Last week, the Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode revealed the direction his administration is headed during the year. He spoke to some Senior Editors. City People was at the media parley. During the meeting, the Governor touched on many issues, ranging from his Bus Reform Initiative whereby the Yellow Buses popularly called Danfos will give way for a well-structured, efficient and effective world class public transportation system, the bank of commercial motorcycles otherwise known as Okada and tricycle, as well as the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, among other germane issues. EXCERPTS:
Your Bus Reform Initiative looks quite ambitious. What is the cost implication? How do you intend to finance it?
Generally, for Lagos to thrive, you need an effective integrated public transportation management system. It is very clear that one of the things that this government has decided to take on is whenever we want to deal with any issue, we want to accept first what are the deficiencies. It is only when I accept what the deficiencies are that I start to process how I will give solutions.
So, one of the things you see in Lagos is that connectivity is a major challenge to Lagosians. Yes, we have almost 23 million people; we have 11 million people moving almost every moment within the ambit of Lagos and you are wondering about 6 million of them move by walking. They don’t really use buses, they don’t use plane or others. So, the concept there is you want to find something that can move the ordinary Lagosians from one point to the other so that productivity can increase. Having said that, road transportation is not the only means of moving people but the way Lagos is designed presently, road transportation that is happening here though we have water, we want pedestrian walk and all that. So, what we have decided to do is that we have this buses that are not working efficiently and government on its part has not been able to provide efficient alternative. Now looking at it, if we are to intervene, should we continue with this private ownership of buses which you have had these yellow buses since the time of former Governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande over 30 years ago? So, we decided that no matter the solution that we want to give the traffic management, we must also now provide a comfortable means of moving people that allow the middle class and majority of people to drop their cars at home. That is the whole idea with this bus initiative and the idea is if we say Lagos is going to be globally competitive, we must change the way we move around. That is the whole philosophy behind the bus initiative. Now, we have 30,000 of these yellow buses in the city and they cram about 12 people inside it. And so, we decided that the best thing is to allow the buses go and so the bus reform initiative itself is a three-year plan of 2017 to 2019 in which it intends to bring in new buses of 5,000 units in the three-year plan. The bigger size buses will take 70 people and then the medium range buses will take 30 people. We believe that the middle range buses will be supplied up to 70 per cent of the total volume which will amount to about 3,600 units and then the longer range in that direction. So, how are we going to fund it?
To start with, public transportation is not a profitable business and you are not likely to see major investors in it and so we decided to use our own vehicle – the LAGBUS, which is a private company to drive a public transportation infrastructure bond. That bond is coming to the capital market in which every individual, every Lagosian should be interested in buying into the bond and then we believe that N100billion bond that span for 7 to 10 years can take care of the structure that we have put in place. We are working on the financial template and this is the breakdown – government has a sinking fund that we want to put into this bond. You are aware that the Federal Government paid the refund of the Paris Club Loan last December and this is a money belonging to the State Governments due to the refund and so Lagos State decided not to touch its share of the Paris Club refund. Right now, we have a sinking fund of N14.5billion that is already put in place to drive this public transportation bond. We refused to touch our money and we believe that the second batch of the refund should be paid next month and eventually that will be N29billion that we will have. I will add another N1billion to it making it N30billion to kick start this initiative. By the time we have N30billion as a sinking fund to drive the bus initiative against the bond of N100billion that we want to put into the market, there will be that credibility and credence that the bond will drive itself and that is the whole idea. The second level of the initiative is that we intend to give out franchise to people and this franchise is going to come in multiple of 50 buses each, 100 buses, 200 buses and so on. So, if you have that franchise, you are going to give us a down payment of 25 per cent of the buses. So, these are bankable projects as we have a sinking fund and so our exposure as a government is just technically 75 per cent. So, from the kind of machinery we want to use to run the buses, there are no cash takings, everything is automated and obviously who ever has a franchise, whoever drives, they have the recourse to take part of the money while part of the intake also goes to the repayment of the facility and so it is a comprehensive template. The only part I just want to quickly mention here is the human angle. I, Akin Ambode cannot drive the buses, a medium size bus that I provide replaces two yellow buses (Danfo) and obviously it is from the community of the drivers that own the Danfos that we have to absolve into this new culture; they have to be the new drivers. They National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) are the ones invited to own the buses. I, as government, is just providing the infrastructure because they cannot buy these new buses hundred per cent cash and so government needs to stand up for them and so you know what, you the dealers, continue to provide the buses, come and put the SKD company in Lagos, then come and do maintenance facility for us, come and put the spare parts in Lagos for us and then we create more employment. This is just a paradigm shift where Danfo drivers move from being addressed as Danfo drivers but professional drivers. So, we will buy back the Danfos from them and it becomes the seed money to become eventual owners of those buses in the years the facility is spread. It is something we have been working on in the last one year and we don’t come out to say we are going to do anything without working properly on it. It is process and now we are at the advocacy process. We intend to start to go to the bus parks and all that to educate people and the integral part of these buses is what you see us trying to provide bus terminals, Laybys, bus stops. They are coming in pieces but they will become a complete cup of delivering this particularly product when we put them together.
The bus reform initiative seems very good and it shows there is a clear vision on your part. But is it not better to have the necessary road infrastructures in place for people to get to the bus terminus?
Good. But look at it from my own prism. I am doing things that are quietly taking place but you are not seeing yet. On your way to the Local Airport immediately after the Post Office, just check on your right, what you see in that picture as Ikeja Terminal is under construction and it will be delivered by May. What you see happening in Oshodi is iconic transport interchange and it will be delivered by December. When you go to Abule- Egba just before the flyover, there is already a BRT construction going on coming from Abule-Egba to Oshodi to meet that terminal. We have already awarded contract for the Mile 2 Depot. In Yaba just beside the Presbyterian Church where we wanted to do the Metro Line, you have another depot there. The same kind of structure you see in Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) today is coming up in Yaba. We have awarded the contract. In Anthony which is supposed to be a terminal after Ojota, just on your way there, another depot is coming there. So, what I am saying technically is that you cannot have hundred per cent infrastructure to allow your vision to be driven but they come in pieces. You also see that we have done some inner roads last year. We delivered 114 roads last year and this year, we will deliver 118 inner roads. On our own part, we are doing 200 hundred roads. But you know what, there are five thousand roads inside Lagos but we have to create the infrastructure that allow our people to understand that there is a new culture without trying to do it like a switch and that is why we are saying it is a three-year plan and so we put Lagos into clusters of seven zones. My first set of buses that will prohibit Danfo will be Ikeja axis and then the CMS-Ajah axis. We are already winning on the Ikorodu road axis and the number of middle class people that are dropping their vehicles have multiplied and so all I need to do is just to take the cluster of Ikeja, the cluster of CMS down to Ajah, increase the number buses on Ikorodu road. If that is okay for year one, we are fine. Remember we say three years and in those three years also, we would accelerate those infrastructures. We know that the buses will be a waste if the infrastructures are not there and then there is nobody that can invest in infrastructure except government and so they are playing up the same time and that is why we are making early announcement. I am sure many are like me anytime I see those yellow buses and the first thing that comes to mind is, are we really a mega city? Yes, maybe by population but in terms of the connectivity, we cannot rely on the Danfos and still claim we are mega city. I don’t like to be deceived and so I tell myself the truth first. So, that is the whole process of the bus reform initiative and when you say something is a reform, it is never easy and it is a process. So, you meet obstacles, contributions and then you start to meander and then ultimately, the vision drives the goal and then you get results.
In realizing this new culture, there are displacements and citizens are saying you are not paying compensation. Moving forward, how do you intend to address this?
You see, my politics is about the people and I understand it very well. If there is any administration that has been really humanitarian, I can pride myself to be one. There is no where I have ever gone on demolition for overriding public interest that I don’t look back to try and compensate them even in areas without legal standing and people can go and check. In Oshodi, as much as I want to regenerate Oshodi to be a fantastic place, I have paid almost like N700million to the traders and people there and you know what, they actually don’t have legal occupancy. The land belongs to Lagos State and if I were to stay on legal standing, I should not pay anybody but again I have said I want to serve the people, I made up my mind that instead of me dislocating them, I can re-arrange their mode of business and so I paid some of them like one year rent. You can go and check. To be specific in Abule Egba, we have had to demolish houses and we are in the process of compensating them. But you see when they tell you and write to you, a whole lot of them don’t really have papers but I have made up my mind that I would still compensate them anyway. Yes, we have brought development, we are going to improve on the economy in the area but again I should not punish them unnecessarily. So, as we speak, we are in the process of paying them. Let them just be patient. But in every other place I have gone, we always ensure that we give them something back. The same thing is happening in Ojodu Berger. I have had to buy back the petrol station to allow the Pedestrian bridge to drop there and I had to pay the person that owns it. I paid the market and just to allow that Pedestrian bridge to drop, I have paid about N150million in that place. But you know what, they also don’t have papers and that is a reflection of the kind of government I am running.
The buses you are trying to put in place is a beautiful idea but have you factored in the culture of indiscipline of drivers on the road as well as other users such as passengers, franchise owners, among others?
That is why it is a vision. We dream that our people will appreciate the change that we are bringing to them to the extent that they will now start to create that attitude that we want. So, the same set of Lagosians that we said should be queuing at bus stops to enter buses and were not used to it before and even when KAI (Kick Against Indiscipline) has gone, you still see people queuing which means that it has become an attitude. Now, we used to have area boys that used to harass people and then suddenly they have been pushed to be positively engaged and now they have imbibed it. Now, I don’t like to look at negatives. As a leader, you must never look at negatives and so what we have decided is that in this whole comprehensive plan, you can only transit from a Danfo driver to this particular new bus driver if you go to the training school and you are certified. There is a certification process and don’t forget also the fact that our people will say that we are going to dislodge people and they will not have work but we have created safety verve and government is not interested in taking away their jobs and so obviously, we don’t want to create new set of drivers but we can change our people. It is the positive part of our society that drives reforms and change and that is what we should look at. If we start to imagine that the same Danfo driver that does not wear shirt is the one to drive the beautiful bus, we will not drive at all but there is a training programme for the drivers. On the other issue about passengers, the question to ask is why is it that when we get to Heathrow Airport in London, we behave ourselves but when we come back here, we insist that we want our cars to drive to the tarmac to take us? This is because of the environmental provisions that we have made here and so if we want to be a mega city, we must play a mega attitude.
Has your government given up on enforcement because you now find motorists especially Okada riders breaking traffic rules at will?
The very day government reneges on enforcing law and order then there is no government and so we will never renege; we will never back off. Now, the truth is this, in the whole reform process, the idea of even driving tricycle or Okada should not be tolerated. But here we have an existing law that says there is a schedule one and two where you should not be. We have decided to sometimes relax on our enforcement effort maybe for some reasons. But you find out that sometimes, we enforce the law aggressively. For instance, in the last few weeks, we have been very aggressive in enforcing the Okada ban on the Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki and this is because the recklessness of the Okada riders is becoming totally intolerable for us to fold our arms and just imagine that because people want to feed or because the NGOs or activists will come out and say why are you making people not to have a living under a recession and all sort of emotional play ups and that is why sometimes when you get the emotional play ups, it appears that government is relaxed and when it becomes totally intolerable, we are out there. But then the most critical part of this, it is a security challenge. It is not about people getting employed. I mean who goes to school to learn how to ride Okada? Which certificate do they issue for Okada riders? Everything you see on Okada is disguised unemployment. Nobody wants a graduate to ride Okada and this is because there is no platform for them to be suitably employed. So, obviously, what we should do as government is to go hundred per cent headlong on each and every one of them. But inside this bus reform, you will never have schedule one or schedule two, we are banning Okada forever not even tricycle. The whole idea of having Okada or tricycle in some routes is not tolerable for a competitive city and I like people to accept that we are not isolated from the rest of the world. What makes me not to spend my money in Dubai and come and spend it in Lagos is the aesthetics of the city. Lagos is not only for those of us that are living here but also those who bring in investment to come in and to also enjoy their stay. So, if we are going to be globally competitive, we must take decisions that drive competitiveness. The city does not want Okada and the question is, can the city provide alternative for them, and that is what we are doing as a government. We have created the Employment Trust Fund, we have created drivers that can drive modern buses and those are the things we are saying. You know the interplay of politics and enforcement are emotional and a try as much as possible to balance but with more emphasis on enforcement.
There have been so much about the buses but what about the other modes of transportation like water transportation, mono rail, the Fourth Mainland Bridge? What is really slowing down some of these gargantuan projects in the State? Just at the inception of this administration, we also said that we must have an effective integrated transportation system to allow the city to move very well. This year and right now, we have commenced the channelization of our waterways. We have actually identified 31 routes for water transportation. Look, one-fifth of Lagos is water and there is nothing going on the water. That is a misnomer. We have already given out concession to about four private companies to develop our jetties and drive some of the routes. But again, they cannot bring their boat or ferries if we don’t create that road path on water which is the dredging and the channelization we are just commencing this month. So, this is also part of the public transportation infrastructure bond that we are trying to bring out. A part of it is for water transportation. We have given concession out for Mile 2 and people will start seeing something there and then even Badore and all that axis. On our own part, we have ordered for ferries to be able to drive the initiatives because we must lead by example. So, that is for water. It is in place and before the year runs out, people will see a lot of activities on our waterways. Then as for the rail system, I had come out earlier to say I would deliver by December 2016 but we are all living witnesses to the foreign exchange challenge that we are having in the system. The recession is also not narrowed down to the private sector only, it also affects public expenditure and public contracts and that is a major limiting factor to deliver. But beyond that, I cannot say precisely right now when the Blue Rail Line from Mile 2 to CMS will start operating. But, we are in the process of issuing out concession for the Red Line that takes you all the way from Ijoko to CMS but again each time you try to put that in place, you always remember that you cannot afford to wait and that is why it looks like most time we are emphasizing more on what we have as infrastructure on the ground. So, we are dealing with issues of rail, water and road and by the way air. We believe strongly that Lagos deserves three airports. The Ikeja Airport cannot even take bigger facilities and so we have in our concession the Epe Airport and then Lekki Airport. Smart City Lagos is embedded inside the Epe Airport, while the other part also is the fact that the Apapa Port cannot do the real business of what the Nigerian commercial industry is right now. It is not deep enough to take the kind of ship that will be bringing the kind of goods we need and that was why we ventured into the Badagry Deep Sea Port project and also the Lekki Free Trade Zone project. Like I said, private sector is also driven by capital. While government is suffering from capital inflow, some of those projects are delayed but they are in place and there is a master plan to integrate modes of transportation to develop and fuse in as one. We are also developing a lot of walkways on our road construction. More people walk around than the people driving cars and so we are also creating that path for them properly. You can also walk easily at night courtesy of our Light Up Lagos Project. It is working and it is making more people to come out at night. We have seen also that commercial activities at night have also improved. I move around and I see a lot of people actually opening up their stores because of the security and lights that we have. It can always get better and that is the truth.
Just recently, in fulfillment of your major electoral campaign, you presented cheques to the beneficiaries of the N25billion Employment Trust Fund (ETF). How is it going in terms of its impact on entrepreneurs?
So far so good, I can beat my chest that the ETF has actually lived up to its billing. As we speak, over a billion has been released to over 2,000 people and the whole idea is this, we want to create a vehicle that allows one person to employ five people. That is what I want and that has allowed us to bring more small scale entrepreneurs into the larger fold. Don’t forget also that the framework to drive service never existed and if you are going to create avenue for people to get N200,000, 500,000, N5million, you need to create the framework or else the whole money will collapse and everybody will take it away. So, that framework was what we have been working on in the last six to seven months and then disbursement started in January and then they have been doing it monthly. More importantly is the medium scale entrepreneurs and the businessmen who don’t really do cheque presentation but the whole idea is this; if your business is employing ten people, I should be able to facilitate it in such a way that you employ another twenty and then create a platform that allows the money to come back for other people and it has been working. The selection process has been devoid of any bias. No creed, you don’t have to know me to apply and the feedback has been good. Like it has been said, it is a N25billion investment that we are doing for four years, but so far, we have only done N7billion to them. I have to see that the money is moving out before I put more.
Going back to the bus reform initiative, the idea is to have more people embrace this new culture but then the buses will not pick you at your doorstep. Is there any provision for where you can pack your car and be assured that it is secured?
You see, one of the reforms we are trying to push also now is that because we are going to operate this with intelligence transport system, you can easily start to use app to know when a bus arrives at a particular bus stop but do you know the culture that we don’t have but we are trying to introduce, we don’t know how to walk and that is why every road is a bus stop. You see people standing in front of their houses and looking for vehicles to take them. That era has gone. We have to imbibe that attitude of walking.