Why Lagos Is Indebted

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Hon. Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly Finance Committee speaks with EROMOSELE EBHOMELE on why Lagos is indebted and why he is contesting for the House of Representatives seat in Alimosho Constituency

How would you compare this Assembly session with previous ones?
The sixth Assembly, made up of astute and capable legislators, has done well. It is made up of people who have served well in their various endeavours, coming together to represent their various constituencies in a way we have never had it before. Though other sessions of the Assembly have played their part and have done their best in the development of the state, but all I can say is that at the sixth Assembly, the beauty of democracy has been made obvious with the reflection that there is hope for the common man on the street. Many bills sent to it by the executive arm of government have been passed; a lot of resolutions which are timely under the circumstantial motion have been passed. Also there is the proper scrutiny of the appropriation bill sent to the House by the executive arm of the State government.

Just as the lawmakers have tried, can you replay some of the challenges they have faced in the course of the job?
I would not say we had challenges but some ups and downs which I would see as teething problems we must go through in the discharge of our duties and in the growth and development of democracy. As you know, this democracy started with the elections in 1999 and we have only been able to hold the fort for 12 years. By the time we start talking about 24 years down the lane, I believe things would have been much better than it is now. So whatever we have come across in the discharge of our duties or in the course of coming together, it is something we should surmount easily and put behind us for progress sake.

You have been a useful contributor to issues of Lagos State. Why are you leaving at this stage for the House of Representatives?
My seeking election into the House of Representatives is a quest to contribute my quota towards the development of the nation and my state at the national level. I have served two terms as member of the House of Assembly and I have chosen to leave in 2011 after contributing my quota. It is now time to seek to do same at an upper level. I would always be thankful to my leaders at the Alimosho Constituency who feel I am qualified to represent the area at the federal level. It is because they have felt my contribution at the floor of the House.

How prepared are you for the election which is just few weeks away?
You know that once you are elected by your party as the flag bearer, you would have to collapse whatever structure you have into that of the party. We have waited for the party to commence its campaign while doing what we can in our own little way. And until the party fully begins the campaign, there is little that we can do except what we can at the local level.

Alimosho is one of the biggest constituencies in the State. How have you been coping with the many challenges facing the area?
Alimosho is the biggest as far as the state and nation is concerned, and traditionally the progressives were not allowed to take charge of the area until 1998. Since then, we have worked so hard to turn around the fortunes of the place. As I speak with you, no State government has come into power that has not been felt in the area. A lot of roads have been constructed, a lot of boreholes are being dug. Life has been bubbling as far as the local government is concerned. As the biggest, how we been coping? The people of Alimosho are people with like minds and they reason with us. So, it has been a simple secret and that is the fact that we are doing what they want us to do. One of the biggest hospitals to be built by the State government is located there.

As the House Committee Chairman on Finance, what is the financial strength of Lagos State?
I will want to start by thanking the immediate past and present administrations of the State for taking Lagos out of the doldrums and placing it on the list of developed cities of the world. It is good to know that the State is undergoing a lot of infrastructure renewal and development projects to make it attain the mega city status. By virtue of the population and what the present and past administrations of the State have been doing, the State has no choice but to progress. Don’t forget that it was the former capital of the country and still remains the commercial nerve centre of the country. As far as the State’s financial strength is concerned, it started since Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s administration, which had the foresight to look inwards to see how it could turn around the economic strength of the State with autonomy granted the State Internal Revenue Service through a legislation passed by the House of which I was the Committee Chairman.
When Tinubu came in, Lagos became the first to approach the capital market for a N15billion bond to finance projects within the State. The bond has been paid back with all interest accrued. Currently, because of the successful implementation of the bond, the current government has been able to approach the market to raise money to finance the ongoing infrastructure renewal. As we speak, half of every year’s budget passed by this House is financed with the internally generated revenue. On the average, the Lagos State budget has stood on the funding through the IGR, money generated from the capital market and very little contribution from the federal government within the last four years. And that has been the result of very sound financial policies put in place by the economic team of the government and the team from the House of Assembly which has liaised and worked with them to make Lagos remain on a sound footing.

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How about the report that the state is the most indebted?
All I can say is that there is no nation that is not indebted. If they say we owe the highest debt, the question is: is it a debt that is performing or one not performing? I know full well that in our own budget each year, we make provision for the repayment of debt, which is a plan the government has structured to pay back. So if we are borrowing and paying back, then we are still operating in the right direction. But in a situation where the debt is not being repaid or has been termed bad debt, we may be saying the state owes a debt that is not functioning. Now that the reverse is the case and the repayment plan is going on, why would you say the government is engaging in excessive borrowing? We are doing what is right and there is no way we can continue with the developmental projects without borrowing.

Politicians often have challenges at the home front. What are yours?
When I was coming into government, my wife had her reservations, but the bible says as many that led by the Spirit, they are called the sons of God. Since we have been there, we have been able to contribute in our own little way to the development of Nigeria. I always thank my family members who have supported me this far. It was like a challenge initially, but we have been able to surmount it.

Recently, some of your colleagues raised alarm over threats to their lives. Doesn’t this discourage you?
It is not only Yusuf Ayinla and Sanai Agunbade that are involved. I am equally involved and it has to do with the party that believes in the do-or-die system of politics and attainment of power by all means and at all costs. For us, we believe in the manifesto, policies and programmes of our party. I don’t support the school of thought that says politics is a dirty game. Each profession has its own challenges but we only try not to make the challenges subdue us. Those coming from behind should not be scared. They should rather work hard and pray to be led by the Holy Spirit.

It’s been twelve years of democracy. Do you think Nigerians are happy with the situation of the country?
If I were not in politics, I would have been an activist. If you look at what is accruing to us as a country and where we still are, then there is a problem. So many nations of the world do not have one-quarter of what we have. The last twelve years of the PDP-led government has caused more harm than good. I don’t see one single development project that the PDP government has implemented that has brought happiness to the people. Take power for example; trillions of hard earned income of the country has gone into this project. Billions of dollars have been borrowed for the project, yet what we have on ground is zero. The total power we generate from our national grid is still below 6,000 megawatts. And PDP still believes it can transform Nigeria. There are no good roads all over the country, no effective transportation system, no security, no food and the same party is still asking Nigerians to vote for it. Some governors in the South-South claim they are working like Lagos but that came after militancy almost overwhelmed the area. They now know that the militants are watching them closely to know how they spend allocations. I also believe the level of our awareness has become very high and Nigerians can now see that the ACN led-government in various states are doing well. Lagos, Edo and recently Osun and Ekiti State are all working. If we can have changes like that in those states, then Nigerians should start craving for more wherever they may be and vote massively for ACN candidates at all levels.

The challenge seems to be that the opposition parties have refused to merge to enable them fight the PDP…
Yes, it is as a result of some unresolved issues and I know we would cross the bridge when we get there. There are still opportunities for us to merge and plans are underway to ensure that we do our very best. The PDP does not have advantage over us because if you go to the court now, the PDP has hundreds of cases there. So what are we talking about? Our desire should be that the opposition take over power in the next elections from the people who have strangulated us, misused our money and turned us into mere slaves.

What changes do you hope to make at the national level?
I strongly believe that there are a lot of challenges currently facing the country and Lagos. First I want to urge Nigerians to ensure that they come out en masse to vote out the PDP led-government. They should not allow PDP to return to power. That is the only way we can achieve meaningful change. You can imagine a National Assembly of hundreds of PDP members and opposition lesser than one hundred, what becomes of such House? But when it is a fifty-fifty House, there would be radical changes and decisions would follow due consultation. So, part of my plans and strategy is to see that the voice of the opposition is heard and as a Chartered Accountant, ensure that all finances of the country are properly scrutinised and spending investigated. The same way Abuja deserves a special status, so does Lagos as the commercial capital of Lagos. If currently two per cent of the federal budget is allocated to Abuja, at least one per cent should be allocated to Lagos. A lot of federal government abandoned properties are scattered all over the State and nothing is being done to revamp them. The power issue must properly be looked into. With these, I am sure there is a lot of work on our hands. That is why we are appealing to the electorate to vote their choice and enjoy the dividends of democracy.

Do you see yourself going back to your profession someday?
Despite the fact that politics has taken my time, I will still one day go back to my profession because it is my first love. It may not be as an active professional person but as a consultant or adviser to people and governments. Moreover, I still have a lot to offer the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria.