BABAJIDE SANWO-OLU

Nigeria 2021 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Executive Governor of Lagos State, about internet access, security, and international investment in the region.

What were your administration's main achievements during its first two years in office?

What has guided our executions and driven our achievements is our development agenda, which we named THEMES Agenda. THEMES is an acronym for: traffic management and transportation, health and environment, education and technology, making Lagos a 21st century economy, entertainment and tourism, and security and governance. On the traffic management and transportation side, we have built a robust public transportation system and introduced high-capacity buses into the system, and we are about to introduce additional 100 high-capacity buses. We are also launching 500 First and Last Mile (FLM) buses, with the goal of making the number of buses hit 5000 in a year, or so. This will be complemented by an additional 1000 taxis in our LagosRide Scheme. We are also building four bus terminal stations. In the future, we plan to introduce green buses. For waterways, we are working with the private sector to build 15 jetties, six or seven of which to be commissioned by the end of 2021. A journey that would normally take up to 1.5 hours by road can take 40 minutes by waterways. With regards to rail infrastructure, we have invested more in the last two years than previous administrations did in the last six. We are hoping to complete the blue and red line by the end of 2022. We just started Phase I of the blue line, which is 27km. We built six stations, and there are two remaining. The red line covers the federal government corridor from Lagos to Ibadan and Kano. We also want to improve signaling, and are installing traffic lights and line marking to provide citizens with a better experience on roads. On health and environment, Lagos has remained the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. We have received support from the private sector, built capacity in our health workers, built isolation centers and developed our health facilities. COVID-19 has helped us boost our health infrastructure rapidly. We are building a mental wellness and rehabilitation facility with a capacity for 500 patients as well as a radiology and orthopedic center. We also plan to build the first Africa's Institute for Infectious Diseases and Research Center. We are pushing the health insurance scheme so that health can be accessible and affordable. In the last two years, a world-class center for cancer treatment and an infectious diseases specialist hospital were built in Lagos in collaboration with the private sector. We will also continue to ensure that Lagos remains clean, with beautification projects and local interventions. We are working with the private sector to make sure that it is an ongoing process. We have cleaned up three landfill sites, and they are being completely modernized. We are also building one or two additional landfill sites. We are also building significant drainage infrastructure on our roads. As for education and technology, in the past two years, we built over 500 new classrooms, recruited 3,000 new teachers, and made sure our children have better learning outcomes. Our philosophy is 'leave no child behind'. We distributed abut 80,000 handheld devices. Technology is a key component for us, and we are deploying 3,600km of fiber optic in Lagos that will connect fiber to our schools, hospitals, and public buildings, which means access to internet will be significantly cheaper. Eventually, it will get to homes and increase the speed of the internet. We want Lagos to be the technology hub of Africa. Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy to us means making housing as affordable as possible, as well as expanding our energy supply. On energy, we are doing direct intervention with the federal government because it is still a nationally controlled industry, though we are trying to get off-grid generation. We are doing 1,200 streetlights with high LED, so our streets are brighter. In entertainment and tourism, we have worked to create a tourism fund and started the Lagos Creative Academy to train Scriptwriters, Actresses, Actors, Newscasters and Producers. The Academy is conducting thousands of online training programmes with trainers from all over the world, all of which, are funded by our government, though we are using the private sector to run it. We constituted a committee to assess the needs movie producers and directors for support so they can produce many more movies. Many people have great stories to tell, but do not have sponsors. We are also working with the Lagos Employment Trust Fund to support entrepreneurs with different skills, for example providing grants to people developing software.

What is the state government doing in the areas of agriculture and security?

We have set a five-year master plan for agriculture and want to enable the sector. We are building the biggest rice mill in the country, and we want to have interventions in the red meat value chain, which is a massive industry. We want to add value to the sector. We also want to support the fishing industry and explore urban farming. We cannot do all these without a secure and safe environment, so we have continued to support the Nigerian police and the entire security architecture in the state. We want to demonstrate transparency and accountability, and show that we are a responsible government.

What is your message to the international investor community?

No one will help develop the nation if one does not start; investors need to feel it is a safe place to be. We have attracted more investments in the last two years than in the last five years. The Dangote refinery is the single-biggest construction site project in the world right now, and it is a USD16-billion investment in the eastern part of Lagos. We are building the largest port in West Africa, Lekki Port, a deep seaport that can handle four times the size of vessels compared to the current size allowed at the Apapa ports . We are also ensuring there is a secure and safe environment, with increased commitment to the Ease of Doing Business. Not having clear regulatory frameworks can slow down investments. We have an active court of arbitration, and we are digitalizing our records so that people can have access to titles and contract approvals easily. We are making sure that people can travel from one part of the state to another freely, easily, and safely. Lagos airport receives 60-65% of international travels in the country. We are also building the JK Randle museum in partnership with the British museum.

Which sectors present the largest opportunities for investors?

We see growth in technology, which is why we are building the metropolitan fiber optic network. We see great potential in the financial industry as well, and we expect the sector to grow further. Real estate in Lagos is always a sector where one can participate in. Because of the population, goods that are consumer driven will always do well in an environment such as ours. People need food, clothes, and need to move around. It is also an educated market; the level of literacy is far higher than other parts of West Africa.