Lagos State Governor Mr. Babatunde Fashola is known as one individual that is very passionate about transforming the state into a megacity. Few days ago, he had an interactive session with journalists and students of the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos as part of activities to mark his 2,200 days in office. Our starconnectmedia was there. Excerpts.
In your speech, you said that you have approved about N1.5 billion as research fund but yet to receive any application, how can professionals access this fund?
As I said in my address, we have set up a committee to set guidelines for accessing those funds. I expect that some of the pre conditions will be that that applicants will have an idea, a written document, specifying the kind of research they have undertaken, specifying what the existing state of affairs is and what they have done so far to justify the need to access the fund and what we should expect to see if the funds are made available. I agree with you that we could never over communicate but it is not quite correct and I take the suggestion that we should publicise it more and part of that publicity is the reason I have deliberately included it in my speech for today so that many people can be aware of it. The Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget with the Ministry of education oversee the implementation of this fund. Should you require further inquiries about how this should operate am sure that if you direct your responses to them, they will answer your. In the unlikely event that you did not get a response please write to me or send the message to my mail box.
It has become a regular occurrence in Lagos to see children hawking in traffic which ought not to be and you did not include it in your speech, what is the state government doing about it ?
Yes that is true, the reason is that there are so many things that we have been against and if I dwell on so many things that we have done in the last 100 days, it will take more than two, three hours to read such a speech which could lead to lost of attention. Just last Thursday I was at an event where the issue that was discussed from morning to evening was how much we can do about implementing the child right law enacted in this state. The law that sets out the rights of children, the obligation of governments and their parents, a law that was published even in simplified form. So that children can read and understand in very rudimentary day to day basis what their rights and entitlements are. That law was silent on the role corporate organisations. But they are the ones who have a substantial interaction with children in terms of book supply etc, and we thought they should have a role too. Now is there a problem in this state with the protection of child rights? Yes! But it is not a problem that is unique to Lagos; it is not a problem that is unique to Nigeria. We understand what those problems are and we are responding as best as we can and that is why the protection of women and children has been at the focal point of our administration’s commitment. Let me also explain to you that this is a state whose population is not fixed, it is a state whose population moves and multiplies on a daily basis. As you and I are here some people have just come to Lagos and they will never go back. As if that is not enough, a new baby has just arrived in the period that we have been talking here. Some people are at the registry, also signing their own contract and in nine months time, we will see their own result of that too. So it can’t be a life without problem. I think what is important is that there is a problem; are we doing something about it? yes. Can we do better? We can always do better because there is no finishing line in the race to excellence. So we must continue to apply ourselves and improve. There are issues in every part of the world, even those parts by which standards we criticise ourselves. I don’t know how many of you got the news about two or three weeks ago, somewhere in the heart of the United States, a man adopted teenagers and kept them for ten years, that is child abuse, so it is happening all over the world. It is for good people like all of your to join me and join all our officers on that journey that I spoke about in my speech and let us start that journey together and see the challenges in the remaking of our state and the remaking of our nation.
No doubt, your government has done quite alot in the area of healthcare delivery, but we are still having problem with maternal and infant mortality in the health sector, what are you doing about this problem?
We appreciate that the problem exists in Nigeria. If we are the most populous state in the Nigeria, if there is a problem in the Nigeria’s household, the likelihood is that the most populous state will have its own fair share of that problems simply by logic. What have we done about it? I have sat down with our experts in the last six years to explain and to teach me the causes of maternal and infant mortality and they identified a lot of causes. They first identified preference of our people for traditional birth attendants. Now, we cannot do without these traditional birth attendants.
Did we do something about it?
Yes. We trained several hundreds of them to be able to operate in a more sanitary and a more contemporary environment. They identified the problem of massive bleeding. They told me of equipment that we can use to save the lives of women and we bought those things. They are now in our hospitals. They also identified the problem of distance, because at a time we had only two tertiary type maternal and child centre in Lagos – the Ayinke House, Ikeja, and Island Maternity in Lagos, so it meant for example that from Ikorodu, if a woman had complications, she will have to travel to Ikeja, to get specialist care. It meant that if there was such a woman in Badagry, she will have to travel a distance of almost 60 kilometres to get to Island maternity
So what did you do about it?
We designed a four storey building, with a 100 bed facility, two surgical theatres, called maternal and child care centres for mothers and children alone and today, we have built seven of them; six of them are in operation. There is one in Ikorodu, there is one in Ifako-Ijaye, there is one in Isolo, there is one in Ajegunle and there is one in Gbaja, Surulere, there is one in Amuw- Odofin. We are building one in Lekki, and we have awarded the contract to build the one in Badagry and Epe. Out of those seven, five are fully operational, the sixth one is being staffed and equipped as we speak and we will open it later on in the year. So are we acting? Yes. Have we finished acting? No. Is it getting better? Yes. But we did not stop there. We started training women in how to look after themselves when they are pregnant. There are certain things and risks that come with pregnancy. Now if you go to many of our primary health care centres today, you will find a booklet that we have published that is given free to every woman who is pregnant. The booklet contains papers to enable us take information from when she conceived to when she delivers, and it has provision for four children so that we can keep data of immunisation of those children, their growth and development until they are up to the age of 12. This booklet is given free. I believe that the team has been going round the local government to sensitise our women on their rights after we inaugurated it. They were in Ogudu about two or three days ago, the team is going round our state and the results are indicating that there is change. Will it happen in one day? Certainly, it won’t but we are doing something about it.
There is a growing trend of unemployment among physically challenged people in Lagos, what are you doing the situation?
Again our government has enacted legislation that seeks to protect physically challenged people in the way we seek to develop our society and factor them into how we plan our buildings to ensure that there are lifts, if we can’t put lifts, we ensure that there are ramps. When we designed buildings we think of those who are not as physically endowed as we are. That just happened a few years back. The journey to implementing it now rest with all of us. Our architects, our building engineers and our contractors will have to adapt that law to met the reality of members of our society who are physically challenged. In thesame way we have employed some of them in the Ministry of Justice and in the Ministry of Finance. And as many of those applications that I see, I give priority to them so long as they have skill because the message I get from them is that they are not unable because they are physically challenged. So those who have skills have a chance to get work in our government. But again having said this, how many really can government employ? It goes back to the discussion that I am provoking here today. We have to expand the Nigerian economy. If you look at a country like Greece, the reason that Greece fell into debt is because its economy was only government. One in every four people in Greece works in government. Now if 25 percent of a nation’s population begins to work in government something is wrong. Like I said, I don’t have all of the answer. But as I said, some of you are intelligent, many of you are creative. If we sit together and begin to talk to ourselves instead of ignoring ourselves, we can find solution to this problem. Many of the nations we aspire to be like have been where we are before and I have lived in this country, I have seen its period of prosperity too, now we are in a season of enormous challenges but can we get out of it.
From the look of things, it appears that the Lagos State University is in dire need of infrastructure how are you addressing this challenge?
The journey of infrastructure is an unending journey. When this school started many years ago, it did not have this kind of population. Now did we plan the population growth and did we put in place a development plan? That is where we are today, that is why we are implementing ten or so projects simultaneously at a time, when we should be doing it one after the other. When we catch our breath from this, it will not happen again, because I am working with your school to develop a master plan that will sustain the growth of this school for the next 50 years.
Why are we paying so much to get educated in LASU?
I went to school in this country, I did not go abroad. First of all those who are suggesting to you that we can afford to finance you education free today don’t run the government. I do and I know better because I wear the shoes. Secondly I have been in this government for quite a while. I was chief of staff and I know how many application we got from students of this school after a four year degree to be sponsored oversees to go and start another degree course because they did not feel that they have received enough training, I know how much we spent at a time. It is easy to pretend that there is no problem. I know what people are spending, sending their children abroad. In the United Kingdom, the minimum you will pay per year is 9000 Pounds to get an education. So let us do some logical thinking, if we train a lawyer in the United Kingdom for 9000 Pounds for over N4. Million, and we train same lawyer for N25,000 or N50,000 are we buying thesame quality. Let us be logical. Children who come from poor home already have a disadvantage. I think the biggest disadvantage we will give to them is to give them a free education. Now, my parents were not rich, my father is a journalists, my mother is a nurse and I know how difficult it was to scratch school fees but I stand here today because of the quality of education I received. Let us go to the logic of it. What is the logic?
We are saying that education must be free?
You want education to be free, so we have an issue with paying for it. We are saying that let us price it appropriately. You know what, if we have a university that is only for the children of the poor, we do not have a school. If the children of the rich will not bring their children here and take them to Babcock, to Lead university, there is a something wrong here. We are fractionalising our society. Now part of the reason why they do this is that when they look at the school fees, when they look at the environment, they will go and pay more either abroad or in those other schools. Why do you think your lecturers left, all the great lecturers we had here. Why do you think they left? Have you bothered to check where they are? Many of them are now teaching African Arts in universities abroad. This is where we should be discussing African arts. But they have left and you know what, we now exchange money, millions of Naira and send ourselves abroad, second slavery. The point to be made is that we have provided funding for every child that is able to get admission into this school who cannot afford it and as long as I remain your governor every such child will have a scholarship and a bursary to go. I think what we should be talking about therefore is simple, I have fixed the fees, and I say that I am going to pay. Have you applied and have you been refused? I have given you the numbers of those who have benefited and we have been doing this for a long time, so that the children of the rich can also come here so that the best teachers in the world can also come here. A university is only a university by the quality of learning, quality of intellectual debates and discussion that go on there. There is nothing supernatural in Harvard, in oxford, in fact many of the buildings are very old, it is the quality of debates that go on there that makes them so fine, that is my dream for this university.
Your attention seems to be more focused on the main campus, meanwhile the Adebola Adeguwa School Mass Communication is deteriorating, why is this so?
No part of this school is forgotten, what you see today is the beginning of change. This journey started from Ikeja when we started the college of medicine, LASUCOM. We are here today, but not just this school, we are in Adeniran Ogunsanya, we are in the school of medical technology and more. The change and development has started let us be patient. When i was in UNIBEN, my faculty of law did not have a faculty building, we received lectures in engineering department, science students will drive us out of their class, and they kept telling us that look the law faculty was coming but it never came in my time, I hope that what we are trying to do will come in your time, but no part of this school will be forgotten. But let me also share with you that that the school management, led by your VC, the Senate of the school and the Governing Council are the ones who have responsibility to manage the school, that is their job. That is why they have salary and I don’t share from that salary. But I also understand that this school is part of the larger constituency obligation that I have, so it is also part of my job, so I get my own salary and they don’t share from it. But we work together to try and provide you the best .But let me say that what we have done working with your Governing Council and your school management is that we are dreaming this school beyond today, we are dreaming it 50 years ahead, when many of us will not be here and we are courageous enough to start that journey today. There are so many things we are working on for you. We are working on new students hostel for you, we are working on a university guest house because that is the only way you can attract guest lecturers that can stay on campus, we are looking at staff quarters, we are looking at power, a dedicated power source for this school. There is so much, but we will take it one at a time. But in the fullness of time, i assure you that Adebola Adeguwa school will get its just desire.
What can you say about security of students on campus?
I think the biggest security we can have on campus is the one the students themselves choose to have. A university environment in many parts of the world is the safest part to put a child. In the period I was in the University of Benin, I felt safe at any time of the day. I use to go and jug at 4am. but it is really in your hands to choose to turn your back on violence, because the answer should not be security and more security. In the days I was in the University of Benin, any two students caught fighting were gone, it does not matter who started the fight. So if people were looking for trouble I just run and leave them. The school made that regulation, ‘we will not entertain who was the aggressor and who was the defender’. If you are caught fighting you are gone. Having said that we see the school as the microcosm of our society, our security apparatus will continue to keep an eye on it. But keeping external security inside the school should be a last resort. Everybody must work for peace.
One of the problems confronting Nigerians and students in particularly is the challenge of constant electricity, what are you doing in this respect?
As you know our government does not have the responsibility for electricity. As you might also be aware the federal government has committed to implementing the Power Sector Reform Act. The underlying philosophy of Act is something I agree with, to put public utility in the hands of the experts, in the hands of the private sector. There are areas where we could improve on the provision of the Act. But what we are doing as a state government is to involve ourselves in embedded generation so that a campus like this will easily qualify for embedded generation facility, that is the plan we have for LASU to make it self-sufficient.
We have done the one for Iju Water Works, it has been ruining now for the past four years, we have done the one for Lagos Island which is powering the Lagos High Court, the hospital and it is powering the streets at night; it is powering the e-learning centre, the city hall and a few other formations. We are at the moment implementing the one for secretariat Alausa, so that we take the whole of government business away from the public power grid. Simultaneously we are planning the one for old secretariat to power LASUCOM, the college, the hospital and the Water Works. So there is so much we can implement in one year within one budget circle. As soon as we finish that, we will start the next step, and that next step certainly involves LASU in contemplation.