By Jide Ajani, General Editor
Funso Doherty is the gubernatorial candidate of the African Democratic Congress, ADC, in the 2023 general elections, and he is an accomplished professional with a distinguished track record of achievement, leading with integrity in the private sector. He has served as MD/CEO of three different pension mnanagement companies. He was elected pioneer chairman of the Pension Fund Operators Association, PENOP, the umbrella body of all licensed Pension Fund Managers and Custodians in Nigeria.
In his extensive experience, Doherty has held a number of positions in leading foreign and local firms including Goldman Sachs & Company and PNC Advisors in the United States of America and Arthur Andersen (now KPMG) in Nigeria.
A chartered accountant, he holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard University and a B. Sc. in Accounting from the University of Lagos.
In this interview, Funso Doherty brings fresh insights into how Lagos can be effectively managed to deliver greater and better outcomes for the over 20million residents. His thoughts are revolutionary and forceful. He’s excited about the prospects of how the governorship election in Lagos will turn out next year.
Let’s start with federalism, within the context of Lagos, its resources in relation to what the centre, the federal government, gets from Lagos. Just as it happened with the VAT controversy, should fiscal federalism hold sway, and in the event that you become governor of Lagos, how would you manage the fallouts, understanding that some states around you would be deprived? What issues would you want to drive?
In terms of policies and programmes for the state, I think that, ultimately, what we will do may not be dramatically different from what obtains today. Ultimately, what is required is to make the state vibrant and prosperous for all, with good quality of life and dignity. Obviously, one does not want to be a state that is prospering in isolation because obviously, there will be more strain on your resources. So, it is in our interest to support the states close to us to be more successful but that also exists today. Working with others as a regional group with a view to helping one another to succeed and enabling each other to succeed in the areas of our comparative advantage so that collectively, as a regional group, we can drive a regional economy that enables us to prosper collectively – and this is not different from the general development goals we have for Lagos.
At the end of the day, it’s about the quantum of funds available. You are aware of the controversy surrounding revenue generation and collection in Lagos. In your view, do you think Lagos is getting enough in terms of mobilising accruable funds internally?
I think Lagos is making some progress but we can still do more. Lagos has an advantage in the sense that it has a thriving commercial base and it also has some natural advantages, having been a commercial centre for centuries and a centre of finance in addition. If properly managed, Lagos will continue to generate greater and greater revenues internally. I think that the generation mechanisms need to be strengthened and looked into. We also need to look into the issue of equity, in terms of how the tax treats the rich and the poor in terms of the proportion of the burden they are meant to carry. I’m not sure we have equality. I’m not sure those that are earning the most are necessarily paying their fair share of the tax or what is due from them, compared to those in employment from whom taxes are deducted from source. These are some of the operational issues that need to be looked at.
Two major points here. First, I think the revenue collection mechanism adopted in the state is flawed. We should not be in a private arrangement with a contracting entity in the state and give them a share of what they collect. I think it is wrong and it is not necessary. If elected, it is one of the things we will seek to unwind almost immediately.
The state has the resources and the capabilities to put in the manpower to generate revenue. We have an Internal Revenue Service in the state and it has been there for decades and should be used effectively.
Second, and which is tied to our foundational agenda for development, we think it is important to pay people well and then demand accountability and hold them to that. When you do that, you will find that those agencies of government that are responsible for generating revenue will, in fact, generate more revenue because if people who are officers of those agencies are remunerated well and made accountable, issues of corruption, government revenues going into private pockets will be substantially reduced. You may spend more in the beginning but ultimately, you’ll pull more revenue into the state coffers.
You go around Lagos and you see many huge projects but in the inner streets, it’s more like a cesspit of backwardness. What does that tell you about the development paradigm in the state?
It is not unrelated to issues around putting development close to the people and putting the resources needed for development closer to the people. One of the problems we have is that in the states, local governments are no longer a tier of government. They are close to the people and should have the capacity to understand and prioritise the needs of the people. They should be both a partner and bring some measure of interaction with the state government in the areas of needs of the people. In a situation where the state government and the governor has overwhelming control of resources in a geographical area, it then means that if those resources are not adequately allocated, you will have disproportionate development, which is the question you asked. Whereas there is need for an integrated plan for the state, there should be a way whereby local governments have their own resources which they can deploy effectively and we must ensure that we have the right capabilities within the local governments to deliver on a development agenda that is competent and relevant to the needs of the people.
You talked about the competencies required for delivering development. But our politics is such that loyalty is placed above competencies and that throws up major challenges because when you put a person without the competencies required to effectively administer a local government into office, you end up with development deficits. How do you hope to deal with the mismatch between competencies and loyalty in selecting or working with people? You know, in some cases, LG elections for instance, the governors buy up all the forms and hand it out to the anointed persons who are just ‘Yes-men’?
It’s about our interaction with fellow human beings and we have to manage different dynamics. At the root of it is to examine the motivations of individuals in the position of authority. In other words, what are people solving for? That is, if as a leader, you approach that office as a sacred trust which is about exercising leadership in the interest of the people, whose mandate you have, then you are concerned primarily to deliver on what is expected of a true leader. So, you solve for that in looking for people. If what you’re solving for is to maintain and sustain and retain paraphernalia of state for the sake of it, loyalty alone would then become your watch word and then you get different sets of outcomes. It all comes back to the quality and character of that leadership.
But you’re sounding esoteric because it appears to have worked for some others and they are seen as super strategists. It has also enabled an individual to have a vice-hold grip on the affairs of the state?
If you say worked for, in which context?
Worked as in determining who gets what and it has sustained such people in power…
That’s what they are solving for. The way you break that is to appeal to the people who should be the ultimate beneficiaries but end up being victims. Every four years, that power is handed back to the people and they then have a choice to hand that power back or say no. The integrity and purity of that power is tied to our electoral process. And we are making progress on our democratic journey.
Please encapsulate your agenda in the areas of education, security, health, environment…
Our foundation for the agenda is based on reforming government at the public service. When you look across the policy areas, whether it is in function or dysfunction, it is a symptom of a problem that originates at the root. And it is the government operating competently and with integrity. What are the components of that reform? Improve compensation for public/civil servants and this would be done in stages. As you improve compensation, you also insist that they act with integrity; that they are held to account and are made to comply not just with laws but also rules, code of conduct, things that prevent them from acting in the best interest of their office and the people, and then, using those same standards that we employ in the best of private sector organisations, to ensure that people are exercising the powers of their office in the best interest of the people. We will not compromise on that. Where they fall foul, we will prosecute them. How often have you heard that a public officer was brought before the courts for abuse of office or corrupt enrichment? We will be resolute and in doing that, we will move the system forward and compensate people well but they will be held accountable.
Having done that, you’ll expect that decisions across policy areas are decisions that reflect the best projects to be pursued, who are the best people to exercise and lead the projects and monitor for performance. We can then apply this to all sectors.
In health for example, we believe there’s quite a bit more to be done. On the one hand is primary health care and the other is critical healthcare and in the middle are chronic issues like high blood pressure and the likes and generally, we do well in the middle. The difficulty is in primary health care and critical healthcare. We’ll ensure that people are health-seeking because people do not trust what is available out there, so from pre-natal to new born to ensure that people are plugged into a primary healthcare system that works. We’ll pay more attention to the quality of services, operations, supervision, management of those entities and monitoring of systems within those entities. It’s not just about buildings – buildings are good but what about value for the project? Healthcare is not delivered by the building but by the people, systems. Lagos is a compact place and good care must be delivered within the shortest possible time for emergencies.
We’ve seen diminishing standards over the years and that has to do with funding. But the degree and focus in that sphere needs to be changed. For instance, the curriculum needs to be looked at, because it needs to adequately prepare our students for the modern economy we have today, such that it can cope with the demands of this technological age. The quality of teachers is another thing. Yes, we have very good teachers but I know we have bad eggs and these latter group can make a huge difference because people cannot give what they do not have. Vocational aspects would be addressed. In building a productive economy, you need all the capacities in place to deliver what is needed across sectors.
Security and menace of area boys
In a modern city like Lagos, the use of technology is key. Tools of surveillance, linked to intelligence networks are things that are necessary. But security or criminal activities cannot be divorced from the development of the society in the long run – issues of poverty, unemployment and co. An important driver of insecurity and crime is the extent to which we are unable to build a productive, inclusive economy over time and reduce the prevalence of joblessness and hopelessness. It is important that the state is governed well so that outcomes can be such that inclusivity drives down criminality.
The area boys, unions and touts, part of the problem that we face is that those guys today are part of the power structure of government – they are part of government – and people have to ask themselves if they want them as a component of that government. They are the ones that facilitate the emergence of those in power and those in power are beholden to those folks so, there is a limit to what the government can do and what they will do to curb their activities because it is not in their long term interest to curb their activities, because they sustain their access to power. Nobody is against unions but they must operate following the rules and laws in the country. Unfortunately, members of those unions end up becoming victims of their leadership and it is important that we break that cycle and one of the things we are saying is that people should insist on good governance.
What would you have done differently in the transportation sphere?
Lagos has tri-mordal potentials: we are on the coast and we have a lagoon that runs through the state in a serendipitous way, we can do more with water transport, we have roads and rail. I think we can do more by making water mainstream by picking some waterway routes and ensuring that the capacity is there in significant numbers in a safe way that people will engage for key routes. Things like last-mile options in city areas, things like bicycles in a place like V/Island for those coming all the way instead of trekking since okadas have been banned, can also be explored. There’s also the rail but we will examine the rail deployment that has taken so much time and we cannot tolerate that. Others have started similar rail services and have completed them and moved on but in our case, we appear stuck. We will review it. Engaging with the private sector, there are better ways of doing these things, not because they are easy but with good intentions and good faith, we can do so much. Most importantly, just bringing law and order to the existing infrastructure, some of the disorderly behaviour, dangerous conduct on the roads, even with our existing infrastructure, we can do much more. Even dealing with potholes at an intersection, the impact is tremendous. Then we must curb the excesses of touts and commercial vehicles.
Environment, dredging and waste management
The solution to a lot of these problems is found in the people taking responsibility for selecting their own leaders and for selecting good leaders and removing bad leaders where they’ve made mistakes – so you remove that bad leader and put a good one in place. That way, the leader does what is in the interest of the people and not the interest of the clique that put him in power.
Deploying the right resources and right-thinking – because Lagos is not the only city with a large population – we can make decisions devoid of selfish interest because most times, it is those selfish considerations that lead to outcomes that do not deliver well for the masses. In the area of waste, the issues were not necessarily about the interest of the masses but some people’s control. We can deal with the issue of waste by exploring waste-to-power. If we think about the right capacity and the right processes, we will then be solving for the interest of the masses in that space. Even dredging is like mining. But how is it being done? Who are those doing it? Are they doing it to solve environmental challenges or just in the interest of profit? The economics of dredging is phenomenal but is it being done properly because the benefits are to a few but the impact is so much on the masses so we can break the patronage component of it? Who is involved? For what purpose? Who makes the money? Is royalty being paid adequately?
Lagos has been governed for almost 25 years by just one group. When you look at Lagos’ budget for this year, it is N1.7trillion and, adjusted for inflation, we have spent almost the same thing every year, comparatively for the past 25years. Will you say we have done well? The verdict is no! We may be better off than the next state but that is so because we have more revenue. But in terms of what we’ve done with our funds, compared to what we could have done, we have not done well.
But some people will not agree with you. Some even campaign using Lagos and praising that same one man, that same group, for doing wonderfully well. Which aspect can you point at to convince people otherwise?
First, the Economist Intelligence Unit, of The Economist magazine, released their livability ranking, a ranking of cities across the world just a few weeks ago. They ranked 172 cities. Certain criteria, across five groups – stability, health, education, infrastructure, culture and environment (and that’s what we’ve been talking about in the last over an hour), Lagos was ranked 171 out of 172. This is not my ranking. You can argue with their methodology but everybody was ranked using the same thing. So, if somebody has run a state or a city for 25years and that is a report card from an independent party, I think certain conclusions can be drawn from that. It means only one thing: We have not done well at all.
Secondly, if you call average Lagosians, fill them in a room, ask them if they see themselves as the primary consideration for governance in the state. I have a good sense of what their response would be. They will say no.