Governorship elections in Lagos State in the last sixteen years no doubt have been a jolly ride for the Ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) The party has undergone transformation three times since 1999, given that the opposition in those previous elections did not really gave the party a run for the money. However, the major opposition PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP) is leaving no stone unturned this time to ensure nothing short of victory at the poll. Importantly, if the personality of the candidate presented and rigorous campaign on the part of the PDP is anything to go by, then the 2015 governorship election in the state will be a keen contest.
In this exclusive interview with Dimeji Joseph and Sola …….the candidate of the PDP, Jimi Agbaje spoke about his bares his mind on the shortcomings of the ruling party, his political ambition, what he has to offer Lagosians and more. Excerpts:
The Ruling party, APC at every given opportunity accused you of evading tax in the state. What is your stand on this accusation?
R: well, I think I have made my stand very clear that I am not a tax evader and have even went ahead to show evidence in that regard. I have even been commended by the authority; that is as Jimi Agbaje. I got a letter of appreciation from the state government in January, 2015 for paying my charges as at when due. After presenting my letter of appreciation to the public, the state government responded that it wasn’t me they were referring to but my company.
I think there are some issues to be clarified. This is not about tax; it is about Land Used Charge. The governor came out and lied that my company owed money and has not paid until now. That is not correct and to that extent, again, we have published the company’s position showing that we have been paying the Land Used Charge but that we do have a problem as to some of the penalties that were brought up. If you don’t send us a bill for a particular year and year after you give us penalty, I think we have the right to context that.
So we have paid the due Land Used Charges less the penalty and in their own writing, it is on record, it is even good I have them here (presenting the evidence before us) you have a situation where it is very clear to me now that the governor has just decided that he wants to play politics given his weekend outburst where he said “Agbaje admits to tax evasion and has since paid =N=500,000. That in itself was a lie. Governor Fashola has decided to misinform and mislead the public, because the impression he gave in the write-up was that I paid the money after his initial outburst; that was not correct. We have not paid anything since his initial outburst. So whatever money he is talking about has been paid before his outburst. So, it is misleading to the public to say that I or my company have now accepted the accusation.
But then, if you read that publication (23-02-15) further, he alluded to his performance, maybe he felt that I was attacking his records of service, again, that is not correct. Basically, we put things in proper perspectives; we have never said he has not worked where he has, but the fact remains that there are rankings and results carried out by international agencies and he is being sensitive about it. A ranking was done for 140 Cities of which Lagos was ranked 137th and the governor appeared to be uncomfortable because it shows that we are still very far behind according to the economy intelligence studies for 140 Cities. The ranking is called Liveability Index. Basically, this has to do with where people will like to stay.
There is also a World Bank study that in term of Construction Permit for example, Lagos is the worst of all the 36 States in Nigeria to get a Construction Permit. The implication is that, if you say that you are addressing Housing issues and you are the worst state to get Approved Plan, it means you are not encouraging people to build houses. So these are some of the very issues that are making Fashola uncomfortable.
And in terms of education; take for example the last O’Levels results in the state was very poor, most of our children that wrote the examination failed. These are not results coined by me; they are facts. So his recent outburst goes to show why he has decided to play politics the way he is playing it. I think he is trying to be a bully.
Fashola in his outburst talked about corruption and he said leadership is by example. Except governor Fashola is saying that there is no corruption in Lagos State; because I am not aware of any single case where governor Fashola has taken any top official or person to court for corruption, so how much of example is he showing. But as time goes on, we will show the corruption in Lagos State. By and large, there is no truth in all what Fashola has been saying. I have correspondence here that shows that we have been relating with the state government. The state government wrote to us stating very clearly that we should apply to the commissioner for finance for a waiver on the penalties, though they did not assure us they will give us but we are still talking.
Cuts… Sir, do you have copies of these correspondences?
R: yes. I will give you a copy.
Q: sir, what would you do to revive the dwindling fortune of the education sector, should you be elected as governor?
We have given our idea as to how to revive the sector. Lagos is a mega city and I think what governor Fashola did not appreciate is that, this is a city that is growing at a pace that the policies of the ruling government cannot address. So we did highlight that Lagos State government has put very little emphasis on primary education and if you ask around, you would see that there are more pupils in private primary schools than public schools and unfortunately a lot of these schools are mushroom schools. so you have a situation whereby our children don’t have solid educational foundation, they finish primary six and cannot read and write in English language, you push them to secondary school and pump them with work they don’t understand. Are you then surprise that they fail WAEC?
So we are saying that our government will place more emphasis on primary education so that there will be a sound foundation for our children, that way, it gets easier to build a secondary education on that primary.
Cuts…what would those emphases be?
R: it has to do with teachers’ development, welfare, number of teachers in a particular school, facilities… Lagos State spends just 3.3% of its education budget on primary education, which is the reality, so, this government is just paying lips service to primary education. All the other countries that we are emulating; those that have changed their world are university dropouts I.e. the CEO of Facebook, Apple Computers and more, what they have used to change their world is the basic education they got. We want to provide primary and secondary education such that our children would have something positive to grow up with.
Give us an overview of your plans for Lagos State if you are elected governor?
Basically, like I said earlier, Lagos is a commercial centre, so we are looking at Lagos that must be competitive in terms of attracting investors and when you consider this, it means that it has to be business friendly.
Secondly, it has to be liveable and that is where the liveability index came in. the quality of life must be there; how do we make quality of life, we look at issues like education, if one addresses the problem of education, parents will be more comfortable with their children, the issue of housing; the ruling party by its own admission said that 70% of houses in Lagos today are substandard and what this means is that there are 70% slums in Lagos. So we said if you want Lagos to be liveable, you have to address the problem of housing but the incumbent government said there is nothing like Low Income Housing and when you consider the fact that lots of Lagosians are low income earners, the question now is, where would they live? He said further that there is no low income cement. But we are saying that there are must be affordable housing and how do you achieve this? First is to address the issue of land. Those in government today have taken a lot of lands that belong to the people, and we are saying that the government should put the land in use for the people if truly they want to make housing affordable. Make the value of land next to nothing for those you want to build houses for, after all, it is given by God to the people.
According to a World Bank survey, people spend years to get Approved Plan to build a house in Lagos, which in itself discourages housing. So we are saying that the bureaucracy has to be reduced or removed. Government should build houses as if it is manufacturing a product, it should not be a one-house-per-year thing. The government has only built five thousand houses in the last sixteen years in a state that requires 200,000 Houses units per year. The government has not addressed the situation because they don’t have the formula for it.
Sir, do you see your government achieving 200,000 Housing Units per year, if you become governor?
No. we are not saying that we will build 200,000 units of houses; we are not going to make promises that we cannot fulfil. But we will build 150,000 units of houses in partnership with the private sector in four years. The idea is to get the machinery right and begin to roll out production, and as you roll it out, it becomes faster and it increases.
Would there be some kind of incentives for the private sector in the partnership?
By the time you give out land and get approval, though having it in mind that they are selling, with government also readily available to buy from them through mortgage financing is an incentive on its own. That was what Alhaji Jakande did during his tenure as governor of the state. Alhaji Jakande in four years built more houses than the ruling government has built in the last sixteen years, in fact five times as much. At that time, he puts in place something similar to industrial scale housing. He got the quarry, cements and all other things that were required and all he needed to do was to roll the houses out.
How would your government tackle the problem in the health sector?
Again, government talks about free health, but we all know that you can’t go to a public hospital without money in your pocket. Our government will give access to genuine free healthcare and to do that, we are going to have an insurance model scheme where the government will give out cheques as premium on behave of vulnerable citizens: pregnant women, children from ages 1-10, aged and the physically challenged to cater for their health bills.
The primary healthcare is where 75% of sicknesses are treated generally. All that is required of the people is for them to come and choose their GP and once that is done, government will be the financier of their health issues. It is a sustainable scheme that will involve the local governments. At this point, we will use the local government more as governance structure rather than political structure.
How do you intend to carry the SMEs along in your government?
Every economy in the world is driven by micro medium scale enterprise. They create jobs and employ the largest number of people. If you talk to a market woman or man today, you will discover that most of them are uncomfortable with the multiple levies they are charged daily by the government irrespective of whether their business is doing fine or not. Those at the highbrow areas are afraid that their shops will one day be demolished, rebuild as shopping malls and given out at an exorbitant price or given to political allies. These are some of the issues of concern that we intend to take care of when we come in. Government job is to create an enabling environment for SMEs to thrive. If you create an enabling environment, you will be creating youth that are going to be entrepreneurs.
Our government will put more emphasis on local content, such that contractors will be compel to carry the people in the areas where they are working along in terms of job employment and training.
How do you intend to tackle the issue of security in the state?
Security is a going concern, it is one of the areas we can say has started well and we are going to improve on it. We still have a high crime rate in the state. We will continue to work with all the security agencies and assist and challenge them to perform better.
I am an advocate of a State Police and am still looking forward to a time that we will have State Police as an addition to Federal Police.
Sir, do you see yourself unseating the ruling party in the state?
Definitely yes, they are already jittery and they know that they have very shaky grounds at the moment. We have every confidence that we are going to win the election.
Cuts… even at the instance of the utterances of the Oba of Lagos that he has endorsed the candidate of the opposition?
Kabiesi is entitled to his opinion, it is within his fundamental rights to choose a candidate, but that is not going to affect the result of the election.
How would you react to the allegation that non indigenes in Lagos are denied their Permanent Voter Card?
You see, we are in a democratic setting where you have to fight for your rights. What we have been doing is to encourage people to go and get their PVC
What is your stand on using the military during elections?
Well, if we look at the last elections in Ekiti and Osun States, the military had provided security to such extent that we did not hear of any ballot box snatching, if we look at it from that perspective, I would say that I am in support of it. I want a situation where people can come out and exercise the right without fear of intimidation and violence. If you look at the result of the last two elections, I would say it worked more on the side of the people.
Cuts… don’t you think that your stand is against the pronouncement of the Court of Appeal that the military should not be involved in elections?
It depends on the interpretation of that judgement. The Court of Appeal says military should not be used at elections, but the military is for security.
Does that mean you don’t have confidence in the Nigerian Police?
I have confidence in the Police. Even in our constitution, the Nigerian Police has the right to call on the military for backup if it cannot cope with the situation. So I don’t see anything wrong in the use of military during elections.
Sir, beyond Town Hall meetings I have not seen your party do a carnival like kind of rally like the ruling party
Really? Maybe you have not been around in the state for a while. We have gone round all the local governments in a road-show and fanfare like form of campaign and now we are embarking on House to House campaign after which we will come back for rallies.
On a lighter mood, how would you react to the tag “Just Kidding” place on your person by governor Fashola?
This is a political period where people say all manner of things. after April 11th, we will know who is kidding