The popular Niteshift Collesium on Salvation Avenue, Opebi, Lagos, played host to PDP gubernatorial flagbearer in Lagos state, Jimi Agbaje. The colourful event attracted dignitaries from all walks of life. Jimi Agbaje fielded questions from guests. In this interview with the pharmacist cum politician, he bared his mind on what he intends to do if he gets the people’s mandate to rule Lagos pointing out some of his perceived lapses in Governor Fashola’s administration…
If you look at the budget of Lagos state for the past two years, it is about N490 billion. Comparing it to other states, Lagos state’s budget for a year is four states’ budget put-together. Yet this does not reflect in some local areas in terms of infrastructure. What would you do if you become the governor of Lagos state?
I think there are three arms of government. We have the federal, state and local government. It’s like asking the Federal Government in Abuja to repair roads in Alimosho. This same thing is happening in the state.
Maintaining state, local roads is the responsibility of local government but unfortunately the local governments are not functional. We have made them more of political machinery than governance structures. Not until we begin to see the local governments as governance structures, we may continue to experience this kind of problem on most of our local roads.
The local governments must be the beginning of governance in their communities not just for roads. You want to run the health scheme, social scheme and others, they must begin from local government.
There was this proposed project about an airport at Lekki axis, what is your view about this?
The Lekki axis is gradually being developed. We are having a deep sea port there and free trade zone. I think it will only make sense to have an airport there. In fact, what we should be looking at is to have what I will call aerotropolis, in other words, we are looking at Lekki as a city on its own. We are considering a lot of things around that place like a semi autonomous urban community.
Considering the level of education at the moment, what would you do to give good structures and quality education?
Education today is about renovation and creativity. In Lagos state, you look at our last O’level results, you will discover that many students failed badly. That means there is a problem. What we found is that government is concentrating more on secondary and tertiary institutions, whereas primary education which is key is being neglected.
Today, there are more pupils that go to private schools than public schools. Of course, we know that many of the private primary schools are not up to standard and so students have very weak foundation at the primary level. A primary six graduate cannot read, write or speak good English. There is nothing they would teach such student at secondary level that he would understand. We need to change that and pay more emphasis to our primary education. Many people that change our world today like Bill Gates were university dropouts but what works for them is their basic education.
It is important we get education right at the public level, because each year, when majority of our students fail O’level, that is the beginning of the creation of touts. Once we have hundred of thousands that come out like that from school, it is trouble for our country.
In continuation of quality education, extra-curriculum activities like sports are fading off due to insufficient space and many spaces have been converted to something else. What is your view?
The reality today is that there are more people that need more schools today, so it will be difficult for government to have schools like St. Gregory’s, Finbarrs, Queens College and a lot more. And so what we find as the first duty of government is the quality of academic programmes that the children have, which is key. Government must ensure academic excellence.
In terms of extra-curriculum, we need to share some of these facilities. Many schools have no space for sports facilities. We should look at sports as not just social responsibility but business. The moment we see it as business, we begin to invest into it and make it interesting. I want Lagos state to have its own league that revolves around the local governments.
Talking about on-going projects, will they be stopped?
I said I support the airport project, so on that one, there would be continuity on all capital projects.
Lagos state has 57 local governments but Federal Government only recognizes 20, what can you say about this?
Talking about 20 local governments and 37 LCDAs, making all 57, you know it is not constitutional. It is not because Federal Government does not recognize it, they are bound by the constitution.
Back to schools, how would you deal with mushroom schools?
I believe the solution is that we must make our public schools open. In other words, if we do what we need to do for our public schools, then, there will be no need sending your children to mushroom private schools where they would achieve nothing.
In case of lunch in school, it’s a good thing, but it requires a lot of logistics. We cannot stand the risk because the food must be good.
Considering the debt portfolio of Lagos state, what is your reaction towards this?
About eight years ago, the debt portfolio, according to the government itself was about 57 percent. We were owing about 57 percent of what our income was. As at last year, it was 112 percent. So, by that account, Lagos owes so much money. So, for two years, the economy would be so strict considering the devalued naira. Unlike what Governor Fayose said, when we get in there, we will know the truth. But we need to be careful as to the promises we are making. So, talking about lunch, I am not committing myself to lunch, but first, good quality education.
On corruption, using Lagos funds to acquire assets. What are you going to do about this?
The major asset Lagos state has is land and a lot of our land or people’s land has been taken ostensibly for public use and converted to private use. I have made it very clear that such landed properties belonging to government, of course, would be recovered.
Talking about tax consultancy, my understanding about tax consultancy is to come in and do a job and go out. Allow the system to run. The situation where the tax consultant has been there for 16 years means that tax consultancy itself has become part of the system.
We should allow the system to work. Those that are paid for tax internal collection should be able to run the system on their own. On that note, I don’t see why we should continue to have tax consultants indefinitely.