Africa Signal recently anchored an exclusive interview with Tokunbo Wahab, the Lagos State Government Special Adviser on Education. The consummate lawyer took his time marketing Lagos with a passion that demonstrates intelligence, commitment, in-depth knowledge of issues confronting the State, and confidence about solutions being implemented by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s Administration. He was an interviewer’s delight, his responses were articulate, and our team led by the affable Samuel Odebowale had a great time interacting with the man who is perhaps the best unofficial Spokesman Lagos has ever had. Excerpts…
Why do you find Lagos so exciting?
I think that is a trick question but I will oblige. Lagos is my home. It is the largest city in Nigeria and the economic hub of the country. It is known for its vibrant culture, business opportunities, and diversity. Everything in Lagos is exciting.
As a government, we have made significant progress in economic development, infrastructure, education, healthcare, sports development and other areas. We have the largest port in West Africa, the Lagos Port Complex playing a major role in the city’s economic growth. We have a thriving business and financial sector, with several multinational companies and banks headquartered in the city. Lagos is the place where people flock towards whenever they want to explore their dreams and talents. With a few exceptions, there is no reason why any normal enlightened human being would not jump at the opportunity to live and work in Lagos.
How is your portfolio as Special Adviser on Education coming along?
His Excellency Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu appointed Special Advisers to complement the efforts of various Commissioners. That wisdom has unleashed numerous potentials by creating synergy between the resources and inputs, stakeholders, technology, process drivers, outputs and outcomes of our educational sector. The incidence of guesswork policies and unmetered performance has been drastically reduced. Federal government is borrowing our templates to drive the sector at national level. I took my team to the United Kingdom for training earlier this year. You are aware that under our train the trainer’s initiative, Lagos has sponsored teachers from public schools for training programmes in the last couple of years, upgraded tertiary institutions and updated blueprint for education delivery to best-in-class global standards.
Lagos is home to several private and public universities offering a wide range of academic programs. These are under my purview and I can assure that they are well positioned to favourably compete and excel over some of the topmost league institutions you can mention around the world. Nigerians are fantastic people with amazing brain work but government over time has failed in creating the right environment that could facilitate outcomes similar to those top-ranked universities. That is why our people easily beat them hands-down when they study in those universities. We are focused on recreating those opportunities by improving local environment for learning, deepening infrastructure and exchanges, ensuring wide access to quality education and providing incentives for excellence.
Africa Signal earlier reported that Lagos has evolved as an epicenter of sustainable development under the focused supervision of Barrister Tokunbo Wahab. How would you assess transportation and healthcare delivery?
Transportation is an important sector in Lagos, and the government has made significant investments in improving transportation infrastructure and services in the State. We have undertaken several road construction and rehabilitation projects to improve the state’s road network and reduce traffic congestion. We have expanded the public transportation system in Lagos, including the development of new bus routes and the construction of new bus terminals. We have constructed several new bridges to improve connectivity and reduce traffic congestion in the State. We have also invested significantly towards improving water transportation in Lagos, including the construction of new jetties and the development of ferry services.
We have transformed healthcare access and delivery at the rural and urban centres. We have a healthcare insurance program that provides free healthcare services to indigent residents of Lagos State. The Lagos State Primary Healthcare Board has become a reputable standard for implementing policies and programs to improve primary healthcare services. The Lagos State Ministry of Health which is responsible for overseeing our health sector, implementing policies and improving healthcare access and delivery across board has been numerously commended, including the way Covid-19 pandemic was handled. If Lagos had failed, the predicted doom by Melinda Gates would have happened in Nigeria with a spillover for the entire African continent. Lagos has several hospitals and clinics that provide quality healthcare services to residents. These facilities are equipped with modern equipment and staffed with experienced healthcare professionals. Lagos has become a preferred destination for medical tourism.
What about technology and skills development?
We have made significant progress in recent years in terms of technological development and innovation. Lagos is home to several tech startups and established technology companies driving innovation and economic growth nationally. The Lagos State government has implemented several initiatives to support and promote the State’s tech sector, including the Lagos Innovates Program, which provides grants and support to tech startups and helps them connect with investors and partners. We also have several co-working spaces and tech incubators that provide support and resources to startups and entrepreneurs.
The Lagos State government has also implemented several initiatives to support skills development. The Lagos State Employment Trust Fund provides grants and loans to support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the state. The Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board is overseeing technical and vocational education in the State and implementing policies and programs to improve the quality of such education. The Lagos State Skills Development Agency is coordinating skills development initiatives and providing training and support to individuals and businesses to help them acquire new skills. I strongly believe skills transfer and training are indispensable for our growth and development.
It is important to understand what our interventions in the creative industry has done for our people engaged in a wide range of businesses operating in fields such as arts, media, fashion, and entertainment. Lagos is known for its vibrant cultural scene, with a wide range of arts and cultural events taking place in the city, including music concerts, theater performances, and art exhibitions. These events give Lagos higher visibility in the eyes of the world, and this serves as our reward for investments in creating critical infrastructure and enabling environment for sustainability. Our fashion industry is thriving with several local and international fashion designers operating. The Lagos Fashion and Design Week, which takes place annually, is a major event that showcases the work of local and international fashion designers.
How well has Lagos performed in the area of agriculture and gender empowerment?
Agriculture is an important sector in Lagos. We have a diverse agricultural base with a wide range of crops and livestock produced in the State. Our efforts in the sector are very important to national security. Through Lagos Agricultural Development Authority, we have implemented several initiatives to support and promote the sector. We have several farmers’ markets and agribusinesses, and the sector is an important contributor to the economy of Lagos.
Lagos State is a foremost promoter of gender equality and the empowerment of women, girls and young people globally. There is no gender-based discrimination in Lagos, and our Administration remains committed towards promoting the rights and opportunities of women, girls and young people as part of our strategy for alleviating poverty. The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team provides support and assistance to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and working to prevent incidence of such violence in the State. We also have the Lagos State Gender Advisory Council advising on gender-related issues and implementing initiatives to promote gender equality and empowerment.
Africa Wealth Report 2022 named Lagos as the 4th wealthiest city in Africa…
The facts speak for itself. Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria with an internally generated revenue that dwarfs several States and countries combined. Public finance is disclosed by law so there is transparency and accountability in our governance. Private wealth has been estimated as $97 billion. Lagos is home to all the oil majors, telcos, banks and high net worth individuals. It means Lagos could present more economic opportunities for an average Nigerian than any other place across Africa. It shows we are doing something right, and we are focused on expanding those opportunities through our Greater Lagos envisioning.
How do you feel about improvements in internally generated revenue?
The level of success Lagosians are experiencing today could not have been possible without improvements in our IGR profile such as taxes, fees and fines. It also points to the fact that Lagos economy is systemically important to ECOWAS and Sub-Saharan Africa, rivalled only by South Africa. The local economy is a key driver of economic growth and development in Nigeria. We have implemented several initiatives to improve our IGR, including measures to increase tax compliance and expand the tax base, as well as efforts to streamline and improve the efficiency of its revenue collection processes.
What are your expectations for 2023 general elections and campaigns?
As a government, we expect the people of Lagos to choose among competing candidates in a free and fair election process. We are committed to safeguarding the rights of people to choose. We also understand that campaigns could be used as an avenue for an untrue, libelous and inciting use of information that could worsen insecurity and erode progress made over the years. It is our duty as government to discourage people from engaging in such unpatriotic activities, and the first step in that regard is for us to provide accurate information which everybody can relate with. Everything discussed here are realities of an average Lagosian today. We can do better, and we are committed to improving on our records; but these services are already available to all Lagosians. I therefore expect all contestants to be responsible in how they create narratives. Lagos belongs to all of us. It is our collective responsibility to ensure it becomes greater.
What makes you think Lagos can be greater than what this Administration has achieved?
The foundations of orderliness for any city are planning and management. We have built on the achievements of previous administrations to position Lagos as the next African global economy. His Excellency Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu envisions making Lagos Africa’s model mega city and global economic and financial hub. We are enhancing and promoting local industries and capacities for global market access. We are innovating on strategic information and economic governance that is sensitive to natural, ecological, industrial, education, healthcare, transportation, financial and security. There is absolutely nothing suggesting Lagos cannot be greater if we continue our initiatives and trajectory.
Year 2022 is coming to an end. What message do you have for the people of Lagos State?
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is a confident, energetic and visionary leader. He is meticulous, intelligent and passionate about improving lives. He appreciates the need for involvement and deserves all the support the good people of Lagos can mobilize for his reelection. He prays for the prosperity and wellbeing of Lagosians, and he is working hard round the clock to ensure those prayers successfully translate to concrete actions that moves Lagos and its people forward for greatness every day. He prays we end this year well, and that we enjoy a more abundant and fulfilling 2023. His heart is with everybody living or working in Lagos State. He is working for us and we should support him to do more.