Babajide Sanwo-Olu says Ambode never funded the Blue Rail Line

Babajide Sanwo-Olu says Ambode never funded the Blue Rail Line

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in this interview on ‘Sunday Politics,’ a live television programme anchored by Channels Television’s Seun Okinbaloye, speaks on his administration’s achievements in the last two years in line with his THEMES developmental agenda and other issues

Few days ago, you flagged off the Red Rail Line in Lagos, what are the plans for the Red Rail Line? The rail project has been planned for over 10 years but has not been delivered just yet. What caused the delay?

It was on our drawing board when I was in the Babatunde Fashola’s government. We started the Blue line in 2010 and not the Red line. If we step back, we will remember we always had the rail corridor. Lagos was not with the Federal Government at the time, so the then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government never gave Lagos the right of way for the Red line, which is from Oyingbo, Ebute-Metta all the way to Agbado. The Federal Government never gave us the opportunity to do the Red line then. It is just now that we are doing the Red line. The Federal Government went ahead to construct the Lagos to Ibadan to Kano rail and if we miss the opportunity now and we do not quickly do the red line, what will happen is that once they start the full operations, we will not be able to have an intra-city rail network. It is inter-city they are doing now – Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan and all the way to Kano.

So, for us, it is to seize the opportunity to build the rail infrastructure and go line in line with Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC). In some places, we need to build our own terminals, sidelines, have joint communications strategy and build overpasses such that we can have intra-city network from Oyingbo to Ebute-Metta to Yaba, to pass Jibowu to Mushin, Ikeja, Agege, Ijaiye and finally to Agbado. What this will do for us is that while the Federal Government is taking people out of Lagos to other parts of the country, we are keeping our own traffic as internal to Lagos. Whilst the corridor has been developed, there are places where we need to extend the rail infrastructure corridor. We have about six stations to build and bridge overpasses, where vehicles would go on top and rail will go below, so that we can have safety which is critical and paramount for any rail infrastructure. And in each of those stations to be built, car parks and small retail malls will be built for people to have a transportation experience.

The whole idea is for people to have transportation choices in Lagos. We are doing rail, we have started extensive development in waterways. Ofcourse, BRT is the only one that everyone sees. But I would also tell you something as regard the waterways. We are currently building 15 jetties. They are like small terminal buildings right from Liverpool in Apapa straight down to Apa in Badagry, Marina waterfront in Badagry and will take you to Otuomu Creek in Epe, Ilaje, Ilado on Lagos West Coast, which is in Amuwo-Odofin; Eti-Osa (Badore, Oke-Ira) through Falomo, Ebute-Ero leading to Marina. So, we are connecting the entire Lagos also with waterways. At the end of the day, representing the first pillar of the THEMES agenda which is Traffic Management and Transportation, we want to have efficient rail network (Blue line and Red line), waterways that people believe in, trust, reliable and safe, and of course have the BRT. Although working independently, we want to ensure that the payment solution can be done cutting across all transport systems together.

There is red and the blue rail lines. The blue rail line has started for a while and you are kick starting the red line. For those who do not know, what is the difference between the red and the blue line rail?

It is where they are in Lagos. The Blue line is meant to starts from Okokomaiko in Lagos West on Lagos – Badagry Expressway after Lagos State University (LASU). It is supposed to come from Okokomaiko to Mile 2 through Orile, take it elevated to pass the National Arts Theatre then sea crossing and finally end up in Marina. It is a 29-kilometre stretch. The Phase 1 of the project is from Marina to Mile 2, while the Phase 2 is from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko. The beauty of this project is that we have constructed the difficult parts, which is the elevated one like the bridges; we are building bridges all through where the rails are going to be. From Mile 2 to Okokomaiko is at the grid level, meaning it is at surface level. So, we are just going to put the tracks there, we are not building any bridge. It is just straight track and the alignment is there.

The Red Line is on Lagos Central District into Lagos West as well. The Phase 1 of it will start from Oyingbo, go through Ebute-Metta, pass Yaba, Jibowu to Mushin, pass through Ilupeju to Ikeja Along, gets to Agege, Iju and finally to Agbado. The Phase 2 of the Red Line will be the C-Crossing from Ebute Metta, Oyingbo to Iddo and will cross the bridge as well like the Blue line has done and finally bring you to Marina. So, Marina will eventually have both the Red Line and the Blue Line. So, it will be a major transport hub.

Technically said, there is no difference between the red and blue rail lines because by the colours many people thought that one is more sophisticated than the other. So, it is just in terms of the routes.

Yes.

The Blue Lines was delayed and people were wondering maybe it was because of funding. Was funding the problem?

There is no sub-national anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa; in fact if you also take it to the developed world in United States that is taking a rail project by itself. We are a sub-national, we took that decision over 10 years ago and we said we want to be audacious. I was in that cabinet and we said we have never seen a rail been developed. No sub-national has taken up one, so it was an audacity that we have taken it up. And you will see that from Orile to Marina is elevated. It is like we are building eight kilometers of bridge on the highway. So, cost is critical and it is crossing the water.

It was funding that was the major problem.

It was a major problem.

For almost four years, it looks so much like contractors stopped works and nothing was happening…

Unfortunately, I don’t criticise my predecessor, but indeed for whatever planning or reasons, he never just funded it. So when we came back last two years, the contractor has since significantly moved from about 55 per cent and now we are about 94 per cent in term of physical construction of Phase 1. We have also raised finance for the rolling stock.

How much is this costing Lagos State?

It is a lot of money, it is well over N100 billion to be honest with you.

Is it government funding or counterpart funding?

It is largely government funding but we have to use creative financing. When you are doing creative financing and you are building infrastructures that are going to last 20, 30 years, you cannot be using short term fund. You need to look out for matching long-term funds to be able to have the breather so that you will be able to pay back in the life of that infrastructure. So we have some very decent long term borrowing to cushion the effect of it.

In terms of Return on Investment, what does it look like?

I will be critical with you. There is always that little element of subsidy that might come in there; subsidy in the area of ensuring that you have price regulation. We are going to get concessioners who are going to put the rolling stock on it. All we are developing is the infrastructure. Somebody is going to put the rolling stock on it, which is like the buses. It is like on the normal road, we built the road and get people to buy buses and ply the road; that is what is going to happen with the rail. So, with our concessioners, it is to say to them, we must have some stringent passenger rules; you can’t just wake up and say you want to increase the fare to a certain amount. You must have the breather to know that you will recoup your investment over a longer period of time so that it becomes accessible and affordable to the citizens. So, those are some of the models we are working with. We believe that there will be Return on Investment for the concessioners when they come.

The bigger Return on Investment will be the ease of life for the lives of Lagosians in terms of the traffic and hours that people stay in traffic. There was an interesting video that someone posted where everybody on the bus at night were commuting from the Island to the Mainland were asleep except a person who recorded the video and obviously the driver. It tells how tedious it is for people to commute in Lagos.

It is difficult because a megacity of this size cannot rely only on one mean of transportation. It is unfair. So, that is why we have to stretch ourselves. When we asked the citizens a question during the campaign, what do they want us to solve first? It is transportation and so we needed to look for the funding to give them the three options – rail, waterways and road transportation. Not only does it improve the quality of life, we believe that it also enhances the economic value of our citizens. People can pretty much determine their travel and journey time, and have it all set up.

So, Lagos residents and citizens can hold on to your promise that this will be delivered before the end of next year.

It will be delivered. We should see the rail movement by the last quarter of next year. Once we are able to get the rail movement, the only thing that would probably remain is to ensure signalisation, security components and that we certify all of the security and safety issues that are required; then we should open it up. We believe that before the end of our tenure as governor, people should be plying on the railway.

Experts have said, it is not only the scarcity of the means of transportation that is the problem causing traffic and long-man hours on the road but also the quality of some of the road. There are lots of potholes on the road, people dodging and bypassing the road. Are you solving those kinds of problems too?

We have to take it up very seriously. Infrastructure in terms of road infrastructure is critical to us. In all of our three senatorial districts, there are big investments we are doing on road infrastructure. For instance in Lagos West, we are doing a lot in the whole of Alimosho, Ojokoro, Agbado-Ijaiye and Ojo. Right now, we just awarded the Old Navy Town Road in Ojo; the Buba Marwa, very notorious heavy traffic road where all the trailers and fuel tankers are at Ijegun. We just commissioned Tedimowo Bridge at Ojo Local Government Area. If you come towards Agege/Alimosho area, we handed over the Pen-Cinema Bridge and 31 roads in Ojokoro and Agbado/Oke-Odo and Ijaiye axis. If you come to the Lagos East, we are doing Agric-Isawo Road, Oba Sikumade Road, Ijede Road, Igbogbo-Isawo Road and a brand new road to be named Bola Ahmed Tinubu Road going towards new Ijede Road, all in Ikorodu at the same time. In Lagos Central, we are doing several roads in Ikoyi; we are doing Thompson Avenue, McPherson in Victoria Island.

Are these new roads construction or you are fixing them?

They are brand new roads. Because of potholes, we are doing brand new roads with drainages everywhere. From Eleko Junction in Eti-Osa going to Epe is 18-kilometer of six lanes; from face me I face you, we are turning it to three lanes both sides, six lanes of rigid pavement road. That is what we are doing for our citizens. That is the kind of things that they need. We are doing the roads concurrently. We are not just doing the highways; the regional road is there, it is 10-kilometers from VGC which has a bridge bursting out at Freedom Road. We are also looking at internal roads, and that is why I am happy with the kind of things that the Lagos State Public Works are doing. Lagos State Public Works as of today have done Grade 1 maintenance of 270 roads.

We also set up a 377 constituency projects which we started last year, meaning that we are doing a project in every ward. We have 377 wards in Lagos State. We took up 377 projects and over 60 per cent of the projects are road works. We went to every local government and requested what they wanted us to do in their wards and a lot of them want us to do internal roads for them. So we are bridging all of that. We have over 10,000 roads; it is huge. So, for us it is work in progress, but we need to be very strategic. We need to look at roads that can commune and connect communities together; roads that can also open up to new area. I will give you a classical example, we had an idea to do Ijeododo-Ijagemo Road, but the community said “we don’t want you to demolish our properties, look for another alignment.” So we had to tell the contractor, let us take you to somewhere else; maybe further down the line, they will tell us to come back. These are some of the challenges we face. We are going to reconstruct Adeniji-Adele, Tapa and Glover in Lagos Island because there is flooding issues there and we are engaging them.

One of the things that people tell us is that, “Mr. Governor, we might not be able to go to your school, we might not be able to use your hospitals, but we will use your road.” Therefore, road does not have any differentiation in colour, so we have to continue to do it. It is always about 55 to 60 per cent of our capital expenditure every year.

Lagos is massive and I will like you to talk about the waterways. How many terminals are you planning and to take how many commuters per day?

We are building 15 jetties. Lagos Ferry Services Company (LAGFERRY) has done about 200,000 passengers now. We believe that we are an enabler of that sector. We are getting another set of six Carter marine (smaller vessels boat) each carrying 40, 30 passengers and 25 in some cases and they are supposed to move people from one terminal to another. We are meant to be a stimulator, so Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) will be doing an Expression of Interest to get other players to come in, bring in ferries and boats and we can complement our own efforts. We are doing channelization, so safety, security is assured on the waterways. Once that is done, we are believing that on the waterways, we should be able to do about 60,000 to 70,000 passengers per day. We are doing currently about 5,000 passengers.

Are you bench-marking it with any template around the world? Are you mirroring it on any international template considering that a lot of Lagosians are not familiar with water transportation?

First thing first is one third of Lagos is water and that is natural. So, it would be unfair on us not to utilise that opportunity. Lagos in terms of area is also below the sea-level, so the water will always be there; about 33 per cent of our landmass is water. So, we need to create that infrastructure for water, which is the terminal; a proper terminals or jetties that the boat can berth, with security, just like the type you have at Falomo. It may not be the building that size, but the safety and the security of the jetty must also be of that quality. Once that is done, the other thing is to encourage private sector investors to be able to make investments in ferries; buy the boats, ride and just comply with safety that we are going to put in place. We have been the one leading that conversation as we have 20 boats now with 30, 50 passengers that is been run by LAGFERRY. We want to demonstrate the capability and capacity of the waterways. The data shows we have moved over 200,000 passengers in less than one year and it is verifiable.

Is that why the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) also partnered with Lagos State for Super Eagles to travel across the water?

Absolutely. Thanks very much for reminding me.

It is interesting that all of this is happening. The government came out at some point to say they were going to scrap the yellow buses. When is the exact date for that to stop?

Well, it will be unfair for us to use the word scrap; we need to collaborate and engage because these are important stakeholders. They have served our citizens; they have served Lagosians for so long a time. The yellow buses even became the print of Lagos. So, let us be very creative and see how we can remodel them. So, it is not a scrapping out, we are not throwing anybody out. We are collaborating with them and saying our citizens now deserve newer models of car, better means of transportation and let us work together. The yellow buses are meant to be doing what we call the “Last Mile Movement.” Before the end of our second year in May 29, we will be launching the first phase of the “Last Mile Movement” with 400 buses; they are small eight-passenger and 10-passenger buses to compliment what the Yellow buses are doing. We will sit with them and let them know we have brought the buses to you, let us exchange it. You are the one that can still run it, let us take this fleet out and re-fleet this new component for you and so it seems like it is a win-win opportunity that we are creating.

What about the car-hailing model that you introduced recently?

That is a taxi-model which is another model. We want to participate in the three models of land transportation – buses, last mile minibuses and taxis. The taxis are for individuals. For taxis, we will sign an agreement with an international automobile company to start an assembly plant in Nigeria for that transaction. For it to work, we said, we will do a demonstration, procure and stimulate with 1,000 taxis. So the 1,000 are coming; they are on their way and they should start arriving by May. But beyond that is to be able to deliver about 5,000 to 6,000 taxis over the next one year or one and a half years. So an assembly plant is also coming.

So, at a point, we will not see the yellow buses again.

We will see newer buses.

So the yellow bus drivers might be the ones who will take up the jobs and not be out of jobs. We need to clarify that they will not be out of jobs and their families do not get into trouble.

We will take them as stakeholders for them to seat with us as small cooperatives to manage it very well.

There were several BRT buses that were destroyed during the #EndSARS protest. Are you planning to replenish that pool? What exactly is on the mind of the Lagos State Government?

Absolutely, we are planning to replenish them. Infact, we have started a conversation and the interesting thing is, we are working with a local bus manufacturing company and it is going to come with almost the same specification of the buses that were unfortunately destroyed so that Lagosians can still have the same experience.

Weren’t they insured?

They were insured but insurance would never cover up 100 per cent because these are public things. These are insurance that go beyond natural events like arson, riots will cover. Your insurance typically will cover accidents, reckless driving but these are like unforeseen and unexpected incidents, so the premium on it were far low; they cannot give you any replacement.

You intervened on the issue of Apapa gridlock and lots of Lagosians said some sign of sanity is returning to that axis because a lot of people have lost hope, considering that over the years, efforts have been made. But after your intervention sanity returned for few days but it just looked like that insanity returned to Apapa yet again.

There are two things that is a problem but unfortunately we kept dealing with one. We all talk about the Apapa Port, either the Tincan Port or Apapa Port. What goes in and out of the port are the flatbeds – trucks that carry the containers. The other one we forgot to deal with are the fuel tankers. A lot of the jetties and tank farms are also in Apapa; almost 70 per cent of the total fueling that go to Sokoto, Maiduguri, Abuja are been fueled from Lagos, so meaning that on a daily basis, there are about 2,000 trailers that are trying to get into the tank farms in Apapa and come out. So, we have been trying to sort the problem of e-call up with the flatbeds that were carrying containers forgetting that there is another bigger monster, which are the tanker drivers.

The tanker drivers that the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) gave approval for are meant to have enough parking for them to receive all of their tankers before fueling at their depot but that is not the case. So, we have realised that they are the ones now giving us 40 to 50 per cent of the problem. So, we are going to enter the same conversation with NNPC and DPR and say to them that all of the major oil guys they are bringing in do not have enough parking spaces in their yard. And because they are all berth by the same port area, that is where all the tank farms are, because of their discharge and everyone seems to go to Apapa.

So, we are going to be solving that and have that conversation with them. They have to have a time in which they all can come. And the feedback that I get is that they will go on strike if I stop them; that is the kind of pushback we are getting and nobody wants to hear anything about drivers and Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) going on strike. So, we are managing all of those crises and dealing with all of the very difficult issues. The call-up in my view is working fairly well with the flatbeds, which are the ones carrying containers. We understand their model a lot better now.

So as you are solving one problem, another one resurfaces…                                Exactly. If you check the pictures of all the flags we get on Apapa now, they are the tankers.

How soon can you resolve this? Because before you came in, the Federal Government Taskforce unit which collaborated with the Lagos State Government tried over several months and nothing happened. The Vice President also visited but you personally moved in, so how soon are you going to move in with another strategy and what will that solution be?

If you want me to give you the truth strategy around Apapa, it is for that port to leave the place. That is the truth because it has actually outgrown the capacity of what is been done there and that is why we have the Lekki Port coming up. I have good news for you; Lekki Port will also be ready by last quarter in 2022. I have been there and it is about 50 per cent completion right now and so we just got about another 18 months to go. Once that is also done, we can reduce the pressure on Apapa completely, because indeed the amount of cargo carriage they are carrying now far outstripped the design model of the Apapa Port. That is the medium to long term solution. This is something we would have done as a country 10 years ago and just say to ourselves, given the capacity of our importation appetite, we should have thought of building another port and that is what we are doing with the Deep Sea Port in Lekki.