At the outset, the perception of many Lagosians about the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration was not entirely a positive one. Based on the performance of his predecessors in office since 1999, Lagosians were not convinced that he could step onto their shoes.
Given the mountain of work in all sectors in Lagos somehow Governor Sanwo-Olu’s gentle mien did not fit into the mold of a performer in the eyes of some residents.
But, almost one year after, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos has once again proved critics wrong.
Since the inception of the administration, Governor Sanwo-Olu has been working quietly in several sectors; to continue from where his immediate processor in office, Akinwinmi Ambode stopped, and also to initiate new policies to up the ante in the development of Lagos.
Deputy Governor Obafemi Hamzat recently unfolded some of the blueprints of the administration, sector by sector, in an interview with the editorial team of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
In the education sector, for instance, Dr. Hamzat said the administration has embarked on a policy reform, which is dubbed ‘Eko Excel’, the state is re-engineering its teaching methods and also adopting a holistic approach to tackling challenges in the sector, to bring out the best in the pupils.
He said: “We started with 300 schools. What that means is that all the primary school teachers will have a tablet that allows them to concentrate on teaching so that they do not need to do all the teachers note that needs to be done and schedule of work.
We have trained them in knowing the essence of teaching. Just changing the essence of teaching and even how they talk to the children/address them. Even if a child does something wrong, there are ways of correcting them.
“Around the world, the focus has always been on the provision of equipment for the classrooms and to have a great classroom for learning but those things don’t teach children as it does not mean the children will come out well. You might have a great classroom but it does not make anything.
So over time, what the state government has done is to focus on the teachers as they are the common denominators. It means we must concentrate on the teachers. They are the common denominator.
“After six years the children will go but the teachers remain over and over again. So we realise that the best thing to do is to concentrate on the teachers, their welfare, skills, their training and the way they approach it. That is what Eko Excel is doing.”
The deputy governor said it is too early to assess the impact of the scheme. He added: “In two to three years’ time, we would see how the teaching method has changed. We would see how it has affected the culture of our education, the children and everything.
We would also be able to gather information better through the equipment that will help us to geo-reference. So, we can know, for instance, in class 4A in Agidingbi Primary School, 20 students came to class or 21 children came at 9 am. – so why are they coming to school late? Is it that they are living far from school?
“All this information will help us to plan well. Also, it has helped us in monitoring the time the teachers resume work.
Also, if a teacher is coming late to school, why is it so? For example, a teacher teaching in Ikorodu and living in Oworonshoki, so why can’t we just move the teacher to around the place he or she lives for convenience and good delivery on the job.
“We are also finding out that some schools have only seven children while in some schools they have up to 60. So it tells us that in some cases, maybe we are building in the wrong places.
So, maybe we need to build more classes in such areas because, in some local governments, the number of children in school is extremely small compared to some others.”
Another component of Eko Excel, the deputy governor said, would address malnutrition among school children. He said primary education is the foundation of development and that it is important to fix it.
He said studies show that 52 per cent of children under five years of age in the northern part of the country are malnourished. He said in the south the percentage is about 20.
Hamzat said while it is necessary to build roads, provide amenities and other things that it is equally important to take care of the younger population by addressing malnutrition among children between the ages of zero to five because, as doctors have told us, this is the time the brain develops.
He said: “So we have a committee on nutrition and also a department on nutrition but what is surprising is that study shows that it is not the children of the poor that are mostly malnourished. The children of the rich and middle class can actually be malnourished as well if they are not eating right because as children they like to eat anything.
“If we can reduce that number, it would be a fantastic achievement even though it is not something that people like to talk about but the impact will be good because we would now build children that are healthy and intelligent thereby the future of our country will be secured.”
On the health, he said the Lagos State Government has increased the budget to the sector by almost 70 per cent and are planning to build new hospitals across the state.
He said: “We want to make sure that every part of Lagos is covered in terms of healthcare delivery services. For instance, we are planning to build a General Hospital in Ojo; that axis doesn’t seem to have any at the moment. We are also planning to build a spinal injury hospital somewhere in Gbagada.
We are also getting people to help us design as we have been made to understand that a lot of our General Hospitals needs to be redesigned.
“For example, you go to UCH, Ibadan at night without air conditioner (AC) you feel cold because of the architectural design. It is designed so that air can pass through… that is cross ventilation. We have gotten people that design hospitals for the tropics.”
Hamzat said the government is not just interested in building new structures, but building ones that are easier to maintain and allows for ventilation.
He added: “Part of the challenge in most hospitals is that you go for the treatment of one ailment and later get infected with another thing.
So these are the questions we asked our medical team. We are not medical doctors but we know these things happen. So, we are redesigning our hospitals.”
On the hardship imposed on residents by the ban on commercial motorcycle and tricycle operators, otherwise known as Okada and Keke by the government, Dr. Hamzat said the underlying motive behind the policy is to reduce accidents on the roads and thereby preserve the lives of Lagosians.
He said: “The most important thing for us is that people must be alive before they can do anything. When life is lost, then there is really nothing else. It’s the dead end.
So for us what is important is how do we secure this society? There are details and information that the government sometimes has that you can’t even share with citizens because they won’t be able to sleep if you divulge such information.”
The deputy governor said critics of the policy have been insisting that alternatives ought to have been put in place before the ban came into effect.
He said: “But, I disagree because it will have been too late if we delayed further; if we failed to secure the lives of our children we will be very irresponsible. That is why it was restricted in certain areas where we saw the upsurge.”
On the menace of members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) on Lagos roads, the deputy governor said the challenge is that it is a national union recognised by law.
He said like the Association of Academic Union of Universities (ASUU), there are many things that members of the union do that the state government does not support, “but as a union recognised by law in our country, we will keep engaging them in dialogue.”
He said: “Whether we like it or not, they have some roles that they play in the transportation sector because you know what, the transportation sector is not something that private people go into without subsidy from government all over the world.
But they are doing it without such assistance, so we must find a way to make it better for them and for us as a people. The engagement must continue for us to have a peaceful society.”
The deputy governor spoke extensively on the traffic gridlock in Lagos, attributing it, for the most part, to the breakdown of vehicles, which impede the free flow of traffic.
The Lagos number two citizen also attributed the traffic gridlock to ongoing road constructions in various parts of the city. He said: “For instance, at Ojota, we are replacing the whole stretch of Ikorodu Road with concrete. At Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, we are also doing concrete.
The problem is that on that corridor, we are doing 300 metres every day but it takes 14 days to execute it properly.
So, because it takes 14 days, no vehicle can pass within those number days. It means that for a long time, that corridor would continue to experience traffic while the project is ongoing. a challenge about there.
“In fact, it is one of the reasons that we are talking to the company that maybe we should use reinforced bitumen rather than concrete, particularly as the construction work approaches Oworonshoki.”
Alaka, he added, is also experiencing a similar traffic gridlock because of the expansion project also ongoing there, it is a problem.
Because a lot of these things are happening, there will be (gridlock). “But, I think it is better to do it once and in another six or seven months, everybody will be okay,” he added.
Hamzat said the administration is taking advantage of the body of water that surrounds Lagos, by developing water transport. He said 14 boats were recently purchased and are being used to convey people in a most comfortable way.
He urged many residents along the coastal line to take advantage of the waterways to get to their destinations, and thereby reduce pressure on the roads.
His words: “We need the water not just to farm but also for transportation. The Lagos State Government just procured those 14 new boats. The beauty of it is that all those boats were built in Nigeria. Of course, we brought the engine, but we have been able to build that capacity to build boats.”
Hamzat said Lagos deserves a special status because of the nature of the responsibilities it is shouldering within the Nigerian federation. He said the state is pursuing it through a bill on the floor of the Senate initiated by Senator Oluremi Tinubu.
He said: “We are pushing it; maybe we are going about it in a different way. It might not be in the newspapers. It is by talking to everybody that is involved in the process. It is really going on but in a different way. If something is not working in a particular way, you try another approach.”
On the perceived heavy borrowing in Lagos and the debt profile, he said there is no way the government can meet up with the huge infrastructural deficit without borrowing. He said: “There is a musician in Epe in the 1970s; he is dead now.
His name is Ligali Mukaiva; he was not educated, but he said something profound that has stuck to my memory since. I was in primary school then.
The man sang a song that any businessman that doesn’t use other people’s money will not succeed. So, the reality is, where do you get resources to build for today?
“I remember during Asiwaju Tinubu’s government when they took a bond of 15 billion. The opposition said Oh; he has mortgaged the lives of the young people.
That loan has been paid. During BRF government, we took 375 billion bonds, that bond has been paid. Without that, we cannot build the Lekki Link Bridge.”
He said Lagos gets only N8 billion or N9 billion monthly from federal allocation. “By the time you pay salaries, you only have N1 billion left. What can you do with N1 billion? So, the reality is, how do you source the find for infrastructural development?” he said.