The Lagos International Trade Fair was concessionaired for nine years before it was reclaimed by the Federal Government in 2017.
Against this background, former LG chairman, Lucy Ajayi who was appointed the Executive Director, Lagos International Trade Fair Complex Management Board took over as the new manager in 2017. In this interview, she reveals how she joined the PMB Presidential train at the CPC merger committee level to negotiate with other parties and for the APC to emerge. She spoke on women and how they can reclaim their rightful position in politics.
By Ebun Sessou
Can you give an overview of the present operational system in the Lagos Trade Fair Complex?
For the fact that the concession process is still on, the operations are still skeletal. The concessionaire has charged the Federal Government to court on who takes possession of the trade fair and until it is determined in court, operations in the trade fair will be limited. I am taking my time to ensure that things are done properly.
The case is a good case for the Federal Government. He is claiming that he is still in charge (the concessionaire) and that I brought people to tamper with his property; that I am not obeying the NPC decision of 2013 and that I took him to EFCC.
I do not know any investor who would invest in a property under litigation. In all, I have been given a mandate to revamp the Lagos trade fair complex and give it a global outlook to compete with others all over the world.
How do you hope to achieve this?
We are trying to give it a new look. People are expected to come from different countries. We have to provide good roads, raise the aesthetic value of the place and gradually we will do so but we will not hurt those who are already there because they should not be punished for sins they did not commit.
The concessionaire has turned the trade fair to a market place for selling peppers and tomatoes. We will ensure we put a human face to the whole process of revamping the trade fair so as not to hurt people. We want investors and private individuals to come and build structures that would be approved by us. Most of the structures on ground were not approved.
What are the challenges?
We are working on zero budget. And we are trying to woo investors, private individuals too in order to revamp the system. Another challenge is the issue of traffic gridlock along the Mile 2/Badagry Expressway. Traffic poses a challenge to the trade fair but I think the Federal Ministry of Works and Lagos State Government should help in this direction.
As an Executive Director, I only have the mandate to propose plans to move the trade fair forward and for the approval to be given.
There are insinuations that women are intolerant especially when they occupy to positions?
It is a misconception. The truth is that women are principled. Women are go-getters and we cannot be distracted. Women are loving and considerate people. Most women do not blow their trumpet; they rather allow others do that for them. Women know when to play and when to be serious.
The trade fair is a business- oriented organisation and it should be taken as such.
You are overseeing 36 states of the federation?
It is a revenue-generating agency for the government. I am only a collector. What people do not know is that we do not organise the trade fair, we just present a venue. The chambers of commerce for each of the states handle trade fairs. We only give the atmosphere and the venue for business owners. It is a monumental ornament. It is not supposed to be commercialised. We want people all over the world to see the trade fairs as tourist centres.
You were appointed by President Buhari. What is the level of your relationship with him that would have earned you such a position?
I was once and still his foot soldier. I was a politician before I became an appointee and I have worked with him in CPC from inception in 2009 to the election of 2011. Of course, he won. He has never lost any election.
The peak of my political involvement was when he appointed me to be a member of the CPC merger committee to negotiate with other parties and for the merger to hold as APC. I was the only female in a delegation of 18 members. There was no money attached but I was happy to have joined that delegation. Before, I was a party Local Government chairman in Kosofe. I’d never held any political appointment until now but he saw me while I was discharging my duties as a member of CPC and it will only take a PMB to do that. He believes in merit.
For three months, there were petitions about my appointment but he stood his ground. Until my appointment, PMB did not know my state of origin. I got a South-South slot for my appointment in the South-West. He is the only one who can bring people to do the needful and the rightful. Some others would say people should go and queue. He believes in credibility and merit. I was just a lone voice in Kosofe but I admired PMB and I decided to champion a campaign for him in 2009 and he noticed that lone voice.
But, it seems Nigerians do not believe in him anymore?
Let us take an empirical analysis of what has happened in PDP’s 16-year reign.
A bag of beans is now N54,000…
Did it just happen yesterday? The national population census has said the population of Nigeria is 195million. What was the population of Nigeria, how much infrastructure was put in place? The same structure that 40 million Nigerians were managing is still what we are managing at 195million and you want the infrastructure to work.
Go and check some developed or even developing countries. I was in South Africa for some years. I got there when the population was 40 million and left when it was 46 million and the government of South Africa is still building affordable houses for the people.
They started with the TSA but it was not implemented and nobody asked why. Is it easy for me now to collect money from the TSA? President Buhari is not ready to accept excuses but there is no money in the system. Buhari will not have money in Nigeria’s treasury and allow Nigerians to suffer. I hope the civil servants will be bold enough to tell Nigerians the truth.
I was under the tutelage of President Buhari and I have worked with him closely. He taught me to see Nigeria in another perspective and not to give up. He taught me that the challenges are just distractions. I am passing the message to my board members.
Another problem is that the budget has not been passed and people are not condemning it. The budget was ready as far back as December 2017 so that it will be implemented in January 2018 but nothing has happened. Is that President Buhari’s problem? I do not have to see him until I am able to produce good results.
Are you supporting his bid for 2nd term…
Who do you think can be pushed forward? Until, we have a better person, then I will leave Buhari. People are saying he is weak but I do not know if you need energy and strength to run governance.
And the economy of the country?
You need wisdom. He has worked all round and I know he has what it takes. It is the implementation that matters.
PDP had laudable policies but they did not implement or finish one policy. Buhari came and implemented the TSA, they said, it is a PDP agenda. What happened to the BVN? People are angry but I tell you it is the same people that do not wish good for this country. The level of corruption in this country is bad to the extent that if we can get it right in two terms, it is by God’s grace. The damage PDP has done to this country is unquantifiable.
Buhari can imprison anybody because his hands are clean.
Most members of the so-called corrupt party have moved to your party?
Buhari is a candidate and not a party. That they are coming to the party does not mean that they will not be dealt with. Is Buhari a military dictator to imprison the looters?
Winning elections is a game of numbers. You do not need to drive people away in politics. You can only fault him if he is not doing it right. He has named the looters; nobody is doing anything about it. There are cases in court, what are the judges doing? People are saying he has not prosecuted, yet he is not a prosecutor. If it were a military regime, he would have imprisoned some of the culprits.
What would be your reaction on the role of women in politics?
Women are majority in politics but most of them want what they would get now. Most women in politics cherish rice, maggi and others. The man will bring money to buy vote. How many women would want to vote for their conscience? It is annoying that most women prefer to support the men instead of their fellow women. If all the women would vote for fellow women, there will be a woman president in Nigeria. They are the ones campaigning from house to house. In Nigeria, you capture women with money in politics.
How would you advise women in politics?
They should stop collecting Naira and Kobo. They should sponsor a person. They should bring out their money and support a woman and take their place in politics. It is the women that are involved in rigging and snatching ballot boxes. It is the women that are carrying gun. I am a grassroots politician at both local and national levels. I have a structure and I know what is going on in politics. Women have limited themselves to collecting envelopes at party meetings. They do not upgrade themselves to become an entity in politics. It is also bad that they do not sponsor their children’s education. And the technocrats who have the money would tell you that politics is a dirty game.
The issue of “money bags” in politics…
It is an epidemic. When Buhari came in 2011, he did not know that the “money bag” is a reality in politics. Building up to 2011, we told him, “Sir, we cannot continue selling your goodwill, we need money.” We told him we would lose without money. He refused. When the merger plan came, he told Tinubu off and refused the money, which was why he could not win in 2011.
He then realised that there is money politics in Nigeria but he vowed not to soil his hands. Even with the merger, we had to beg him again to negotiate. So, we sacrificed all because we wanted him to get the candidacy of APC as President.
We did not get anything from the merger. People were brought to compete with him because of money but it was in the agenda of God that he was going to win the primaries.
But, he promised that by the time he finishes his four years, there would not be money politics in Nigeria and we are getting to that level. The anger we are feeling today is the reality of what was on ground which PDP tried to cover up for 16 years. But, he insisted that it should be uncovered so that things can take their natural cause. They were borrowing to pay salaries but Buhari has paid all the salaries.