By Ebenezer Ishola
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu played the quintessential salesman on Monday, reeling off his administration’s achievements in the past three years to woo investors to the state.
Mr Sanwo-Olu met a group of would-be investors in New York on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at a roundtable organized by the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU) at Park Lane Hotel in the heart of the city. He got an exciting response from the group of corporate giants who urged him to see himself as an ambassador of the private sector to the Federal Government.
With confidence, the Governor spoke of the major strides Lagos State has made in the past three years, despite COVID-19. He used the THEMES Agenda – the six-pillar development plan of his administration – as a guide.
According to the Governor, the state’s GDP has gone up by $5b to about $145,141b, budget has doubled to about %N1.7tr and infrastructural development has been tremendous. He cited landmark developments in transportation, the first pillar of THEMES, saying the Red Line and Blue Line rail projects were on track to be commissioned by the end of the year. The rolling stocks for the Red Line, which his administration started, he said, are on the way to Lagos and work is going on as scheduled on the stations and the overpasses that will ensure a good transportation experience. There are about four other lines to be built for the state to be covered by rail so as to ease the pressure on roads.
Mr Sanwo-Olu minced no words on the purpose of the meeting – to attract more investors to Lagos, which has 80 per cent of Foreign Direct Investments coming into Nigeria. He spoke of opportunities in water transportation, saying from seven ferries, the state’s fleet has risen to 21, besides many others run by private operators. Investors can double the fleet, Sanwo-Olu said.
Many of the 15 jetties being built by the state are ready for commissioning, he added, stressing that the aim is to have an integrated urban transportation system, strengthened by a strategic road infrastructure, such as the Lekki-Epe Expressway and the Fourth Mainland Bridge, which has attracted many investors, among which one will be chosen before the end of the year.
The state, said the Governor, plans to build an Infectious Diseases Research Centre to tackle health challenges, such as COVID-19.
Over 1000 school projects have been completed and “we have introduced technology to make teaching and learning an exciting experience”.
“We are seeing the results. We used to have about 36% pass in School Certificate Examinations; now we have about 80%,” Sanwo-Olu said.
“We are opening brand new schools and introducing technology by giving teachers tablets to aid their job.”
He spoke about the 6,000 km fibre optic cable being laid around the state, saying the first phase of 3,000 km was almost completed. This, he said, will aid faster and cheaper internet connectivity, thereby boosting service in hospitals and schools, besides boosting the impressive activities of the youth in the tech ecosystem.
Mr Sanwo-Olu described Lagos as the “entertainment capital of Africa”. He cited the recent Headies Awards in Atlanta and added that a Film Village was on the way. He mentioned opportunities in housing and assured would-be investors of “the sanctity of contracts”, with the state appointing new judges to aid smooth operations of the Judiciary.
On security, Mr Sanwo-Olu described Lagos as “the safest state in Nigeria”. He said small businesses were being supported with grants, even as the youth and women are being encouraged.
It was, however, not all a matter of pass marks. The Governor spoke of challenges, such as refuse disposal, saying about 4000 metric tons were being generated daily. This, in his view, should attract investors, who are willing to turn waste to wealth – a path the state is willing to tread. There are also challenges in water, power and other sectors, which are awaiting investors, Mr Sanwo-Olu said.
The applause was loud as Mr Sanwo-Olu ended his speech.
Replying, the Managing Director (Africa) of McLARTY Associates, Amb. (ret.) Terence P. McCulley, praised Mr Sanwo-Olu for an insightful account of his administration’s policies and projects. He said many “people who have returned from Lagos have spoken of how they no longer recognize the state because of the developments taking place there. He is of the view that the Governor has done well “because good governance is about providing services.”
Amb. McCulley said: “You can be the ambassador of the private sector to the Federal Government, providing an enabling environment for manufacturing, agriculture and technology, which are drivers of diversification.”
A participant spoke about the discovery of talents among Nigerian youths in the tech space. He said such talents were being lost to other countries because they could not be retained in Nigeria. Mr Sanwo-Olu said the government was doing so much to link young graduates to companies which train them to make them employable under its Graduate Internship Programme, which has absorbed thousands of youths. There are other programmes, he said, agreeing that a retention strategy for talents was necessary.
At the meeting were Stephen Jennings, founder and CEO of Rendeavour, the organisers, Country Head, Nigeria, Rendeavour, Eyong Ebai, CEO, Africa, GE Healthcare, Mr Patrick Santillo, Senior Vice President, BCIU, Mr Biodun Dabiri, Chairman, Lekki Worldwide Investment and many others.
With the Governor were Economic Planning and Budget Commissioner Sam Egube, Energy and Mineral Resources Commissioner Lere Odusote, Information and Strategy Commissioner Gbenga Omotoso, Special Adviser on SDG and Investments Mrs Solape Hammond, Special Adviser on Public Private Partnership Ope George and Mrs Ibilola Kasumu, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Science and Technology.