By Tosin Ajirire
LAST year, when Steve Ayorinde mounted the saddle as the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Lagos State, not many doubted his ability to deliver. As a core professional, he has been able to manage the image as well as propagate the philosophy and vision of his principal, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
In this exclusive interview, Ayorinde has proved once again that he has the grasp of the happenings in Lagos. Here, he talks about the plans of Governor Ambode to make Lagos State a thriving, well secured 24-hour mega city anchored on tourism, hospitality, entertainment and business among others.
Entertainment and tourism are two of the major programmes that the government is using to drive development in the state. This, however, cannot be achieved without a thriving nightlife. What is the government doing about this?
Lagos of today has one of the best nightlife in Africa. There are streets in Lagos where you will find entertainment and can do anything that you want to do within the ambit of the law. But all over the world, nightlife is regulated; it does not necessarily run 24 hours. But because there is light and security, and people can move about and get whatever they want at any time of the day, the impression is created that everything is run 24/7. It communicates activity and a city that doesn’t sleep. We think that is the direction we need to be headed not only on the Lagos Island or Mainland but also in the other three divisions of Lagos; Ikorodu, Badagry, and Epe.
The question boils down to three things: One is security; another is light, and the third is transportation. People must have a sense that they are safe and secure anytime of the day and night, and can go about their lawful businesses, particularly those that relate to entertainment, tourism, and hospitality.
If there is no security, we won’t be discussing this. Government is determined to do whatever is necessary to make the state safe. Lagos is not a docile or a gentle city; that is not the character of our state. Lagos is a mega city. We are working towards building a smart city where technology will drive things. The first thing to do, therefore, is to recognize that safety is key. We are not necessarily talking about zero crime rate, even though, we know that in the last one year, we considerably reduced crime by about 70 to 75 per cent in Lagos State. We are not angels and this is not a large school of theology. This is a state, a melting pot, and a multicultural mega city where you will find all sorts. But if crime happens, what government is saying is that we have the capacity to deal with criminals at any point in time, whether on air or on the road, on land or on water, we will get you and bring you to justice. But beyond that, we are saying that we can’t run a mega city of 22 million people and still counting on a 9am to 5pm basis. Therefore, we are working to ensure that transportation is available 24/7. BRT is already experimenting with 24-hour service from Ikorodu to CMS. If you close BRT by 11pm or midnight and you resume about 6am, it means you only have a window of four hours that you are not working. We are now saying let’s have a few routes that will do 1.00am and 3.00am for those who want to move from the Island to the Mainland, once security is guaranteed and there is light. The ‘Light Up Lagos’ project is part of the components to make sure that 24-hour economy runs in Lagos State. During the last fuel crisis, people felt confident to stay out late because of what they called the ‘Ambode light’ that ensured that everywhere was well lit.
But not everyone understands the concept of a mega city. What do you really mean when you talk about Lagos being a mega city?
Lagos is not trying to become a mega city; it is a mega city. As at 2014, the United Nations formally acknowledged Lagos to be inhabited by more than 17 million people. It is a game of number. If you are up to or more than 15 million, you automatically qualify as a mega city. But then, there are things tied to the whole mega city concept. We are just not talking about an emerging global city or a big city. If we are discussing Lagos, one will also be looking at cities like Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Bangkok and Jakarta where headcount is key. Therefore, if we say headcount is key, a mega city doesn’t necessarily scare the urban rich or the urban poor or the low-income earner, because they also form part of the headcount that confers the mega status on such a city. One would be dealing with things like noise pollution, propensity to crime, traffic management, volume of trade, and activities and movement. These things come with being big. If you go to London, it will pay you not to drive within the city centre because the onus lies on the administrators of the city to decongest the city centre. If everyone brings their cars to the city centre, there will be chaos. In the past, we had the odd and even numbers mechanism to control traffic on Lagos Island.
Since 2003, there have been laws that prohibit hawking, street trading and illegal markets on the highways. This is because trading on the highways is dangerous to hawkers and those who patronize them; it is also not good for the image of the state that is trying to attract investors and international visitors. Anywhere in the world, prime areas are shielded from certain anomalies like street trading and illegal markets. The point is not to take jobs away from people but to say that you can only operate within certain areas. We are saying that we can achieve the same thing that we applaud when we go to well-run cities in Africa or any other part of the world. In Lagos, too, we have areas that we need to protect for their prime posture and their historical relevance.There will always be rules in any mega city. Part of what Lagos is doing to be a smart city is to flood the whole city with CCTV cameras. Lagos will play more like London because of our size and the size of the economy, the multi-cultural nature and influx that are coming so that when people come, they don’t think that Lagos is no man’s land. Lagos is a place you must play by the rules.
In less than two years, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has recorded tremendous achievements: Light Up Lagos, roads and bridges, transportation, housing and many more in the pipeline. What is his driving force?
To achieve the best for Lagos, that is what drives him. The governor is a Lagos boy with pan-Nigerian outlook. He was born and raised in Lagos. He had his secondary education in Warri; he had the second-best result in his WASCE in the whole of West Africa, and he was a Fulbright scholar. The experiences and influences that he has acquired over time are what he is now using to develop Lagos state. God has blessed Lagos not just with a thinking governor, but one who surrounds himself with a thinking team to assist him to execute the vision. But God has also double-blessed Lagos because he is a damn good manager of money and resources. It is a key requirement for running a state like Lagos at the kind of time that we have found ourselves, not only in this country but also all over the world. I think there is a divine intervention in having a cerebral accountant and first class brain now as governor of Lagos state. Because if that were not to be so, we would have been struggling like 28 other states in Nigeria that can’t pay salaries, not because the governors there are not capable but also because the times are different and you cannot apply the same logic and skill and manual anymore. It will require a kind of extraordinary understanding of the economy, and I think Lagos is getting it right because to Governor Ambode, every kobo counts. Every dime must speak to the needs of Lagosians. This is why you can see 114 roads across all the 57 Local Government Areas and LCDAS spring up in six to seven months in his first to second year.
In less than two years, two bridges are springing up at the most problematic areas in Lagos, that is, Ajah and Abule Egba. And the governor is saying that before we finish the second year, the third overhead bridge will come up at Pen Cinema, Agege. We are also thinking of an overhead bridge to link Opebi to Odo Iya Alaro, linking those marshy areas completely. It is about thinking. Recently, distinguished Senator Oluremi Tinubu remarked that ‘if you think about how traffic has been better managed in Lagos alone, this is a major salute to Governor Ambode’. For the first time since we established LASTMA, we have engaged additional 1,000 officers; all graduates to better manage traffic in Lagos. We have examined all the knotty areas in terms of traffic and we are saying that we must be able to do something to solve the perennial problem at Oworoshoki. Apart from the overhead bridge there, look at what ordinary lay-byes and slip roads have done. We didn’t have to fill anywhere, or recreate or conjure anything. We sat down to think and execute. Look at the slip road that we did at Alapere; look at the one at Ojodu Berger, where there also is an overhead bridge, both have considerably eased the flow of traffic. Before, if one person attempts to cross the road at Ojodu Berger, just one second of that attempt will cause about 10 minutes of backflow of traffic, because the moment a trailer driver steps on his brakes, several other drivers behind him will do the same thing. So, we said let us just eliminate this by putting an overhead bridge there as well as creating a slip road so that those who are going to Magodo will not disturb those going out of Lagos.
If you are asking what is Governor Ambode thinking? He is thinking you, he is thinking me; he is thinking about that 67-year-old woman that retired but got nothing. He is thinking about the professional who needs to get to the Island but doesn’t need to waste three hours going and coming daily. He is thinking about that young schoolgirl in Epe or Ikorodu, who shouldn’t have to worry about kidnappers coming. Therefore, he is saying that even though policing is not the responsibility of the state, every of the 117 police stations in Lagos state must have functional vehicles, courtesy of the Lagos State government. We are flooding the state between the end of this year and the next 18 months with 13,000 CCTV cameras, all over the state; to say that if someone picks pockets or robs in traffic, or breaks into a house, we can go back to the Command and Control Centre and go to the zone and the route of the incident, just like they do in London or in Berlin, and then zoom the camera until the prime suspect is identified.
It seems the construction of Lagos-Badagry Expressway is witnessing a little bit of delay, what’s actually the problem?
Well, you know that is a budget issue. The last tranche of the money, $200 million, is decidedly going into infrastructure development. Our target is to finish the first phase of the project by the first quarter of 2017. We’ve already examined the train in China. On that score, everything is ready except the infrastructure part that involves laying the necessary cable. It is a question of money and additional time and those are the key things we are working on. We are glad that we’ve got the approval to draw out on the last tranche of the $600 million World Bank Assisted Fund. There are opportunities that we are also exploring to make sure we complete the blue line rail project and start the red line rail project, as we have already secured the right of way from the Federal Government. The dreams are not in short supply; it is just a question of getting the right funding to make sure that we execute.
The governor said after the completion of Oshodi Bus Terminus, he would put more BRT buses on the road and do away with danfo buses. How is he going to do this without taking jobs out of the hands of drivers and conductors of those commercial buses?
It is a project that we are working on for 2017 and beyond because it is a question of regulating commercial transportation. It is part of the multi-modal transport system that Lagos state has. We have succeeded with the BRT corridor to Mile 12; we are hoping that we will replicate that along Iyana Ipaja axis, Epe axis etc. All these things take time. We are saying, let us change the face of transportation in Lagos state particularly those commercial ones. We don’t think that the yellow colour better captures the essence of Lagos, Secondly, because of the nuisance that the danfo buses tend to constitute, we think that we can run public transportation if there is good investment along that line. My view is it won’t take jobs out of anybody’s hands because all the buses are coming into the metropolis, not Ikorodu, Epe, Badagry or the inner cities. We are talking about the main metropolis like Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Ajah, Surulere, Gbagada, Ikeja, Satellite, Festac, Ketu, up to Berger and Ogba. In terms of what you will see, almost everybody comes out from these places to work or discover the city in the areas where we consider being metropolis; those are our focus for now. It will be gradual and we have had series of meetings with stakeholders in the sector and they totally buy into it because they realize that there are no job losses. In any case, if you argue that it is your danfo that you still want to drive, then you should go to the hinterland where you can be the Lord of the Manor. That is what we are working on. Investment will determine our readiness and there are investors that we are partnering with. As soon as that crystallises, we will roll out the plans gradually, with a human face.
Recently, Governor Ambode hosted a Jazz Concert at the government house. Is this a one-off event or it’s going to be annual?
It certainly cannot be a one-off event. April 30 has been celebrated as the International Jazz Day as part of the Jazz Appreciation Month. A city is normally selected as the Jazz Capital of the world. Washington happens to be the Jazz Capital of the world this year. As part of the celebration of the Jazz Appreciation Month in April, President Barack Obama hosted a Jazz concert in the White House on April 30, the same day that Governor Ambode hosted a Jazz concert at the government house to formally key into the UNESCO programme. This is to say we believe in the reason UNESCO had chosen the entire month of April and, in particular, April 30 as the International Jazz Day to use jazz music as a symbol of hope, peace, camaraderie, and brotherliness. These are the same values the Lagos State governor believes so much in. It also falls within the gamut of ‘Project THESE’ that is anchored on using the arts to promote excellence in the state. On the stage that night, we said ‘see you next year’, which means that as long as Governor Akinwumi Ambode is the governor of Lagos State, April 30 will always be celebrated as the International Jazz Day to encourage music education, because research has shown that adolescence and teenagers who imbibe the culture of music turn out to be more brilliant and better students in life. This is also part of the reason UNESCO is championing that. Cuba will be the capital for jazz in 2017. We hope that Lagos State, after Cuba, will be the capital. It is an annual thing, just like the One Lagos Fiesta and the Lagos Street Party. There are so many components as far as tourism, film and culture are concerned. The Lagos State Government will continue to support Nollywood, but we will explore other opportunities in different parts of the world. Who says Lagos is not ripe for a world-class film festival?
Lagos State will celebrate its 50th anniversary on May 27, 2017, what are the expectations of the governor?
Big, massive, broad, major and spectacular. Lagos doesn’t do things in small measures; we always go all the way because it is important for Lagos to make that statement. Particularly at the time the whole world is applauding the visionary government in the state, a time that everybody acknowledges that there is something going on here. That Lagos is working, that there is performance. Despite the gloom in many other parts of the country, and the world, there is a boom in Lagos State. Oil has been discovered; there is a N25 billion Employment Trust Fund; 114 roads were commissioned at a go, with more to be announced in December; the 4th Mainland Bridge is coming; flyovers, CCTV cameras are coming; RRS is being rebranded; there is Light Up Lagos and there is One Lagos Fiesta. Something is happening in Lagos that deserves to be coalesced as a brand celebration. Lagos is like a grand old lady that is about to turn 50 or she is a young lady that happens to be getting slightly old. Even at 50, we are saying that Lagos is lovely, enchanting, sexy, appealing and can wow anybody.
What we say to the world is that ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’ because we will wow the world. We started in May with series of colloquium and talks and all those visitations to London to prepare people. By January 2017, we shall enter a new gear of monthly programming in terms of entertainment, culture, and documentation.
The moment we are done with the Jazz show on April 30, we shall launch fully into a daily affair from May 1; it will be everyday celebrating Lagos till May 27 when the state will be 50. We are happy that the first governor of Lagos State, Sir Mobolaji Johnson, is still alive to celebrate with us. Although, 12 states were created on May 27, 1967, Lagos is the only one of them that has remained indivisible. That is unique. So, when Lagos says ‘I am 50,’ it is saying ‘it is me alone’.