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Relationship between Sanwo-Olu and Lagos lawmakers is not ordinary- Abiru

By Monsurudeen Olowoopejo

The chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Environment, Rotimi Abiru, in this interview explained the reasons the 40 lawmakers representing different constituencies across the state took critical decisions on Education, finance, and on the relationship between the executives and legislatures.

QUESTION: Why did lawmakers increase the budget estimate presented by the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu

The House has passed the 2022 appropriation law and basically is to take charge and consolidate governance in the state. It is meant to take care of infrastructural development particularly as it relates to some of the ongoing projects the state has embarked upon in last year. Also, the social intervention funds which the state places so much emphasis on because there is a need to ease the hardship that Lagosians may be facing. The state of the economy is harsh due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that a reasonable standard of living is attained across the state. And the issue of law and order was also involved in the estimate approved for the house. Irrespective of the fact that the state can only try to ensure that everyone remains safe within its territory. I think that the budget is that of hope and continuity of the good work Lagosians are getting from the administration across the state.

QUESTION: Was the budget well scrutinized before its passage?

We did not rush to pass it. What the entire house adhered to was the laid down procedure to ensure that the budget operate within the year. And do not forget that the budget was presented before the house in November and after that, we all commenced work on it. And since the state operates a zero-budget principle, we believe that it is right and proper to do the needful before the start of the New Year. Ordinarily, after the budget presentation, the procedure here is that all the committees of the house become sub-committee for the budget and interface will representatives of the Ministries, Department, and Agencies (MDAs). We would have been okay with the presentations of the ministries, but the sub-committees decided to do a lot of scrutinizing to get all details from them before allowing them to meet with the committee on budget and appropriation. After that, the committee on appropriation commenced interaction with agencies beginning from the first week of December. And the house in its wisdom, adjourned its seating to scrutinize the estimates presented before it. During the adjournment period, the committee worked on appropriation, and all through the month even on Christmas day, works were done to ensure the budget presentation.

QUESTION: Recently, Oil has been discovered in the state, has there been any discussion on the need to include Lagos among the oil-producing states?

No doubt, I think that status has since been achieved. I want to believe that the state has started realising income from that although it may not be so much for now. it is been trapped. I think that we have been recognised as such but I cannot say for a fact how much the state has realised from the sector. I think that is been done with some private firms. I believe that it would soon add up to the revenue of the state.

QUESTION: What is the Lagos House of Assembly (LAHA) doing on illegal wharf landing collectors, I mean residents collecting money from the trucks that had already paid to the government?

On the illegal collectors, the House had earlier last year passed a resolution to this effect and it was tagged double taxation on the part of some unscrupulous element in the state. And Local Government officials do this to raise funds for the council. It is not right for anyone to do it in the state because part of what we pride ourselves on includes better ease of doing business and the lawmakers were quick to raise their voice to condemn the activities. And the executive was implored to put in place a mechanism that helps curb it and coordinate collection without anyone going outside the approved stipulated fee to collect levies from people without getting into the coffers of the government.

QUESTION: What is Lagos state government plans for border communities especially collaborating with Ogun state?

It is strategic for both states, Lagos and Ogun, to focus on their border communities. What happens now is that people live in Ogun and work in Lagos. Aside from that, they pay their taxes in Ogun after getting their resources from Lagos. The centre of excellence is a viable state. It is also strategic for the Ogun government to ensure people on that corridor can also get the dividend of democracy. Although, they have started making these border communities attractive so that they can get people that do not have the resources to live in Lagos but work within the state, to live in Ogun. There is nothing wrong with that but to my knowledge, I am not sure if work had been done on that but I have heard about that before. The plan was to ensure that both states do not short-change each other. I believe it is one thing that both states should look into and strategies on what to do in order to maintain the relationship.

QUESTION: How was the House able to address Agitations that trailed conversion of AOCOED, MOCPED, LASPOTECH to varsities particularly as it concerns their main campuses?

We have worked on the bill before now but there were some areas of contention that needed to be looked into. And that includes the name and locations for the main campuses because some people from other parts of the state are agitating that they wanted the campuses in their area. These were some of the issues that were addressed. While addressing the issue, there were two names in contention, the University of Education, Lagos, or Lagos State University of Education (LASUED). After several discussions, we finally resolved that in line with our identity, as in the case of LASU, and we decided that the tradition should be maintained. And that was why we agreed to use LASUED.

Also, we agreed that the location should be where there are available facilities that enhance quick take-off of the institution. Also, it was agreed that it should be multi-campuses varsities with former Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), Ijanikin as the main campus while Micheal Otedola College Primary Education (MOCPED) serving as one of the campuses. Again, it is to take care of the dichotomy between BSC and HND that was recently abolished. For me, I think it is in the best interest of the people of Lagos. Although, setting up varsity comes with its early challenges and to prevent such challenges was the reason we opted for an institution that already has existing infrastructure and AOCOED was picked. It will help to ease the start and encourage lecturers to acquire more certificates. All we have done is for the development of education in the state and I believe this New Year will offer good tidings for the people of Lagos state.

QUESTION: What is government plans on hostels for the new varsities?

I believe that having a hostel facility is not one of the major criteria for Nigerian University Commission (NUC) to approve a varsity in the country to run courses. I believe it is the quality of lecturers and others facilities. The funding of a varsity cannot be left for the government alone. For instance, LASU was not initially designed as a residential institution. But what you find now is that private sector participation is now on the increase to fill the gap. So, not all varsities have facilities to accommodate its students that are willing to stay on campus. There is nothing wrong with schools operating campus accommodation. This is an opportunity for the private sector to use as a business venture. 

QUESTION: Let’s go away from Lagos and one critical issue is the State Police my concern is do we truly need state police?

 This is one thing that we have been clamouring for before insurgents started. We have been to other countries and we know how security is considered very important over there. And beyond state police, there is also community policing. The people can police their state better because they understand neighbourhood as well as have better knowledge to police their community than anyone the Nigerian Police may deploy to maintain law and order within the community. Some of these officers do not understand the community where they are posted. Although they will claim to be professionals unlike when you have people that live within. The community police can easily identify visitors and nip in the bud any plan that could result in a crisis. Nothing can be better than the federal government granting the state the full autonomy to set them up. Even in some states, they have had reasons to set up internal mechanisms to boost security within their state. In some parts of the country, we have Ebube Agwu in the Southeast; the Southwest has Amotekun while Lagos has the Neighbourhood Watchers and others. And it has indeed helped to protect lives and property.

QUESTION: What is your view on the claims that state governments may not be able to fully fund the State Police?

Irrespective of teething problems in individual states, I believe that the governors will not be there forever. They will serve their tenure and move on. We cannot start complaining now when we have not tried it. Right now, some states are empowering vigilante and paramilitary groups. And since then, these local security groups have complemented the role of the federal security agencies. I am not sure that the Nigerian Police have enough men to police the country. Yes, I agree that the concerns are genuine but again I do not think that should be sufficient enough to stop the establishment of state police. Presently, more states have realised that it is the best solution to improve security within their territory and that will also give the governors the sense of responsibility to know that the security of the state lies with them.

This will change the current narrative between the state governors and the Commissioners of police in their states. In the states now, when the governor gives directives to the Commissioner and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) gives counter instruction, the law enforcement officer will do the IGP bidding. This may not be proper for the state. But you need to understand that Lagos State Government has often been supporting the police and other law enforcement agencies across the state through Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF) with arms and ammunition as well as boosting their morale often. Inspite of that, none of the law enforcement agencies or any individual can say that the governor has used the agencies against them. I think it is better for all of us to think through it and understand that it is a necessity that must be done to protect lives and property across the country.

Thank God there is peace in Lagos and this is because we have not rested on our achievements over the years. And during our engagement with the Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, who has been promoted to an Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), he indeed disclosed that the state recorded about four cases of kidnapping, and the way they dealt with the supposed perpetrators has sent warning signals to others that they will not find it easy here. We understand that no one can compel the other person not to commit a crime; it is left for the law enforcement officers to be active and nips such in the bud immediately. I am sure that anyone living in Lagos can attest to the improvement in security and I believe that it should be sustained.

QUESTION: Setting up a State Police for Lagos, will it not affect the funds considering the numerous projects before the government?

I do not believe that there is much more to spend on the issue of policing Lagos state even if we take responsibility. I have an idea of how much the state spends on law enforcement. We give glory to god for the establishment of the LSSTF. The funds provided by the LSSTF were not totally from the government. They are funds from both the government and the private sector because they all know that business can only thrive in a peaceful environment. They support the funds and they all see what the funds have been used for. The security of any state cannot be left for the government alone; it is what everyone needs to get involved in. We need to understand that the LSSTF does not draw a budget from the government purse. Although the state has a way that it supports it but not solely run on governments funds. The LSSTF annual account rendering has earned the trust of everyone that contributes to it. With the funding of the law enforcement agency, hardly will there be bank robbery within the state and its security network would not catch up with them. And for the criminals too, they will prefer to operate in areas where they can have an easy ride. Right now, the waterways are secured and other areas, so I can reason that these criminals are thinking about outside Lagos for their nefarious activities.

QUESTION: What is the update on Value Added Tax (VAT) collection?

I think there is an inter-ministerial committee that is looking into that collection. It was not that the state just woke up and demanded that it want to start collecting VAT. It was based on the ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction to the effect that states have the power to do that. Ofcourse, the state is a sub-national of the Nigerian nation and it beholds us to act within the ambit of the law, which is the 1999 constitution. The VAT was not mentioned in the constitution. There are more engagement ongoing to address the issues that surround that. VAT is like consumption tax; it is charged on goods and does not affect the ordinary man on the street. It is meant for companies that operate within the confines of a particular state and we should not forget that the effect of the company’s activities is been borne by the state where it is sited.

So, why should the FG be the one to collect and do not forget that it is not only on the issue of VAT, the issue of Stamp duty is also involved. Again talks are ongoing with the FG to ensure that the state gets the maximum support in that regard. You will agree with me that the bulk of the revenue comes from Lagos State and it is not too much for the central government to consider us as a special entity because this is about resource control. Lagos is a state surrounded by water and this is like a resource to us. So activities, therefore, increase human activities and human activities have their own effect both on the lives and the environment of Lagos, particularly the pollution from trucks and others. This is not unquantifiable. Ofcourse it creates a challenge for the government because it will not allow residents to inhale all the emissions from the activities. The state on its own, through Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) is working effectively to ensure that the air quality remains good and ensure a great level of compliance among those generating the emission. It is for the federal government to support the state that has the capacity to collect revenue because the state will be able to collect more than what the apex government is generating for the country. We are here, it is our base and we have all the resources to do that. But we cannot be seen as struggling with the government because governance is about the people. And I pray that at the end of the day it will be resolved in the favour of states so that Lagos and others can have more money to develop their infrastructures and care for peoples’ needs without depending on assistance.

QUESTION: What should Lagosians expect from the APC-led government in Lagos before 2023?

The residents of Lagos State should be expecting good governance, better law, and order. They should understand that if Lagos is a country, I am sure we will be a nation to reckon with globally. And even inspite of its current status as a state in Nigeria, Lagos still remains the destination for many that are coming into the country. In all, Lagosians should expect good tidings from the government while the government will be asking for maximum cooperation from the citizens particularly not contravening the laws including the traffic law; because one thing we experienced during 2021 was outright disregard for traffic law and that compounded gridlocks across the state. It is different to make laws and it is another issue with compliance. I agree that the government may not have the full manpower to enforce laws, but when the citizens comply, society will be better. Also, the citizens should respect the law enforcement officers because within last year, we witness cases of harassment of law enforcement officers across the state particularly military officers that were found to have flouted the law. The government is about all of us and the way we all play our roles determines the successes of the state.

QUESTION: How will you rate the performance of the APC-led government in Lagos?

To God be the glory, we found ourselves in a strategic location in Nigeria, where we are trying to do the best for our people. I wonder how you want me to rate myself and other public officeholders. If I do that, I will rate myself beyond expectation. We have done well and we can still do more for the state. The governor and lawmakers know that we cannot rest on achievements recorded, so we have to do more for the people. While we do more, the fifth estate of the realm, I mean the civil society, to checkmate and evaluate the government on its performance.

QUESTION: What is the relationship between the executive and legislature in Lagos?

The relationship between the lawmakers and the executive has been very smooth and that is not ordinary. And I say it is not ordinary because we all put the interest of Lagosians forward whenever policy or programmes are needed to be done. You all know that two sets of people cannot be working together for the state and they will not have issues that make them cross each other’s path. But when this arises, we often seat at the round table to explain to ourselves and resolve whatever issues. We do this rather than slogging it out publicly. We all ensure that our jobs are done effectively for the state. We are independent of one another but it is still inter-dependency among us. We sacrifice for Lagosians to get all they desired from the government and that was why we decided to pass the budget before 2022. This is to give the government privilege to commence work immediately and prevent any lacuna that may arise in governance in Lagos. This is logical.

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