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I’m ready to reposition, make Lagos work again- Sanwo – Olu

sanwoolu and hamzat

The story, this season, of Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, can be  described as one of calibrated contradictions. His demure demeanour instantly casts him as verdant, a green horn of sorts; and one who has been described as a factotum by some, a label which may have, indeed, been useful.

For, when a man who was stereotyped as unfit begins to shatter the myths woven around his persona, by speaking assuredly and intelligibly, he deserves to be assisted.  He met a group of senior editors, last week,  for a no-holds-barred interactive session. This piece presents Babajide Sanwo-Olu unhinged. •Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu and Kadiri Obafemi Hamzat (right) From their reactions, just before, during and immediately after the event, it was obvious that most of the editors who  attended the briefing did so primarily to satisfy their curiosity – they wanted to assess and evaluate the man, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate for Lagos State.  He was accompanied to the briefing by Dr. Kadiri Obafemi Hamzat, his running mate.

Resplendent in his simple, black  Buba  and  Sokoto, sewn in Igbo style, with a red cap to match, Sanwo-Olu could pass for a young, successful Igbo businessman who has just  secured a multi-billion naira importation deal.   He, too, was to comment on his satorial flamboyance and the importance of appearance, using his tailor of many years as metaphor. Although he looked gaunt, that is his stature as bestowed by God Almighty, the saying that wonderful things come in small packages could very well be apt for Sanwo-Olu.   The shaggy beards were off; and he had a new optical frame and clearer eye glasses.   Even he admitted that some re-packaging had become necessary to cause a re-presentation.   To be honest, he looked cleaner and better.   In fact, the initial campaign posters in most parts of Lagos created some discount to his persona. Meeting a group of very senior journalists in Lagos, last week, Sanwo-Olu and  Hamzat arrived a bit late. The reason for the late commencement had two narratives.   One was that the team had to attend to an urgent humanitarian need.   Another had it that it needed to quickly branch off at Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s Bourdillon residence.

Between both reasons, one or both may have kept both men late. Billed for 10:30, it was temporarily shifted to 11:30 that morning. But at about 11:10, Sanwo-Olu and  Hamzat stepped in. First, Sanwo-Olu tried to warm his way round by having a handshake with every journalist in the room. Then he opted to sit at the middle seat on the fourth row to your left as you entered the conference room. Why would a man or whom the High Table had been reserved  opt to sit in the middle of the pack? To this writer, it was obvious that he needed to warm his way into the hearts of the  editors, not knowing how the session would go.   Also, the controversial manner and nature of his emergence, which now appears as having been resolved, and which had poisoned the environment, needed some detoxification.

Therefore, anything that would tone down the angst was in order. But he was overruled by the editors on this matter of sitting arrangement; that he needed to be on the hot seat at the High Table where all eyes would be on him – and take questions. That move by Sanwo-Olu created its own mild drama which calmed frayed nerves as a result of the late commencement of the session.   Introduction completed, it was time for Sanwo-Olu  to address the expectant body.   After an initial Freudian slip of referring to the media as the Fourth Estate of the Republic, mumbling some unclear words in the process, Sanwo-Olu  soon became his own man.   He may not be particularly cerebral in the flamboyant sense of the word; but he communicated with effective clarity. The initial stage fright which probably caused the Freudian slip was gone. Barely three to five minutes after he started talking, it was as if a new spirit had transmogrified him.

In clean, crisp English, Sanwo-Olu regaled his audience about his early days as a staff  member of Shell Petroleum Corporation.   You could see the typical Lagos boy swagger in his  comportment now.   And he started flowing freely. Early Days He began his presentation by attempting to  defang his critics who had sold a narrative which borders on the inquisitorial:   Where is this Sanwo-Olu coming from? “Let me first address the issue of where I am coming from because some people have been asking as if I just dropped from nowhere”, he said. “I studied seismic survey and upon graduation and Youth Service, I started working with Shell.   In those days, we used to travel to Bayelsa and Rivers to prospect and, in those years, I was able to travel to  Bomadi, Ekeremo, Torukere among others  (in fact, he reeled out about 15 Bayelsa/Rivers communities he’d visited while at Shell). “One of the things I learnt at that time was the need for effective engagement with people. Then, we would go to a community and, without asking them what their needs were, we will just do a borehole to provide water.   But the people may not actually need your water, so they just look at you.

So, when the tap becomes faulty, a repair that would not cost more than N500 would never be effected by the people because their buy-in was not sought before the service was provided and, therefore, they just allowed the water to waste away. “It is that same lesson that is guiding what we are bringing to the table for the governance of Lagos State.   We are not saying that those there today don’t know what they are doing.   But as I’m talking to you, we already have people out there going round and polling, asking people, seeking their views and feeling their pulse on what they think is best for them so that by the time we come in, by God’s grace, we hit the ground running.” The Administrator After dabbling into quite a number of things including but not limited to banking, the Lagos APC governorship candidate  said it was Femi Pedro (then deputy governor) who took him along into the government of Lagos State from First Atlantic Bank.

Before this move, he was Treasurer at Lead Merchant Bank between 1994 and 1997; later, Head, Foreign Money Market at United Bank for Africa and Treasurer at First Atlantic Bank. From being  Special Adviser on Corporate Matters in 2004, he was soon appointed as acting  Commissioner for Economic Planning & Budget less than a year after he joined the administration of then Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu. When ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) started reporting to him as budget commissioner, it also became part of his brief to track and provide  intelligent analysis of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) by the various government agencies and parastatals, including the Board of Internal Revenue (BIR), for executive consideration and policymaking; as well as preparation and publication of the Lagos State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (LASEEDS). In 2006, he was appointed the Commissioner for Commerce & Industry.

By 2007, he’d become  the Commissioner for Establishment, Training & Pensions.   He  was involved in the establishment of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, the New Projects Initiation & Promotions Committee, the Lekki Free Trade Zone and chaired the Consultants Board. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode appointed Sanwo-Olu as CEO of the  Lagos State Development & Property Corporation (LSDPC). According to his profile, “several housing projects commenced in the Victoria Island-Lekki axis within few months of his resumption, while similar projects – Courtland Villa, Igbokusu Lekki and Bayview Estate, Elegushi Lekki to mention a few were executed in quick succession, under the Joint Venture and Private Public Partnership (PPP) model operational in the State.

One of the flagship interventions of the LSDPC under Sanwo-Olu’s watch was recommencement of work on the abandoned 122-unit Lekki Apartments, which is currently near-completion”. Indeed, after a very long time, Sanwo-Olu said it was during his tenure as CEO of LSDPC that some form of dividends were beginning to accrue to  Lagos State  government. He took time to explain the contradictions between wanting to do well, needing to do well, meaning to do well and having the capacity to do well. It is in the area of capacity that he insists should be the vehicle for good governance. After speaking for almost 60minutes, it was time to ask questions. Interaction A colleague asked about the relevance of the Abule-Egba bridge, wondering how many Lagosians benefit from the project. Another asked why the inner roads in Alimosho were not being attended to – even  introducing a selfish slant about his street. The issue of Makoko and the squalor therein, as well as the lives of those residing in the area, was highlighted.

How to institute a process of getting feedback was asked of Sanwo-Olu. One of the editors insisted he didn’t have a question but offered his avuncular contribution to Sanwo-Olu on the need to avoid the banana peel that appears to have caused the discount of the incumbent. Yet,  another colleague turned his question time to a full-scale interview session.   Although he didn’t enact a Jim Acosta/Donald Trump exchange,  he listed almost 11points, ranging from tax compliance to property tax, accountability, infrastructure development, civil service reforms, Fourth Mainland Bridge and  ease of doing business. Interestingly, Sanwo-Olu, along with Hamzat, who took time to take notes while the questions were being asked, captured the points when it was time to respond. “If I have to respond effectively to all the points you raised my brother – and which somebody described as a full interview session – I would need at least 30minutes to explain each.

But I will deal with the issue of ease of dong business,  for instance”, Sanwo-Olu said. He  responded appropriately, but was honest enough to admit that every matter cannot be attended to by government at once. According to him, whereas some states have the capacity to deal with 12 or 15 deals all-year-round, Lagos, because of its size, attraction for business opportunities as well as its potentials, may have over 300 deals. “So, if in Lagos we succeed in closing some 250 deals, and another state with just 10 deals is able to see through eight or nine in the entire year, that state is rated above Lagos in percentage terms”, he said. Explaining further, he said there had been objections to this template of measurement but it has never served Lagos well.

“But what we are doing is to also improve on the processes and live with  them.   It doesn’t mean that placement on the table of  ease of doing business means we are not making progress; it’s just the quantum of deals involved and we are going to keep improving on that”. The session went well Sanwo-Olu and  Hamzat took time to clinically take care of the explanation for the Abule-Egba bridge, for instance. Hamzat went into the dynamics of traffic management, the challenge of vehicular turn to the right and its complications for traffic management globally; and why every action of government, particularly in the area of roads and bridge construction, is almost always products of well thought out processes. On Makoko, Sanwo-Olu disclosed that he was billed to visit the place this week after an initial visit to the area.

The candidate  said government would explore the best possible option for the people, explaining that a lot of education and enlightenment would be required to, for instance, get the people to  buy-in on a possible relocation or  redevelopment of the place without creating a choking atmosphere of pain. The question of Area Boys, that band of unavoidable but sometimes handful boys, was tossed. To that, Sanwo-Olu made it clear that administration after administration had  been trying to sort that out.   He said he met a group of Area Boys just a day before and engaged them.

“Some of these guys you see have challenges and the best we can do is to understand them and explore ways of engaging them for usefulness to both themselves and the society.   We have commenced a process of conducting a census so that we will have a data bank.   We have to situate the challenge in its proper context, ranging from those with drugs issues, laziness, unemployment,  cultural issues and so on.   But these are our people and, as I said, I met some of them yesterday and I’m still going to meet another set tomorrow or later this evening”, he said. On  the advice on how to give Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, Sanwo-Olu  thanked the journalist who gave the advice. While responding to  a  question, and needing to make reference to Hamzat, Sanwo-Olu  espoused the intellect of his running mate whom he said has PhD in Systems something  something… this elicited a round  of  laughter.

After the interactive session, Hamzat, just before giving the vote of thanks, explained how government works. For a man whose know-how in information technology served three of the world’s largest banks – Citibank, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley Inc., as System Design Lead, Design, Implementation and Alignment of I.T Strategy with Business Direction, and as Consultant on System and Infrastructural Upgrade – Hamzat came across as an individual well-grounded in his trade. The bond between both men was very visible as each tried to complement the other while responding to some of the questions.   By the time Hamzat had finished explaining the desirability of the Abule-Egba  bridge, the thinking that went into it and the potential benefits for residents,  commuters  and motorists, his audience could not but appreciate his depth of knowledge. According to an extract from his official profile, Hamzat’s “aptitude for conception and implementation of defining initiatives and projects, which came in torrents, could not be ignored.

Rather, his perspicacity was put to more use by deploying him to the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure between 2011 and 2015, during Fashola’s second term. It may be important to highlight that the Ministry had no Commissioner in the first term of the administration, but a Special Adviser, who was directly supervised by the Governor. This was because of the importance of the Ministry to the Governor and the urgent need for a revolution in state-wide infrastructural development”. After all said and done, it appeared many things were said and many things are to be done. The Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu and Dr. Kadiri Obafemi Hamzat, who addressed  journalists, last week, based on their pedigree, experience and proven capacity, appear set to do good for Lagosians – if the team wins the governorship election next year.  Vanguard

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