Omotoso:’Completion Of Projects Started By Previous Administrations, Is To Taxpayers’ Advantage’

Gbenga Omotoso is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State. As the man saddled with the responsibility of interfacing with the people in terms of showcasing the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration in good light and on a positive note, the editor-emeritus sure has his hands full. In this discourse with BENJAMIN OMOIKE, he bares his mind on topical issues and myriads of challenges alike, as it bothers on a burgeoning and cosmopolitan city as Lagos.

Mr Governor just laid the foundation for construction of the Opebi-Ojota link bridge tagged ‘Legacy Project’, which is expected to last 18months, whereas this administration has less than that time to finish its first term. Analysts say that governor Sanwo-Olu is merely completing projects of his predecessors. What is your take?

You see, the problem with most projects that remained  uncompleted is mainly cash. But most of the projects embarked on by governor Sanwo-Olu’s administration have cash backing, like the rail projects we are talking about, there is money to fix them already. And then you will recall that recently we got over N100 billion  bond. The money is for capital projects. So for us in Lagos, if we say we want to do anything, then so long as a contractor is ready to move, money will not be the problem, because such things will be considered right from the conception of the projects.

Take for example, the Opebi link bridge, the contractors said that they will deliver it in 20 months but the governor told them that they should be able to do it in 18 months. The governor and the entire Executive Council of Lagos State Government are very keen on it. They feel that it is the kind of project that will really touch the lives of people. 

People have lost time going to the airport and they have missed a flight. So people, you know, they will not experience that kind of thing again, because if you take off all the way from Opebi, you can easily connect to Ojota and  go your own way.  So, I do not see anything that can delay that kind of project.

Those who are talking about legacy projects for this administration, there are so many of them.  It’s not enough for anybody to feel that our administration is completing projects started by other people. It is to the disadvantage of the taxpayer of Lagos, if such projects are left to just get rot, to whose credit will that be?

Don’t forget it’s the same party that has been in government in Lagos all these years, so it’s a kind of continuity. It is the same party, so there is no way we can turn our back on projects started by our predecessors.

Look at those beautiful housing projects that we have Commissioned in Badagry, Igando Ibeshe, Igbogbo and other places. These projects were started by past administrations, so are we going to turn our backs on them, just because we want to start our own and leave them to rot and make them abodes of miscreants? No! Nobody does that in Lagos in a civil society like ours, because it is the taxpayers money. 

The people who are going to be using those houses, they don’t care who started them. Yoruba people have one proverb that says that it is not somebody who started a project or the person who has worked on the project, but the person who has seen it through. Unless you have seen a project through and it is delivered and  members of the public are using it, then we will be able to say this is what we have done, this is what we are giving our people.

Majority of Lagosians are discerning, they wouldn’t listen to beer parlour rumours. Are you going to say that beautiful school in Elemoro, that is a project done by another administration, that we are completing?

Look at the Massey Hospital. We are building that is going to be the biggest in West Africa, are you going to say it is another administration’s project? But we are not looking at it like that because it’s one party. All of us are from the same family, the All  Progressives  Congress.

So  it’s not all that credible for people to stand on that platform to say that, but there is Yoruba proverb again, that says there is no way your enemy who calls himself a hunter can kill a big game, even if he killed an Elephant, you will say is this what he killed?

The Fourth Mainland Bridge?

Then on the Fourth Mainland bridge, it is a very big project that is going to start from Abraham Adesanya – about 37 kilometers I think – is going to run through Eti-Osa to Ikorodu and burst out at Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

It is a project that is going to be delivered by PPP, Public-Private-Partnership and the funding is not going to come from our balance sheet. And so, over 30 companies were jostling to be picked for the project. So, for the last count, we narrowed down to three and these three, we are checking if they have the financial muscle or financial backing to embark on such a project. And after that, you can begin to talk about the delivery of the project, because the plan is for Mr Governor to see by the second quarter of this year or even the first quarter of this year, if we should do the groundbreaking of the project, and once it’s given to a good concessionaire, who is financially solid to carry out such a big project, we see that it is going to become a reality.

The governor was in the US to inspect and purchase trains for the Blue and Red Lines. He was also in Turkey for technical maintenance of the trains. Of what benefit is this project to Lagosians?

There is going to be an exciting time for Lagosians, when the train projects become a reality. And what we are seeing now with the governor’s trip to the USA and Turkey is becoming a reality and all of us are excited about that.

Talking about what is in it for Lagosians, it is a lot. It is going to cut travel time, it is going to cut stress, it’s going to reduce the pressure on roads and give Lagosians options because what we are trying to do is to have a system in which you can have options either by waterways – through ferry route or by bus and taxi cabs, and then rails, which we are trying to develop. And now it’s becoming a reality and we are happy about that.

So if you look at the journey from  the Red Line, which is coming from Oyingbo to Agbado, now it is a  grueling three to four hours journey. But with the trains, it will become like a 30 to 35 minutes journey. So, you can begin to imagine what is in it for Lagosians. Journey time will be cut and stress will be reduced and people can meet up with their appointments. 

If you tell somebody to meet you at 8:00 clock, and it has to be eight o’clock, because these are trains that we’ll be moving with time. It is not trains that will be waiting for people at the bus stop. You can calculate when you are going to move from one part of the city to another.

The Blue Line is from Marina to Mile 2 and to Okokomaiko. If you look at that one too, I mean, that journey is going to cut off so many delays. And I mean, you can wake up in any of those places and have a meeting at any other place and tell the person the exact time you will be there and it’s going to be like that.

So all of those things are things that are going to be enjoyed by Lagosians, no stress, you can predict your journey. The  congestion we are having in Lagos is going to be reduced.

Governor Sanwo-Olu promised that by first quarter of next year, the trains would be on track. Is this timeline feasible?

A few weeks ago, we were on a tour of the Red Line and the Blue Line. And then the biggest discovery that we had was that the contractors were on schedule and the way they are going, they may beat the time. So, it occurred to us that people may see that we have completed the tracks but the trains are not there and they will call us foolish. 

That was why the governor led a team to the USA and Turkey, to be able to procure the trains that we have been able to procure. So that at the same time everything will also be on time. 

So, they are going to be able to meet our deadline. They assured us now we have no reason to doubt them, that by the end of this year, we are going to be able to test run the two lines, and that maybe by first quarter of next year, immediately after that test run, we can begin to have a passenger service and Lagosians will begin to experience what it means to travel all the way from Oyingbo to Agbado in a few minutes, instead of the grueling hours that we are having now.

There is no way we can doubt what the governor has said. Everything is on schedule as I speak, so there is no reason to doubt the reality of the train. What we now call the train revolution in Lagos, because it’s the first time that this has been done.

There are lots of investments ongoing in the Lekki-Epe axis. The deep seaport, Dangote refinery and others. Considering what Apapa is experiencing now with containers and trucks, are there plans to build a rail track so as to avoid a recurrence of Apapa?

First let me just correct the impression that by the time the refinery comes on stream, or that the Lekki deep seaport begins to operate, that all the vehicular movement will be on the side coming to Lagos. It is not so. The main thing is that the port and the refinery are all the major businesses along the Free Trade Zone and corridor. The main thing they are  doing is to be able to service the whole Nigeria, not just Lagos.

And that is why we are rebuilding, after about 41 years, the Lekki  Expressway, and by the middle of the year,  the road will be completed. And the idea is that when vehicles are coming from the port, or they are coming from the refinery, they should be able to turn right and go all the way from Lekki to Epe and then connect Ijebu-Ode all the way down to wherever they want to go to in the north or in the east.

So, if you have that route taking off that heavy traffic off the Lekki Expressway, there will be no problem about vehicular movement in that axis.

And apart from that, don’t forget that the Lagos rail master plan, the transportation master plan is not just about the Blue Linne and Red Line. There are supposed to be about six or seven lines. I think the one coming from that axis is called the Green Line. And I’m sure that after the development of the Blue Line and the Red Line, the last one may be the Green Line and all the other ones.

When people have seen that the Blue line and the Red Line are working, they will now see that it is feasible for us to be able to build order lines and they may join in the race to become builders and operators of such lines.  So, there is a new plan  for the kind of problems that we have with  Apapa not to happen here.

Apart from rail lines, is there any other thing the government is doing in the transport sector to complement?

We are trying to develop an intermodal transport system by which Lagosians will have options whether they want to go by waterways or by road or by train. And as I speak, we are doing a lot about jetties. We are building at least 15 jetties: three in  Badagry, three in Apapa, in Marina, Ijede, Mile 2, Takwa Bay and others, and before the end of this year, they are going to be ready.

Mr Governor is about commissioning some of these jetties and we are dredging the waterways too. So, the idea is that people should be encouraged to use the waterways because it’s faster, it is safer, and it’s very efficient in Lagos.

So, it’s not compulsory that people have to use the road or the train. The waterways is also there. We are increasing the number of ferries we have. It used to be seven but by the time Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu came, we Increased it to 14 and later, sometime last year, we increased the number to 21. With the operations that are going on, more people will be embracing the waterways in Lagos.

The state government recently shut down activities of NURTW due to the crisis at Idumota. What is being done to address issues around this association causing unrest in the state?

NURTW is a registered organisation like any other organisation. It has its own rules and regulations, to which its members subscribe and to which they have embraced and collectively agreed to. So like any other  organisation as big as NURTW, there is no way you won’t have such conflicts but it’s affecting other Lagosians. 

When such happens, then the government moves in and uses the instrumentality of the Law to deal with the situation. This is what has happened.

The law is there for anybody who causes breach of peace, and the law has been able to take care of that, especially in this particular instance. I know that the matter has gone to court and is going to be sub judice for me to be commenting on it. But in general, there is nothing going on in Lagos that is exclusive to Lagos. And there is nothing going on here that is peculiar to Lagos. 

It is all in the character of growing megacities all over the world. People come into Lagos everyday in their thousands. Many of them do not have any address, all they’re holding is that hope that they have in their minds that when they get to Lagos, their life will be better. So, when you have that kind of activity coming into Lagos every day, people flooding the city, there is no way you will not have one or two things that are not good for the society.

The good thing about it is that the government is not sleeping about this. That is why we are asking them to come and take the Lagos residency card, so that we’ll be able to have data and know who is in Lagos.  So, Lagos has a robust plan to be able to respond to these situations. The law is there to be applied.

Why this new N800 daily levy to be paid by commercial drivers? More hardship on transporters?

There is a misconception as you have also said that it’s a new levy. It’s not a new levy. What has happened is that all the levies being paid by drivers have been harmonised into one and it’s been able to reduce what they pay. Most of the drivers are happy and they feel it will help them

If you look at a driver driving from Badagry to Lagos and to Lagos Island, by the time he leaves Badagry and gets a ticket, by the time he gets to Ojo, he takes another ticket and by the time he gets to Lagos Island, he must have taken about four tickets.  LASEPA, LAWMA, Ministry of Transport…all give you a ticket. So, the government decided to simplify the process. With just N800 daily payment, the driver is going to be seen as a taxpayer and be issued a tax card. Then, all the touts collecting money from drivers would have been removed.

Drivers, local government, NURTW and others have bought into it. The drivers are going to be paying less and will be free to drive on any road.

If you have this type of system that is transparent, government money will not be going into private pockets. That is the only way sanity can be restored on the road. The money will come into the government purse and be used in developing the state further.

What is the state of the Adiyan Water Works? Also, the governor signed an MoU last year with his Ogun State counterpart for joint repair of border roads. What stage of implementation has the agreement reached?

On our own part, we are encouraging our people in Ogun State to ensure they do their own. The Ijebu-Epe Road is one of them. You will see that it’s a beauty to behold. People now travel between Ijebu-Ode and Epe in a comfortable manner.

Adiyan Water Works is a project that has been there for so long and it’s going to play a big role in resolving the water crisis, because most of the water works are not working. The project is massive, 70 to 80million gallons a day. Government is trying to ensure the contractors see it through. But there is a problem. In laying the pipes, some property have to be demolished. The Lagos and Ogun State Governments have come together to work out compensation to be paid. The agreement has been signed, the cheques have been written. Some are saying they don’t want financial compensation, that when the project comes on stream, they should be assured of having water in their homes.

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