INTERVIEW: What Sanwo-Olu has in store for Lagos in 2024 – Omotoso
Omotoso, Commissioner for Information and Strategy
Published By: Kazeem Ugbodaga
Mr. Gbenga Omotoso is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Lagos State. In this interview, he spoke extensively on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s plan for 2024 and his move to reposition the State. Excerpt.
During the last four years, the Governor worked with the THEMES Agenda, now he has added PLUS to make it THEME PLUS Agenda, can you tell us what the PLUS entails and how is it going to benefit Lagosians positively?
When Mr Governor delivered the budget speech, he spoke about THEMES Plus Agenda and when he delivered his speech during his inauguration for the second term he also spoke about it.
It is very simple. Mr Governor felt he should add something that may not have been very well catered for in the THEMES Agenda, so he brought on board the Plus and it is simply about social inclusion, gender equality and about the youth. That means in this second tenure, we are going to be doing many things, attention will be paid to our young people, because they say they are leaders of tomorrow, but this administration believes that it is not even a question of tomorrow, that they are leaders of today.
You can see that in all of the things that we are doing in Lagos, we talked about entertainment, the young people are the leaders, when you talk about science and technology, they are leading the way, when you talk about sports they are the one at the forefront, so there is no government that wants to brush aide all that the young people are doing, so in Lagos we are giving them all the opportunities that they need in the creative industry where over six thousand of them have been trained, in film editing, acting, script writing by some of the giants in the trade like Del-York, Ogidi, Ebonylife and you can see what we have done about 18 vocational centres that Lagos State government runs, over 16 thousands of them have been trained and after passing out of these schools, they were not left on their own, they were given equipment to go and start their new trade, as I speak to you now, we are building about nine Mini-Stadia in some parts of Lagos so that young people can have avenue to display their talents in sports.
And we are encouraging science and technology through the LASRIC fund, about 250 million has been put there so that young people who have ideas, innovation and who will need to push through their dreams about this innovation will have no problem sourcing fund.
Everything that the government is doing is going to be geared towards encouraging our young people, so that is what THEMES plus is all about, social inclusion, all of our brothers who are living with disabilities, they are not going to be left behind and the bottom line is that nobody will be left behind in Lagos State and of course Gender Equality, men and women are all going to be the same in this administration, equal opportunities for every body.
During the first term of Governor Sanwo-Olu, we saw iconic projects being initiated and completed. What other iconic or landmark projects should Lagosians be expecting from this administration during this second term?
The Opebi-Ojota link bridge is going to be completed, we were there recently to see the level of work and we have seen the transformation that the bridge has brought to that area, it means that when it is completed, people will no longer be missing their flight when they are going to the airport when there is a traffic congestion, the traffic gridlock around that area will definitely fade away, it’s going to be significant, it’s like somebody is flying from Opebi to Ojota, Odo Iya Alaro link bridge and Maryland. There are so many projects that are going to be completed this year, Massey Hospital by the time it’s completed, its going to be the biggest paediatric hospital in Africa and if it’s not in Africa, but it will be the biggest in West Africa. And apart from Massey project, there is also Mental Health hospital that we are also building in Ketu, Ejinrin and Epe, it’s a mental rehabilitation centre, because people don’t pay so much attention to mental health, people only talk about other aspect of health that can be treated in general hospitals, but now, Lagos State government is paying attention to this very important aspect of health. Mental health, truly, so many people are affected and its like they don’t know but Lagos State government knows through its data and realise that this is one of the problems we are facing not just in Lagos but in the country.
That hospital is going to be be about 500 bed hospital and it will treat people with mental illnesses and will be a rehabilitation centre. There are other numerous projects like the Lekki International Airport that is expected to take pressure off the Murtala Muhammed Airport, it’s going to be built on 5,000 hectares of land and it’s expected to take about 5 million passengers per year and it’s going to be able to help people to avoid Murtala Muhammed Airport, they can just go from that the eastern part of Lagos, Epe, Lekki without any stress to fly to their destinations and of course the food and logistics hub is also ongoing and we hope to complete it this year.
There is also Omu Cricket project which will be connecting a virgin area of Lagos to Epe, Itoomu, among others. There is also the 4th Mainland Bridge; at the moment, a company has been selected for it and any moment from now, we are going to be doing the ground breaking, even as the state government is seeking muscle to do all these mega projects, but the most important thing that I will want us to talk about in all these projects is that, they are not just about the matter of infrastructure, they are geared towards creating jobs for our people because you are building the 4th Mainland Bridge, you are talking about a project that can generate about 10,000 jobs. It is a road that is stretching for about 37 kilometers all the way from Abraham Adesanya passing through four local government, Kosofe, Ibeju-Lekki, Epe and Obafemi Owode in Ogun state, because it’s going to be running all the way from Abraham Adesanya in Ikorodu and bursting out around Lagos Ibadan expressway around Redeemed, it is a project that will generate huge job opportunities and it will also serve as an opportunity for our young engineers to see that kind of bridge is built in the world, it is a that kind of a bridge that we have in London that is called M25, for us it’s not just about all these projects, it is about creating employment for our young people and boosting their skills.
The Blue Rail which is also part of what we have completed, the last aspect of it from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko, you have seen how the phase that has been completed has opened up the corridor and make life so simple for people who come in from Mile 2 to Marina, so it is going to be like that from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko.
It is at the very heart of all of the things that we are doing, the Inter-modal transportation; so that anybody who is interested in going by road, rail and water can be able to navigate the city seamlessly. So all of the jetties that we are building, about 15, I think almost everything is completed now.
By the time Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu came in, we have about 7 ferries, later it increased to 14 and very soon, we will be bringing in about 12 more ferries so that water transportation can be expanded and make more popular, because on water there is no traffic congestion, it is smooth, healthy, fast and comfortable. Part of the projects that will be completed is the Red Rail line System, which will be running from Oyingbo in Lagos to Agbado in Ogun State, a journey of about three hours will be reduced to about 32 minutes, it will be smooth and jolly ride and in the first quarter of this year, the project will be open and Mr Governor has said that he is going to prevail on Mr President to come and be the one to cut the tape on that day, we are looking forward to the day, all of the infrastructure needed by the Redline, everything has been completed except for one to the bridges in Mushin for people to see how ready we are. That Red Line was conceived and started by Mr Sanwo-Olu on April 21, 2021 and he promised that before the end of his first tenure that it was going to be commissioned and today, to the Glory of God, it’s over 90 percent completed, so everything that needs to be done about Red Line has been done and very soon it’s going to be opened.
There is also the general hospital, the first to be built in Lagos in Ojo, is currently ongoing, there is Leather Hub in Mushin and other projects that we are going to be starting and completing this year.
Has the state been able to complete the budget cycle for the year 2023 and how will it be able to implement the new budget cycle for the development of all the sectors.
Lagos has a history of implementing its budget, I think the last budget we did, by September/October we have done over 80 percent and by November, we were about 90 percent, so for Lagos it’s going to be exciting to implement because it’s an ambitious budget of about 2.2 trillion; for us it’s something we need to work harder for the implementation and we are assure it’s going to be implemented because it is the only way to create jobs and deliver dividends of democracy and not just the renewed hopes that we are talking about, but to concretise all of the new things and bold the audacious project that we talking about.
Security challenges are rearing its head in so many parts of the country, what measures are in place to ensure overhauling of the security architecture of the state in the new year?
On the issue of Security, you will agree with me that we do not just say that Lagos is the most secured state in Nigeria, it is, and considering the kind of pressure that we are having, people coming into the state every hour in their thousands, for us to be able to keep this state the way it is then, we deserve a kudos.
Let me tell you, it’s not because of the fact that we talked about it that the state is secured, it’s because some people are not sleeping while you and I were sleeping. What you do about security is not what you put on the television and splash on the pages of the newspapers, they are strategic and something that must be kept close to your chest.
- What Supreme Court’s judgement meant for us – Sanwo-Olu
- Supreme Court dismisses Jandor’s case against Sanwo-Olu
- Nigerian billionaire Otedola donates N1bn to Lagos Security Trust Fund
Security is a business of all of us where everyone is reporting issues of security to the government, but the kind of it that I see in Lagos is what we see in all cities of the world. I tell people when they come to Nigeria and say they are worried about security and I tell them that when I go to some other places like New York, London that I too get worried because people don’t get stabbed at the bus stop in Lagos, they can pick your pocket and all of that if you’re not attentive enough, and that is not enough for people to say there is a security challenge in Lagos. All of the guys who were into traffic robbery, a few months ago, we all saw how police paraded all of the people that they arrested and every time it is being reported by posting photographs on how Mr Governor organises his meetings, there is a kind of synergy that you have amongst the security agencies in Lagos, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Civil Defence and our own Neighborhood Watch which is very effective, because you find them everywhere. They give intelligence information to all the security agencies and besides, Lagosians are also united to ensure that the state is secured, so I feel that Lagos is very secured and it’s going to be secured. Mr Governor is putting in a lot of resources and attention and you can see that our Neighbourhood Watch, RRS, the Police Command, all their vehicles and equipment to be able to do their jobs as it is should be done. They are very well encouraged and we are going to do more.
When are we going to have the Town Hall meeting back?
Talking about the Town Hall meeting, your observation was very correct, by the time we came in, we were trying to do these things, after COVID, there were so many other crises, we had EndSARS and all of that among these crises, we cannot be thinking of a town hall meeting and all of the projects we have been commissioning has also been used as a way to interacting with them and to be specific before the end of this month, we are going to have a town hall meeting.
The Airport is not going to take time, it is expected to be finished in about a year or two and that is going to be on Lekki-Epe corridor and it’s going to be an international Airport, that can accommodate about 350 Aircraft at a time. It’s going to take care of about 5 million travelers and we are already talking to investors, because it’s not what the state can fund from its balance sheet. So everything that needs to be done by the Airport and every other iconic project that I have spoken of, like Food and Logistics Hub, 4th Mainland Bridge are currently on the table.
We are talking to investors from all over the world to come and take up these projects and they have seen that Lagos is where the investment destination is, the biggest in Africa, if you look at the foreign direct investment, there is no state that march Lagos and if you talk about foreign direct investment coming into Nigeria, when you look at Africa as a whole, Lagos contributes about 80 percent of the one that is coming into Nigeria.
Just few day ago the Governor hinted on the Lagos Medical University, where is it going to be sited in the state?
For the Medical College, it’s something that is on the drawing board but it’s at the heart of Mr Governor, because all of us have seen what the ‘Japa’ syndrome has done to the medical sector, and everywhere in Nigeria, doctors are running overseas and Lagos is doing all to keep its own doctors by providing them good accommodation, we are building and already completed some hostels for Doctors so that they can be as close as possible to their work places, they don’t have to stress themselves and spend transport fares, everything that will make them comfortable has to be done. And at the same time the government believes that we should be able to produce more First Class doctors as Lagos has been known for, and the governor said a medical college is going to be built so that Lagosians can have more access to good health care and people who seek to study medicine will also have opportunity to study without any pains.
The bad state of Ikorodu/Itokin Road, what is the government doing to ameliorate the suffering of Lagosians, any plan to construct alternative route to ease burden of commuters on the axis?
On the issue of Ikorodu-Itoikin road, it is a federal road but Lagos is not saying because of that then we should keep our eyes close to whatever that is happening there, it’s a very strategic road connecting very important towns such Epe, Ikorodu, with other parts of Lagos. The federal government has awarded that contract and I think the government spoke about it recently, I do not remember the name of the contractor now, but I think when a contract is awarded going by Lagos terrain, it takes sometimes for the contractors to mobilise its equipment and move to sites, it is not like planning a party you want to move your drinks and food, this one involves moving heavy equipment and personnel and some may be brought from overseas to come depending on the kind of road you want to do, the other time, we went to inspect Ojota -Opebi link Bridge , we saw some foreigners there, so it depends on the kind of roads that you want to build as well as experts you want to use and the equipment involved, I am sure very soon work is going to start on that road because the federal government has moved into it and when it is done it will solve the suffering of the people along that corridor.
What is government doing on the issue of street lights?
The issue of street lights is that you may not know how much the government is putting into it to ensure that Lagos is not dark. The kind of system that we have in place before, today Lagos cannot continue with that, to be using diesel to power street lights. Today, the cost of a litre of diesel is not what we have about three to four years ago, where we have to spend about 700 million just to power street lights in a month, it doesn’t make sense at all. What the government has been trying to do is retrofitting, you will see that the lamps are up now and they are brighter than what we used to have, we have changed all the bulbs, the ones we have now did not consume power like the one we used to have and yet they are brighter, we are also trying to use gas, some of the street lamps have been changed to gas and we are also trying to use solar; the solar system that we have now has been so improved that you cannot differentiate between solar and other means of electricity that are more superior than what we have now. And as much as possible we are trying to connect some of the street lights to the public power supply, so that the problem of diesel can be out of it. But these are things that you cannot do within one to five months, they take time and they are gradual, so people should continue to be patient and show understanding, the government knows this and we are working on it.
If you look at it, the number of street lights that we have in Lagos have increased because there is no new road that we are building in Lagos that has no street lights, so all of the ones that are not coming up, it’s just a question of time, they are still going to come up, because there is no way you can leave the city in darkness.
What government doing to give bite to enforcement in Lagos?
The numbers of personnel that are clamping down on defaulters in Lagos are very minimal and I am sure you are all aware that recently Mr Governor arrested those that are riding motorcycles on the highway and at the same time taking one way. This is unacceptable in Lagos and the administration of Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu has called for zero tolerance to any form of indiscipline in the state.
In other developed world, whenever the government says an act is illegal, every citizens should be able to abide by it and be on the line. In Lagos today, the law has stipulated, called for the arrest of the rider and passenger on the motorcycle and yet people are still patronising this deadly means of transportation.
The government has not slowed down on the continuous enforcement of those violating any form of laws in Lagos and anyone that is apprehended will face the appropriate sanctions.
What is government doing about the congestion on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway?
People are saying that the system put in place by the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) in conjunction with Lagos State Government has failed. I think it’s technology, and technology doesn’t fail like that, it is the human element that is the culprit, especially in this particular case. The government says that there is a system that will make trucks not to go into the port when they are not called upon, until their turn to go and pick up, why would they go there, despite the punishment meted to those that violate this system? People prefer to get punished, but for them to stay and wait for call up, they don’t want to do that, and I feel that it is bad and it’s something that all of us should be able to educate all those guys who see themselves as bigger than the law, what I called the tyranny of the truck drivers. Recently, government moved in and seized about 150 trucks; after they had signed an agreement not to block the roads and there has been representation from low and high places that they should release the trucks to them and we warned them not to stay on the road again but I don’t know exactly the current status of the road now, I have not been there in the last couple of days to know whether those removal have any effect and if it doesn’t have any effect, I think that all of us as human beings need to check ourselves because if government says it doesn’t want something it is a law and if your activities are a bit discomfort to other Lagosians, I think you should be ashamed of yourself that what you are doing is a discomfort to other people, all you want is to make money without considering others. That for me, is not the way to do business and not the civilised way to live among people, we will continue to encourage Ministry of Transportation to enforce the law and go after them and see that they don’t block the way.
Apapa used to be a very beautiful place, if there is Apapa today and people cannot have access to it, property values will be going down, I think it is something to be worried about. And that was why Mr Governor himself visited Apapa about two times and you saw after his visit, people behave themselves. So, it is for all of us to begin to follow the direction of the law. If people are not doing that, the chaos we see on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is what we will continue to see. For us as a government, we are not going to allow that to happen. Anybody who feels that his own business must disturb Lagosians will need to have a rethink, it is not going to be allowed because there are laws against what they are doing and the laws have to be enforced. The thing is that when you see trucks and you say you want to put the drivers before the law, you will see people threatening you, they are going to go on strike, and when they go on strike, there will be no fuel, it’s all blackmail that all of us have to agree that we must not surrender to it, so if we don’t surrender to that kind of blackmail, I believe these guys are going to behave themselves. All of us need to ensure that we stay on the line of the law, so that we don’t succumb to truck drivers to dictate our lives.