On Wednesday, July 8, the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) held an interactive session with print and electronic media executives in Lagos.
The forum afforded the governor an opportunity to respond to a wide range of issues raised by the journalists on the mega city challenges confronting the State. Below are excerpts:
OKADA riders: There was a suggestion first that we were in a position to deal with the Okada and then we had to succumb for political considerations and someone else ventilated that issue and asked what is the specification of motorcycles that are supposed to ply Ikorodu Road and other major highways.
Clearly, there are 60 or 70 CC capacities (I am not sure now) but the popular ones that we see have no place on Eko Bridge, or Ikorodu Road or Third Mainland Bridge as a matter of law and we are working on policies to enforce that law.
But let me say that the problem of Okada is not a government problem; it is a peoplesâ€™ problem. And we have to understand; this is why I said that maybe we assume that our people know enough. Okada is not a joy ride; it is a business.
If truly we do not want Okada, how many of us are ready to walk that extra two kilometres and say â€˜I will not ride an Okadaâ€™? Our job will have been done by more than half if people make that choice, I do not want Okada and I will not climb it. With all of our best efforts, with about 33,000 police officers, where is the capacity to chase Okada from every nook and cranny of Lagos? There is none. So this is a peoplesâ€™ problem.
If we take the economic benefit out of it, Okada will disappear in the same way that it appeared. It is that simple. So the choice really is the peoplesâ€™ choice. Do we want it or not?, because if government starts, the next thing will be â€˜Fashola does not have human face; he wants to create unemployment.â€™ You will write it.
So, it is not just us as a government; it is us as a people who must make that choice. If there is no passenger for Okada, they will look for another business.
It must be worth it and that is why more of it is coming in. I think that I want us to look at it that way; as a country, as a State, as a people, is it the mode of transportation that we want?
That decision will come, of course, with its inconvenience, but it must be the price that we must elect to pay for the way we want to live. Of course, having chosen to use Okada, we have paid the price, broken limbs, severed limbs, deaths, orphans, widows, widowers.
We have to decide whether we want to continue to play that part. I have made that point in the public before, walking does not kill a man but Okada can kill you. So, I just want to leave it at that and say that it is a peoplesâ€™ choice and not a government choice.
LASTMA: The question about LASTMA and all of that, yes there is the need to employ more people. We have recently recruited about 500 new LASTMA staff. They are undergoing training; uniforms have to be prepared for them.
They are also being prepared before we expose them to the public. There is a minimum code of conduct here that we think is acceptable in terms of courtesy, in terms of being firm but yet being fair, and truly, unless we expect that we will go and import aliens to come and run our country, we are using the materials that we have; we are using Nigerians, you and I.
We are asking people now beyond providing uniforms for them, educating them about traffic laws, we are trying to get people to lecture them, teach them and interact with them and it is something also that I hope some of you will sign unto and go to the schools and lecture them in the training schools.
We are also looking at situations where members of the Civil Society, members of private organizations can volunteer and say â€˜today, I want to work with LASTMA and help you in managing traffic and model behaviour. Itâ€™s not going to happen by magic, all of us have to roll up our sleeves and pull up our straps if we want change here. And if you have volunteers send them in to us.
We need every hand on deck, if we must transform this society. But we wonâ€™t solve all of our traffic problems through manual means. There is a limit to which human capacity, especially in the face of increasing technology, can go; and that is why you see in some areas we deploy solar powered, traffic lights to try and manage traffic at some intersections and on some major road junctions.
Special status: The question about a special status for Lagos and the allocation of resources from the Federal Government is really for me not only a matter of necessity but a matter of economic commonsense.
I think if we view the Federal Government and the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a growing concern that must continue to remain sustainable, anything that requires economic success of that federation, if I was the manager, I will be looking at the most impactful area. When Lagos was the capital of the Federation, Lagos was always given special allocation. They did it with schools; they did it with other things.
So every time the Supreme Military Council was making provision, it must make provision to support Lagos. All of this is documented and I have it. So asking for special status for Lagos should not be a question for debate. It is a question of commonsense.
It is a question of the economic interest of this country. The economy of India today is being sustained by only one city, Mumbai. It is the engine that is driving everybody.
Then, of course, the question about the status of Lagos as a mega city, this is what I have always said. It wasnâ€™t as if this Government chose that Lagos will be or is a mega-city.
There is nothing esoteric about that term mega city, it does not, I must say, convey a Disneyland perception as may be some people might have erroneously thought . It is a classification by the United Nations for benchmarking population growth in major cities. The threshold is 10 million, so that once a city hits ten million in population, it becomes a mega city.
And, therefore, whether we call ourselves a megacity or we donâ€™t call ourselves a megacity, we are already a mega city by status. It is a status. The analogy I have always used is the analogy of a young man who because he is not married, he can call himself a married man but everybody knows he is not married.
He is still a bachelor. And that will still be his status. If he likes let him go and contract the marriage in the pit of the Lagoon once the story leaks out that he is living with a wife, his status changes to that of a married man. The status of a bachelor, he does not care if there is food in the house, but once he has a wife, he must provide for her.
So, it brings on its own responsibilities and its own consequences. The same thing happens when you attain the status of a mega-city, whether you call yourself a mega city or not, it brings its own consequences because it is more people and the consequence, therefore, is that you need more utilities.
You need more water, you need more schools, you need more roads, you need more police. You need more of everything to sustain life. So that, really, is what it is about.
Taxation: On taxation, let me say, first of all that, yes we seem all too conscious of taxation in its now formal sense when we run a formal form of government.
But, let us remember that from those ages of kingdoms and monarchies and obaships and all of that where governments in the Oyo Empire, Mali Empire, when there was no democracy, no formal form of government, when there were no formal republics, taxation was still a major component of public expenditure.
It was taken in form of slaves; it was taken in form of farmlands; it was taken in form of yams; it was taken in all sorts of forms; it was exerted in all sorts of forms.
As human evolution has continued, the structure has become more quantifiable in cash which is now the medium of exchange as we have moved away from less standardized medium of exchange. So it is a vexed question; nobody wants to pay it even in Europe, in America and in Asia.
And that is why in those jurisdictions, even when the police fail to get evidence against somebody who they are convinced is a criminal; they will take the lesser option and charge him for tax evasion because nobody wants to pay tax and that is why I call it a vexed question.
Really, the truth is that it is the only way of public expenditure. All of what you have talked about today, from Apapa to Ifako-Ijaiye to Amuwo-Odofin, the question of no food, no water and no roads, thatâ€™s the bottom-line. Now, it has its own incidents.
It brings you into government, because we must see the government as not just us, it is all of us; we are only your representatives. And I will use this analogy; If you look at government as a larger form of a town hall meeting, a town union, your old boysâ€™ association, your Ikoyi Club, your Yoruba Tennis Club, your Ikeja Country Club, if you donâ€™t pay dues, you donâ€™t go in. Itâ€™s that simple.
They call it financial membership, if you are not in, you are out. If they are holding meeting and they say only financial members can speak, that is the reality. So this is what it is all about. Dues are a very vexed issue in those clubs, I know. Nobody wants to pay them it but they want to use the club. So, when the club president imposes a levy for development, we protest very vehemently.
That is the same thing that is happening in a larger society, it is not new, I didnâ€™t invent it. Unless you give me another source of public expenditure, really, we are stuck with tax.
If you look at that pamphlet on Frequently Asked Questions, the first question there is, â€œAre religious organizations liable to pay taxes? And the answer is no.
This has been published in some of your papers. People that are employed by the religious organizations in Lagos, they also use the roads, they are secured by the police, we clear their refuse, they drink water, even if you say they are not enough, their children use our public schools. Letâ€™s share these responsibilities.
It is not morally right for me to turn my back from collecting charges from income that they earn simply because it may be unpopular politically and continue to deduct the taxes of civil servants because itâ€™s convenient to do so.
Thatâ€™s not right. And so the truth about it is that many of them do pay taxes.
I will keep their confidences but quite a number of them have come to say â€˜this is the right thing youâ€™re doing, this is my tax cardâ€™. We have started a stakeholdersâ€™ meeting to begin to educate them, to inform them and to say, letâ€™s look at it without emotion.
And, of course, I didnâ€™t make the law. The law has been there for years, it wasnâ€™t enforced.
So I hope that provides all of the answers that you need on the matter and I hope you will help us to enlighten people to be less emotional and be more factual in really looking at what we are saying here.
Some of the religious organizations, for example, have acquired properties where they get rental values, they have halls where people hold weddings, and we go and clear the refuse.
Why not give me something to help me do that? It is the same thing with the consumption tax for all the clubs, for all the peopleÂ who have furnished apartments, running unlicensed businesses, they are making money, they are generating refuse and I am coming to pack it.
Citizens go in there and out of there, if the place is not safe, people will not go there. I secure the area. It is only fair that you give me something back to do this. After there is a party, everybody runs away. We send out LAWMA and others to go and clear the refuse and I must pay them. The vehicle that will cart away the refuse runs on diesel, it must be funded. That is why we call for these things.
And, of course, when you look at the tax spectrum, you get paid only for what you engage in. It is not as if you are sitting down in your house privately with your wife and somebody comes and says oya come and pay consumption tax. It doesnâ€™t happen that way.
Once you engage, you pay; the more you engage the more you pay, you pay as you go. What weâ€™ve done, for example, with consumption tax is to try to take the benefit of the tourist income that comes into this country. All of us that have travelled out of this country at one time or the other have paid that tax in one hotel or the other outside this country.
Now, tourists come into our economy, they donâ€™t pay, they go. So if you donâ€™t go and stay in any hotel, you donâ€™t pay it. So why should it be a vexed question?
So this is a tax that does not apply across board that is why I say the debate should be what spectrum of society is affected by this. It is not when you are buying elubo in Mile 12 Market then someone will come and ask you to pay consumption tax.
We have said it does not apply to the bukka. But if you come here (La Scala Restaurant), of course, you will pay consumption tax. That is the way that some tax equity is done across board in society; to take from those who have, those who indulge in more luxurious life, to give something back to support the system. That is how it has been. I didnâ€™t invent it, I met it, and I like it.
Oshodi: Someone raised the issue of Oshodi. Let me say that Oshodi is still work in progress; there is a lot of work still to do there. Some of the molues that you see there, if we take them out of business, you will be the first to write that Fashola has taken their jobs.
So we are saying, â€˜letâ€™s share this road, let commuters move, you take this sideâ€™. Those places where you see them are still part of the work to be done to create proper laybacks.
Construction work is still going to go on there; we are still going to put them in a more orderly manner with proper laybacks to come up to the road. As for the street lights, again I think rather than bash us, you should commend us because there is no power, we are powering it with diesel because of the concern we have about security.
But I tell you one thing, that is not the reason why it is not functioning; the project has not beenÂ Â handed over so some of the light you see off and on is still being tested. That is why you they are experiencing the off and on.
Area boys: About the Area Boys,Â I think that if you go round theÂ State today and if you care to check, the numbers are reducing and they have reduced drastically.
And I say so with every sense of responsibility. They are the ones greening, planting trees, planting flowers, and then they work at nights with our waste disposal teams.
All of them are in our data base, they are employed, they get their salaries, they are working at many of our construction sites because every time we go to the Stateâ€™s Tenders Board, we ask the project contractors to give us 10 slots, 20 slots of daily-paid workers and we send them there.
They are working at Campos Square where we are doing a football field, they were the ones who installed the entire seats in Teslim Balogun Stadium, they were just supervised by the contractor.
I have put them to use and they are happy unless those of them who donâ€™t want to work. And as we reduce the number of those who were subjected to desperate conditions due to circumstances, it reduces the pressure on our law enforcement agents to manage the few ones left. But it is work in progress, it is never finished.
The streets of Vancouver are taken over by street gangs today as I speak to you, shooting themselves on a daily basis. It is not peculiar to us, it is an economic issue and I must say that we deserve some commendation for the strategies we have deployed in dealing with them.
Mile 2, Apapaâ€“Oshodi expressway: For Mile 2, relate it with Apapa, Oshodi, I think the problem is that it is unfortunate that that road deteriorated to its current level.Â This was a matter that I thought that by two years ago we would have started to deal with.
It was a matter that I had agitated two years ago but sadly, we didnâ€™t start on time as a people. I donâ€™t think that we could gain a lot from buck-passing or from trading blames.
I think that the important thing now is that we recognize that there is a problem that needs to be solved. We can trade blames from now till the end of the world but I donâ€™t think that is what the people who put us here want to know about.
I think that some rehabilitation has taken place on that road and in a short time, we are going to fix it, working with the Federal Government who has control over the road and who has control over the ports where the stress is so heavily impacting.
Around Mile 2, Orile and Ajegunle,Â there is a network of roads thereÂ Â that has not received attention in a while and you couldnâ€™t do anything rewarding. But if you go to Ajegunle, we are working in, I think, about six roads. We plan to do a total of 19.
In Orile, we are planning to do a parallel road of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway that will take you from the end of Babs Animashaun, through Opeluyeru, straight to Mile 2.
Construction is going on, we have told the contractor what is to be done and we say until we finish one, the other wonâ€™t be done. It is a work in progress and we will get to everywhere. On a general basis also we have to determine which road to do first and our decision as to which road first is not always determined by how bad the road is but the volume of traffic that is there.
So, we may not be on one street because there is a bigger road where everybody else empties into and it is bad. So, if we take one street and work on it while people suffer, I donâ€™t think the principle of greatest good for the greatest number of people would have applied, and that is the basic principleÂ upon which government allocates resources and distributes projects; which number gives the greatest good at any particular point in time because resources, as I said are not infinite.
Creating new towns: Creating new towns is a brilliant idea, and let me say, as I speak now, some new towns already exist. I went into Lekki Phase 2 which is an area of well over two hectares of land, the same thing in Abijo.
Almost on a weekly basis, in the last two years, we have approved C of O, approved this, approved that, give papers as an incentive for people to develop their land, the road network exists, the drainage is there, the electrification is in place, but people are not moving. As an attempt to encourage people to move there we have sited two major housing estates there which we went to inspect last week.
And the truth is that N3 billion will not build you a road network with water, with drainage and so on. Such estates in other jurisdictions are not built with only internal capital. They are investment positions taken from all over the world.
The same thing has happened in places like Dubai. But what have we done to support investment climate here? The truth is that everyday we open a Nigerian newspaper, what you see there is that we are corrupt, crime. So, if you are reading that from far away, will you bring money here?
Will you take money to Darfur now in Sudan? That is the reality. So that is what we put out there in the public domain. That is part of the problem we have with the power sector today.