Nseobong Okon-Ekong was among a team of journalists who interacted with the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Lagos State, Tunde Balogun, on the Governor Sanwo-Olu administration, defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the APC and the challenge of reconciliation in the ruling party
Some local governments and constituencies are complaining that they are not adequately represented in the Lagos State Executive Council. How is the party and the government mitigating their feelings?
APC is a strong family in Lagos. The members see themselves as one family. We don't discriminate between one local government and the other. All local governments in Lagos State have a sense of belonging. They will be represented as much as there are vacancies. We make all efforts to ensure that they are equally represented. Expediency comes in. Geographical location comes in. Some appointments are mainly and most of the times based on merit in Lagos State. Of course, the educational background of candidates are looked into. Their contributions to our elections and victories are put into consideration. I mentioned expediency. In past years, some local governments were not represented in the exco. Some of them may come in now while those who have been there in the past would have to wait. That is what is happening. Not all the local governments will be in the exco. It may not be possible. We have about 40 persons to represent about 20 million people. You have to consider a lot of things.
How is the state government, which is the product of the party, carrying along the party in its activities?
This is very apt. Recently, we held a 'Community Day' that brought together the communities in Lagos; rural as well as urban communities, were together with the governor and myself at the Ikeja Police College. We interacted in various ways. That is the kind of interaction you are talking about. There are interactive sessions between the governor and the people again. This is done regularly. Every month, he organises meetings so that people can bring to the fore whatever they feel should be done.
How about the House of Assembly. Do they also carry along the party in their activities?
You are talking about the interactions between the House and the party, and their various constituencies. There are constituency meetings. Members of the House of Assembly go back to their constituencies. That was done about two months ago. The lawmakers were in their constituencies to meet with the people, give account of their stewardship and get feedback.
Lagosians are complaining about service delivery by local governments. How can their capacity by strengthened to foster effective service delivery?
I know the local governments have the capacity to work along the line of programmes laid down by the state government. The local governments need to complement the efforts of the state. They should work with the state to achieve the development of their areas; clearing drainage, making roads, doing all necessary things that are important to the people in their various local governments. We expect them to be working to complement the state government.
How is reconciliation effort in the Lagos APC going?
It is going on fine. It is going on well. The party is also expanding. In a few weeks time, we will invite you to come and see what is happening here. People are coming to the APC, not only the aggrieved members. A lot of PDP members are defecting to the APC. We are inviting you to come and see the positive growth of APC. In few weeks time, you will see the formal reception for leaders and prominent members of the PDP who are coming to the APC.
Does it mean Lagos State will become a one party state?
It doesn't follow. It depends on your programmes and how you are implementing it. See what is happening at the federal level. APC is implementing a lot of programmes. They are unprecedented in this country. I will mention some of it. Only five days ago, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, told the world that in about five months, the end of April, there will be the commissioning of railway lines from Lagos to Ibadan. It is the first time that kind of thing will be coming up. It is a special railway connection. It has never happened since independence. With that kind of railway line; it is not going to stop there. There will be Ibadan to Kano. This thing will cut across the whole country. There will be massive construction under the Buhari administration for the next three and half years. It has never happened. It shows you what a progressive government can do and is capable of doing.
This brings me also to what the APC government is doing about the closure of borders. It is unfortunate that the small countries around us were conducting international trade with us in a bad manner. It has been very awkward. Their names bring smuggling connotation. Go to these border towns, smuggling is a way of life for some of them. Their activities have led to the proliferation of arms. Their activities have fuelled the insurgency. It has affected our local producers. With the closure of borders now, you are able to see the gains. Not only have we been subsidising the oil to these countries through smuggling, their activities have been affecting our local producers. With the closure of borders, we discovered that we have people who can produce local items that we consume here. Poultry farmers are enjoying the closure now. We should encourage our local producers, instead of exposing them to smuggled rice. The poultry farmers should be encouraged to produce under favourable conditions for local demand. Our rice producers have been showing greater capacity. There should be an atmosphere where their trade will not be brought down by smuggled rice from China and Indonesia. For a long time, there have been smuggling through the borders. We support the closure of the borders. Our local producers should be given the opportunity to produce to feed the nation and thrive.
What is your assessment of the Sanwo-Olu administration?
In the last six months, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has been implementing his laid down programmes. He has a plan, which he titled: 'THEMES.'; T stands for transportation and traffic management. H stands for health and comprehensive health insurance. E stands for education and technology. M stands for making Lagos a 21st century state. E stands for entertainment, and making Lagos the centrepiece of African tourism. S stands for security. The administration is centred on these.
In the area of transportation, he has prepared ground, not only for the use of our roads, he has made efforts to ensure that Lagos makes use of the inland waterways. He has made arrangements for the procurement of some ferries. Some of the jetties in Lagos are being developed. The available ones have been enlarged, extended and consolidated upon for effective use.
He has made appointments to ensure that the tight and innovative people manage these key areas. He has brought on board people who can think for the state and do things in a modern way. Of course, I give credence and commendation to him for the fact that, not only has he been able to tackle traffic gridlock, he identified at a point that we have 60 traffic gridlock points in Lagos and he has been making sure that the gridlock disappears. Of course, he has mended some roads. He has fixed roads where necessary to ensure smooth transportation and ease of movement on the roads. A lot of work has gone into mending roads, filling potholes where necessary. The interconnectivity of various areas in Lagos is being enhanced now.
On the issue of health, he has done a lot in the various hospitals and the teaching hospital. The effort in education is considerable. He has gone round to see schools that are in bad shape and he has commissioned committees to embark on renovation of schools across the three senatorial districts. That has been going on in the last six months. Kudos to him for the fact that a lot of things are coming on board.
He said Lagos will have the Fourth Mainland Bridge within the period of his administration. That will be fantastic for Lagos, in terms of transportation of goods and commuting. A lot of things will still come on board. Lagosians will be better for it.
It is gratifying that the governor will be paying the N35,000 minimum wage to workers in Lagos. This underscores his commitment to the welfare of workers. The workers will be motivated by this to increase effectiveness and productivity at work.
Should Lagosians take the governor for his words that after the rainy season, the state will be turned into a huge construction site?
Of course. Go to some of the areas where you notice bad roads, you will see work going on there.
A lot of equipment are there. The work is done in the night to avoid causing untold hardship to motorists and other people. Those areas and points where roads are to be mended are being mended on daily basis. Sometimes, in the day, a lot if work is going on in the state. I think that is just the beginning. A lot more will come as time goes on.
There are vacant positions in the Lagos State Executive Committee of the APC under your leadership. How and when are they likely to be filled?
There are three vacant positions brought about by the appointment of three members of the committee as members of the State Executive Council by Governor Sanwo-Olu. Commissioner and special advisers are among the three. Those positions will be filled. We have procedures. That procedure must be our guide. It is not being delayed. We want to ensure that things are done properly and appropriately so as not to run foul of the procedure and the law. They would soon be filled.
How is the national APC faring?
This brings me to the issue of wanting the leader of our party, the National Chairman of our party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to resign. Those people calling for his resignation are not only selfish, they are elements of destabilisation. The call for his resignation was untimely. Oshiomhole was elected by the unanimous vote of APC members across the nation a year and few months ago. He was elected for four years. Why don't you give him a chance? Unless he has a gross misconduct, there is no reason for removing a leader who has been able to lead his party, not only to win a presidential election that returned APC to government, but also won in many states. Why don't you give him a chance to complete his term for which he was given mandate? He was given a mandate for four years. He should complete his mandate. It was illogical that these calls were made by some who saw that the NEC meeting was approaching. They felt it was an opportunity to throw a spanner in the wheel of progress of APC. It was illogical because it was after the party won two state elections in Kogi and Bayelsa. Somebody who has been able to lead us to such victories should be given a chance. Oshiomhole is supported by many APC state chairmen for the reasons of survival of our party and stability of our party. Those people want to create confusion are calling for his resignation. He will spend the four years for which he was elected because he is doing well. We support him. He is enjoying the support of majority of us who are in the Forum of APC State Chairmen.
In any democratic setting, if you want your party to stand the test of time or survive, you must uphold the tenets of party supremacy. Some feel that they are too big for the party. They will not have their way by the grace of God. The party is supreme. Any party that does not uphold the supremacy of the party stands to have elements of indiscipline.
There is still crisis in the APC. What is the way forward?
A reconciliation committee has been set up to reconcile and resolve differences in the party, especially in Edo State. We want to give the committee a chance to reconcile those who are involved in the crisis. President Muhammadu Buhari has commended the national chairman of the APC, Oshiomhole, for what he has done so far for the party. He commended him for his energy. He must have been impressed by the energy he has committed to ensuring that our party becomes victorious.
APC is a strong family in Lagos. The members see themselves as one family. We don't discriminate between one local government and the other. All local governments in Lagos State have a sense of belonging. They will be represented as much as there are vacancies. We make all efforts to ensure that they are equally represented. Expediency comes in. Geographical location comes in. Some appointments are mainly and most of the times based on merit in Lagos State. Of course, the educational background of candidates are looked into. Their contributions to our elections and victories are put into consideration