Politics

#EndSARS: When Osinbajo launched rebuilding of Lagos

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, on Monday, led top functionaries of the Federal Government to Lagos State on the Rebuilding Lagos mission. Muritala Ayinla reports

For proponents of a special status for Lagos, there are more than enough reasons why the state needs to be accorded such recognition. While some hinged their arguments on the strategic position of Lagos State as the former capital territory, others premised their justifications on the state’s contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Yet a host of others believed the state deserves the status for being a cosmopolitan city and state with highest population, where almost every tribe and ethnic nationality reside and own a house.

Undeniably, Lagos is to most Nigerians – whether rich or poor what a honeypot is like to bees. For many reasons, it is a place where everyone wants to live. Hence, virtually in everything, Lagos takes the lead whether good or bad.

Be it in good governance, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), budget, justice reform, innovations, pandemic, infrastructure development, security, crime and disaster rate, among others, the state of aquatic splendor takes the lead.

Therefore, it is not surprising just about the time it was planning to heave a sigh of relief for effectively managing the COVID-19 pandemic, being the state with the highest number of cases in Nigeria, Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve centre, also emerged both the epicenter of the #EndSARS protests and the destruction that followed few weeks ago. The state that prides itself as the “Centre of Excellence” also recorded the highest disaster in what was largely described as an unimaginable disaster.

Police stations, palaces, court, hospitals, public infrastructures, malls, businesses, houses, vehicles, private facilities, media houses and others were looted and vandalised in what is believed to be coordinated attacks that came almost simultaneously, while the police were suddenly barred in the city metropolis in the ensuing bloody mayhem that took place across the state.

Although similar incidents took place across the country, the largest percentage of the destruction took place in the nation’s commercial nerve centre, following the wanton destruction of lives and property in the moment of fire and fury that lasted for days. It is estimated that Lagos will need over N1 trillion to rebuild the state while some analysts said that it would take more than a decade to rebuild Lagos.

To drive and fast-track the rebuilding process, the state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has set up a Lagos Rebuild Trust Fund headed by the Mr. Yemi Cardozo. The Federal Government is not left out in the rebuilding process as a high powered delegation led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, met with officials of the state government on Monday. On the Federal Government’s delegation were the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; Speaker of the House Representative, Femi Gbajabiamila; Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Ade Ipaye and governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN),Mr. Godwin Emefiele, among others.

Osinbajo, who described the destruction as too devastating, said its ripple effects on the nation cannot be overemphasized as a Lagos is Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. His words: “Perhaps it is worth emphasizing that the destruction and disruption of life and work in Lagos is a national tragedy and a major economic setback for the nation even as we face the most difficult economic challenges in our generation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the state that leads by far in the collection of non-oil revenues. The bulk of Value Added Tax (VAT) is generated here. The Lagos port, whose Marina office was attacked, generates the most revenue and is the busiest in the nation; the Lagos airport is the busiest in Nigeria.

In so many ways our fortunes as a nation are closely tied to the fortunes of this great state.” Insisting that it was time for rebuilding and reconstruction to take place in the state, the vicepresident added that the task of reconstruction goes beyond physical infrastructure or brick and mortar.

He said: “There is a moral, social and ethical reconstruction to be undertaken as well. We must rebuild trust between the government and the governed; the vast majority of who are young persons; trust between law enforcement agents and the communities that they are meant to serve. Never again should law enforcement find itself on opposite sides of any conflict with society.

“We must in the process rebuild the morale of our police force, the gallant men and women who daily brave the elements to keep us all safe. The process of reform has commenced.” Noting the unfortunate loss of lives and property in Lagos and across the country, the vice-president added that the whole nation was in need of healing and the Buhari administration will pursue restorative justice for all affected.

He reiterated President Muahammadu Buhari’s commitment to justice, saying that it is now the responsibility of everyone to honour the memory of the victims by ensuring that justice is comprehensively served. “Our state, like our nation, is in need of healing. We recognize that the balm for a wounded society is truth and justice.

This is why judicial panels of inquiry have been established all across the country. Their mandate is to investigate cases of police brutality against citizens, and where necessary compensate victims. “Specifically, in Lagos, the mandate of the inquiry has been expanded to include a full investigation of the Lekki Toll Gate incidents.

This process has begun and all federal agencies and the armed services are participating actively as Mr. President said, and I quote: ”We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice,” he said. Osinbajo, on behalf of President Buhari, extended the Federal Government’s commiserations to the government and people of Lagos State for the loss of lives of citizens, the injured, and the colossal destruction of public and private properties, social amenities and infrastructure.

He added: “The pursuit of restorative justice, recompense for injury to innocents and a reckoning for perpetrators of abuse are essential components of the moral and ethical reconstruction of our homestead. I urge all of us to give this process a chance to work and to commit to the advocacy and participation that it will take to enable this process succeed.” The vice-president also emphasized the commitment of Buhari administration to reform the Nigeria Police Force and address the issues that led to the protests.

He hinted that the reformed Police Act and the Police Trust Act signed by the President was part of government’s efforts in improving the Police while ensuring the rights of Nigerian citizens are protected. “After 70 years of the Police Act, Mr. President signed the new reformed Police Act 2020 into law. The new law contains in many parts components of a charter of the rights of citizens when being questioned.

“The President has also signed into law the Police Trust Act, essentially to provide a source of extra funding for the police. Equally, the Police has also initiated its community policing programme aimed at reframing policing as an activity based on trust between law enforcement and the community,” he said.

The vice-president said with the looting and destruction that followed the #EndSARS protests, Nigerians could see how the most noble causes, such as the protests designed to call attention to a serious malignant problem of brutality and extrajudicial killings, could be subverted leading to the exact opposite of its objectives, chaos, murder, looting and arson. His words: “We saw what can happen when the restraints of law and order are loosed and anarchy is given free rein.

In those difficult days when chaos swept from street to street consuming lives and livelihoods, we learned that society is built on the balance between freedom and order. But we have also realized that order itself is a social construct sustained by the consent of the governed.” He called for public and private collaboration in the rebuilding and reconstruction of the state, which he noted had not experienced such level of wanton destruction in the past.

“It is now time to rebuild. It is time for the painful and costly task of reconstruction and rehabilitation. It is now time for the private sector, our international friends and partners, and all who love this city to make their contributions to the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts. When Lagos works, it works for all.

“On the Federal Government’s part, Mr. President has said that he will await a full report from Your Excellency (Lagos State governor) and I am sure that will be on hand soon. For businesses that were destroyed, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been developing a plan to suspend existing facilities that they may have in banks and lines of cheap credit to help them rebuild their damaged facilities and re-stock,” he said.

He added that government will continue to make efforts to improve its engagement with the youth and all Nigerians, while it continues the process of holistic reforms of the Police. He also made a firm proposition for the integration of young people in the new task of repositioning society. On the efforts to rebuild the state, the CBN governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, called for collaborative efforts as he emphasised that the level of destruction could not be handled by the state government alone.

To assist those whose businesses were looted, vandalised or set ablaze, Emefiele said that the apex bank in conjunction with its partners would also do everything possible to ensure their investments don’t perish, adding that it will soon roll out plans to assist those affected.

The CBN governor pledged the support of the organized private sector in the rebuilding of Lagos State, which he noted will include the reconstruction of destroyed police stations by the private sector coalition and supporting affected private businesses to survive the devastation.

He said that banks had been informed to take records of business owners who might have taken loans and others whose businesses were destroyed and looted, insisting that opportunity would be provided to help them bounce back.

On how the legislative arm of the federal government will assist in rebuilding Lagos and businesses destroyed across the nation, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gbajabiamila, said that the National Assembly will come up with measures to cushion the effect of the devastation and help rebuild the state.

The speaker, who said he was nearly moved to tears when he saw the level of destruction at his Surulere constituency, said that several years of efforts and achievements of innocent Nigerians and business owners were destroyed in the mayhem.

“This is the time to prove the popular slogan – ‘Eko o ni baje.’ We must all rise to rebuild the state with all the time and the resources. It goes beyond budget but to ensure there is special intervention fund,” he said, adding that other lawmakers would have to be persuaded not look at the issue of special assistant to rebuild Lagos from political, state or other prisms but from nationalistic prism. The Senate President, who was represented by the senator representing the Lagos West Senatorial District, Senator Olamilekan Solomon, said that Lagos deserve a special status but there was need to change the strategy in the agitation for a special status recognition.

He assured that the Senate is working on document to assist the state government and others affected by the protests. Governor Sanwo-Olu, on his part, said those who carried out the violence made an attempt to ruin values that stood the state out as centre of creativity and innovation in the country. He added that the coordinated violence set Lagos economy – the fifth largest in Africa – back by hundreds of billions of Naira.

The destruction, the governor further said, tore down the fortress of commerce, which Lagos built over centuries ago, describing the proportion of the devastation suffered by the state as unprecedented. Sanwo-Olu said the consultative forum was to set the stage for the necessary public-private partnerships and collaborations required for the task of rebuilding and restoration of the infrastructure that was destroyed.

“The violence we witnessed last October is the most widespread carnage the state has seen in decades. Every aspect of life and livelihood in Lagos was affected – government buildings, offices, public monuments and historical archives, public infrastructure and very sadly too, private property and investments.

“The violence, has no doubt, set our economy back by hundreds of billions of Naira, and impacted our confidence. We have, however, found hope and great strength in the offers of assistance from far and wide, which culminated in the constitution of the Lagos Rebuild Committee to coordinate our efforts to rebuild and upgrade our state,” he said.

Expressing optimism that Lagos will bounce back, the governor said that the state government would be setting aside a huge amount of money as the state’s collateral in the recovery effort, adding that the Cardoso-led team that will be coordinating the Trust Fund would be given legislative backing through an Executive Bill that will soon be transmitted to the House of Assembly.

He promised that money that will be donated into the Trust Fund would go into rebuilding and re-tooling security infrastructure, strengthening public transportation systems, restoring judicial and local government operations, rebuilding damaged public monuments. Among dignitaries at the event were the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudasiru Obasa; members of the House of Representatives and members of the State Executive Council, among others.

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