By Dapo Akinrefon
• On Makoko: The facts, the fiction, the falsehood
• ‘Our mistakes and the lessons we learnt on Dana crash’
Lagos State government has been the butt of criticisms over the recent demolition of Makoko area and the consequential displacement of its residents. However, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) does not shy away from issues relating to the state. His response to the critics: “I think the time has come when we must be honest with one another and decide whether we truly want progress”.
In this interview, BRF as he’s fondly called, who celebrated his 1900 days in office, addresses some of the topical issues presently relating to governance in the state. Excerpts:
The raging issue now is the ejection of indigenes of Makoko and the uproar that followed. But a lot of people are wondering how a government that places premium on the protection of the rights of its citizen got to this situation?
I think the time has come when we must be honest with one another and decide whether we truly want progress. On one hand, we are battling environmental problem on flooding. Now, the Lagos lagoon is one of the biggest assets of the state. That is where water from all the floods gutters up. It is nature’s drain for Lagos. But that lagoon is shrinking everyday by encroachment and by building on the lagoon.
It is not land. The drainage channels from Oworonsoki, Somolu, Bariga, Akoka are all served by this lagoon as you will find Ikorodu from that part of Ajegunle that flooded about two years ago. They are all served by that lagoon as, indeed, Lekki people, Ajah, Victoria Island- they are served by that lagoon.
Now, if you continue to shrink it, it loses capacity to serve its purpose and that’s one reason we are there. The second reason is that between the people of Makoko and Oko-baba, we’ve had engagement for a long time. As I speak, we are doing a resettlement programme for the people of Oko-baba in Agbowa- funded by government.
The people of Makoko were undecided whether they wanted to move or not and we said, ‘Okay, we’ll leave you here for now. Let’s solve half of the problem as we already have people who have bought into our relocation programme. But because we haven’t compelled you to move is no justification to invite more people to come and expand’.
So, those who have been there before- yeah- fine! But those who have come now, they must go. So, it is the new people we are moving. You’ll see that the frontiers of the place are encroaching- it is expanding into the lagoon every day. So, we are not moving everybody; it is the new ones that we are moving.
The reality is that some people have been making political and financial capital out of these people’s difficult. In the name of supporting them, they get grants which never get to the place. So, part of the noise you are hearing also is orchestrated noise. If that place is no more, the livelihood of the so-called supporters evaporates.
So, in one breathe, they expressed sympathy for their condition, in the other breathe, when we want to move them, they say ha, this is their livelihood going because as long as that slum exists, it becomes an international news feature from which they can benefit; from which they can say they are given grants and they are going to treat them for AIDS; they are going to help them for cholera and they are going to help them for things that never get there. So, people are living off that slum and these innocent people don’t know.
So, we had thought that for those who had been there, in the event that they are not persuaded by the resettlement plan and they want to stay there, it is to organize them properly so that they become sustainable as a community and that is why we toyed with whether we could create a Lagos Venice there. And people in our physical planning, urban planning ministries are working on that solution.
That plan is also on the table. But that would mean cleaning up the water, providing potable water there on a sustainable basis, providing waste and sewage treatment plant there because if you had human waste, you can’t empty it into the lagoon and then take water from the lagoon again to drink? So, it’s a very complex problem, but we are working on it.
What we are saying is that our ability to succeed will be limited if they continue to expand. The truth is that our constitution protects rights of property; it is rights that are lawfully acquired and not rights that are illegally acquired. So, if people talk about 72 hours notice, did they give notice to anybody before they moved there? We are extremely generous. They are not title holders but that is the law as painful as it may be.
Our action in giving notice is compassionate and, let me also make this point very clearly; apart from the people from neighbouring parts of Badagry, it’s a lot of foreigners- people from other countries who have no immigration papers are the people there. They are living there illegally. Those are the multiplicity of the facets relating to that place.
Another challenge confronting your administration in recent time is the management of emergency situations. How have you been able to confront this challenge?
Let me say that emergency management is a very complex undertaking and, from the little I know about it, it’s a multi-disciplinary undertaking as well. Emergency management in terms of first is the management of lives. That’s the first strategy and it’s the one leg of it. The other leg, of course, on the extreme end, is the management of fatalities when it actually happens. When lives have been lost, what do you do?
I think, without sounding self-adulatory, we have the best emergency management capacity in the whole of Nigeria and it is still not where I like it to be. First, we had established a safety commission and what is the brief of the safety commission? It is to prevent accidents from happening. We see needless loss of lives on the African continent every day.
In the Nigerian political space and in all the states, many of them are avoidable- accidents, traffic accidents. Where there is a large body of human community, accident will happen on road traffic.
So, it is the commission’s responsibilities to ensure safety. We set up the safety commission in 2008 or so because we were concerned that, first of all, our primary responsibility is to protect lives and property. So, what should we be doing? How can we be proactive instead of being reactive? We had the LASEMA- Lagos State Emergency Management Agency- it’s been there.
But what kind of equipment does it have? Every year, we’ve continued to improve its equipment capacity, the training of its personnel and we have very passionate officers running the place. So, from when you had collapsed buildings, for example, and couldn’t find if there was life in the building, we now have equipment that can sense human in buildings. So, you won’t hear of incidents of people trapped in a collapsed building for two/three days in Lagos anymore. We’ll find them and bring them out.
‘Why Buildings Collapse’
However, before buildings collapse, that is where safety commission must come in; that’s where physical planning must do more; that’s where professionals, architects, builders must ensure that they use the right building materials. Those are just emergencies, for example, coming from building collapse.
It’s not because government is doing less, it’s because professionals are not doing as must as they should do- cutting corners, building beyond the established approvals, building with sub-standard materials, building in violation of existing codes. That’s what brings down buildings.
So, people must become more professional and, as such, safety commission goes round from factory to walk-side on the highway to petrol stations to prescribed safety procedures that, on this construction site, no, stop work because your men do not have boots, they don’t have hard hats, they don’t have gloves and they don’t have goggles which is standard procedure in every jurisdiction.
So, they would go from industry to industry and prescribe safety like they go to a hotel and look at the number of exits they have. If a conference is going on and fire happens because fire can happen at anytime; do you have enough exits? They prescribe them and ensure that people comply. Our capacity to respond to emergency was what led us to street-naming because when we now give patrol vehicles to policemen in response to robbery and violent crimes, you’ll find out that they couldn’t find their way to the site.
Sequence of Events
All of these are not accidental; they are a combined sequence of events that had taken place over the last few years. From then, we developed an emergency helpline. The 767 line is the only one that I know of in the whole of this sub-region. It’s free We have a reliable ambulance service system and we are ordering more ambulances. So, we’ve created a professional cadre there- the LASAMBUS. They will get there and they will give help. They are saving lives.
You saw the unfortunate incident with the Dana aircraft. Before that incident, we had been preparing for emergency; we’d raised our emergency levels and that was why we could respond the way we did. Two months before that incident, we were seeing the global crises that were going on and we could not pretend to be insulated.
Now, did you plan for a plane to crash? No! So, you don’t have equipment to move a plane. But you are able to deploy all your first responders because they have been trained. I don’t like to say this but, at least, we looked like a civilized society as we brought the bodies out in body bags. Those body bags didn’t drop from heaven; this government had bought them in advance and kept there. We want to be prepared. As you plan for the living, you plan for the dead and we are all going to die anyway.
It was a very unfortunate incident but we were only able to respond because we had been preparing for emergencies generally. That was why it was easy to raise everybody quickly. If you read Rudy Giuliani’s (Mayor of New York) book on leadership and about how he handled 9/11, they had a monthly or quarterly training programme for managing emergency in New York and he’ll tell you that the only way they could respond to 9/11 was because they had been rehearsing. But they didn’t plan anything as big as 9/11. But that was their operational take-off ground.
Today, even from this crash incident, we’ve learnt new things. We’ve learnt now that communication on site was difficult. So, we’ve ordered foghorns to communicate. Even at that, it’s a continuous learning process for us. We’ve seen deficiencies in our team, so, we are bringing new people. We are running courses now. We’ve seen, for example, some of the mistakes we’ve made which will be addressed later. So, it’s a continuous process.
Your submission on the constitution review exercise appears good. But let’s consider the issue of state police side-by-side with the fear of plausible abuse by those in office. Are you genuinely comfortable with toying with that idea?
You see, first of all, when I hear these questions, they suggest to me something is wrong with Nigeria and nothing is wrong with Nigeria. It diminishes me as a Nigerian when you ask me if I can manage a police institution.
Let’s subject it to experimentation: Do we manufacture cars here? Don’t we drive cars? So, it’s like saying don’t give them cars because they won’t know what to do with it? Do we manufacture wrist watches? So, it’s like saying they can’t wear wrist watches because they are bloody natives or whatever. It’s like saying don’t give them tie because they’ll strangle themselves with it.
Every system will operate as well as the people in it. If there are excesses within a system, there must be a self-curing mechanism within that system to deal with the excesses. Just recently, we saw a shooting incident in Colorado. Who was on top of the case? It was the state police, then, later they called in the FBI when they saw that it was high wire explosives.
And that’s what we are saying that let the state police be here, it doesn’t mean the federal police won’t exist. If you are running a system that is not working, have the courage and confidence to change it, knowing that if it doesn’t work, you’ll change it again.
Now, people forget that this federal police was not what we had before. We used to have a regional police system and it was applicable in a federal environment. It was alleged that some people abused it. But some people found the courage then to change to a central system because it was not working.
Forty something years after, that central system is now not working again, so, you are saying we should forever continue to say, well, they killed one person today, kidnapped one in the afternoon, murdered one in the evening but we must not touch what those people did 40 years ago? And we are expecting that it would change by itself or continue to simply pray?
I can’t be persuaded by that. If we changed it and it doesn’t work, we’ll find something else. The Georgian people, for example, when their police wasn’t working disbanded the whole thing. That is extreme treatment because, given what I’d done with the police here, I know if they have half the opportunity, they’ll do even better. We didn’t change the police here; we simply provided them with resource and opportunity. So, it means that they can work if they have the opportunity.
Your government has been all out recently against the PHCN over alleged illegal deduction of state funds. What really was the problem?
It’s a very long story but I think the way to understand it is that at the time this democratic experience started in 1999, power was a major issue and still a major issue. We’ve gone 13 years now without sustainable power and this is the attitude of Lagos State government- always ready to find solutions.
My predecessor, audacious in his thinking, got badges and said, ‘look, I’ll provide my own power since the constitution now allows the state to generate power’. And he got three badges. Each badge was 30megawatts which comes to 90megawatts for Lagos. And the Federal Government said if you have this solution, bring nine (badges), so that it would be 270 megawatts and arrangements were reached on how that power would be dedicated to Lagos. And, in consequence of that arrangement, some agreements were reached.
There were pricing gaps and Lagos State government said if there is a gap in this pricing, between what is billed and what is collected- I don’t quite remember that off the top of my head now- but that we’ll meet the difference. So, we gave a guarantee to pay the difference.
Now, every month, thereafter, we got a bill for N250million as the difference. But, how did you arrive at that difference? How much did you bill? The principle is that PHCN becomes an accounting party to say, ‘okay, we’ve generated so much power, you billed so much, you collected so much and this is the shortfall. For this shortfall, you’re responsible’.
But if PHCN issues 10 bills and does not go to collect any, it can’t expect me to pay so much for its own inability to pay its bills. It must show good faith by collecting its bills and billings. So, every month, we just got N250million. Are you saying every month you generate enough power?
There are no down times with the turbines? That people don’t travel? Those are the issues we raised and we said no. And before we knew it, they just started deducting our money from FAC. They have no rights to do that simply because the money is passing through them. You have no such rights. It’s a breach of the constitution to touch any state money. At the very best, there was a dispute, you should go to court. When you get a judgment, then you can take my money.
We went to court, got a restraining order saying, d‘on’t touch this money again’, but they continued. It was late President Yar’Adua who stopped it. By that time, they had deducted a total of over N15billion from our money. Now, this power was not dedicated to Lagos; it was being used in most part of South-west and pumped to the national grid which therefore means we subsidise the nation for an innovation that we wanted to do only 90 but you said we should do 270.
But that is not even the point. We are in court; we have arbitration going and we are saying give us back our N15billion. Is it because we are not fighting? PHCN workers who went to court when the reform process was going to start were quickly paid. So, maybe the people who get something are those who fight and not those who appeal. And we said, ‘look, the power sector is too big- it’s bigger than N15billion.
But investors will be concerned if they learnt that there are court cases, it would slow down this process, why don’t you go to the National Assembly and say look, this is not the time for right and wrong, I want the power sector to work. So, tell them look, let’s buy out Lagos so that the asset is free from risk’. That’s our simple case. Now, we are in arbitration and you won’t believe it. I mean, I thought I had seen everything that could possibly go wrong here.