeis that people complained a lot about LASTMA’s officials.
There was an impression that LASTMA’s officials are always troubling them, impounding their vehicles and taking monies among others. I tried to create a civil order here, where things are done professionally. It is a response to complaints we got from members of the public. Then, I directed LASTMA not to impound vehicles again. I also directed them to try the concept of ticketing like they do in the United Kingdom. For instance, if they impound a trailer full of perishable goods, the economy of the owner will be affected. At the end of the day, the person will still have to pay. If you do that to 200 vehicles in a day, am I growing Lagos economy or destroying it? My own judgment is that allow the economy to flow. The offender can be allowed to go after ticketing. The person can pay within seven days.
The whole essence of LASTMA is to allow free flow of traffic. We also find out that we do not have enough LASTMA officials on the roads. I am trying to address this shortfall now. Some people are also complaining that LASTMA’s officials are no longer working. That is not true. The LASTMA only has staff strength of 2,100, who work in three shifts. It means we have only 700 LASTMA’s officials at a shift. On Ikorodu road, we need about 200 LASTMA’s officials. We are committed to re-orientating the attitude of our staff members. That is why we have been reforming the public sector. Besides, we have seen the need to employ more people into LASTMA. We are looking for graduates, who are selfless and who will commit themselves to making life easier for Lagosians. As we talk to them, we are in the process of employing LASTMA.
The court has directed the state government to conduct local government election within 30 days. Has the state government started process?
The judgment was delivered on Friday, October 23. As I speak, we are yet to receive a copy of the judgment. But we will do whatever is appropriate for us to act on immediately. But we can assure the people of Lagos State that we run a government that upholds the rule of law. We are committed to upholding the rule of law. It is not negotiable. We will take proper actions on how we can respond to the judgment as soon as we get a copy.

Source: THISday Live

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