•LAGOS Information Commissioner, GBENGA OMOTOSO
Lagos state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, is a distinguished gentleman that is perfectly fit for the position he currently occupies. And it is not just because he is an accomplished journalist himself, but he is also someone that is fiercely passionate about the well being of Lagos state, a place that has given him so much and helped him actualize his dreams. He has also been a part of the dream for an emerging new Lagos, a dream he shares so intensely with his principal, the governor of Lagos state, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. And just as he is passionate about the emerging new Lagos, so he is passionate about his boss and principal, the governor of Lagos state. You could tell, from his commitment to his job, that for Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, it is not about the job alone, he clearly has tremendous respect and love for the Lagos state governor that he could go to any length to take on anyone who as much as casts the faintest of aspersions on Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. This is why he found the recent comments of the PDP governorship candidate, Dr. Jide Adediran, aka Jandor, describing the Lagos state governor as a puppet, most ridiculous. As far as the Lagos state Commissioner for Information is concerned, Jandor is merely an empty barrel whom nobody should take seriously.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso was at the City People Awards for Excellence where he received an award on behalf of the governor. At the event, he spoke with City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) and shared his thoughts on the performance and chances of the Lagos state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, as we count down to the gubernatorial elections in a couple of months. The incredibly brilliant Commissioner was at his usual best. He spoke so eloquently and assured that Lagosians will not be deceived by the antics of the opposition, they will vote for a governor that has been with them through the good and difficult periods. Here are excerpts of the interview.
What is the mood in Governor Sanwo-Olu’s camp right now as we head into the governorship elections in a couple of months? How confident is His Excellency that he will be re-elected?
The mood in the party, APC, is very good. It’s exciting. Everybody is in high spirits. Everyone believes that the governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has done very well and that Lagosians who are very discerning and knowledgeable people are very satisfied with what Mr. Babajide has done in areas of education, infrastructure, agriculture, science and technology, every aspect of governance. They have also seen that he is a leader who is compassionate and who has passion for his job. I think that Lagosians are happy and ready to vote for Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu for second term.
Does it bother you, sir, and especially the governor, that the opposition has been throwing up all sorts to discredit the efforts of the Lagos state governor with the hope that this will deplete the support base of Mr. Governor?
Well, you do not expect anything other than what you’re seeing from the opposition. They will want to find fault in all you do and try to prove to the world that they can do better. But like I always say, Lagosians are wise and discerning people. They can see things for themselves. No matter what the opposition says, like they say in street parlance, it cannot wash. People will not believe them. They believe Mr. Sanwo-Olu because he’s been with them during the good times and he’s been with them during the bad times when we had collapsed buildings, Endsars, flooding, and all other tragic incidents that have taken place in the state. The state has had its own share of negative situations because it has the biggest concentration of black people in the world with a population of about 25 million, so in that situation, there are likely to often be emergency situations and all sorts and they have seen the leadership qualities of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Take for instance during the Covid-19 period when they said we were going to be picking dead bodies on the streets of Lagos, but owing to Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s leadership qualities, and the cooperation of Lagosians, we were able to surmount that obstacle. Today, Lagos state is a very solid example of how to tackle emergencies, of how to deal with the public health care situation and the whole world has acknowledged the way Lagos has been able to handle it, but if the opposition sees it differently and is saying something else, well, it is within their rights to so do.
I have been impressed, sir, by the way His Excellency the governor has been able to turn around what previously looked like a not so good relationship between him and the youths, arising from the Endsars saga back then, to a situation where the youths have now come to appreciate the governor better and see him as the compassionate leader that he truly is and one who desires to see the youths take their rightful place in nation building…How has he been able to do this?
Well, I would not want to revisit all that happened during the Endsars because as far as we are concerned, in Lagos we are one. Like I said earlier, Lagos has the largest concentration of black people in the world. You do not have this kind of demographics and not have misunderstandings once in a while, so I consider Endsars a very big misunderstanding and a distraction. Like you have observed, our young people have been able to see that Mr. Sanwo-Olu is sincere, he has compassion and has passion for anything that has to do with the young people. And this can be easily be seen in the programmes that we have been running. The young people are the ones involved in entertainment. Mr. Sanwo-Olu has been able to do a lot for the creative industry. Only last week, about 893 passed out of a multi billion naira film Academy he is building in Ketu, Ejinrin, for our young people to be able to showcase their talents. We are building about eight stadia at the same time for our young people to be able to show their skills in sports. Hardly can you find a Nigerian Sports person doing well on the global stage who did not cut his or her teeth in Lagos. Our young people are the ones involved in science and technology. Lagos is fast becoming the headquarters of science and technology in Africa. We have a fund we give to young people in science who need money to perfect their innovations, So, our youth have been able to see how much Mr. Sanwo-Olu means well for them and wants them to succeed in their endeavours. And they appreciate all the efforts of His Excellency and can see that he truly considers them priority.
I would like to re-echo the sentiments of a lot of people when the government pressed home its insistence on ridding Lagos of Okada a couple of months ago. Some felt the timing was wrong because, knowing we are only a few months away from the governorship elections, the masses who were mostly affected by the ban, could feel okay, if the government could be this insensitive to our plight, then we won’t vote for them. But somehow, the government appears to have handled that situation pretty well and all of those sentiments appear to be fading away, but really, does this worry the governor that this could affect him at the polls next year?
Not at all. Not at all in the sense that His Excellency, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu believes that a leader must not sacrifice the essence of leadership on the altar of populism. You want to do something that will be popular with the people, flood Lagos with Okada and let everybody be happy because they want Okada and then the bigger picture that you are seeing but the masses are not seeing, you are forgetting about that. You shouldn’t do that as a leader. Okada is prohibited in just 10 local governments. There are 20 local governments in Lagos. So, there are still so many other places where okada can be ridden in Lagos. And the governor has said the banning of okada is not going to happen in one fell swoop, it will be a gradual phase out. He wants okada operatives to look for a better way of earning a living and we have 18 vocational centers in Lagos where you can learn how to do plumbing, wielding, hairdressing, tailoring, designing, and so many other things. Even for those who have creative talents and would like to become entertainers, they have a place to go where they won’t have to pay a dime. Its true Okada brings fast money, but the kind of picture the governor is seeing will not allow him, in good conscience, to allow Okada to be flying all over the place. Okada is a major security risk. All of the places in the country where security risk is at its highest, Okada is the number one tool used, even before firing a bullet. People get their heads smashed, limbs broken, just because they took okada to be able to get to their destinations fast. The numbers have shown that since the ban, okada accidents have reduced greatly. Even the Police say that people committing crimes and getting away on Okada, that the number has really crashed in Lagos. So, these are the things that the government is seeing. That decision was taken for the sake of all of us.
Despite the fears that arose from the Endsars saga regarding the unprovoked attacks on Lagos and even more recently with several security alerts warning Lagosians of possible attacks on their lives and properties, yet Lagos has remained perhaps the safest state in the country, how has His Excellency the governor been able to achieve this?
It’s not a question of perhaps, Lagos is the safest place in the country today. Mr. Sanwo-Olu understands the enormity of the task at hand. There is a lot of responsibility that he has to the international community and to the federal government to keep Lagos safe, and to the ordinary Lagosians as well. So, while many of us are sleeping, there are those whose duty it is to keep Lagos safe so that you and I can sleep soundly. So, how has he been able to do this? Regular meetings with security agencies and then oiling the solid machine that Lagos has on ground as far as security is concerned. From the neighbourhood watch up to the Police and the military, he meets them regularly. He gets the cooperation of the federal government as well as Lagosians who are very discerning people who have been able to understand the security risk that okada constitutes. In fact, I think it was April this year, the president himself was here to handover equipments to security agencies, about 1,000 vests, about 700 helmets or thereabout, about 120 patrol vehicles, 100 motor bikes, and so many other things that he has done. These days, you see our security agencies riding a brand new air-conditioned vehicles, it is all part of the pro-active activities of Mr. Governor. He has put in a lot of money in security.
Lately, the PDP governorship candidate, .Mr. Jide Adediran, described Governor Sanwo-Olu as a puppet governor that’s being controlled by his leaders in the party and has vowed to stop him from getting a second term in office, does His Excellency Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu see this man as a big threat that should give him cause for concern going into the elections?
Point of correction, he doesn’t call himself Mr. Jide, he calls himself Dr.(Laughs) Now, I do not know whether he has a Phd. Because when you see a Phd. holder, he will not say the kind of thing that he has said, that a governor like Mr. Sanwo-Olu is a puppet. Well, just to answer your question straight on, there is nothing that Mr. Babajide is doing that shows that he is answerable to anybody but Lagosians. If Mr. Babajide Sanwo-OLu has the support of elders in our party, members of the GAC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and even the support of Mr. President and he sees that as being a puppet, well I think he is ready to write another dictionary for us. He is definitely not the kind of person anyone should take seriously.