Steve Ayorinde, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, in this interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, shares the ideals that endear the Akinwunmi Ambode administration to Lagosians and outsiders, his journey from journalism to public service, and other issues of interest. Enjoy…
What inspires you about public service?
Service is just the key word. Service to one’s state and humanity, and opportunity to contribute to the society. And like it’s said, ‘There’s no service like the public service’. So it isn’t so much about inspiration as it is about the necessity to contribute at some point in one’s career.
How would you describe the people’s response to the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in terms of performance so far?
After 15 months in office, I can say without equivocation that Lagosians and the general public are united in celebrating that they did not make a mistake in electing a cerebral accountant and a good manager of men and resources as their governor at this point in time. And the good thing about it is that the people’s applause can be heard clearly. In an age of social media and proliferation of media platforms, it is not easy to hide anything and as such people are commenting and commending the governor’s sterling performance because he is fulfilling his campaign promises by making Lagos work for everybody.
In the last three months, what are the areas that Ambode government has focused on that you think surpassed the achievements of the first 11 months?
The last three months have added to the layers of progress in Lagos State. If you take the courageous passing of the law that has now put an end to the issue of land grabbing, you will see that this government is all about focus and touching the lives of Lagosians. Land is the gold in Lagos, whether for individuals or investors. Anything that affects it affects the economy of individuals and the state. And so with this law in place and a task force that is already dealing with infractions, people are happy because confidence has peaked. Also, take the ceaseless way in which this government has tackled traffic in the state with lay-bus and pedestrians bridges at Berger, at Oworonsoki, which has solved the perennial gridlock on third mainland bridge inward Alapere. These are seemingly little things that touch lives, that make lives a lot better and easier for our people. Take the committee that has been constituted to restore the glory of our prime areas like Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki. People are applauding that here comes a government that is showing the will and courage to restore sanity. Go to Accra, South Africa, Cairo, not to talk of western capital cities like London and Paris. Every major city has prime areas that must be protected from indiscriminate constructions and illegal structures. Those places were once beautiful and orderly. We want to restore the good old ambience of those areas because that is what the people want.
The state government is recording massive success in ensuring security of life and property. What are the plans being put in place to make this a permanent feature?
The seriousness of the government is not in doubt. You can’t invest billions of Naira into assets that will secure lives and property and look away. This government is particular about the sustainability of its programmes and projects especially on security and this is why training of personnel, insurance for every asset procured and maintenance are all part of the support we have given to the Police and other security agencies as well as to the Lagos State Emergency Rescue Unit.
Please, share the interest of the state government in the arts and entertainment sectors and how this will be utilized to the maximum benefits of the people.
The arts and entertainment are very important to the Ambode administration. They were an integral component of his campaign promises through Project THESE (Tourism, hospitality, entertainment/arts, and Sports to achieve excellence). It is the belief in this project that informed having an independent ministry for Tourism, Arts and Culture with a Commissioner and a Special Adviser to drive the vision. Remember that culture used to be lumped together with the Home Affairs previously. It is the arts and entertainment that this administration is using to drive our tourism initiative through the One Lagos/Love Lagos brand. I’m sure you saw the success of the One Lagos Fiesta last December. It will be bigger and better this year. I’m sure you are also aware of the success of the Love Lagos Weekend in London last month, the highlight of which was the transformation of the Nigerian Corner at the popular Nothinghill Carnival to Lagos Corner. It was significant to have the best of artistes from Lagos having a major platform to propagate the One Lagos initiative to the African diaspora at a time that Nothinghill carnival celebrated its 50th anniversary. The whole idea is to strategically communicate the Lagos brand to the world through artistes and entertainers and in the process create opportunities for our local artistes to showcase their talents and earn a decedent living. Arts and entertainment provide the content for tourism to flourish. And for that to happen, the state must be seen as a destination and its creative workers celebrated as outstanding. This is the reason again, why Lagos is making maximum use of the opportunity that the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival is offering our state and film professionals. Lagos as you know is the focus of attention this year in Toronto. It is the first African city to be so honoured. Eight films by Lagos State-based filmmakers were selected for red-carpet premieres and screenings at the festival. Think of the mileage that this gives to Lagos and all the filmmakers not only in terms of publicity but business opportunities and exposure on a major global platform. This is why Lagos State has supported the participation of a number of filmmakers and journalists to the festival as well as the provision of a pavilion, for the first time since Nigeria last had a pavilion there 10 years ago.
The issues of okada restriction in the state and the ban on street hawking have continued to generate divergent responses from the public. What is the true situation of things?
The position of the law is very clear and incontrovertible. Commercial motorcycles are restricted from our major roads, for their own safety, the safety of others and for order on our highways which is the duty of government to uphold. Less than 500 roads are affected out of the 9,000 roads in Lagos State. This is the position of the law and the law enforcement officers are ensuring that the law is obeyed and that violators are brought to book. Lagos is a mega city that accommodates all and sundry but there are rules to be maintained. And those who were not allowed to use okadas from commercial purposes in other states cannot come to Lagos and insist on being unruly. The law will not allow it. The same thing goes for the law that prohibits street trading and illegal markets. I think people got excited about this law that has been in operation since 2003 when the governor reiterated that both street hawkers and those who patronize them are liable for a fine or prosecution if they are caught. But that is the law and it is for the good of the public. And like the law restricting okadas on the highways, the focus of this campaign against street hawking is on the highways. And what can be possibly bad in that? You need to know the number of hawkers that get killed, assaulted or robbed on the highways on a daily basis. Is that what we want for Lagos? Certainly not. And so government is not saying you shouldn’t sell. Government is saying not on the highways. And I do not know of any highways in any civilized society where hawking and street trading are unregulated. This is about regulation for public good; for human lives and for safety…strictly on the highways and major streets. We are convinced the law is necessary and it will be enforced in those areas.
It is often hard for the government whether at state or national level to enforce certain laws that deal with the public; some say it is a strategy to induce people for votes when the next election comes. Do you agree with this notion?
No I don’t. Saving lives and ensuring decent public conduct are no gimmicks for votes. Yes, certain laws may be difficult to enforce in totality but does that excuse unacceptable public conduct or debar the government from enforcing the law? I will give you an analogy. The law in the UK is that you will be deported if caught without requisite permits as a visitor or an immigrant. But the Metropolitan Police or Home Office do not necessarily carry our raids everyday looking for illegal immigrants to deport. But once you are caught, you are back home and no amount of emotional blackmail about looking for greener pastures to survive will change that fact. It is the same thing with hawking where it is illegal or riding okadas on restricted areas. Government may not have the capacity to pick every violator at the same time, but once you are caught, you will face the full wrath of the law. I think it is important to educate our people; that is the position of the law and it is for their own good.
What are the honest steps being taken by the government to ensure that flood and erosion problems become history in Lagos State?
There can be no dishonest steps in educating the populace about the fact that being a coastal state with 23% of the state being water, there will be risks during raining seasons. There can be no dishonest steps in reminding the people that throwing wastes into drainage and carnals ultimately cause disruptions and flooding and so the first thing to do is to educate the public, which we are doing ceaselessly. The other is to be very proactive in clearing and freeing the drainages across the state. And this is why we have been able to contain the effects of flooding so far.
Would you like to share a few firsts of Governor Ambode in office that endeared him to the people of Lagos State?
The firsts cut across different areas, without being immodest. Take the ingenuity of the 114roads projects per year for example. This is a first. Road infrastructure is important in a mega city. But implementation has to be strategic in order not to leave anyone behind. And so the 114 roads simply carry everyone along, with two roads constructed in each of the 20 local governments and 37 LCDAs, it means no part of the state will be left behind. Take the helipad services at LASUTH that now means emergencies can be brought to the hospital with the aid of an helicopter. That is a first anywhere in Nigeria. Take the MOU for the construction of the 4th mainland bridge, that is a first. Two flyover bridges being constructed simultaneously at Ajah and Abule Egba in the first two years of an administration and a third to be constructed at Agege Pen Cinema already approved, that is a first. The Light Up Lagos Project that has connected previously neglected communities in Ibeju Lekki to the national grid after 16 years, that is a first. The Lagos City Marathon that held in February was the first of its kind in Lagos after 30 years. For the first time, the Laws of Lagos can now be accessed and purchased online; a DNA forensic laboratory has been approved and will be delivered by December-that is a first for any state in Nigeria and the symbolic importance of having the state’s executive council meeting in Badagry as we did in July, to say that the apparatus of government can function from any part of the state. That was unprecedented. A celebrated first. The list is endless.
As an insider, if you are to describe the personality of the governor, how should the people see him?
I think my description of the governor fits the perception of him that the public has. He’s a compassionate and unassuming man and a damn good manager of men and money.
Did your appointment as commissioner come as a surprise and what was your first reaction to the announcement?
No, it did not necessarily come as a surprise. If it did at all, I would say it was a pleasant surprise. Recall that I was the Director of Media and Communications to the Governor during the campaigns in 2014 and 2015. Public service is not necessarily an easy venture, especially in this clime. But every opportunity that demands quality contribution to a good cause is welcomed.
What has been a public official taken away from you?
Well, nothing that I can’t sacrifice for the time being. Other than the fact that there is a huge demand on my time now ever than before, I have tried to keep my circles constant, either at the family level or friends and leisure levels.
As a journalist, has coming into politics afforded you to see things from different perspectives, given how public servants are rated by the media?
Yes. It has broadened my perspectives and deepened my knowledge about how government works. I think that when journalists have the opportunity to serve and return to their profession, they will become better journalists and public commentators and will be better suited to offer useful suggestions or critiques because they have a better understanding of the issues that confront public officers on a daily basis.