Wednesday, March 26, 2014 5:00 pm
Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State granted TheNEWS editors an exclusive interview. He seized the opportunity to speak on his achievements, life after office, state of the nation and other issues
What are the successes and failures you have recorded since you were elected as governor of Lagos State?
I don’t measure things in terms of successes and failures. Lagos State, as an entity, was and would remain a going concern. The important thing is: do we add value? And by how many yards, how many measures, have we added value? It is not finished, you know. It must continue. I will be the wrong person to answer that. Your question about successes and failures is directed at the wrong person.
I think also that those who gave the mandate should be the best persons to say whether the trust and the efforts and the sacrifice had worked. I think that a fair majority stand on that, and that’s what you need in a democracy. I think that the question should be fairly directed at ordinary Lagosians who we serve or maybe I should ask you.
Maybe I should say are there things you would have loved to have done differently?
We have about 14 months and there is always room to reflect during the 14 months to change things that are not giving us the types of returns that we expected. But I honestly couldn’t put it down to one thing that we want to change. On the contrary, it is my own sense of an infinite capacity to improve upon things. It is like when I came in here, I wasn’t wearing a cap, but I just looked and I said ok I need to wear a cap now. That’s me.
Can we add value? And in that sense, that’s for me like writing a letter last night and not posting it. The tendency is that you may go back to that letter and say I should have used another word here. It doesn’t mean that your message is lost. And if you don’t post the letter today, it may well be that you would re-visit it. Just like when you write articles too. Sometimes, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t get your message right, but sometimes, you would look at it and say ‘if I had to write that again, I would write it better.’ It is in that sense. Let me say this now fairly: the best way to measure what we have done is to go and read my inaugural speech in 2007 and in that sense, you would see that we have kept our word, we have fulfilled our contract.
Talking about your covenant and promises, one of those things you promised during your campaign in 2006/2007 was the fourth mainland bridge which you have not delivered?
No, we haven’t finished, you just watch me. I have 14 months to go and I am working on the fourth mainland bridge. Perhaps it is important to understand the context of the fourth mainland bridge. What is at issue is a transportation connection across the eastern axis of the state. People need to commute. Now, many people have said the fourth mainland bridge would be the answer, but you watch us. That is the much I want to say for now.
You are sounding like a miracle worker now?
You see, we have a design, we have alignment, we have cost. Construction time is three years, but it can become a longer construction time if you don’t do all of the economics correctly. Now, how many people are going to pass on that road if you do it today? Does it make it financially viable? Because all of us have just sat down and assumed that the answer was a fourth mainland bridge. We have made that assumption. There is no scientific basis. Now we are seeing the viability of that route. So if you do the bridge for 100 vehicles a day, that’s money well spent. So those are the realities that governance throws across to you.
But today, we are providing an alternative form of commuting by ferries. People are already moving in large numbers. So we are now looking at the airport, looking at the refineries, the free trade zone and the Lekki port and how they become the feeder stock of traffic to justify a N250 billion bridge across the water.
Still talking about projects, what I consider to be your signature project is the rail line from Festac to Marina. It appears stalled for now. What actually is the state of things? Could you deliver it before you leave in May 2015?
I like the word ‘appear’. It is not stalled, those are the things we deal with in terms of project conception, project implementation and project delivery. When you look at what we have undertaken there, I don’t know of any city in the whole of Africa that has undertaken that kind of project delivery without direct national government support. And to that extent, it is already a success.
Today, we have completed Mile 2 to National Theatre, seven kilometres on rail and track and four stations. We are taking the next section, which is from Costain, National Theatre to Marina, which is another five kilometres.
So that gives you 12 kilometres and that will be completed by January to February next year. But right now, you can start some testing and service and that is how rail is built all over the world. They build them in sections and start operating them. Now the next problem is that we do not want to use diesel engines because of environmental pollution issues. Simultaneously now, we are pursuing energy to power the tracks. We are also working on signalling, you can’t just put coaches there, there must be signals, stoppages, signings, sequence, a lot of expertise and that is a lot of work that is going on.
What you see out there is just concrete, but not the end of the project. And then, of course, the challenge of financing this thing. We didn’t have the money in shelf.
We just had the courage to start. We had the audacity to be financially inventive and to move. As I have said, what was a dream when I was a child has been concretised into brick and mortal today. It has become irreversible.
So whether I finish in 14 months or not, the real issue is that this project has to be finished and that for me is in itself success, because we could still have been talking of paper concept. Now, a section has been completed. We are going into the next section. And of course the third section is dependent on the road beyond Mile 2 which is being expanded because at that point, the rail comes down to grade level which is on the road. So as you widen the road, you create a section in the middle to construct the rail line. So that is the easiest part we need to do. The hardest work is the pile, the wall over the bridges and all of that. And that should be completed before I go. Now, we are looking at so many options for coaches and coaches again are not things that you buy off the shelf. We don’t manufacture any in Nigeria. There’s a lot of work going on in that regard as well.
So the answer to your question is that even if we have all the money, it is unlikely that we would finish in 14 months, but it is very likely that we would have some kind of service in place before I leave. But like I said before, whether it is Dubai or elsewhere, they are built in sections. You finish one section, then you add another section until you complete it.
In spite of your effort to avoid praising yourself, you still hinted on the fact that you’ve been satisfied with what you have done so far. Would you want your successor to be Tunde Fashola or a radically different person?
If my successor is not Tunde Fashola, it can’t be Tunde Fashola. So the idea of a clone clearly does not exist. Two people are never the same. What is important is that whoever succeeds me, it is my wish that the person does a lot better than I have done because that is the only way really that value can be added. In every time and space, the circumstances and opportunities for adding value differ. The areas where values could be added also differ. And therefore, that is why the era of every political administration has been defined by the challenges of the day.