How to make Lagos Africa’s business hub

Adeyemi Ikuforiji is the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly. Recently, he addressed some journalists on his economic development agenda for Lagos State, having declared his gubernatorial ambition. Business Editor,ADE OGIDAN was there. Excerpts.

How can the economic  profile of Lagos State be improved upon?

REALLY I think aside from saying that’s a very good one,  I believe that we need to move away from this same trajectory of doing things, by remaining on the same track. Over the last 16 years, Lagos has witnessed some level of good governance, some level of advancement, some level of development. I think from today, we should start thinking of a new horizon for Lagos.

Today, I believe Lagos should be the centre of Africa, it should be the hub, from where every other part of Africa gets connected. I think we are naturally endowed, we are naturally positioned to serve this particular purpose.

Look at the geographical map of Africa, Lagos is in a very central position, and it could serve as a connector between North America, South America, Europe and the rest of Africa. Its economy should drive the rest of the African economy. Its economy should connect the African economy to the world economy.

We have seen small places, not as endowed as we are, performing this role and doing it successfully.

You look at a place like Dubai, it’s not as naturally gifted as we are, if they can do it there, we can do it here. It started only with the vision of a leader, a leader who is visionary, a leader who said we can go in his direction, we can do this, and he follows it to the end, and they are building on that today. I think if you look at it today, Dubai derives over 40 per cent of its revenue from tourism.

Look at our Lagos, it has more to offer in terms of tourism, if we develop it. I know for example that between the Badagry and the Epe-Ibeju Lekki axis, if you know the number of beautiful Islands that we have, and you see the landscape and the rest of those things that make for tourism, you will be baffled, it’s like sitting on billions of barrels of touristic oil.

How can this be actualised?

This vision can really be actualised if we go about it the right way, if we bring all the seriousness it requires into it, if we take care of our energy needs, and if we take care of the security, I’m sure we have what it takes to make Lagos a tourism destination and reap abundantly from that.

You mentioned the issue of power. How do you think the state government can strategise to achieve a turnaround in this critical sector? 

Indeed, Lagos started it all. Our Leader, Bola Tinubu started it with the Enron engagement, but the amount of energy generated was not, in a sense beneficial to Lagos State based on the Act that established the defunct NEPA, because the law required that any amount of energy generated above 90 megawatts should be uploaded into the national grid.

If you generate electricity more than 99 megawatts, it must be sent to the national grid, and that is not helpful to you as a state. If you generate below 100 megawatts, you can keep it and make use of it within your own state, and that’s what  we need to do.

The technology right now has made that even more achievable. It is all over the place. You can put a barge there in the high seas and we have them in various sizes, and the electricity is generated and transmitted to the various sections of the state.

I can take Ibeju-Lekki, Epe as a zone and with less than 100 megawatts barge on the high seas, that sector is taken care of. You can then take, say Mushin, Ilupeju and some other areas down there, generate and push it to that side and that will be it, in the interim, while you are building larger plants, and so on to take care of whatever in the future, but for the main time we can do that.

We have seen that a number of companies have closed down or moved to neighbouring countries because of this issue of electricity. It’s the same problem with the hotels and the only excuse they give is power.

Generally on infrastructural development, there has been a litany of unfulfilled promises from politicians. Do you think the electorates can keep faith with such campaign pledges again?

Those who promise one thing during campaigns and don’t do anything later are politicians. Anyone who is familiar with the terrain of politics in Lagos in the last one decade knows who Ikuforiji is. I have never said one thing that I did not follow to the letter and I am not a politician who will just come out and tell you what I will not do. The House of Assembly that I lead is number one in this nation. Nobody can contradict that.  If I can do that with the legislature, it is easier for me to do it with the executive. If we have done what we have done with the legislature from where we met it and have built an institution out of it, it is easier for people to trust me. I don’t tell people I can do what I can’t do. In the same vein, I don’t tell people I can’t do what I know that I can do.

Are the available resources in the state enough to bring about desired development?

The way I see things is different from the way others see them. If you go to the airport, you see many young people going to Accra to spend the weekend. Why can’t we develop Lagos to be a tourist spot to attract them. What we will get from that in terms of revenue is much. What we have now as revenue is a small portion compared to what we can get from tourism alone.

The more economic activities generated by government itself, the more the income that comes back to government. When the government creates job for people, you are indirectly expanding the tax base and the volume of revenue returning to government.

Are you planning to enthrone a more business-friendly tax regime?

I started my career as a banker and I know what a good tax review does to the private sector and to the government. I also know what a bad one does. What I can promise you is that the government that I will run will be a government for the people of Lagos state. We will be very open with the people and avoid creating the type of pains that people complain about because of taxation.

The issue of tax holiday will be reviewed to favour investors and companies. It is an integral part of resource generation.

How about youth empowerment through promotion of entrepreneurship?

When I went to Dubai, I was impressed by a phone store run by some youths.   There was a long queue of people wanting to buy the new iPhone 6. When I saw this, I thought of the youths back home. We have so many enterprising youths in Lagos. They have the physical strength and competence to put in their best to make the most of entrepreneurial opportunities if given the chance. What they need to start off is so very little. However, most financial houses are always weary to fund these youths. They consider it very risky. The government should encourage them. There must be funds to encourage particularly the young ones. If these is done, believe me, we can turn this place around within a few years.

The strategic Apapa-Oshodi Road has become a phenomenal nightmare. How do you plan to tackle this challenge? 

The government has not given up on the road. The present government has done a lot on the road. The issue of transportation has to be tackled frontally. Other channels of transportation have to be developed especially the dredging of the waterways. This will make transportation easier and also promote tourism. Using the waterways, you can move from Ikeja to the Island in less than 25 minutes but you can’t do that on the road except by 1.00 a.m.

One major challenge that Lagos is facing in the area of infrastructural development is the absence of  federal government projects. Lagos cannot do all alone. We need a committed government in the centre that wants the state governments to grow. The way the federal government treats Lagos sometimes makes one feel that it is not part of the federation.  With regards to the tank farms located in Apapa, it is really under the jurisdiction of the federal government. We pray that something is done about them.

What about the fourth mainland bridge project?

With regards to the the fourth mainland bridge, I think it is not the main issue, I think a Lagos rail-road network with the bridge as an integral part of the project  is the solution to the traffic gridlock in Lagos. It may take five or six years but it will be done. When built and integrated with the waterways and light rail, ,Lagosians will breathe a sigh of relief.

How do you think the issue of high cost of governance can be addressed?

The government expenditure varies across the states and depends on the level of development in each state. We have to consider the fact that in the third world especially, the government is the highest employer of labour. This increases the cost of running the government. The way to address the issue is strategic and we be revealed at the appropriate time.

How about making the local governments’ impact to be felt? 

Some have done well and their impacts felt by the grassroots. Having been a legislator in Lagos for 12 years and Speaker for nine years, I know some of the problems and I can assure you that we will take care of them.