Second Term: We Are Focused,Doing A Good Job…I Will Let The Citizens Speak-Babajide Sanwo-Olu

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Friday, speaks on what Lagosians should expect about Red and Blue line rails, Lagos Urban Transport Master Plan, ongoing projects in different parts of the State, security and 2023 Lagos governorship elections, among other issues…

 What should we expect and what is the focus for Lagos concerning the red and Blue line rails?

There have been very deep thoughts through this. There is a strong master plan, which we call the Lagos Urban Transport Master Plan.

In that master plan, we figured out that a massive city like Lagos needs to have an efficient transportation system and we are blessed naturally with water in Lagos. We have bus transportation. We are planning to have extensive waterway transportation. And of course, rail transportation. It is only when you can utilise all of the components of transportation that you can efficiently run a megacity like this type.

 A lot of people usually say that it is only Lagos that doesn’t have metro system or a rail system. I was in government before we started the BRT. It is the same concept on the road. The high-capacity buses are expected to move a lot of people on dedicated corridors so that people can get to their destination quicker. Same with the waterway infrastructure.

We are dredging and we are building 17 stations, small terminals as we speak. We have acquired about 22 ferries; 50-seater, 40-seater and 30-seater to move people around waterways. These waterways facilities are a bit quicker to fix and we are doing that. But rail line has been the real big one that we are just struggling with.

I dare say that we are about the only sub-national anywhere in the world that is being audacious to build a rail infrastructure by itself. People will say Lagos doesn’t have a rail line; they say we should go and check Ethiopia, Egypt and Senegal.

 I say to them, those are countries; you are right. In Addis Ababa, it is the country of Ethiopia that is building it. So, Lagos felt we need to have our mark there. While growing up, we missed it at some point; about 30, 40 years ago. So, we have been very audacious in this conversation, and we said let us actually do this.

It was during the Babatunde Raji Fashola government that we started it and I need to give credit to that.  As cabinet members, we said in our lives, we have not even seen the rail being built in Lagos before. So, let us try and build one.

We started in 2008 and 2009. What we know today as the Red Line was the existing alignment that we thought would be an easier path at that time but it was difficult getting Federal Government approval, because those were Federal Government lines. So, we said let us go through a difficult one, which is the Blue Line.

 The Blue line is the one that we have on the Lagos-Badagry Express Road. What we said to the Federal Government then was that we are going to rebuild the road from four lanes to 10 lanes and we took a wide alignment to keep a rail track in the middle. So, if you go on that express road; that is why the rail tracks are in the middle. But we took a wide alignment on that and we are building five lanes here, five lanes there.

 I am about to complete that road now. It is from Orile to Okokomaiko. It has been very difficult, but the contractor is rounding off now and we are also going to hand over that road. On that rail corridor, we have the Blue Line. We have done the first phase of the Blue Line, which is from Mile 2 to Marina. Our current administration is very lucky because we are starting the Red Line from the scratch. That would be handed over at the end of this year.

The Red Line is the existing rail corridor that uses Lagos-Ibadan alignment, which belongs to the Federal Government. We looked at the composition of the track and checked the need to have a rail track that fits the kind of intra-city train we want.

We have a standard gauge. We are building eight stations in all the corridors from Alagbado, Iju, Agege, Ikeja, Oshodi, Mushin, Yaba and Ebute-Meta, which is the first phase of it. The second phase of it will now get to Iddo and eventually terminate at Marina.

It will do lagoon crossing to Marina. So, it is Phase 1 of the Red line project that is the talk of the town now. We have started and we are going to complete it. We will also be completing the Blue line. So, what Lagosians are expecting from us would be actively working trains; two rail lines by the third or fourth quarter of the year.

We would have started testing by the fourth quarter. If we don’t bring passengers on, it would be for security reasons.

But the train would be on track by the fourth quarter. The terminals and stations would be ready by the fourth quarter and it would probably just be things around communication that we are trying to test. Things around operational training and all sort that we would be trying to test. So, we will probably be doing some test run by the fourth quarter.

If we can get people on by the first quarter of next year, you will see tickets been issued on our rail tracks. This is the transportation master plan for Lagos, where the rail will work, BRT will continue to increase in numbers and the waterways infrastructure would be functioning. The beauty of it is that, we are trying to have a common system where it would be one card that you can use to access all of these networks.

It is the same card that you can use on the bus; the same card you can use on the waterways and the same card you can use on the tracks. There would be backend settling and that is almost happening already now with the Cowry Card being used on the buses that we are also trying to get them to use on the ferries that we have.

What you said is an extensive plan. For a lot of people that have to do business in Lagos, they wonder if it is goodbye to the days of the infamous Lagos traffic…

That is the plan and the vision. How you need to look at it strategically is how efficient are people on the road? How much journey time can we reduce? How do we get our people a little bit more efficient on the road? Time is money and we need to move millions of people from one corridor to the other. So, the vision is to reduce traffic time, reduce gridlocks on the road and be able to do what we call better journey planning, where you can predict journey which can take you 25 minutes or 30 minutes.

The Red and Blue lines are just two of the seven rail lines talking about the master plan. It definitely will cost some infrastructure and it is going to cost some Lagosians one thing or the other. Is there a plan to get people to own this process, so that it is not just government that is doing?

This is spot on and that is why the government has to continually get the trust of its citizens. Let them know the plan or things you have for them, so that, even in their own planning of life, they also can also plan.

 For example, if people know that there is going to be a train from Alagbado and they are working in Oyingbo or Yaba and they see for certain that in one year or two years, it is going to happen; you can actually buy a plot of land not far off from the train station, which might be cheaper than having to stay in a property that is expensive in the city.

 Once you see that plans of government, you can actually take an investment and say I am going to put up my bungalow just 10 minutes away from the train because I know once Sanwo-Olu gives commitment and the train works, one year down the line, my journey time is just 20 minutes. You can plan.

With the government communicating with the citizens and giving them understanding of what our plans are, what our visions for them will be because this is not something that you sleep and wake up, expecting it would be there. We need to continue to communicate and those are some of the things we are doing.

In the master plan, actually there are about seven rail lines. There is Green Line, Yellow Line, Purple Line and Orange Line. What we are doing now on those ones is extensive feasibility studies and traffic count. For it to make a lot of economic sense, the subsidy would come in at some point in term of the government having a scheme in it. But for it to even make economic sense, you have to do extensive studies and some of those feasibility studies need to take two seasons. You need to do a wet season and dry season.

This effort is going on and we have both local and international consultants doing that for us on the remaining four lines. So, we are hoping the report would be ready by the middle of the year, so that we can communicate and say that there are still other rail lines coming that would take an additional two to three years for us to complete. And these are the areas we are looking at.

 Part of the promise you made about this project is that, it is also going to provide employment. What are the employment opportunities for young people?

It is enormous. You can see what happens in other parts of the world. In fact from next month, we are going to be doing extensive adverts and that is why we need to get all of our young engineers onboard. We will need electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and people that are going to be trained as platform operators, ticket operators and all sorts of skills that would be required in their hundreds.

 Train operation is not something that you just keep under your carpet. A lot of jobs will be created directly and indirectly. Indirectly would come from all of the additional commercial investments along the rail corridors. If you come out of the train stations, you are rushing home and you have only 15 minutes, some sort of commercials activities would come around some of those train stations where you can quickly buy your groceries and you can do your last-minute shopping before you do your last mile to your home.

So, we are looking at all of the real estate and commercial activities coming up, which will also come with job creations. These are very massive infrastructure developments that usually happen around a train station. You know the buzz that usually comes out of the train station and all of these things would be around.

Don’t we need to be worried about maintenance of the rail lines?

We need to and that is part of the conversations we had during our trip last week. We went to a city called Istanbul in Turkey. I was very impressed with the level of rail infrastructure there. We looked at a city that has similar demography as Lagos with a huge population. Istanbul is actually the biggest in terms of population, almost 17 to 18 million, in Europe and it has a massive metro infrastructure of over 150 stations.

We met with the leadership team of the metro line. Late Thursday, I met with the Turkish Ambassador, just to also ventilate and validate that relationship.

One of the things they have said to us is that, we can have that city relationship where training can occur, because they have a huge training facility where you can send people down to train them. Chinese are also willing to take in a lot of people back to China for trainings. We need to commence the training five or six months before the actual activities start, so that they can know how to maintain some of these assets.

We will also have in-house onboarding skills that will need to come in. We need to quickly ramp up ability and capacity to be able to train our own citizens, so that they can own it because we are going to have massive stabling yards to park the trains and do quick fixes. There will be general maintenance; there will be routine maintenance. So there is a massive training that will happen. We need to train people who are fitters. Those are the kind of soft skills that we need to ramp up and put in a position to fix.

Safety is critical in this. We have seen how people don’t seem to get on with the programme and all those crossings and not understand how they should conduct themselves around those areas, what are you doing about that?

For an intra-city infrastructure like this, we need to build what we call overpasses. If you go around Lagos now, there is a bit of traffic in some places. I apologise to my citizens. It is because of the kind of infrastructure that the rail requires. A train will move on a grid; it is expensive to put them at an elevated level. It is a lot cheaper when we build overpasses for vehicles.

 If you go to Oyingbo, where we call Old Yaba Road, we are building a proper vehicular bridge, so that the train can move underneath the bridge. Vehicles and humans will move on top and trains will go underneath. If you go to Yaba, we are building another overpass there, from Tejuoso into Yaba. We are going to complete it before the end of the year so that the train can go underneath. If you go to Mushin, if you are crossing from Mushin-Ojurin to Fadeyi, we are building an overpass. Same in Ikeja and Ayoola Coker in Iju. We are concurrently building five overpasses; these are brand new vehicular bridges so that when the trains are moving, we are not stopping vehicles manually to let the trains pass.

Why this is important is because we are looking at 10 to15 minutes frequency for train movement and we can’t keep stopping vehicles at the same rate. The Federal Government will be executing the overpass at Jibowu axis and the contract has been awarded.

Once we do all of that, issues around safety will be completely eliminated, because the vehicle on top and the trains will be moving underneath. That way, there will not be any conflicts arising from the movement of either the vehicles or trains. But on the Blue Line, there has been a lot of financial pain on us.

The rail tracks have to get elevated. It will be a bridge all the way from Orile to Marina on the Blue Line. The train will be moving on top of a bridge all through.

When these trains come onboard, at what cost will they come, not just to the Lagos State Government but also to the people of Lagos? How much do you think it is going to cost to be able to ride in these trains?

As a government, we’ll need to do what we call heavy-lifting. There is no private investor that will come and help you develop your infrastructure.

So, the government must carry the burden of building the track, building train stations and all of the communication gadgets that come with it. In some cases, the government also has to be able to deal with rolling stock, just so it can stimulate the private sector to come in. So, what we see as part of our funding is that, we see it as if we are building a road from one part of the city to another.

That is why we can make those investments to build train tracks, terminals and ensure that our citizens have that. Those are some things on the balance sheet of the state, which we cannot pass to the citizens.

The kind of things that will be passed on will be the maintenance cost when operations begin. And these include: how long will it really cost to truly maintain a train and its movement to and fro, the staff salary, lightening and such like.

 Those are the numbers we will require, as we will not need to ask them to do cost recovery on an already constructed infrastructure. It will not come at anything that will kill the budget. By the way, these are long term investments; they don’t have a five-year depreciation like a vehicle that you ought to do a cost recovery for over five or six years. A train is set for 30 to 40 years, so you have a longer cost recovery. It is not something you need to be able to kill your citizens for.

Where subsidy can come in is where you have to look and that may be the time of the day when there is a rush hour as seen in every part of the world. The cost could come at a slight premium, so that if you don’t need to travel at the time when people are truly rushing to get to work or school, you can stay back for an 11am train ride rather than rushing alongside people in-transit for a 7am ride, which is traffic time.

 Those are some of the fare matrix that can be put into it to make sure that it is accessible and affordable. You know affordability is critical because it is a mass movement that reduces total cost. One car in the train can take up to 150 to 200 people in 15 to 20 minutes maximum. So, people can sit, stand and people can hop in and hop off; so it won’t take so much. We believe that the cost will come down significantly for the citizens. I do not think they will be breaking their bank. I can assure you it will be very affordable and very accessible.

Referring to affordability, how much would you think a ride would cost an average rider during an off-peak period and peak period?

From top of my head, I can say it might not be more than N200 or N250. It probably would not be more than that. I really can’t be exact on the figure, because the fare structure would be where you are joining to where you are alighting. But typically, it will not be more than what you are running on regular BRT lines today.

For it to be accessible, affordability is critical, for people to want to make it a better option. A train ride will be quicker; instead of you staying one hour on the road, it is going to take you 20 minutes or 25 minutes with train.

 Affordability is critical and I can assure you that certainly, it cannot be in thousands, like saying you are going to use N5,000 on a train journey. It will still be in your regular N200, N300 journey and that is the kind of numbers we are looking at. If our operators say it is more expensive to operate, we can do a financing mind trick and give them a longer tenure time to defray cost but keep it affordable for our citizens because it is for them and all about them.

Let’s take on Badagry. What exactly is the state of the road between Mile 2 and Badagry, which, we understand, has been in the state of disrepair? What exactly is its current state and what are the plans for that part of the road?

As I did mention, we are doing a 10-lane highway on that corridor. We are completing the stretch to Okokomaiko before the end of the second quarter this year, which is a rigid pavement with four bridges that cross Alakija, Trade Fair, LASU Junction and an overpass which people can use to get to the other side. The stretch from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko will be completed fully; that is about 18 kilometre to 20 kilometre.

 The Federal Government is working with a construction company to fix the stretch from Okokomaiko to Agbara and there is on-site activity on that part as we speak. Once we get to Agbara to Badagry, as soon as the Federal Government is done with the construction, it is a smooth road.

The only part remaining is from Okokomaiko to Agbara which the Federal Government is handling. The entire Badagry stretch is a Federal Government road; it is part of the West African International corridor. We took an audacious position several years ago to rebuild that road and we took it from a four-lane and we have developed it to a 10-lane highway. We have an incredible and remarkable work on that road.

There are other things we are doing for Badagry. Our citizens in that part need to know that I am building three jetties in Badagry to fully utilise the waterways from there to other parts of Lagos. Two of the jetties have been completed and people have started using them.

The third one, which we called the Badagry-Marina, will also be completed very soon. So we have 3 jetties already in Badagry, meaning that you can move from a place like Ikoyi-Falomo and Liverpool in Apapa and straight to Badagry in about 20 to 25min. So, you don’t have to come in on the express road. We have created that alternative for people.

 I have moved from Ikoyi straight to Badagry before in 35minutes. You saw what Nigerian Green Eagles did last year when they move through waterways to Benin Republic. So, it is the same kind of thing that we are talking about and it is safe and secure. Those are the kind of alternatives that we are providing.

Your residents in Ikorodu are raising concerns on ongoing projects, such as Oba Sekumade Road leading to Ogolonto, the Igbogbo-Baiyeku Road and the one that leads to Old Shagamu, Agric-Isawo…

We are doing several projects in Ikorodu and you just mentioned some of them. Oba Sekumade Road is around 80 to 90 per cent completed; it is a rigid pavement.

The thickness of the concrete is higher. We are building massive drainage on that corridor, because the road usually gets flooded.

The drainage part is completed and we are going to be commissioning the road by the second quarter of this year. Agric-Isawo Road is a knotty one; it is a long stretch of road that goes all the way towards Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. One of the things we did not do very well, was that we took a wider right-of-way. Meaning that we are trying to build three-three lanes on either sides, whereas we need only two-two lanes.

The contractor is back on track there; the road has been stabilised. My fear is that, they need to ensure that they quickly put asphalt on it before the rain comes on. It is only on Agric-Isawo Road that I get called out. We are going to complete it as well.

At Igbogbo-Baiyeku Road, a similar contractor is also on it and we are also assuring them that these are projects that are of great concern to us. We have done Ijede Road; we have completed and handed it over. We have done the one going to Gberigbe and we have handed that one over too.

Ikorodu is such a massive sub-urban area with tiny road. We are just opening up and we are making things available there. In Ikorodu as well, we have three jetties that we have built for them to give them alternatives of moving by the waterways from Ipakodo Jetty to Ibeshe Jetty. People can also come in from other parts of the city, using the waterways infrastructure that we have. So, I can assure my Ikorodu citizens that they know we are on-site, they know our contractors are working, we just have to push them a bit more so that they can complete the Agric-Isawo Road.

 On the road towards Shagamu, we are doing reconstruction at a place called Ita-Elewa, which has a knotty roundabout. People will tell you that we have removed the roundabout; we are doing a complete traffic reconstruction on that road. The road from that place to Shagamu is a Federal road, and I understand that it’s been awarded. What we are doing is palliative on the road to get commuters to the Polytechnic area.

Debt stock of Lagos, since 2015, has more than doubled. In terms of cost, how is the government financing these capital projects? Is it out of pocket or borrowing?

You cannot eat an omelette without breaking the egg. That is a difficult and well-thought-out decision I had to take. I have extensive experience in finance and banking and I know how some of these things are. I also know what the GDP of Lagos is and I know the GDP to debt stock is in terms of sustainability; it is the ability to be able to meet your obligation. It is true that our debt is higher compared to where we were about six to seven years ago, but the truth is that we are still the most sustainable state. Sustainable in terms of what our numbers are.

We were meant to be having like a 40 per cent sustainable ratio, we are still doing 21 to 22 per cent. We still have a lot of room in terms of sustainability. You can see what our Internally Generated Revenues (IGRs) are on a monthly basis.

To answer the question, we are doing a combination of a lot of things. We are pushing on our IGR, our ability to raise revenue internally and we are also talking to our lenders and the beauty of the kind of the lending model is that, we are looking at local borrowing at single digit for 10 to15 years. So, if you are looking at borrowing for infrastructure that will last you 20 to 30 years and you are doing a complete match in terms of 10 to 15 years of borrowing at single-digit, talking of eight or nine per cent, it is incredible and you cannot miss it.

Failure to do that and to take the difficult decision now, inflation will catch up with you one year down the line; a road that you are supposed to build today at N1billion in one year turns to N3billion. So you need to take that hard decision now, lock it in and make sure that you do not have a variation on any of those numbers and keep it straight with the contractor.

Do you have an idea of the numbers for the rail infrastructure?

For the rail infrastructure, we are borrowing and that is why we are excited that we will complete it because we have all the financing to get to the end of it. In terms of what we are looking at, we are looking at N150 billion to be able to complete both the Red Line and the Blue Line. That is like the kind of bucket number we have been able to raise from the debt market.

What is the update on the proposed Fourth Mainland Bridge?

That is also an interesting one; that is one of the legacies that we are also going to be leaving before the end of our four-year tenure. Where we are is that, we have paid the final bid for the consulting. We are doing a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model with the Fourth Mainland Bridge, and we have gotten concessionaires.

 We are at the last stage now. We started with 35 companies, showing interest in building the bridge. We have reduced that to three now. So, with the final three now, we are at the final of the big process to be able to identify the concessionaires. The Fourth Mainland Bridge is a 37-kilometre ring-road from Lekki-Ajah axis, crossing the water, going all the way behind Ikorodu, and eventually terminating on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. It is like an M25 out of London. It is massive and huge. We believe that with that construction, a lot of intermodal movement will happen very quickly in Lagos.

We believe that we will identify a concessionaire and do groundbreaking before the end of the second quarter. I believe that we will identify the concessionaire before the end of the first quarter and do the groundbreaking before the middle of this year. Once the groundbreaking is done, then we can begin to see the development. It will probably take two to three years or thereabouts for the construction.

Big cities deal with security issues, traffic robbery and so on. What is the thinking about ensuring these kinds of challenges don’t pop up any further?

That is why we are building what we call the Smart City component. In our Smart City infrastructure, we are trying to escalate CCTVs. When people know there is a high chance that they get caught or there is a back-end solution where you can review what had happened, people will know that they need to desist from doing such. So, what we are doing is that we are trying to ensure that once we build the fiber infrastructure, we will have CCTV. We are going to 2,000 but we have deployed like 250 right now and it is majorly for traffic management and the kind of the things you mentioned now, where we can give the information to the Nigerian Police for them to track on.

You campaigned for former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu yesterday, what about yourself? What is happening to your second term?

As we speak, we have done two-thirds of our time; it is about 66.7 per cent, as we count it every day. The field is not opened yet, the race has not been declared opened but for me, it is about ensuring that these four years I have promised my citizens, I put every bit of my sweat into it.

 Are you going to vie for a second term?

I will let the citizens speak. I will ask and consult. I will ask them what they think about it. Those are some of the things and that is how you get it done. Keep your focus on it, try and finish very strong. When it is time for us to do all the politicking, we will do it. It is available for you. The constitution says you can do a second term.

What are the chances?

I think the citizens will do and I think we are doing a very good job. I dare to say so. I think the citizens know what they will be missing if they don’t let us continue and ramp up all of the things we are doing.

That sounds like one good term deserves another

Well, then, you can say that.

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