Sam Egube is the Lagos State Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning. In this interview with DENNIS EREZI, he discusses the state government’s plans to deliver on promises to Lagosians, private sector partnership, and funding of infrastructure projects.
We know that the current Lagos State government christened its work around the T.H.E.M.E.S agenda, which covers goals of the state. How well would you say the present administration has performed in the last three years?
The government has done excellently well. As far as the budget is concerned, we have performed on an average of over 80 per cent in the last three years. Even though its budget has been audacious, Lagos has continued to lead the charts in Africa. We have been acknowledged and commended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for our operating resilience in navigating the pandemic. We were also acknowledged for our consistency in satisfying the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability criteria (SFTAS) by the World Bank. In addition, Fitch recently upgraded our long-term national rating from AA to AAA at a time when even Ghana was downgraded. So, it is a very intentional government, and I would say we have done exceptionally well.
When we started, it was not too clear that we had the capacity to deliver two rail lines at the same time; we are doing that right now. The leadership of Mr. Governor and the team at the cabinet has been extremely focused on execution. There is still a lot to be done, but we believe that as we continue to maintain our high performance on budget execution and strengthen our performance management systems, we will continue to do exceptionally well.
What areas of particular interest should Lagosians be looking out for in the inauguration and completion of projects?
One of the core areas that Lagosians are greatly desirous of is transportation and traffic management. We believe we will complete the rail project in this administration as it is a very significant project for us; you will hardly see sub-nationals doing this around the world. The Red Line, for example, coming from Agbado all the way to Oyingbo has ten bridges and eight modern bus stations with some on elevated platforms. Those are huge undertakings.
We have launched what we call last mile services that can take you from your house to stations where you can catch the buses or the trains. We have launched the cowry card, which is our payment system that encourages a multi-modal transport system, and added seven more ferries to our fleet. We believe a significant goal will be achieved when a mix of the rails, waterways and buses is working holistically. We will also be introducing our Lag-Ride transportation systems, which will be driven by technology. All these are in addition to the road networks that we are undertaking. The Epe expressway is near completion with rehabilitation of the entire road and an expansion from a three-lane bridge into a six-lane highway. The Deep Sea Port in Lekki is also set to increase port capacity from 1.1 million TEU to about 4.1 million average processing TEU as well.
It is our goal for Lagos State to be the technology hub for Africa. Today technology contributes three per cent to our GDP, ahead of our African peers that contribute an average of one per cent. Our goal is to take it up to 10 per cent, to compete with leading emerging market economies.
To do this, we have invested a lot in the Lagos State Science Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC), to enable them to give grants to qualified start-ups. The result is that Lagos has now been rated number one in Africa in terms of supporting startups ahead of Nairobi and Cape Town. We are going to develop a Knowledge Innovation Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre (KITE) – a state-of-the-art technology campus to be located in Yaba to further drive our footprint in the support of our goal. This will then compliment all other innovation and technology activities already being carried out in its environs.
‘Making Lagos a 21st century economy ‘is predominantly around agriculture, housing, emergency response, energy, amongst others and we are putting specific projects in place to meet these needs. For one, COVID-19 taught us the need to take food security seriously especially because we are a massive consuming point.
We know Lagos State uses a long-year budget cycle. What is the assessment of the budget performance under your ministry since this government has come into power?
We have performed on the average above 80 per cent for three years running. That is in my view a distinction in any way you measure it and this is the result of the quality of leadership and the overall performance management and monitoring environment in the State. Of course, there are all kinds of constraints against us. There is the pandemic and the population growth arising from urban migration. We also have the fact that there is a lot of room for us in terms of our revenue growth aspiration. Yet, we have achieved a lot despite these challenges.
This budget, for example, at N1.75 trillion is a big stretch. But that is what it means to be Lagosian – that you can dream big, that you are able to set audacious goals for yourself and run with them, and Mr. Governor has led that charge without buckling to the challenges. It is always our dream to look better and stronger so that people who choose to look at Lagos as their place and pillar of hope will be correct when they do so.
Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu at different times said Lagos State is strategic in its selection of projects as it will require more funding to bridge the infrastructure gap. Is Lagos State underfunded?
The truth is that Lagos State can do with significantly much more money. The revenue that comes to Lagos both internally and from the federation is too small for the State’s economic activities. We need to really grow our revenue exponentially to get to a comfortable position. We would continue to work with the Federal Government and Lagosians to see ways by which we can support our State financially, especially through investments and partnerships with the private sector.
What has been the government’s relationship with the private sector in delivering public infrastructure projects?
The relationship has been very strong. You will see that a lot of our projects have at least one input from the private sector. The Lekki-Epe expressway from Eleko junction was a joint effort with banks and contractors to be able to move ahead of funding using contingent liabilities to fast-track progress. Also, to be able to move the Red and Blue Line rail forward, we partnered with strategic players as well.
In the healthcare sector, we are also partnering with private stakeholders by providing the footfall to enable the private sector to invest in various hospital service requirements. I spoke earlier on using technology and deploying tablets to teachers and students. That is also a partnership with stakeholders in the private sector.
The truth is that to really build the Lagos of our dreams, we need everybody to put their hands on the table. It is the reason we say ‘Igbega ipinle Eko, Ajumose ni’ meaning that to lift Lagos up, you need everybody’s hands to be on deck.
Do you think Lagosians are feeling enough of the government’s impact on their lives, and what is being done to improve or consolidate on this impact?
Yes, I would say that many Lagosians are feeling a level of impact one way or another. When you go to some of our hospitals, you find out that a lot of improvement has happened in terms of service delivery. There were videos independently driven by private citizens that went viral on LASUTH. The commendations from people who have visited some of our hospitals have been quite cheering. In Apapa, some businesses there have also commended and appreciated our efforts in easing the Apapa gridlock.
However, development sometimes is disruptive. Lagos is now a big construction site and this sometimes leads to some forms of traffic, which causes inconvenience. Unfortunately, we have a limited dry season period to work, so the government is in a hurry to advance ongoing projects.
Based on the performance of Babajide Sanwoolu’s administration, do you think he merits a second term in office?
He definitely merits it. He has been a great leader, a big team player, and he is someone that has been audacious in his strides towards development. As a result of that, he is also a very people-centric leader – someone who listens and responds to what the people of Lagos say. He is also introducing several structurally important initiatives. For example, he is driving for us to have a State Wealth Fund, which is extremely forward-looking; We are also working on a 30-year development plan which is another long-ranged plan to set Lagos State on a sustainable course to development, amongst others which I have mentioned earlier.
Of course, the people of Lagos are the final judges, but based on the feedback we get from our feedback mechanisms, we believe he deserves a second term and I think he should declare for it.
How much expectation in project completion should Lagosians have, bearing in mind that it is the penultimate year to the 2023 election?
I think Lagosians should expect the execution of all the projects that have been initiated. This budget is called the Budget of Consolidation, and the idea is that we are closing out a lot of the projects, which we had commenced. Projects like the regional roads are going to be closely monitored to make sure they are executed on time. We want to become aggressive and push high-priority projects with the objective of ensuring their completion before the end of this year.