Fashola has abandoned Lagos megacity plan ––Gbajabiamila
In this interview with Eniola Akinkuotu, a former Commissioner for Physical Planning, Mr. Hakeem Gbajabiamila, who recently joined the Lagos-Central senatorial race, speaks about his time in government
You recently declared for the Lagos-Central senatorial race on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. Can you say you did well during your time as a commissioner?
I became the Commissioner for Physical Planning during the second term of former Governor Bola Tinubu and at that time, the entire physical planning of the state was part of my portfolio and we were able to put a lot of things in place. We reviewed the regional plan which had not been reviewed for a long time and we saw all the issues that needed to be addressed. Also, at that point in time, there was a strategic move to redistribute the development around the state which led to things like the megacity development plan and towards the end of that administration. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was very interested in seeing that Lagos is given a fair consideration because we were pushing for a special status for Lagos and through the megacity development programme, we demanded that Lagos be given a special status with Ogun State because when you talk of Lagos megacity, you’re talking of a footprint that has spread to at least seven local government areas in Ogun State because people live in Ogun and work on Victoria Island...
However, the process could not be completed during the Obasanjo administration and one of the first things the late President Umaru Yar’Adua did was to come to Lagos and to try to finalise it but it was stopped by the thinking of the new Lagos administration, which stated that they were not interested in that kind of arrangement and up till today, that project remains hanging and there is no direct arrangement with the Federal Government other than intervention through ministries and MDAs to support Lagos.It is far from it. It is not what we had in mind. What we had planned was completely different. For example, for the Orile-Badagry Expressway, the Federal Government would have provided 55 per cent equity into that and the burden would have been far different from what the state is carrying now but for other reasons, that is not happening now. A megacity must have a mass transit facility. There is supposed to be a triangular corridor from Ifo to Iddo and to Okokomaiko back to Ifo. That triangle should have been in place but that has not happened. We are trying to look for tax to be able to fund such projects or a Private Public Partnership. PPP might work but you must be realistic in choosing your partners which we have not done in any of the PPPs in Lagos State.
I and Tinubu had been friends since 1984 and the leaders believed that there were no Lagosians in the cabinet. So, Tinubu invited me and in 2003, the late Senator Sikiru Shitta-Bey called me and told me to start preparing for governorship and I spoke to Tinubu about my intention in 2005. I had the advantage of being in the cabinet but about 10 other commissioners also had aspirations. That was why we chose the AC because we felt it was democratic. I had the structure of Senator Shitta-bey.
So why didn’t you get the ticket at the primary?
There was no primary.
Why did you leave the AC to run on the Alliance for Democracy platform?
Six weeks to the primaries, the governor invited me and told me he was going to support Babatunde Fashola and I said no problem. If Fashola contests and wins primaries, I would support him but the primaries never took place. So, we complained to the hierarchy of the party and we met with Tom Ikimi and a few other leaders. They said Tinubu is one of the financiers of the party and whatever he wants is ok with them. It was at that point that I decided to return to the AD and continue my governorship aspiration.
What were the reasons Tinubu gave you for supporting Fashola?
He said it was because he believed the election would end up in litigation and the PDP would try to snatch the result and they would go to court. He said there was not enough political base for the Nigerian Society of Engineers but Fashola had a base with the Nigerian Bar Association. He gave many people (aspirants) many reasons.
After failing to win the governorship election, why are you now running for the Senate?
After that, I sat down for over a year trying to think of my next move. I decided to join a strong party and work within the party and I joined the Peoples Democratic Party. In 2010, I started again to contest and rather than going for governor, I decided to limit my intention within my area of strength which is the Lagos-Central senatorial district. It consists of five local governments: Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Apapa, Surulere and Eti-Osa. I am well grounded in all of these places. I was born on the island, I lived in Apapa, lived in Surulere and I have moved my political base to Surulere since 2006 and I live in Eti-Osa. So I have a good reach there.
Are you saying that the Federal Government is deliberately frustrating Lagos for being an opposition state?
No, I don’t think so. I think that we are forgetting that Nigeria is a very big and complex nation and that the needs of Nigeria are enormous. It is all about bargaining and negotiation. If you don’t bring the matter to the table and your matter is not heard on a daily basis, your matter will be swept under the carpet. I am saying to you that our people are not representing us enough. It is not a matter of being in an opposition party but if you go to the National Assembly and all you go to do there is just to oppose, then you won’t get things done for your people. I am not going there because I am in the right camp, I will like to go to the National Assembly to make sure that we get the benefits for the people of Lagos – regardless of which party you belong to. It is not in the interest of Lagos to jettison the project of the Lagos Megacity Development Authority because it would have brought more resources to Lagos and it should be on the front burner all the time.
You accused the Fashola administration of straying from the megacity plan. But it is on record that the Obasanjo administration refused to give allocation to Lagos. The Lagos State Government also claims that the Federal Government deliberately tried to frustrate its efforts.
There are processes that we need to follow. The issue you are talking about was caused by the creation of Local Council Development Areas in Lagos. Yes, Lagos deserves up to 60 local governments. But they were created and there are laws we must follow. This is why we have people in the House of Representatives.
You spoke about the rule of law but it is on record that the Supreme Court ordered the Federal Government to release the funds to Lagos State and the PDP-led Federal Government still refused to do so?
Well, it was not the PDP government that refused, it was the government of the day that refused and it was a personal matter. Right now you have a President like Goodluck Jonathan who has continuously kept to the rule of law. That is a different thing and that is the direction the country is going. The rule of law did not happen then but that does not make it a PDP style. It was the leadership style at that time and he used it to achieve his objective just like Jonathan has his own style today. We may not agree 100 per cent with the style of our leaders but everybody has his own style.