Chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Public Accounts for Local Government, Bisi Yusuf, speaks on the recent town hall meetings embarked upon by the members of the House as well as issues with the local government system in Nigeria.EROMOSELE EBHOMELE was there
Q: How do you see the success being recorded by the military currently in the fight against Boko Haram?
A: It is a welcome development, one that gladdens the heart. The military is working. When politics was introduced into the military and they were not allowed to show their professionalism, some of us were shouting. Today, you can see their achievements. You have also seen the police being professional. The Custom Service and other agencies are not also left out. You can now be proud to be a Nigerian. This was what the APC preached during the campaign. I want to also use this opportunity to appeal to Nigerians to mind our utterances. We must be careful about the call for Biafra by some people. No nation survives two civil wars. If you feel you are marginalised, there is a better way of negotiating. We should avoid going into militancy that can cause disunity. The advantage Nigeria has now has to do with its population. We provide a ready-made market to companies around the world. Our potentials also lie in our diversity. If there is true federalism, no part would claim it is marginalised. The soldiers fighting Boko Haram are encouraged because they know they have the backing and support of President Buhari. You can see the difference now.
Q: What would say you gathered from the recent town hall meeting organised by the Lagos State House of Assembly for the 40 constituencies in the state?
A: It was the best of its kind to happen to Lagos state. It was held simultaneously all over the state in what seems to be a search for a surgical operation to the problems facing all the constituencies. For instance, my constituency, Alimosho, is the largest in Nigeria. Those who attended the town hall meeting in my constituency included traditional rulers, doctors, professionals, teachers, artisans and business people. It was beyond politics because it has to do with the development of my area. So people from other political parties were there. The most important of the demands from my people is that since Alimosho is the special political bride, a sort of special status should be granted the area in the form of a business district.
Q: What is the benefit of this business district to the people?
A: With a business district, Alimosho would earn a special focus in terms if of infrastructural development, there would be hospitals. Once it has a business district, financial institutions would come to the place, the roads would be made accessible. Alimosho is surrounded by neighbouring states. People coming from Ogun state, for example, would not have to move to Lagos Island or Ikeja before they get what to buy and cause traffic jam. People can do their business and here and return. People from Idiroko, Cotonou and even Lome, would come down to buy things. Look at how Ikeja is thriving currently.
Apart from this, there is the challenge of roads. We also have issue of lack of enough hospitals. We already have a land, the former hajj camp that can attract a specialist hospital. It is about six to 10 hectares and the Lagos State Government should demand the possession of the land from the Federal Government. We can call the place a medical village when it is completed and it would generate money for the state. With this hospital, the idea is that people from other African countries would come down for medical solutions. There would not be any reason to fly people abroad from Nigeria for medical attention. Again, Alimosho is surrounded by water.
This water can be dredged and it becomes a tourism attraction. Just start the dredging from Aboru to Ilo, then to Igbesa and down to Badagry express road to Apapa. So you just create a park and ride where you park your car, and ride on a boat to Apapa or Victoria Island, do your business, return and pick your car. We are potentially rich and the government has to look in this direction to meet the mega-city challenge. The land is there and the people are eager for this development. Also, we talked about having a flyover from Cement area to Shasha. This would resolve the traffic jam on that axis every day. The documentation for the business district has been there. I only appeal to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who is very proactive, to look in this direction. I can confirm that with the little the governor has done in the area within few months, people have been moving to Alimosho. When you look at the political value of that area, then you just have to give them what would compensate for their sacrifice and loyalty. And I know that my colleagues in the House will support us to achieve this.
Q: How often would you want these town hall meetings to take place?
A: Yearly is bad. You don’t have to wait for a year to get feedback. I think it should be quarterly. It should be a quarterly affair. At least, it should be twice a year. A lot of ideas were generated. This is what we call participatory democracy; people tell you what they want and not what you want for them.
Q: How would you react to the commendations from members of the PDP in the House who confirmed that the executive secretaries of local governments in the state cooperated with them despite the political divide?
A: That is the agenda of this House and the maturity of the APC as a party. We do not play politics with the lives of the people. They have now seen the difference between a vendetta government and a democratic one. They are shocked with the level of cooperation they have been getting and we are not relenting in this cooperation since it is for the good of the people of the state.
There is this belief that the PDP members of the House could defect to the APC. But would you want your party to accept them after they defeated candidates of the APC during the last election?
Q: Who would not be very happy with defection?
A: What new things will your committee bring into the local government system?
I will just have to wait for the other members of the committee to be named before I will speak about it, but I know that by the special grace of God, things would work out well for Lagosians. One thing I know is that we will not sacrifice merit for mediocrity.
Q: There is still that usual belief that the local governments have not performed up to expectation…
A: Whatever you want to say about the local governments, you still have to give them a pass mark. There are good things about local government system. As a former local government chairman, I know this. The legacies that I left are still there standing tall. I met just one secondary school as the chairman of Ayobo-Ipaja LCDA. But under me, the number rose to five. I met one cottage hospital. Before I left, every political ward had a well-equipped Primary Healthcare centre. Now, we have a mini-general hospital. If not for local government system that would not have been possible.
Q: Now that your party is at the centre, are you optimistic that the local council development areas of Lagos would be converted to full local government areas?
A: Definitely. Yes. Without mincing words, Lagos state has been cheated for long. Lagos and Kano were created same day. Kano was later broken into two with Jigawa as one part. What is now the total number of their combined local government areas? It is not just injustice, it is a criminal one. You also know the total population of Lagos state today. Remove the economy of Lagos state and there will be no Nigeria. Investors talk more about the economy of Lagos state than that of Nigeria. Lagos is one of the very few that has not been broken into states. Now, Kano will get money as allocation from the Federation Account and its local government councils would also get. Jigawa would also get money as state and get as local government. It is a case of blocking the anus of the hen that lays the golden eggs. Our prayer is that these LCDAs be recognised as bona fide local governments and their allocation recognised. Lagos is also the only former country’s capital in the world that would be forgotten. While Abuja is the political headquarter of Nigeria, Lagos is the economic capital just like Washington DC is the political capital of US and New York is the economic capital. With this analysis, you know that Lagos is supposed to be given special status