At 47, I'm A Fulfilled Man

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Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Kayode Opeifa was 47 years on 21 May, 2012. In this interview with our Senior Staff Writer, Kazeem Ugbodaga, he spoke about his fulfillment and what he intends to do to reposition the transportation sector in Lagos. Excerpts.

Sir, you just turned 47 years and you appear to look younger, what do you say about this?

On this job, my ulcer came back. On this job my asthma; on this job, my sight deteriorates every six months. On this job, I have made more enemies from among my own friends. But it is also on this job that I have been more fulfilled than I have ever been. Because of my age, it was on this job that I can’t do exercises any more. So, if I look younger than my age, I give glory to God Almighty, it is a clear indication that I will live longer.

What will be your focus in the next one year?

My focus is on documenting the past efforts of transformation in the transportation sector in Lagos, documenting all the programmes and policies, and putting them into perspective. Secondly, to ensure that the programmes that are currently ongoing are properly packaged so that they can withstand the test of time and to create an energy structure for them. The next thing is to standardize some concepts in public transport system to talk on appropriate legislation.

And the next thing I will focus on is the standardization of most of our transport infrastructure, such as traffic signal lights, pavement marking and ensure that the state works hard to ensure that there appropriate plans are on ground to ensure our roads are safe, and that the number of accidents on the roads are greatly reduced. We’ll also ensure we have a traffic management system that works 24 hours and ensure that road users have confidence that what happens in the developed world is also happening here. What I am saying is that I will ensure that in the next few years, we will create an enabling structure to ensure that these things are achieved in the shortest time possible.

Why do you think you are fulfilled at 47 years?

There are certain things that strike you and tell you that you have done your own bit. When you see an accident scene and see the way LASTMA men manage the situation, when you see a tree fall down and you see LASTMA men cutting the tree to ensure free flow of traffic, when you go on the road and see traffic lights working, controlling motorists without anybody instructing them on what to do; when you compare what it was before we came into the system and you see how much we have been able to work on what was already existing, I am fulfilled. When I look back at the children of the school traffic advocacy programme and I see that dream of changing the driving culture and attitude of Lagos people is coming to reality, I feel fulfilled. It gives me the impression of having a dream that one day, we will have a new generation of road users that really understand road safety. So, when you look at the thick and thin of the job, when you compare your colleagues in the political realm, academics, when you look at your contemporaries who have done more than what I have done, who have put much more energy than I have put and I put myself, you cannot, but be very grateful to God.

What else do you want in the life of young man who went into the university, actively fought in the June 12 struggle; fought against Babangida, Abacha, Buhari, Idiagbon and came forward to fight military regime and you see the military handing over the civilian?

Today you can see people of my own generation taking active responsibility in democratic government; the like of Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi; Minister of Communication, Labaran Maku; House of Representative member, Opeyemi Bamidele. You see those with whom you worked in the civil society, like Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi among others. And when you see so many of us who have not made it, I must count myself lucky to have been part of it, so it is a fulfilling story. Definitely, we could do more and I am still going to do more but as of today, I feel fulfilled.

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Why have you become the enemy of some of your former friends?

My old friends, what they thought was that being in government, they can ask for anything, and that when their vehicles are arrested, they want me to get it released immediately. They thought I should behave like every other person or act according to the impression they have about government. They believe you can do and undo. When they need a job for their children, they think you must be able to provide the job; when they need resources, you must be able to give them; when they have an issue you, must be ready to bend. A lot of them could not understand why we could not bend the rules for selfish reasons and honestly speaking, that is what makes Lagos different. You cannot grow under the likes of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and BRF and not have that kind of posture.

That is what the society needs, you must be ready to tell people no when you should. And you shouldn’t be bending the rules on the flimsy excuse that somebody is a friend. I am not saying that one shouldn’t help but it can’t be at the expense of the rule, the rule is the law. If somebody’s vehicle is apprehended and the person feels I must use my influence to release the vehicle, I will rather pay the fine. I will provide the money and ask him to go and pay the fine. And when there are complaints, I ask them to file a petition; some would wonder why I asked them to do that, wondering why I can’t just take action. I tell them we have to follow due process, let him or her write the petition and direct it to me. So, when I say enemies, it is not that they have run away from me, it is just that they keep wondering why I can’t bend the rules.

What have been your challenges?

None of our work is challenging to me anymore because I have learnt never to see challenges but opportunities. So, I think of which one brings the most opportunities for me to contribute; that is the way I see it, but to talk of the more problematic or more demanding of the job. Surely speaking, the resources to do the job are the most demanding. To manage Lagos Traffic, you need more than LASTMA. You need resources; properly paved and marked roads, you need resources to put up traffic signal lights, you need to provide median barriers where necessary you need to go on the media to sensitize people. You need to put more LASTMA officials on the road and equip them. One needs to train the LASTMA alongside more media enlightenment and education. So, the fact that you have LASTMA on the road is not enough.

Some members of the public believe they must be treated in a hard way before they comply with the traffic rules; so that becomes too much for LASTMA. The roads, if not properly marked, how does a man know when he is on the other lane? If the installed traffic signal lights are not working, who manages the situation? So, the most demanding is how to create an equitable or realistic means of those options that are available to solve the traffic congestion in the ever bustling Lagos. By definition, the state generates a lot of IGR but it is difficult for people to understand that the population of the state is so enormous and whatever comes from the Federal Government is not just enough to equitably address all the issues. So, it is in the midst of this scarcity of resources that every sector of the state has to take their own share in the provision of infrastructure, improvement of standard of living. With the demand, the resources available to address the issues become challenging. Where do we get it from here?

How far have you gone in the area of public transportation?

Talking about public transportation, we have gone into Public Private Partnership. Why? Because the resources are not just there for the state to provide. We have provided over 500 buses to LAGBUS. Where are the resources to put all that in place; bring the resources, we will bring the problem down to less than 5 per cent.

The next to that is managing the public, which is equally very tough. This is a public that has seen so many years of military rule and that has come to a conclusion that it is only through the use of force that something can get done. You now have to manage those enforcement agencies that they are there to cater for the people and it is from the people’s sweat that they are being paid. We now have a situation where it takes extra work to convince people not to cross the expressway, even where you have a pedestrian bridge.

It is difficult to convince Danfo (kombi bus) drivers that driving against traffic is a suicide mission without effecting an arrest. You must manage them in such a way that the enforcement agency must be first class. By and large, we thank God that we are able to manage this well, our law enforcement agencies remain the best behaved in this country.