Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, in this interview with Channels Television, speaks on the recent restriction of activities of commercial motorcyclists in some parts of the state and what the state government is doing to ease transportation as well as establishment of the Western Nigeria Security Network codenamed Amotekun among other issues. TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE reports
A lot of people, perhaps, think that the first thing your administration did in Lagos State was to come with up a law to restrict or ban motorcycle and tricycle riders, but I guess it is a misconception; true or false?
It is a misconception. The truth of the matter is that it is a law that has been in existence since 2012. It was revised by the past administration in 2018. So, it is a law that has been there for like nine to 10 years. What it states clearly is that on certain roads, all the bridges and major highways; motorcycles (okada) and tricycles (Keke NAPEP) are restricted from plying them. We all know that it was not implemented. So, what we are doing is to implement the law that the House of Assembly passed.
Remember that the process of passing a law takes days. It was not that we just woke up and just ban it. So, it is about security of lives. We have 27 general hospitals in Lagos and close to 3,000 private hospitals. But let’s look at just the general hospitals; on a monthly basis on the average, 28 deaths are related to motorcycles. So, we cannot as a government, overlook that. Is it that people lives don’t matter?
Are you saying that on the average on monthly basis, about 28 deaths recorded in general hospitals are related to motorcycles accidents?
Yes, they are due to accidents related to motorcycles directly. And then issue of crime. So, we found out that motorcycles and tricycles are now vehicles for transporting drugs even to our schools. So, the security of lives and the prosperity of our children cannot just be ignored.
Is that the intelligence report and information you got from security agencies?
Exactly, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is a federal agency, not Lagos State government agency. The report is clear, so we cannot as a state government see that and say it is not important. So, the essence, first of all, is to make sure that everybody, who resides in Lagos, is secure. And then we said: how can we do this in a manageable way? The essence is not to punish anybody. The essence is not to restrict people from doing any job, but you have to be alive before you can make money. The reality is that people are dying. The reality is that the security of our children is being compromised, so government must act and that is exactly what we did in the interest of the people.
There was an incident on August 30, 2019 where a truckload of motorcycles and about 300 people were apprehended in Lagos and the Police at that moment arrested and interrogated them. A lot of them said they were looking for greener pasture and at that time there were rumours around town that there was influx of Boko Haram or some terrorist elements into Lagos. Could there be any iota of truth in some of the fact that the action of government is related to reducing or curbing, chasing out terrorists out of Lagos?
The truth of the matter is that this mode of transportation is becoming an avenue to perpetuate crime and we cannot wait until major a disaster happens. We knew what happened in Kano State some years back, when the Emir of Kano was attacked through this mode of transportation. So, is it that our lives are not important? Our lives are important and therefore that particular incident that you mentioned, yes it is true. What the then Commissioner of Police did was to let us know who these people are and where they are coming from. There were some people that had knives and some people that had guns. So, if you are interested in riding a motorcycle, why do you need a gun, why do you need a knife? Not everyone of them; but those people that had were arrested would be prosecuted.
So the restriction was majorly about issue of security?
It is mainly about security and safety. It is becoming a problem in our major cities. Even at 6.00am, we get calls at our emergency control centre. People going to work through motorcycles are being harassed and attacked. The data was overwhelming for us. So, we must act and that is exactly what we did to protect the people of Lagos State. Like I said, you must be alive to do anything. People are saying what about business. It is when you are alive that you can do your business. And we also said that it has greater impact even on our economy.
The truth of the matter today is that we don’t have artisans anymore in Nigeria. If you want to lay tiles, people are coming from neighbouring countries. So, is that the future that we want to portray? Lagos for example has 17 skill acquisition centres and five technical schools and you will be lucky to get people to attend. We are partnering with organisations such as Elizade Motors to teach people on how to do mechanical work. The reality is that we must cater for our children. It is not everybody that will go to university; we know that but let us train our children, so that they can really earn good work, using their hands.
Is it true that you endorsed some companies that came forward to run big motorcycle business because there were pictures of government endorsing them or taking pictures with them when they visited?
It is not true. Everybody that wants to pay a courtesy visit can pay a courtesy visit to the governor. They actually came but that was not an endorsement. They came to discuss a business and we told them clearly that there is a law regulating against motorcycle in Lagos. So, as an investor, you must understand the law and norms of the society. There was not a single letter, so nobody endorsed anybody.
They came visiting like a lot of other companies have visited and of course they are living in Lagos and we must accept everybody that wants to come. But that was not an endorsement. It was just a courtesy visit; they explained what they want to do and we told them that given the law that exists, we intend to implement it and we would be limiting. So, we didn’t take it away from every part of the state because of the data that we have.
Again, remember that the most populous areas of the state are not even affected. The most populous local government in Lagos State is Alimosho, followed by Mushin, Kosofe, Oshodi-Isolo. Motorcycles were not even resisted in those areas. So, people can do their business; all we are saying is, don’t ply the major roads and bridges; it is just not safe and it is a way for criminals to get out. I am not saying everybody that rides motorcycle is a criminal, but there are pockets of criminals that have used that means to terrorise the people of Lagos State.
A lot of people will wonder why this was left to this moment for it tp become a security menace in the state…
Our government came in 260 days ago, so I can’t talk about what happened before then. But you will also understand that motorcycle was restricted during Governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration on 475 roads. So, the same reason that was applicable then applies now. Since we came into government, we looked at the data. The reality is that it is not a popular decision; it is not an easy decision. We had almost eight security meetings, extended security meetings on this issue. We looked at the data; we took even all the military personnel, Police and everybody in the security and we went into our exco chambers to look at data and it became clear to us that if we don’t stop this, the security of people in Lagos State cannot be guaranteed. So, it is about security, it is about safety.
What are the alternatives and what have you provided to alleviate the sufferings?
You will notice that immediately after the restriction, about 65 buses were pushed out. Lagos State government just pushed out another 14 ferries, so we must also use our waterways. The truth of the matter is that Lagos State occupies only 0.4 per cent of the landmass of Nigeria, but we have 10 per cent of the population. So, the density is high. That is a statement of geography. And 30 per cent of that landmass that is so small is water. That is what God has given us, we can’t change it. But, the reality is that we must now see what is the best way. For example, we are doing a BRT from Bolade to Katangowa; it is about almost 14 to 15 kilometres. That would be populated very soon. It is not completed yet; all the channels, terminals and the rest are being built but we are hoping that by April, we will be able to finish that. So, the essence is to be able to move people in a safe and secured way.
What is so interesting is that Nigerians are very innovative and very smart. Where I live, there used to be motorcycles and tricycles, but today, what I see are mini buses. So, whenever there is a change, it is natural for us to criticise, to be non-reactive; we don’t want change because we get comfortable, but sometimes change is very good. And I am sure that this is a change that is actually very good because it is important to save lives. The ban is just about three weeks old; the data from general hospitals across is now just seven from 28. So, if we save 21 lives, who can tell me that is not important?
The alternative you provided, is it across all routes in Lagos?
Not yet. It is not covering everywhere yet, but we will get there.
There is fare hike on vehicles plying some of the roots where motorcycles and tricycles were banned. Are you looking into managing the situation, so that people don’t suffer too much?
Before we took this decision, we met a lot of stakeholders and one of those stakeholders is the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). On Monday February 3, we actually called the chairman of NURTW that first of all, there are some people stopping those vehicles deployed by government from loading. We called them because we held meetings with everybody involved before the ban and one of the things we clearly spelt out was that nobody should take advantage of the people.
As a matter of fact, we are going round all the local governments to monitor the development and what will happen is very severe. In any area we see people on consistent basis overcharging transport fare, the chairman or whoever is responsible as NURTW official would be suspended. So, let them take control of people who work in the garages. If people are overcharged, whoever is responsible for that garage would be dealt with. It is as simple as that. You cannot take advantage of people just because of what we did, which is a good thing.
There are areas that are referred to as only Okada routes in Lagos State. In those areas, hardly will you see commercial buses take you through those areas. What are you doing in those special routes?
Like everything else in life, there is no solution that solves all the problems. But you look at what is good for the common people. If you are able to solve eight out of 10 problems by a solution, then that is adjudged to be equally good. One of the things we are doing is to take this advantage. We are bringing in 2,000 new taxis. But it is also not to just bring in vehicles, it is also to say, can we actually assemble those vehicles here so that people will get jobs. It is easy to create jobs for people outside the country, but what about our own people here. So, we are looking at that and very soon, it will start to materialise.
How soon will that be?
It is very tough because there are many partners that are involved and people have to get to their boards. So, some of the deals are agreed in principles, but in terms of doing it, they have to meet the board and so on and so forth. Some of the things they asked for are five hectares of land in Lagos to do the assembly, which we have identified and located. So, survey has to be given to them. But the essence is what is sustainable for our country. We can’t just be fighting as a people. Why don’t we solve a problem and build a resilient city. We can say that Okada is not a job that everybody wants his or her children to do. That is the reality; we know that economic situation forced a lot of people to do it, but we will give them better alternative.
When we were building the Lekki link bridge, the contractors told us that they could not find welders in this country; they wanted to go to foreign countries to bring welders. They needed 70. We delayed that project for six months in other to train people. The governor then, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said he was never going to bring welders from foreign countries to do the work and we trained 70 welders, who finished those projects. Do you know what those welders after the completion of the bridge were being paid N700,000 a month as salary by Shell and Chevron..
Are you concerned about the threat that this kind of out of job people, who live in shanties could be to Lagos?
We have a master plan, physical planning rules and regulations. So in certain areas, we are going there to create Right of Way and so on. So, if you build a shanty on a Right of Way, ultimately when development gets there, you will be moved. But at the same time, one of the things we are doing is that these are young people who are trying to survive, so the essence is not to punish anybody; the essence is to say what is good for the common people; what is good for everybody.
We have houses that are ‘Rent to Own’ and other housing schemes we are making available for Lagosians. We have programmes that can help people. I just talked about getting 2,000 taxis; some people will do that. Remember that we are also doing all sorts of programmes in Lagos. The Ministry of Agriculture is doing Agric-YES, which is a youth empowerment scheme. Government has the Employment Trust Fund too. If you have an idea that you think can work, you can go and present it. Over 5,000 young people have gotten grants or loans. So, we want our young people to access this and not try what can lead to their death.
Is Lagos tracking some of these unemployed people to get them engaged and if not, are you not worried about the consequence of having a lot of people not employed?
One of the things for us is to create enabling environment for the private sector to create more jobs. Government by itself cannot create enough jobs for everybody. So that is why it is important for us to even take this type of decisions, make it easier for business people to run their businesses, so that they create more jobs. To answer your question, of course yes, and that is why we have Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA) that is scattered across the 57 councils.
Our challenge is a lot of people coming on daily basis, so the goal post keep moving. But in terms of data, we are on course and that is why we encourage everybody that is a resident of Lagos to register where he or she lives. It is to allow us to plan. Whatever you cannot measure, you really cannot manage it. It is as simple as that. That is one of the things we are also pushing; let people register with LASRRA. Do you know that in some cases in our primary schools, we have seven pupils in a classroom in Lagos Island? So, we need to know, so that maybe those areas of the state don’t need schools. But some areas actually have like 60. If we don’t have the date, it will be difficult for us to plan appropriately.
There is growing concern over traffic in Lagos. What is government doing about that?
One of the things you can see is that when you solve a problem, you might create another one. If you look at Ajah, the first and second roundabouts as well as Abraham Adesanya; we are removing the roundabouts. We are signalising them and expanding the road. We are doing the same thing at Allen Avenue, Ijegun, Iyana Ipaja and the rest. It is spread across and that will defeat traffic. The question is: Should we do it sequentially, three months wait and spread the pain or do we just do it one time? We agreed that lets just do it so that we can be free. We need to maintain the bridge linking Bonny Camp for example, but we said let us wait so that we don’t compound the traffic problem, but the bridge must be maintained. So, it is chicken and egg issue. Some of these infrastructures, you need to renew and rebuild them. We are doing several road constructions now and that will lead to traffic, but it is better to do it now.
What is the interest of Lagos on Amotekun? Is the state on board, what is the implementation like and is Lagos domesticating the law?
We don’t need to domesticate the law. As a matter of fact, Lagos State has Lagos Neighbourhood Watch. In Lagos Neighbourhood Watch, we have about 5,000 men and women, who provide intelligence to the Police and so on and so forth. They work across the state; they are local people living within their communities; so they understand Lagos. So, Amotekun is the same thing. It is a framework that allows all the states in the South-West to share information. Remember about three years ago, when our kids were kidnapped, they ended up in Ondo State. So, we will be stupid if we don’t relate with ourselves. So, Amotekun is a framework that allows us to relate and Lagos State, of course, is in support of it.