Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, weekend, hosted a section of the media including Business, News and Political Editors at an interactive session focusing on recent developments in the state. Among the issues the governor brought to the discussion were the new traffic law in Lagos, the argument for and against State Police, and the effect of the new Atlantic City project on flooding in the state among others.
Fashola also used the opportunity to address the allegation that he is an elitist governor empowering the rich at the expense of the poor. He pooh-poohed allegations that millions of people were displaced from the government's recent actions in Makoko. The governor, who is exceptional among his colleagues by not using siren gave his reason just as he disclosed that the new traffic law was only a step towards changing the attitude of Lagosians. Excerpts:
ON government's activities in his second term
What I have come to understand on this job is that it is a job that never finishes. It is true that there are places where we have nothing doing and we are elsewhere for longer than we should be. But as I have argued before, if all the work could be finished, maybe Alhaji Jakande or Governor Tinubu would have finished it before I came. So, it is an on-going process.
But where we have sought to act methodically is where the problem is most intense. Given the limited nature of our resources, where can we make the biggest impact with those limited resources? For example, in my first term, we focused on the high traffic roads, Funsho Williams, Murtala Muhammed Way, Okota Link Bridge, Lekki Expressway and so on and so forth.
We freed up those roads because those were the roads that carried the biggest traffic. I venture to think what could have happened today if we had gone to do the inner roads first. I am sure that the complaint would have been that we cannot get to work ,our children cannot get to school.
We shared with you that if we were elected for a second term that we would focus on the inner roads and that is what we are addressing now. From Ogudu to Badagry, Itire to Aguda, to Ajegunle. Those are some places where some of you have never been, but I have been there. So every time they make this elitist argument, I trust that the people in those areas would say we are being served.
It is true; it may not be your route, so you may not know what we are doing there. Sometimes a decision to do something somewhere is made more difficult by community issues. You may just find a particular group there, either a particular ethnic extraction or by some accident, a religious colouration and it becomes a potential keg of gunpowder that needs to be properly handled so that you don't lose your objective.
We are trying for example to do a refuse recycling and sorting facility inside a waste dump and somebody has gone to build on the refuse dump and in addition to that, he has taken us to court! How do we handle that? We negotiated until we had to pay a settlement because when I looked at the time, four years to get out of court, but those are not things we will come and celebrate here.
We were trying to do a stadium in Ifako Ijiaye, a community centre, because we see the traffic of people trying to come to Campos Square from there. The day we moved there, it was a court action and we had to settle!
And we know that some people are benefiting from this resettlement hype. They get grants in aid in the name of those people which never get to the affected people. I have some allegations that we have displaced some millions of people from Makoko, I said give me the number, I will resettle those millions if you can produce them.
Atlantic City and sea surge
There is the reality of climate change. Our planet is changing and you know it. Eko Atlantic City clearly was not the cause of what happened in Kuramo neither is it the cause of what happened in Alpha beach. The Eko Atlantic City project area today is what we all know as the Bar Beach.
But the problem of erosion there started when the Europeans built the Apapa port. That was what caused the problem. For you to build a port you must create deep water. The vessels that come from the ocean are channeled into that deep water. In doing so they built two moulds, so there was an intervention to nature. Normally, the sea brings sand and takes sand away.
If you build a mould you interrupt that natural flow, so the beach started taking away more sand than it was depositing. The Europeans built an automated mechanised replenishment system but when they left we abandoned it and then the erosion continued without control. Before now if you were going to the beach, the place where that road is now was the beginning of yo
r journey to sea water, you would have to travel another two kilometres to sea water, but that is what we have lost. If you superimpose that against the map of Nigeria our boundaries have been altered in physical terms. The sand replenishment that is going on now is a restoration of what used to be there.
On the ranking of Lagos as the third worst city to live in the world
For me, criticisms don't offend me; they challenge me to do more. So, I decided to find out what this ranking was all about. What I observed was that 140 cities, cities not countries, were ranked across the whole world. For, me there is a plus there. Australia has about six; Canada has about seven, only London was ranked in Britain, so they didn't rank Manchester.
In West Africa I cannot recollect that Accra made that ranking. If you enter a global ranking of 140 cities across the world, for me, that is a plus. We may be at the tail of the ranking; our challenge now is to begin to climb to the top of the ranking.
We are too important in the comity of nations to be neglected- our market, our size, our entrepreneurship; by size we are bigger than 13 African countries as a state. By GDP, we are bigger than more than 40 countries. Our GDP for 2010 was $80 billion.
For me, we are a work in progress and I think that maybe unlike the events across the Atlantic where some people asked their opponents, whether they were better four years ago, I think I can say, that we are very much better off than we were five years ago and I don't say that alone; many Lagosians will tell you that. However, our work is not yet finished.
The week that I resumed office as governor, I spent every night of the first week either in the outpatient ward because somebody has been shot or in the mortuary because somebody has been killed or sitting rooms where elderly citizens had been attacked or robbed.
And of course, there seemed to be a total lack of capacity. There was no day, every week at least, a bank would be robbed successfully and we were helpless. Attempts are being made to rob banks now but without success because we can respond.
For me it is a lot better. Yes there have been arguments but those arguments do not address the issue. The arguments that it would be used for election; excuse me, only the living will participate in an election. The first responsibility is to keep them alive.
So these arguments tend to perpetuate our imperfections. You have a constitution that creates states and federal governments, creates states and federal legislative houses, creates states and federal courts to adjudicate on laws made by different levels of legislative houses, and it says you can't have state police. And the argument of fear of abuse is the only argument that they can bring.
I am sure that if you genuinely ask Nigerians today to choose between the fear of abuse and the fear of losing their loved ones, they will tell you that the fear of losing their loved ones ranks higher in their consideration. Indeed, is there any police force in the whole world that does not abuse itself or abuse its citizens?
Now, you say don't give them state police that they will abuse it. Are we not abusing vehicles? Are we driving the way we should drive? So why don't we put it into the law, we don't give them vehicles because they will drive recklessly?
On state flags and crests: Why is the masthead of The Sundifferent from the masthead of The Nation? We don't have a coat of arms, we have a seal for the government of Lagos and it tells all that is about us: our culture, our enterprise, our business, our coast. And those are the things you will see. The cowry shells depicting very clearly our commercial capacity, the wheels showing our industrialisation, the blue sea showing that we are a rich coastal state and the green showing our vegetation.
Need for true federalism
Two weeks ago when we hosted the Federation Cup final, Lobi Stars and Heartland brought their flags. And you are saying governments cannot have flags and clubs have flags. Schools have flags. First Bank has flag! Excuse me!
In terms of timing, it speaks to the compelling need for us to sit down and renegotiate the terms of our commonwealth. That is what we are seeing. It speaks to the current need for a true federalism. That is why it is happening now. That is the debate on everybody's tongue. How can we have a more perfect union?
On the Lagos traffic law
It is not only traffic that is our problem; there are some unsavoury problems that are not compatible with urban life. You see on our highways now, people just come and hang clothes on the highway as if it was a laundry. This speak to very serious issues and challenges of urbanisation that we are facing. If you are coming from a less urbanised area where there are no proper roads, such that you can drive in the village square, you can't do that here! There is a pattern we drive here.
This is not the first traffic law. I saw a photograph of traffic on Carter Bridge in 1966, bumper to bumper. So, this problem has been there for a long time. But why did we act? That is Carter Bridge in 1966 and we may have been about 500,000 or so in Lagos at that time, now we are 21 million. At that time people were not driving against traffic, but it was organised and that was the time go slow started.
It is the same traffic that you see in Lagos that you see in Johannesburg in the morning and evening. The same thing you will see in London in the morning and in the evening, you will see it in New York San Francisco, etc. It is called rush hour traffic. The mayor of New York is imposing a congestion charge and they fought him everywhere.
London has congestion charge. Why don't we have congestion charge? We can't have congestion charge because there is no congestion. But we seem to be so defensive and sorry for ourselves and taken the victim approach and the people who have congestion have the temerity to come and tell us that traffic is bad and we accept it?
I don't take taxi in New York; I walk because it is quicker to walk than to drive. They have that congestion in spite of an efficient rail system, an efficient water transportation system. It speaks to an inherently superior managerial capacity here than there.
Let us stop feeling sorry for ourselves. There is an image I can present to you: the day the traffic lights in New York shut down, they had no clue. New York was at a standstill for about eight hours and these men and women of LATSMA everyday push this traffic without the aid of technology and instead of encouraging them, we sweep them with the same brush. I will like to take them off the streets for one day in order to explain to us in very practical terms what they do. I wish I could! (General Laughter)
We have a job to do, let us encourage them. Let us name and shame the bad ones. But let us protect those who take their duty with dignity trying to keep traffic in Lagos.
Yes, people have genuinely expressed concern about awareness, signage. There are concerns but those are easy to resolve and that is why before the law came to force on August 2, we have been slow to enforce but very quick to pursue awareness. In the last two weeks, we have installed an additional 2,000 road signs across Lagos, showing that we mean well.
This is what defines our maturity and our civilisation: transportation. It is what defines ultimately how much we buy things. If we get it right all of us will be better for it.
Yesterday (Friday) we lost four university lecturers in a country that does not have enough. They were avoiding a head on collision and the only way they could go was water. If you go and investigate it, you will see that there was a loss of concentration and that is why a head on collision became imminent. Somebody took his eyes off the road, either he slept off or was distracted.
When these accidents happen, irreversible changes follow. From the day that accident happened, we have widows and widowers, you can't change it anymore. For one second you will cause an irreversible change in your life. Even if some of them survived, life will not be the same again. For one second? What do you want? You want to smoke? You want to drink? You want to give your baby breast milk? Those are some of the things we see.
You know what? Accidents don't discriminate. It may be you, it may be me. There is nothing wrong with us, we just need to change the way we do things. See, in all that traffic you see abroad, you don't see Okada running against traffic!
I don't see our prosperity in cash, I see our prosperity as a state in the quality of life of the people we have. That is my balance sheet. The quality of life of the people I serve.
Now add that to the stress of okada and keke, add siren. What should be used only for emergency we now put it on every day. And I have been asking this question and nobody has been able to answer it? Are we in a perpetual emergency? I have insisted that no matter the temptation to use siren I don't intend to use it until I leave office. I have been in very bad traffic, we have never put on the siren in my car and it is an absolute rule for my commissioners.