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Some Elements Were Using Makoko To Draw Foreign Grants At Community’s Expense - Fashola
In this interview with journalists, the Lagos State governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola, speaks on insinuations that his state is broke. ADEWALE AJAYI was there. Excerpts:
How do you justify the decision of your administration to eject inhabitants of Makoko from their homes when your government claims to place premium on the rights of its citizens?
I think the time has come to be honest with one another and decide whether we truly want progress. On one hand, we are battling the environmental problem of 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 every day by encroachment and by building on it. It is not land. The drainage channels from Oworonsoki, Somolu, Bariga, Akoka are all served by this lagoon as, indeed, Lekki people, Ajah, Victoria Island.
If you continue to shrink it, it loses capacity to serve its purpose. That is one reason we are there. The second reason is that between the people of Makoko and Oko-baba, we have 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, fine, 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 will see that the frontiers of the place are encroaching; the place 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 difficulty, and that is one honest truth we must confront. In the name of supporting them, they get grants which never get to the place. So, part of the noise you are hearing is orchestrated. If that place is no more, the livelihood of the so-called supporters evaporates. So, in one breath, they expressed sympathy for their condition, in another breath, 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.
That is why the noise is high. 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 organise them properly so that they become sustainable as a community and that is why we toyed with whether we could create ‘Lagos Venice’ there. The people in our physical planning and urban planning ministries are working on that solution. That plan is 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. It is 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 — 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 compassion. Let me also make this point very clearly: go and listen to some of the people who are there, apart from the people from neighbouring parts of Badagry, it’s a lot of foreigners; people from other countries who have no immigration papers to be here. They are living there illegally. Those are the multiplicity of the facets relating to that place.
Another challenge confronting your administration in recent times is the management of emergency situations. How have you been able to confront the challenge?
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 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 the country and it is still not where I like it to be. First, we have established a safety commission. And what is the brief of the commission? It is to prevent accidents from happening. We see needless loss of lives on the African continent every day.
It is the commission’s responsibilities to ensure safety. We set up the safety commission in 2008 or so, because we were concerned that our primary responsibility is to protect lives and property. Therefore, what should we be doing? How can we be proactive instead of being reactive? We had the LASEMA (Lagos State Emergency Management Agency); it had been there.
But what kind of equipment did it have? Every year, we have continued to improve its equipment capacity, the training of its personnel and we have very passionate officers running the place. Unlike in the past 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 humans in buildings. So, you won’t hear incidents of people trapped in a collapsed building for two or three days in Lagos anymore. We’ll find them and bring them out.
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 and builders must ensure that they use the right building materials. Those are just emergencies coming from building collapse. It is not because government is doing less, it is because professionals are not doing as they should do — they are cutting corners, building beyond the established approvals, building with substandard materials, building in violation of existing codes. That is 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 prescribe 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, do you have enough exits? They prescribe them and ensure that people comply.
Let us move away from there. Look at our fire service; we had some fire engines before but they could not carry enough water. So, by the time they got to a building on fire, there was no sufficient water to put out the fire. So, what did we do? We bought 10 tankers just with water. So, when one fire engine is going, two will follow it just with water. And many people have written letters of commendation saying that but for our fire service, their buildings would have been razed completely.
Before the unfortunate incident involving Dana aircraft, we had been preparing for emergency. We had raised our emergency level and that was why we were able to respond the way we did. Besides, every first Wednesday of the month is our security meeting. We look at all the security threats and emergency risks to the state.
One day I said, ‘look, what’s our emergency level?’ So, we have helicopters that can be converted into ambulances. We then said, ‘start the drill again. When last did these people train?’ So, they started the training. You might not see helicopters flying but those were the drills they were doing two months before; put all the ambulances on alert. We put all the trauma centres and casualties on very high alert and recalled everybody for training to be able to respond to mass casualties. We didn’t really want it, but we were planning for the worst and hoping for the best.
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 civilised 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 them there. We wanted 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 would tell you that the only way they could respond to the attack 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 have learnt new things. We have learnt now that communication on site was difficult. So, we have ordered foghorns to communicate. Even at that, it is a continuous learning process for us. We have seen deficiencies in our team, so, we are bringing new people. We are running courses now. We have seen, for example, some of the mistakes we have made which will be addressed later. So, it is a continuous process.
But contrary to the explanations you have just offered, there are insinuations that construction giant, Julius Berger, was always on hand to assist the state in times of emergency...
Well, that used to be the case in the past. How many times have you seen Julius Berger on emergency sites? We have had a few collapsed buildings; we have had accidents and we have responded. We have our own heavy-duty trucks. But all Julius Berger provided this time around was a high capacity crane to lift parts of an aircraft and an aircraft is a very heavy equipment. That is all they came in to do. The fire engines were ours. Before, it used to be Eko Hotel that provided fire engines.
It just shows that maybe we should communicate more about what we are doing. I think that is the way to look at it, but when things like this happen, a government can’t keep that kind of crane and buy that crane only for the day when an aircraft would crash. That is not the way government works. Keeping that crane means it is an asset — maintaining it, overhead — in a country where we are complaining that overheads are going up? Is that an overhead that you really need when a few construction companies have it and you need it for only two or three days? That is not an asset you want to own. I don’t see many governments across the world owning such an asset.
But because most construction companies in Europe lease asset, you won’t see the name of the construction company on it. A lot of private companies were involved in the evacuation during the 9/11. There will be equipment to move all those rubbles of storey buildings. No fire service can have that kind of equipment. It was construction companies that did all those works. And I think that has to be understood in that sense. It is good CSR for Julius Berger to respond to emergency in an environment they are doing good business.
So, what’s the future of the state in terms of emergency management?
Like I said, it’s a continuous renewal of knowledge and practices. I have had to learn very quickly having to deal with the Dana experience and I see that this is the first time, for example, in the history of plane crashes in Nigeria that any government is trying to identify the victims. Often times, what just happens is that they are put together in one place and they are buried. And for me, this is also an improvement in our capacity and we would learn from it. And I have seen that more successful countries have been through this. I have had to do a lot of reading, downloading materials from the internet and trying to manage people’s grief. That was a period of a very palpable grief in this state. People suffered and it was very painful for us.
Why is Lagos State broke just like many other states in the country?
Lagos is not broke. It is not getting its fair share of the national resource, and maybe for the purpose of clarification: what is being broke? For me, it is insolvency. If you can pay your debt, then, you are not broke. If you are credit worthy, you are not insolvent. We have not defaulted on any debt obligation that we have — both local and international debts. Our bonds are doing well. We are committing the monthly 15 percent from our IGR to service our bonds as prescribed by law. We are paying other local bank debts and that is why we can borrow more. The regular deductions from our FAC to service our foreign loan are there. The World Bank just gave us a DPO (Development Policy Operation — a world bank loan) last year. If we are insolvent, they won’t give us.
But clearly, on a national scale, we certainly could have managed our economy a lot better. If the economy is not better managed, every component member of that family will feel some discomfort and that is the kind of discomfort that we are feeling now. Also, the question I have always asked is: if we look at our deficit rate, for example, to GDP, we are within the lowest of the lowest threshold of the international set. If you look at our budget deficit, it is one percent of GDP when the public procurement recommends five percent as the maximum. So, that tells you how efficient we are. If you look at our debt service ratio to GDP, we are by far better than even many European countries. I can send those figures to you by text so that you will see the comparative analysis and even when you look at it against Nigeria at the national level, you will find out that we are doing a lot better. By many standards, we are comfortable, but we are also very prudent and sensitive.
Your submission on the constitution review exercise appears good. But let’s consider the issue of state police side-by-side with fears of plausible abuse by those in office. Are you genuinely comfortable with that idea?
First of all, when I hear these questions, they suggest that something is wrong with Nigeria and nothing is wrong with the country. It diminishes me as a Nigerian when you ask me if I can manage a police institution. Let us subject it to experimentation: Do we manufacture cars here? Don’t we drive cars? So, it is like saying, don’t give them cars because they won’t know what to do with them? Do we manufacture wrist watches? So, it is like saying they can’t wear wrist watches because they are bloody natives or whatever, so, don’t give them. It is like saying don’t give them tie because they will strangle themselves with it. That is the kind of question you are asking.
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 is 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 will 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 will find something else. The Georgian people, for example, when their police wasn’t working, disbanded the whole thing. For me, that is extreme treatment because given what I had done with the police here, I know if they have half the opportunity, they would 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 is 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 is still a major issue. We have gone 13 years now without sustainable power and my predecessor, and this is the attitude of the Lagos State government — always ready to find solutions — audacious in his thinking, got barges and said, look, ‘I’ll provide my own power, since the constitution now allows the state to generate power’. And he got three barges. Each barge was 30 Megawatts, which comes to 90 Megawatts for Lagos. And the Federal Government said, ‘if you have this solution, bring nine, 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 — we will meet the difference. So, we gave a guarantee to pay the difference. Now, every month, thereafter, we got a bill for N250 million 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 have generated so much power, you billed so much, you collected so much and this is the shortfall. For this shortfall, you are 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 N250 million. Are you saying that 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 is 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, don’t touch this money again, but they continued. It was late President (Umaru) Yar’Adua who stopped it. By that time, they had deducted over N15 billion from our money. Now, this power was not dedicated to Lagos; it was being used in most parts 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 N15 billion. 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 is bigger than N15 billion. But investors would 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 is 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. We were in arbitration, then, the lawyers for PHCN had gone to court to stop an arbitration panel from doing its work. Do you know what that means to investors? It is the most negative signal you can send to them because all over the world, commercial people rely on arbitrators to resolve disputes. Sometimes, I wonder who is taking advice here and who is giving it? At the heart of a power reform case, you are stopping an arbitration panel from working? It is sending the most negative signal because there will be an arbitration clause in their contract and you are telling them that oh! If there is a dispute, you will use the court to stop their arbitration. That is what you are telling them. So, that really is where we are.Share