Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, at a recent interactive session with journalists, said the All Progressives Congress’ disposition in the politics of the state is all about protecting vested interests. Ojo M. Maduekwe presents excerpts of the interview:
On His Experience and Capacity
I started to run a one-man pharmacy shop, small scale. The bulk of people that moves the economy are small scale. Having said that, I moved on to expand my outlets, I moved on into small scale manufacturing. I started my manufacturing in Surulere, took a bungalow and moved on to build a factory. That is experience. I have used it to do everything that is possible. I have used it to see the world. I have used it to educate my own children in the best possible way. I have used it to invest in different aspect of our economy. I have used it to participate in different sectors. I have been involved in community work all my adult life. I have been involved in my profession. I didn’t get honors by begging for them.
When I got my Fellowship of the Pharmaceutical Society, I was the youngest ever that got the fellowships for the service to the profession. I got a national honor and I didn’t even know where it came from. I am saying that there is nothing that is out there that cannot be managed. After 2007, the last eight years, I have spent time looking at this Lagos because I had my eyes on it that I was still going to run for governor, and so I have studied, done programs on development, so I know what I am saying.
That I speak, I speak from knowledge and confidence. We have looked at Lagos and I say that those who have changed the world have changed it from the paradigm that you have to do things differently because if you don’t do them differently, you will get the same result. Even the national leader of their party, the only experience he had before he became governor was probably three months as a senator, he had no government experience, so we should keep the politics aside and come in with fresh ideas. The issue is whether I am qualified or not Vested Interest
From a matter of strategy, we shall build-up to the vested interests. In Lagos, you may find good programmes on paper but you will see that the implementation is being affected by vested interest. Anything that Lagos does have to be in the interest of what I called vested interest. So, if you look at the light rail, the blue line was supposed to have been completed in 2012, this is 2015. By Gods grace, we will complete the project. The question is why is it not complete? Again, the model is wrong and so what you find is that there are very good policies in paper but the vested interests affect their implementation. Ideally, the government should do the lines and they give the private sectors the service to run. But if the vested interests want to corner the market and they don’t have the resources, in fact the resources are taken from here and there, then it is going to be delayed.
The BRT is not working again because there are vested interest factors involved. It pays the vested interest to do commercial housing than to do housing for the people. We have a vested interest that is affecting the social, economic and political life of our state. You cannot have any big project in Lagos unless you take into consideration vested interest. That is affecting our state and we are saying that it is time to remove Lagos from this bondage.
Godfather whose interest may affect your performance if elected as governor?
You see, in the course of political campaigns, you throw everything at the other person and one it is that I have a godfather, and I laughed. I said they didn’t make you governor in one place because you cannot be bullied or forced to do things you don’t want to do, then on the other hand they now said you have gone to another godfather, so it is now a case of saying, I ran away or refused to work with one godfather, then I will now run to go and work with another godfather, but such a issue doesn’t arise. I don’t have a godfather in the way that they have put it. Again, I will be a bit sensitive because we are moving forward and not looking backward. But just for the records, there is no godfather.
You said you haven’t seen Chief Bode George in our campaign; Chief Bode George is an elder, he is a leader of the party. Chief Bode George is not the one that is going to run the campaign. When it was time to choose my running mate, I chose my running mate, nobody chose her for me. Naturally, you go to the leadership of the party and make known your choice, the issue of godfather hampering whatever service delivery is not even on the table. I want the people to believe me that it won’t happen.
Fallout of the primary
I think it is clear that we are united. There is a common purpose that we need to take back Lagos from vested interests, on that we have unity purpose and it overrides all other issues. Maybe I won’t be the best person to ask whether the reconciliation is complete but from own angle, we are working together because there is that unity of purpose.
Tax Burden in Lagos
The tax net in Lagos has to be expanded to lighten the burden on the few that are over laden. And the way you expand the tax net is in provision of services to the people. By the time you do health, education and others, you will be capturing more people into the tax net. So, the burden you put on the few will be shared by more. It is because people do not feel government that is why you can’t capture them into the tax net. The ocean economy is a new frontier of opening up the economy, it is also a source of funding and that is the reality. Like I did say, it is going to get tougher with the oil price fall but when it gets tough, the tough get going but we are fully conscious.
A few days ago, I was at a forum and I made it very clear that the toll on Victoria-Island-Epe axis will be cancelled. On that tollgate, there is no more public-private partnership. You want to build a tollgate, you said it will cost you N50 billion to put that road all the way to Epe and that you will have tollgate. You took it to VGC, you said you are not doing again and you collected N80 billion back. Now officially, it is government that is collecting toll on that road, we hope it is so.
The properties acquired by the vested interests, the ones we can take back, we will take back, those ones that has been acquired illegally and cannot be properly accounted for, we will take back. The ones we cannot take back and has been done in a way that the people have been shortchanged will be addressed. That is why I said this election is about continuity or change.
We all know that power is now in the private sector and we know that it will take some time to put power where it should be because the cost of buying those companies is now heavy on those that bought, and they now have to borrow a second time to be able to put services in place. In the Epe axis, in the past five years, there has not been light. The question is what is the problem? Now, if we say we want to start an ocean economy, it is that axis that we will take off from. So, it is in the interest of government to call the DISCOs and partner with them in way that will be beneficial to its own objectives. Of course, the issue of independent power for government establishments should be reducing as the DISCOs are improving.
On support for SMEs, I said something about re-training and all that. Our entrepreneurs do not know how to get money or where to get money from. For example, there is a N220 billion SME fund from the Federal Government through the CBN but people don’t know. So, in most cases they have given the states but what you find is that the money will be cornered and this may not be peculiar to vested interests in Lagos, it is a general thing. It is time to have a serious one-stop shop to help our micro small and medium enterprises that we must understand that we need to find job opportunities for them.
I believe the government in Lagos has been arrogant in governance. Even the same party in another state that banned Okada didn’t do it the way Lagos has done it. That is why I said Lagos government cannot be said to be a progressive government. I am not saying it hasn’t made successes in some areas but it is not about the people. The same party in another state banned Okada but called them, gave them taxis and all but what Lagos did was get lost, you are not wanted. Go and die. That was the aspect that was faulty. The Okada people are human beings, they are citizens, and they have a right to live. When you remove something, you give back.
I think we have moved on, there is recognition that the 37 LCDAs have come to stay. Even in the PDP party structure, it is 57 and that is the recognition of where we are. So we have moved on from there. Having said that, we are hoping as President Jonathan has said, that the constitutional conference that has recommended that the local governments be removed from the constitution, would not even matter on the numbers you have because officially those 37 are not recognized by the constitution, that is why INEC will come and recognized 20 local governments.