By Mike Ebonugwo
Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, is certainly no stranger to televised interviews having featured in several before and since being elected into office. But when the governor appeared as a guest in the live recording for the maiden edition of Lagos Global on TV, it certainly elicited more than passing curiousity and interest.
With an improvised studio setting inside the Lagos House Alausa Ikeja venue of the programme recording, Ambode was for over two hours virtually at the mercy of the television crew and the presenter as he responded to different questions while a studio audience, drawn mainly from the business sector, cheered or applauded as the interview session progresed.
Apart from the governor, the recording programme also featured as a guest, Professor Ademola Abass, the Special Adviser to the Governor, Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment. For the duo it was another opportunity to speak and further educate Lagosians, and indeed Nigerians, on what the administration is doing to realise its vision of creating an investment-friendly Lagos State, especially under the auspices of the Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment which the governor established May last year in fulfillment of one of his election promises.
Remarkably this is not a one-off opportunity as viewers will have the opportunity to hear and learn more, through the Lagos Global TV, of the numerous investment opportunities that exist in Lagos and what the government is doing to promote investment by creating the enabling environment. The new television programme, which will run for 26 weeks, will, for now, air on Television Continental, TVC, and Lagos Television, LTV.
Explaining the consideration that informed his decision to establish of the Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment, Governor Ambode said one of his priorities was to see “how to improve on the ease of doing business in Lagos and I also believe that we needed to carry out some kind of public sector reforms to drive the vision which we had actually set for ourselves and we needed to also have a kind of structure and institutional framework that would drive the vision.
The vision is very simple: we want a safer, cleaner and a more prosperous Lagos and one of the structures would be if we want to tackle the issue of bureaucracy in the civil service. And without actually competing with the Federal Government, we needed to find a place where our foreign investors, foreign business men will come in without going from one ministry to the other, … we needed to have a 24/7 one-stop shop office where we can drive investment, especially where our businessmen can actually walk into and get everything that they need. In going about that, we decided to come up with the office of Oversees Affairs and Investment, otherwise known as Lagos Global. It is designed to serve as one-stop shop to facilitate local and international investments.”
On his part, Abass informed that the TV programme to run every week is intended to help Lagosians know what the state government is doing in terms of how it is driving and generating investments and creating job opportunities. He added that though it will be showing for now on TVC and LTV, “by the grace of God by next year we will add another one or two channels” and will retain the current format of studio audience participation. He explained that in the matter of ranking Lagos and Kano are critical, with Lagos having the edge. He buttressed this by informing that Lagos was recently pronounced the fifth largest economy in Africa. “So, it’s no longer a guess work; that means if Lagos today were to be country, we’re the fifth largest economy in Africa,” he said, adding that it presently has a Gross Domestic Product that is bigger than those of Kenya and Ghana combined.
With regards to Lagos Global, he had this to say: “Primarily our focus or aim is to drive investment. As a government we have no business running business. Our business is to create an enabling environment for the the private sector to partner with government. “Lagos Global aims to ensure that investors who desire to invest in Lagos enjoy a seamless and hurdle-free experience. At Lagos Global, we aim to provide first-class service delivery to investors, right from the point of initial enquiry down to the setting and running of businesses in Lagos State. Our goal is to eliminate difficulties with multi-agency handling of investments”.
Providing the background to this arrangement, Ambode had explained: “We are running on a tripod of security, job creation and improvement of infrastructure. If Lagos is safe, more businessmen will do business and more investments will come to Lagos, thereby creating more jobs and growing our Gross Domestic Products”.
He added that the state was willing to partner with investors who would add value to the people. According to him: “…Our administration has resolved not to be the sole driver of the public enterprise, but rather be an enabler, facilitator and regulator, while the private sector drives the economy. Our focus therefore is a win-win scenario where the private sector makes profitable returns on investment and the government continues to focus on providing quality and improved public services to the citizenry in partnership with the private sector”.
Waxing optimistic on account of the positive results already recorded, he said this became possible through the reforms already carried out, especially in the judicial and security sectors. “…It is gratifying that the modest and concerted efforts are yielding positive outcomes as the state economy has continued to expand rapidly with top-notch local and foreign investors making new commitments in bus services, retail outlets and hotels, amongst others. We have been having the rule of law properly upheld in the state in the last 16 months and when you put all the reforms together, that is the main thrust of what you can now say confidently that we have created an enabling environment for investors and they are now coming into Lagos in droves. The FDI(foreign direct investment) that we have attracted into Lagos in the last 16 months is greater than what we have been having in the last 10 years.”
Responding to a question from a member of the studio audience, the governor said: “Primarily, our business is to create enabling environment for business to thrive. We can sometimes waive some charges like land charges, depending on how impactful the investment is to the people of the state. This administration has deployed technology to bring about seamless service delivery while scaling up the identity card scheme for data, economic and financial planning.
“But, we need infrastructure to make it happen. We are limited by resources and we cannot increase taxes, but with more funds from taxes, we can do better. The N25 billion Empowerment Trust Fund is not for big investors but SMEs and the youth. Our ID card project will be for planning and accessing government services. The contract has been awarded. However, we need to know the real census figure of the state as well as those going in and out of the state.
“There is no government money anywhere. What we get as tax is what we use to create services. The more efficiently we collect the taxes, and the more willingness of the people to pay, the better for us. I urge investors to see Lagos is on the rise and the future of Nigeria rests in her commercial capital, which is Lagos”.
He also stated that reforms in the transport sector have reduced travel time, thereby making Lagosians more productive. “Again, our civil service has been very responsible. Our judicial sector reform has been effective with the rule of law respected. Investors are coming in droves…,” he said.
Responding to a question on the prevailing poor energy situation, he pointed out: “We need energy security to protect the investment. But we’re not in position to drive our energy need. But we’re discussing and collaborating with the DISCOs to come up with a new roadmap and have set up an advisory council on petroleum supply. I don’t want to pre-empt that council; in another few weeks they will come out with their report. Energy security of our economy is the way to go”.