- What Engr. FEMI HAMZAT Told City People
In 2014, City People Magazine was one of the few magazines that interviewed Engr. Femi Hamzat when he first came out to contest for the Governorship of Lagos State. In his expansive office at Alausa Secretariat, as Lagos Works and Infrastructure Commissioner, this brilliant technocrat told City People his story.
That year, he was one of the top contenders in the APC, for the governorship slot. This year again he came out to make a bid for the slot but he had to yield space to a fellow colleague, Jide Sanwo-Olu at the last minute. He has now become his running mate. Not many know that Engr. Obafemi Hamzat has come a long way. He is very lucky that he has a lot going for him. Apart from a rich pedigree and a good name, he has also had the required experience in Public Service and the private sector. He is always proud to tell anyone who cares to listen, he is the product of 2 Lagos Governors: Tinubu and Fashola. So, he has undergone great tutelage. He served in the cabinets of the two governors as Commissioners.
He comes from a rich pedigree. He is the son of Alhaji Muftau Olatunji Hamzat, a seasoned Lagos politician who has been involved in Lagos politics from the early 60’s in the Action Group era to the Lateef Jakande era, right to the Tinubu period. His father has been part of the political evolution of Nigeria, all through the various military administrations till 1978 when the military vacated power for civilians.
He is a grassroots politician who made a name for himself politically right from his days in Mushin. Femi Hamzat feels his wealth of experience gathered from having understudied his father all these years must count for something and it has put him in good stead for his present role.
Born on September 19th 1964 in Lagos into a civil service family, his father, Olatunji Hamzat, originally a banker, served as a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, as well as Commissioner for Transportation in the early 80s.
Engr. Hamzat attended Odu Abore Memorial Primary School, Mushin, Lagos State and Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo State in the South West region of Nigeria. He proceeded to the University of Ibadan where he graduated with a B.Sc. in Agricultural Engineering (1986) and a M.Sc. in Crop Processing Engineering (1988). In 1992, he graduated from Cranfield University, England with a Ph.D. in System Process Engineering, becoming the first student in the department to complete his doctorate within three years.
An accomplished academic and a technocrat of proven ability, his career has seen him work in both the private and public sector with experience in organizations abroad.
In 2005 Engr. Hamzat joined the Lagos State Civil Service, serving as the Commissioner, Ministry of Science & Technology. Within that administration, he introduced and championed the automation of government processes. This helped change and improve the way public servants carry out their operations in the state, as well as eradicate state ghost workers through the implementation of enterprise resource planning.
In 2011, Engr. Hamzat was appointed Lagos State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure; a position he held till he left. When he was Commissioner he was responsible for many civil and construction works in the state. His other notable achievements are; the completion of the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge (linking Admiralty Way to Bourdillon Road) Nigeria’s first cable-stayed bridge and the completion of the Lekki Expressway with the upgrade, expansion and maintenance of approximately 50km of the Lekki-Epe Expressway (Phase I), and construction of Yaya Abatan, Cemetry Road in Ajeromi Ifelodun and others across the State. Below are excerpts of the interview.
4 years back, your name has featured prominently on the list of those aspiring to lead Lagos. Can you tell us why you came out at that time in 2014?
It is true that I am running for governorship of Lagos. The preparation really is also about the experience I have gathered working with 2 great men, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Gov. Fashola.
Before then, I had worked in the private sector and I have gained a lot of experience in private sector. I have worked with Fortune 500 companies. I was the Group CIO of Oando before I joined Public Service.
So, I have had private sector experience and I have been opportuned to work outside Nigeria. I worked in the US for some time. So, all these have broadened my horizon. I have also been here as a Commissioner for about 9 years in 2 different capacities.
I have also been involved in various life-changing projects in Lagos State, like the Lekki link bridge, Lagos-Badagry Expressway, collection of the Census in 2006, the BRT, the Adiyan Waterworks that will give us 70 million gallons per day, the light rail.
The job of the Governor of Lagos State is a serious job so we must get someone who can do it, someone who has the relevant experience to do the job.
It requires certain skills. It requires certain experiences and background. I believe I represent those values and I am sure that if I am made the candidate of our party I will be able to do the job, and discharge my responsibility accordingly.
What do you think is that quality that you have over and above other aspirants?
Experience. You can’t buy that. I think I represent continuity, continuing the work without missing a bit, proper understanding of the various projects in the state, understanding the polices and then the politics of various projects is important.
I don’t know of any President or Governor that wants to go and fail. No. Everybody wants to do well. In some cases it is because they don’t understand the nitty-gritty of the various projects and initiatives. It is important to have the kind of experience I have. That is my biggest asset.
My experience in life also. I have worked in a private and and public sector. By so doing one is able to interact at both levels. What that does in some cases is how to manage time. As you know, time determines everything in life.
Once its gone, its gone, it cannot be recovered. My academic background is also there. My family background is also an asset. You know I was born into a political family. I understand the intricacies of this job. Its a good strength for me.
Some people have argued that whoever wants to govern Lagos must be more of a technocrat than a professional politician because of the complexities of running this mega city/commercial hub. What do you see to this view?
The reality is that Lagos is the heartbeat of this country. 35% of bank branches are in Lagos. So there is no doubt that Lagos is the economic capital. We have the ports. They said 80% of all the containers that come into Nigeria pass through Lagos.
If Lagos grounds, Nigeria will ground. That is what separates Lagos from other states. That is not to say other states are not important. They are all extremely important.
So whoever wants to govern Lagos must understand the policies and the politics of Lagos. So it is important not to say I am a technocrat alone, you must also understand the politics of everything. It is extremely important to also understand what Lagos stands for. It must be somebody that understands the arteries of the economy and the political implications of a state like Lagos. My view is that he must have the knowledge of a technocrat and that of a politician. The combination of the 2 would be very, very important to run Lagos, going forward. Lagos is very important. In terms of GDP, the GDP of Lagos is bigger than 19 countries in Africa, put together.
So, what was the experience as the helmsman of the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure?
The whole experience has been very challenging. The expectations of our people are a lot. Its a job that requires everyone to be on their toes. I have served 2 great Governors – Asiwaju Tinubu and Governor Fashola.
The good thing is that they are visionary leaders and they allow you be on your toes. They keep you prepared all the time. You don’t want to appear before them not knowing what you want to do.
They give us the tools to do the job and they back you up. When you make mistakes they support you. Its been a very challenging experience, but also its always rewarding in the sense that I am not sure there is any other job that allows you to impact on a lot of lives like in public service and that must mean something”.
What in his past prepared him for his current job, he was asked?
The fact that I was raised to believe in God. I also try to take everything that I do very seriously. I always give it my best.
As a Commissioner, one of the things I try to do is to call the Senior Management and to tell them, look, I can call a level 4 officer or a level 10 officer just to understand their own feeling to be able to carry them along.
So we try to operate like a family and therefore I get a lot of information from them. I think my family background also helps. My father is a politician. He has been a politician even before I was born. He has been in public service. He was a Commissioner in this state in 1979 during Alhaji Jakande’s regime. So, I have seen some of the things that it takes. I was born into it. So, that has also helped. And the fact that one is also lucky to have served with 2 great Governors who allow you to operate and use your talents and also make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
People say your style of administration is different. That you seem to have injected a bit of private sector dynamism to your running of the ministry. Is this so? What informs your management style?
I think my biggest strategy is that we share information. I usually call everybody, the Permanent Secretary, Head of Depts, the Special Adviser, all of us and we deliberate on how to accomplish our tasks. So they all feel part of the decision making, nothing is hidden. We all designed our approach from day one, for every project. How do we surpass it? How do we inspect it?
It is a lot of work that Lagos State is doing and our Ministry also serves as Consultants to many other ministries like Ministry of Health, Education. When they are building hospitals, Ministry of Health will depend on us.
They only have Doctors. They don’t have the technical know how to build. They are not Engineers. So, we assist them. So, all of us in my Ministry devised a methodology to say this is the best way forward. And we have been very meticulous about it. Like we always say, it’s not to find fault with anybody but if there is a problem let us know.
We can make mistakes. I try to encourage my team not to keep problems to themselves. If there is a problem bring it up. So that we can tackle the problems. We also try to give our Engineers the tools that they need. I think the idea is to let share information, let’s work together as a team. We are a team, so we either fail together or win together.
City People has noticed that there is a simplicity to your style, that works wonders. You always look cool, calm and collected. How has this helped your performance?
“We all have different DNA’s and this affects the way we do things in life. For me, there is no need to stress yourself up unnecessarily. Once you put in place a methodology to adopt for the work that needs to be done, we are good to go. From day one, as a student, when I have to write exams I will put in my best, but once the exam is gone I leave the rest.
I don’t blame myself. If there are mistakes I go back to review it. That is the talent God has given me. I believe in God and I pray a lot. The moment I put in my best and leave everything to God what else do I need to do?
He ran a very key Ministry. How was he able to balance out both his human and material resources?
The good thing is we have a very solid Executive Council in Lagos State. Every member of the team sees the next person as a team member. We try to all relate and work together. So, even if I have a weakness, I can lean on my colleague.
In terms of my portfolio, I can say that the Ministry of Works has very, very solid civil servants, very good professionals from the Permanent Secretary to the Directors.
So, it is extremely easy to work with them. They are experienced professionals. So, all we concern ourselves with everytime is how can we be better. It makes it a bit easier.
We also don’t allow our position today to get into our head. Its a job. Somebody was here before me. Gov. Rauf Aregbesola was here before me, now he has moved on to become a Governor and to do something else in life. I would also move on to do something else in life. Whether you like it or not, this position is temporary, somebody else will occupy that position sooner or later. I see it as that.
What we are doing is service to our people. Therefore they are the boss. Do you know that majority of the letters I treat on my desk here are complaints that my road is bad, you have not done my road, etc. I now have to take time to explain that, look, the resources to do all the roads in Lagos at once is just not there.
Most of the time when people come to see me complain they are angry but by the time they leave, they leave here happy because I am able to explain to them that it is not deliberate that we have not done this road. It is just that we must do all these roads in batches. The moment you explain people understand.
We tell them we are scientific in the choice of the roads we choose to do. So we can do the ones that are impactful on that society. We look at the traffic carrying capacity of that road and the network connectivity.