ACN Is Not Losing Face In South West

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There is growing concern that the popularity of the Action Congress of Nigeria, CAN, is waning in Lagos State but the party’s chairman in the state, Chief Henry Ajomale, rebutted it. He told FOLA ADEMOSU in this interview that the party is on the right course, while assuring of winning more states into its fold in 2015. 

The Lagos State Local Government Election Petition Tribunal sitting  in the Lagos Magistrates’ Court, Ikeja recently declared Ibrahim Obanikoro of the Peoples Democratic Party the actual winner in Ikoyi/Obalende Local Council Development Area, which was against the claim you made a year ago that your party won. Did the verdict not suggest to you that he, rather than your candidate, was voted? 

Let me clearly state that we did not expect the judgment that we got from the tribunal. Though, I do not doubt the tribunal, but we have facts and figures which we believe perhaps it did not consider before arriving at that verdict. The tribunal assumed the jurisdiction of the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission, LASIEC, by calculating whatever figures were available before it, which though was not known to us, in arriving at its conclusion.

They simply reached a verdict on that score without considering the institution that conducted the election. Besides, we have other grounds upon which to base our appeal of the judgment. Before now, we had challenged the continuity of the tribunal based on the expiration of the constitutionally stipulated time it had to sit. The Supreme Court had ruled that the lifespan of the tribunal is 60 days and it was on that basis that we challenged its continued sitting. Though the case was thrown out, but we went on to appeal and that was where we were before the latest judgment. So, we have appealed the tribunal’s judgment based on these grounds and more, we are hopeful that the appeal would be determined in our favour and the ruling reversed.

Besides, many people in Lagos have criticised the local government administration as majorly corrupt and inept. They expect that they should work as much as the state government in this regard. What is your opinion on that?

The local government administrators are not inept. Many of the ongoing roads construction going on are done by the state government in partnership with the local governments. Ditto for other projects, like clearing of drainage channels and canals. It is just that the state government is the overseer of all that are being done in the state. Any road that is being constructed in any local government has the contribution of the local government, however small.

Besides, they are the ones responsible for the inner roads being constructed. The population is growing everyday, so the existing infrastructures are over-stretched. We are reliably informed that out of every three people that enter Lagos in a day, one of them stays back and never returns to where he came from. Even motorcyclists that have been banned in other states, even Nigeriens and Chadians, are now in Lagos.

Many of them prefer to live under the bridges even when they don’t have anywhere to live. They just believe that they can not become whatever they want to become if they don’t live in Lagos. Besides, expansion is going on in Lagos every day to the extent that people now build in water-logged areas, because there are no vacant lands in Lagos anymore. It is beyond the capacity of government to maintain this increasing rising population and yet the federal government is not giving any assistance to the state government. It ought to confer a special status on the state and give needed assistance. Compare the population of Ikorodu six years ago to now, and that is how it is in other places too. The reason it seems as if the state governments have over-shadowed the local governments derives from the injustice meted to them by the federal government in revenue sharing.

There have been problems in some of the ACN-controlled states, especially with the government employees in those states. Do you think your party is losing face across the southwest and that such might affect your fortunes in 2015?

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The issues are not limited to the ACN-controlled states. It is happening in other states that are controlled by the opposition parties too. The incessant confrontations between the government and workers are caused by the attitude of the federal government to always negotiate on behalf of governors, which is wrong. The federal government does not take into cognizance the capacity of the states to pay the minimum wages being negotiated on their behalf.  The federal government usually takes the lion’s share in terms of federal allocations, about 53 per cent, leaving states and local governments, which have more responsibilities and the actual centres of developments, to share the remaining.

How many states in Nigeria are economically viable or self-sustaining, or can generate enough internal revenues, like Lagos? How many of them are really industrialised?  We should even appreciate the ACN south-west governors, who have gone abroad to attract foreign direct investments in the manufacturing industry  because that will boost their revenues and generate employment for their people.

Let’s look at the issue critically. Oyo State, for instance, spends about 80 per cent of its resources on paying salaries, what do you think will be left for development if the governors do not think out of the box to cater for the rest of the population and provide infrastructure, like schools, health, education, etc. In Lagos, the population of civil servants as against the rest of us is less than one per cent, yet the workers expect government to spend all its revenue on them. What about the over 99.9 per cent others? Did they not vote for the governor too, so should they be deprived of such benefits that are the constitutional roles of government. What should the rest of the people do if the government spent all its revenue on the workers alone? I can tell you that we are not losing face and we will win more states in 2015 based on our performance.

Last year, the Lagos State Government increased tuition fees at the Lagos State University, which led to protests by the students. But the problem has remained unresolved, leading to another round of protests this year again. Does that not suggest that the intervention by some elders, like yourself, on the matter only begged the issue without any way forward?

It is true that we intervened last year, in which we appealed to both the students and the government. Our intervention paid off and the institution decided to slash the money a little and an agreement was reached. We advised the university not to do anything that would stop those who are willing to pay the new fees from registering. We also explained to them that old students would not be affected by the new fees , but freshmen. But immediately the fresh students came in, they started protesting.

The aggrieved students should not have registered if they knew they could not afford it in the first place. Even when one looks at the fees dispassionately, it is still the cheapest. But people believe that everything must be free in government-owned schools, but it is erroneous. They forget that the lectures, including professors would be paid, research work must be done, government would have to expand the faculties, lecture rooms, build hostels, among other things, since government has told the school management that they have to sustain the institution through internally generated revenue apart from grants being given to them. Where would they get money if they do not charge tuition fees, if they do not want the university to collapse? So, the students must pay if they want the university to keep going.

There are also complaints about over-taxation and the high cost of doing business in Lagos State, which has led to a number of companies leaving the state for neighbouring states. What is your comment on that? 

Lagos state government gives tax holidays and other incentives to growing and new industries. The reason those companies left Lagos were basically because of land. For instance, a company that would leave Lagos for Ogun State would have considered the proximity between them. Some of them have their staff resident in Lagos while they work in Ogun. The issue of over-taxation doesn’t arise, rather many of the people who work in border communities near to Lagos do not pay tax to the government, yet their children attend our schools, go to our hospitals and so on. What do you say to that? We have to consider the enormous responsibilities on the shoulder of the Lagos State Government before we blame them for double-taxation. The responsibilities are huge. Now, the people living in Akute, Alagbole  and other areas in that axis in Ogun State have appealed to the Lagos State Government to come and take over the place because of the development going on in the state. There are many people who evade tax in Lagos. Many of them big and rich men, but they fail to understand that if they do not pay tax, there is no way the state or country can develop. Government would have to take from the rich to cater for the poor. A rich man wants to collude with tax officials to manipulate the system or evade tax. They ride big cars, own big companies, yet refuse to pay tax. It is only civil servants and workers that actually pay tax because it is deducted from the source. Even some companies collect tax on behalf of government and would deliberately not remit same to the government. So,  the problems are much, but not insurmountable.