Flanked by members of the All Progressives Congress caucus in the House of Representatives who arrived the Lagos House on February 17, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State smiled as photographers clicked away.
The APC House of Reps caucus, led by the Majority Leader Femi Gbajabiamila, were at the government house to present a letter to the governor asking him to re-contest in 2019.
Mr. Gbajabiamila, who said the lawmakers’ unanimous decision to endorse Mr. Ambode for a second term was as a result of his “brilliant performance” in office in the last two and half years, noted that the lawmakers were indeed proud to associate with the governor.
“Because of the giant strides of our amiable Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode in the last two and a half years in governing the State; because of the things he has done across board, across all the Local Government Areas, across different sectors, we sat together and we decided without a dissenting voice to seek his audience and endorse him for re-election in 2019 as the Governor of Lagos State,” he said.
In the last two years, beginning from May 2015 when he assumed office, Mr. Ambode has commissioned many projects across the state. In May 2017, the governor commissioned the Abule Egba overhead bridge amidst pomp and pageantry. In the same month, he commissioned other projects including the Ajah Fly Overs and a couple of roads in Lekki.
Similarly, the government commissioned the Aboru-Abesan Link Bridge; the Ojodu Berger Pedestrian Bridge, Lay By, Slip Road and Segregated Bus Park; the Omotayo Banwo/Kola Iyamolere Street in Ogudu, Kosofe local council; the Admiralty/Freedom Road in Lekki; the pedestrian bridge in Ojota; a walkway in Jakande, Lekki, among others.
But while residents continue to ply these roads and bridges, little or nothing has been made public about their cost.
In 2017, PREMIUM TIMES wrote a series of letters to the state government requesting details of these projects and others, but this newspaper never got any response from the government.
The state has been serially accused of not making details of its budget and other crucial finances known to the public, despite repeated requests.
When contacted in February, Kehinde Bamigbetan, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, said he needed time to “gather the figures” and present to PREMIUM TIMES as he had just assumed office as commissioner.
On Friday, three weeks after he was first contacted, Mr. Bamigbetan said there had been recent developments when the government gave out figures detailing the cost of its projects.
He gave instances of the ongoing 181 road projects across the state put at N5.5 billion and the new mobile cancer centre put at N365 million.
He, however, could not give figures for the projects highlighted by PREMIUM TIMES, adding that he would work on getting other details requested.
Massive Construction, hidden financial details
Between the last quarter of 2017 and now, the Lagos government embarked on massive construction across major parts of the state. From the Agege Pen Cinema axis to Ikeja airport road and Oshodi including other parts of the state, the city is witnessing numerous construction works.
But Auwal Rasfanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), said although the state has become “a huge construction site”, very little is known about the cost of the numerous projects.
“Everywhere in Lagos now, they are doing massive construction,” he said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “If you look at the Ikeja Road, along the airport, they have removed everything there and the work is progressing. There are so many bogus projects that are going on, you know, rather than take it one after another, everywhere is now under construction.
“But it is important that they also follow due process otherwise lack of access to information on these capital projects would amount to suspicion of not following the due process.”
For Achike Chude of the Joint Action Front, there are people who perceive the state government as performing well in infrastructural provision but in reality, there is little transparency in the ways the projects are being executed.
“When you carry out some of these projects,” Mr. Chude said in a chat with this newspaper, “it must be done on the basis of transparency and accountability because government is a public trust and that’s why there’s Freedom of Information (Act) because if government is to be run as a secret organisation, we won’t have certain instruments of governance like the FOI… like the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Bureau for Public Procurement.
“All of these things are supposed to give governance a very positive face so that transparency is maintained and accountability is ensured because those holding power today are holding power in trust on behalf of the people.”
He noted that the various federal laws promoting transparency in governance have not been domesticated by the state government, saying it “sends dangerous signals to other states who see the state as model”.
“You cannot just be the Centre of Excellence for nothing but on the basis of what people see and on the basis of the fact that on the level of transparency and accountability, you are ahead of other states. That’s what makes you excellent and that’s the level we expect the Lagos state government to operate at.
“There is so much secrecy shrouded in their expenses and their revenues and all of that. We must relegate that kind of culture to the past and start a new culture of transparency and accountability. At this level they have not been able to showcase that aspect of governance and it is a critical aspect because ultimately they will be judged on the basis of that.”
Opaque Procurement Information
Last November, PREMIUM TIMES wrote the Lagos State Procurement Agency demanding details of selected projects in the state. This newspaper also wrote the state government, highlighting among other capital projects, details of the amount spent on the Lagos@50 Festival by the state government in 2017.
But for several weeks between November 2017 and February 2018, our correspondent on several occasions sought to get a response from the agency but was given the run-around by staff of the agency.
Steve Ayorinde, the immediate past Commissioner for Information and one time editor and Managing Director of two national newspapers, didn’t respond to several requests demanding explanation on the seeming opacity surrounding the information.
On the website of the procurement agency, very little is available to show details of contracts executed by the government.
The agency stopped publishing the details around 2015 after the controversies that trailed revelations that former governor Babatunde Fashola’s website was upgraded for N78.3 million.
Speaking in a telephone interview, Friday evening, Mr. Bamigbetan said there are other ways to access the details of the projects, citing the budget document and the procurement monitor.
But PREMIUM TIMES reminded him that details of the state budget has never been made public while the procurement agency has refused to publish details of the government’s projects. He said “the issues will be addressed”.
“We will try and improve on whatever we have met on ground in terms of giving statistics to government’s programmes because our own position basically is that we will need to at least come out with figures so that people know exactly what is the cost of our projects,” he said.
“I think that’s basically the position of the government and we will try and work on it.”
But Mr. Rasfanjani on his part said it was not enough for the government to make promises, adding that the government must take decisive actions toward becoming open and transparent so that it will not be seen as corrupt.
“We should encourage them (Lagos State Government) to be publishing (details of) these projects,” he said.
“This is the reason why people will not have suspicion; if everything is transparent and you can seek for information and get the information. You’d be able to know the contractor, you’d be able to know the timeline, you’d be able to know the amount involved.
“So far, there is none of these massive projects going on that people are aware and if you claim to be doing these for the people, people must know. That’s the difference between democracy and military dictatorship: the right to know is very, very crucial otherwise you’d have undermined the good work you are doing if you refuse to be open and transparent, especially when the media write you seeking for information. You must make the information available otherwise, you’d create doubt whether there is no element of corruption in the process.”