“The moment anybody emerges as the governor of Lagos State, the question of qualification does not arise anymore because his emergence has confirmed that. When Sanwo-Olu came on board, the first 10 policies he put in place was an indication that he understands how to govern the state. If you look at how he handled COVID-19, it brought out the best in him. If the #EndSARS has happened in other states, there would have been problems of unimaginable proportion. If you encountered such a protest and you managed it so effectively and your state is still thriving, it shows that your credentials are superb and intimidating”
Comrade Razaq Olokoba, a renowned activist, social commentator and public analyst is the Convener and National President of a political group, Campaign for Dignity in Governance, CDG. At a media interaction during the week in Lagos, the youthful leader of Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, took a critical look at the state of the nation as regards the extra workload the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu Presidency will bring to bear on Lagos State and expressed the confidence that the man in charge, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, is equal to the task of managing the expected new challenges. Excerpts:
Were you ever agitated during the last general election?
Well, you will agree with me that there is no election in Nigeria that would not come with agitation, apprehension, anxiety and excitement. And the last election was not left out of those things. And the reason can be traced to the attitude of the political class. And so it would be until we get to a point in our political life, where we could see the clear definition of politics as participation of the people, expressions of their ideologies, and building of institutions, where they can come together to chart a direction they want in the country as per what kind of government they want. But regrettably, instead of bringing in factors that will introduce sanity into the polity, the political class in Nigeria are bringing in extraneous factors of religion and ethnicity as well as all other factors that can be described as uncivilized into our politics!
However, a lot of things stand out for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in that election. His background, where he is coming from, played a major role in his emergence as the President-elect. It is very difficult for people to nail him with the blasphemy they are throwing up about ethnicity. And if you look at the political institution in Lagos, where he was governor for eight years and where he established the structure, such blackmail cannot stick to him. Even the religion aspect as well as other various mudslinging directed at him could not hold.
The first accolade goes to the Nigerian people who stood their ground that the best time to cement the country’s unity is now. And if you look at the voting pattern across Nigeria, you will agree with me that the votes that brought Tinubu to victory were votes for the unity of the country and not because he is a Muslim, not because he is a Yoruba man; but it was just because we want our country back to its feet as one solid, united and indivisible nation. It is because we want a President for Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Fulani, Ibiobio, Tiv, Jukun, Igala, Kanuri, in short, a President for all Nigerians. That is the reflection of Tinubu’s victory. Lashing Shettima’s flag also is similar to where Tinubu was coming from. His profile speaks volume of who he is and that is why we should never allow any issue in Nigeria to determine who we are going to vote for except the issue of manifestos they are bringing on board. Never, except what the candidates intend to offer about the right direction we are going to take as a country.
Are you satisfied with that election that produced Asiwaju Tinubu as the next President of Nigeria to succeed the out-going President Muhammadu Buhari? Oh yes, of course, I am impressed by the poll and the victory of Tinubu. I also have to commend Nigerians and the government of the day. No matter how we look at it, there were governments in this country that told us that their parties must win by all means necessary, either by the ballot or by the bullet! A government from a political party has said so in the past. And throughout this election, I have seen the body language of the government in place today; I didn’t see such body language in the present government. So, the institutions that are stakeholders in the election, I mean the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, also did their best. From 1999 till date, this has been the most credible election the country has ever witnessed. During the 1999 election, we know the level of violence we suffered, ditto 2003. It is on record. Ditto 2007, 2011 and 2015. It kept rising. The election we held in 2019 was not as worst as the one we held in 2015. In the 2023 election, the violence has declined. It was because there was no internet; there was no news media then. All we relied upon were radio, television and newspapers reports. And those ones have their limitations in terms of spread. The social media spread about news – original, fake, semi-original, semi-fake – people have access to developments now with the new media. So, it gave a scaring and an alarming picture that maybe, the last election was not free and fair until some of us who have taken it as part of our responsibilities to document events in Nigeria have to come out to say, no, it was free, fair and credible. And majority of the young people that were involved in it went to town with the information being fed by those who were supposed to educate them. if you look at it, we are talking about 1999, that is about 24 years ago, subtract that from the age of some of the young people we are talking about, they were either not born or were toddlers. So, it is natural for some of those younger people to go under the assumption that that election was not free and fair. But because of the document that has spoken about the true image of this election, they were pushed back a little.
How could such misinformation be checkmated in future?
Guiding against such misinformation in the future is now one of the major responsibilities of Tinubu when he comes in. He should ensure public knowledge. History teachers have gone into extinction in our schools. It is because of the number of subjects in our schools today that compels students to choose between History and Government. And students naturally choose Government against History. And that has led to the extinction of History in our secondary schools and tertiary institutions. And that gives rise to the challenge we have about our history. We don’t document history. We don’t know who was Odumegwu Ojukwu, we don’t know who was Tafawa Balewa, we don’t know who was Obafemi Awolowo, we don’t know who was Nnamidi Azikiwe, we don’t know who is Ahmadu Bello and who was MKO Abiola. And even recently, we don’t know who Bola Ahmed Tinubu is!
So, when some people concoct some of this history for you, the nation should be held responsible for allowing such a thing to happen, because if you don’t feed the people the correct history, you cannot blame the people who feed them with wrong history. The areas we must work against between now and the next election is to ensure that we carry out extensive public education, which is part of the responsibilities of the incoming government, the National Orientation Agency, NOA, our syllabus, our institutions and curriculum. And I am convinced that the incoming government will look into that direction and that is part of his manifesto to offer us a brand new Nigeria.
How far do you think Tinubu as President from Lagos would affect development of the state under Babajide Sanwo-Olu as governor?
When people ask, why do you want to vote for somebody, because there must be a reason for it? And one of the reasons people voted for Tinubu was because of his track record. In Christianity and in Islam, you will discover that those who became prophets had very long journey to prophet hood. That long journey prepared their track record for their attainment of prophethood at the end of the day. Jesus Christ (Peace Be Unto Him) was living a peculiar life and people around him knew that he was an upright person. So, when he attained that position, it was not a shock to anybody. The same thing also went for Prophet Muhammed (SAW), people already knew he was a pious, sincere, honest person. So, when he attained prophethood, it was not a surprise to anybody.
Tinubu also has a track record and that was what earned him the presidential victory, despite all the challenges mounted on his way to the election. Remember the unpopular policy of currency swap, the fuel scarcity and all other factors that would have hindered his victory. The track record stood in his favour and the rest is history now. If you look at where he got his bulk of the votes from, which is the North, you would see that the notion that there are regions that don’t want progress for this country was totally defeated.
If you also look at where Lagos is today, you will know that Tinubu as President for four or eight years will bring us closer to prosperity and closer to the Eldorado we have all been aspiring for Nigeria.
How do you mean in concrete term?
Well, I know there is no country in the whole world that does not have its own peculiar political structure. And the error of 1999 till date has always been imposing an unworkable political structure that we find ourselves in today. We are laying a template for the Tinubu/Shettima in-coming government, template of power devolution, in the power sector and haulage which is transportation sector and other important sectors. I know Tinubu as a smart public officer will not miss the opportunity of not sustaining that kind of political leverages that has been attained by the outgoing administration. I know very well that the whole question of subsidy is not about either to remove or leave it as it is, but it is about how we will rebuild our refineries. I know Tinubu is very smart to recognise that.
Another thing is that, he is smart to the extent that, if we want to secure our country very well, the task before the current Police to secure 250 million Nigerians is too herculean and too tasking. He rather devolves power to states to put in place their own peculiar security architecture. I know he is smart to the extent that he will know that the best way to manage the nation’s resources is to embrace resource control by the states. I know he is smart enough to know that he needs political understanding of the people who have the highest fear for that word – restructure – that it is not anti-North nor excessively in favour of the South. But it is a medication as important as medication for someone who falls sick. I know he is smart enough to give numerous examples of all the nations that toed the line that we have toed. He will point at Dubai which in context and character is similar to the likes of our brothers in the North. They prosper today. And the result of that is not outside the peculiar political and economic structure they designed for themselves.
I have been able to recognise Tinubu as a bridge builder. That is the reason we have to give him full support by trusting him to the extent that he will willingly earn the supports of the regions and people who have human resources, people who have natural resources, people who have numerical strength, people who have strength in labour, as per production, and other regions that have their own peculiar advantages. I know they will willingly summit their support to him to take the country to higher height. And like I said earlier, for a nation to know the role of government portal, it is the responsibility of the government to put in place, a line of communication to the people. This is what I am supposed to do for the people as a government. And this line of message is missing from Obasanjo administration to Yar’Adua administration to Jonathan administration down to Buhari administration.
And that is why you find in Nigeria so many people who put before the government responsibilities that are not of the government. It is important for Tinubu to campaign tremendously for high level of political education and enlightenment if he wants his government and the people to understand each other. He must extensively educate the populace about what the role of government is.
Do you foresee Tinubu’s Presidency granting Lagos a special status being agitated for in the recent past?
If Lagos gets a special status today, the benefit is not for Lagos alone. The benefit is for Nigerians and all the West African sub-region. Lagos is a big market place for the West African sub-region. And it is the responsibility of the government of the day to make sure that that image be protected and kept increasing the capability to be able to serve as a market for the whole of West Africa. It is just like what Johannesburg in South Africa does to the South. Lagos should be doing it to the West.
There is no governor in Lagos State till today that is not being punished for offence he never committed! All the facilities in Lagos are over-stretched! The gravitation of people to Lagos State on daily basis is unfairly un-checkmated. There is a capacity of people that Lagos can take, but it has exceeded it. And that is why the special status is the only available option or you give it whatever name you feel. But there must be intervention from the Federal Government for the state government to be able to take care of excess of citizens that are living in Lagos. It has been established by the experts that the Lagos population is in excess of 10 million.
So, there is no allocation that Lagos State is collecting that will be enough for it to take care of repair of roads, take care of environment, provide infrastructure, provide drinkable water, security and put in place proper atmosphere for the conduct of our economic and commercial activities. If we have to go deeper in our analysis, the way the state is going; all the land that has been apportioned out for various sectors of our life would be turned to habitation. Like factories turning to houses of worship, areas apportioned for vegetation turning to areas of habitation. So, if it goes on unchecked, and we want to prevent Lagos from entering into crisis and into a state of confusion and therefore become very difficult to govern, there is the need for a very great intervention.
Can you suggest a workable solution?
Yes, the solution is simple. Remember Lagos is part of the body that established the Developmental Agenda for Western Nigeria, DAWN, there is nothing therefore stopping the North, the South-East and other regions to fall in place, where 20 million will be working in Lagos and only 10 million will be sleeping in Lagos. This is possible if a common transportation arrangement is fashioned out between Lagos and the rest of the surrounding states. That is to say, you work in Lagos, you sleep in Ibadan. You work in Lagos you sleep in Abeokuta. You work in Lagos you sleep in Ijebu Ode or Sagamu. You work in Lagos you sleep in Ado-Ekiti. It is possible if Lagos gets that required intervention. We don’t need to go to Kebbi State for rice mill!
They can meet agricultural programme within the five states. Lagos is going to be the champion of that initiative. And for Lagos to be champion of that initiative, there must be access to certain funds. And that is why the question of special status comes in.
People are talking about citizenship, no, it is not about citizenship. The fear of some people is that when Lagos gets special status, a lot of people would be affected adversely. No, that is not the direction we are looking at. The right of the indigenous people must be sustained and recognized forever in any part of Nigeria. That must not be taken away. And if we talk about special status; that is not the direction we are looking at. The direction we are looking at is the economy of the state. All of us in this country know very well that commercial centre, economy centre, industrial centre, manufacturing centre, of this country is Lagos. In fact, statistics says that Lagos houses 52 per cent of the economy of Nigeria.
So, any objective Nigerian, any civilised Nigerian, any intelligent and brilliant Nigerian must know that Lagos must be protected, because of the economy of the nation that is housed in Lagos. To that extent, any President that takes Lagos serious is not only a patriotic President, but he is also a smart President. It is important for Tinubu, not because he is from Lagos, but because of the importance of Lagos, to damn that offer because the blame all the successive governments are taking, would be taken out of them. Nobody invited me to come to Lagos, nobody invited you to come to Lagos and nobody invited any other person to come to Lagos. We come to Lagos out of our volition. But we did not come with special funds for Lagos!
All people that come to Lagos come with their responsibilities that if they come; the government must take care of us. Lagos has become over saturated. We are not looking at that direction when we are demanding for roads, each time we are demanding for more security, each time we are demanding for drainages, each time we are demanding government responsibilities from our side. We will not look at that direction and it is largely unfair on the governor of Lagos State.
It happened during the #EndSARS protest, it was the governor of Lagos State that was held responsible. When it had to do with COVID-19, he was held responsible. While the Lagos government is minding its business, cutting its coat according to its budget size, unavoidable circumstances would come up and the blame would be heaped on the governor! And it will continue like that if not abated. The emergence of Asiwaju Tinubu as the in-coming President is a golden opportunity for our nation to be rescued in that direction.
Don’t you think Tinubu as President would increase the work load on Governor Sanwo-Olu?
I said it earlier that, we must all understand the peculiar nature of Lagos before we take a position. And the peculiar nature of Lagos is that the more Lagos develops the more people come in and the more punishment for the government. So, that is why the need for all of us to rally round Lagos to be better for us. If it continues like this, before the turn of century, population of Lagos is going to clock a hundred million. How do you manage that?! If you don’t establish what we propose, that there must be an understanding between Lagos and all other surrounding states, so that 50 million can be working in Lagos and 40 million will not be sleeping in Lagos at night. There must be an arrangement in place, if not; the question you have asked would come to pass, where the work load would be unnecessarily increasing on Governor Sanwo-Olu.
If you stay at Berger axis, we have done that since 1994, we have been taking census of people coming into Lagos on daily basis. And the results we have gotten revealed that more people come into Lagos while less leave at night. And it has got to a point that we have raised concerns that the rate at which the population of Lagos is going, is not to the advantage of the government of Lagos and not to the advantage of the people of Lagos. This is not about the tax they are going to pay. The burden and the damage that would be attached to it would be far higher than the tax that would come with it.
So, there must be a control, not a policy that would make anybody leave Lagos, but a control that you work out an arrangement for people to find their ways into Lagos and be able to exit Lagos conveniently, after the conduct of their business. That is the direction for Lagos now. It is not only about doing good and attracting more people, you must be able to have developed initiative that would only make people to come in and make it more enticing to leave after the conduct of their businesses. And the way to do it is what we have analysed.
With the traffic jam at the Berger end toward Sagamu and Ibadan, nobody would want to come to Lagos and leave at night. But where there are rail networks, numerous road networks, cable, underground to exit Lagos, it is an economy on its own. It is a money making venture on its own. But Lagos is lackadaisical at the moment!
The greatest challenge that confronts us now as a people is to first put it before the Federal Government. But if you don’t explain the direction this thing is coming from, and the direction it is supposed to go, we will be missing the point. We will be thinking that it is just money to construct more roads or to construct more markets. No, not at all, that is not what we are looking for. So, this is the situation and that is why when you look at the foreign policy of Buhari administration, is a thing I want to commend him for. However, the great damage Buhari has done to himself is his inability to explain his policies to the people. His foreign policy is fantastic. He has opened an exit point for our brothers in the North through the railway outside Nigeria to Niger Republic. People troop in and out. So if you are a nation that does not have the capacity to turn your setback to victory, you are missing a lot of things. And that is what Buhari has done in that axis. And that is how he has turned our setback into victory in that axis.
The same thing we are actually proposing here in Lagos that, that kind of Federal Government intervention that opened that axis for our brothers to be able to have free flow and access in that direction to other West African countries. There is universal language that binds them together, there is cultural bond that binds them together, there is religion that binds them together and so, it makes it easy for them. Buhari is a very smart President for doing that. So also for us in Lagos too, we need someone who is going to see from this perspective and understand the advantage that is going to come from it.
By your own assessment, is Sanwo-Olu qualified to do it?
He is qualified 100 per cent. The moment anybody emerges as the governor of Lagos State, the question of qualification does not arise anymore, because his emergence has confirmed that. When Sanwo-Olu came on board, the first 10 policies he put in place was an indication that he understands how to govern the state. If you look at how he handled COVID-19, it brought out the best in him. If the #EndSARS has happened in other states, there would have been problems of unimaginable proportion. If you encountered such a protest and you managed it so effectively and your state is still thriving, it shows that your credentials are superb and intimidating.
The last almost four years of Sanwo-Olu in Lagos has confirmed that the state has been ordained for success and prosperity. In 1999, Tinubu laid the template for what we are witnessing today. In 2007, Fashola came and instantly became Aaron of Moses to Tinubu. He was the key that put flesh to the skeleton that Tinubu has created to an extent that the state has become a reference point. It has become a standard state for you and me in terms of development. It has become a state that has become a reference point in terms of good governance in Nigeria. Ditto for what Sanwo-Olu has been doing for the past three years and eleven months.
It shows Sanwo-Olu as an administrator, who knows the terrain; a man, who knows the next direction to go. Therefore, I have no iota of doubt in my mind that in the next four years of his second term, we are going to witness higher level of prosperity. And I am convinced that all the concerns in our mind that we have expressed today, he understands and knows well so much that he will pursue them.
During the March 18 governorship election, people came out in unison to say if there was an error in the presidential election in the state, there would not be a repeat of it, because of Sanwo-Olu’s performance and that was what earned him the victory. People came out to express their gratitude for what he has done in the last three years and eleven months. He has not departed from that road and he will not depart from it. The recent electric buses he has unveiled, that and others are symbols of a Mega City. I am very sure that, with all the metro lines, railway achievement and others, Sanwo-Olu is going to bring more happiness to the people of Lagos.