ICYMI: We’ve budgeted billions to battle COVID-19 –Sanwo-Olu

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The Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, speaks about his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, strides in infrastructure development, among other issues, in a recent interview with Channels Television monitored by Saturday PUNCH

Last year, after COVID-19 lockdown and #EndSARS protests, we saw a lot of people losing trust in government. If you were to interact with such people, what will you be telling them?

If you don’t learn from what has happened yesterday, you probably don’t have a tomorrow. So, for me, personally, it is not really to dwell so much on the past but to learn from the past and have a conversation going forward; (it is to) have a plan, have an agenda that you can take forward. So, what I would say to a whole lot of our youth citizens and everyone is that as a government and a person, we have learnt so much from 2020. We have learnt from the pandemic – a kind that had not ravaged the world in 100 years and with Lagos as its epicentre (in Nigeria). We had protests, the kind that we had never seen in this part of the country, particularly, the aftermath of the protests. As a government, we have learnt from these. We have felt the bite and (listened to the) conversation coming out and we are saying transparently that let all of us, together, take it forward and build a better society for ourselves. How else can we do it? We don’t have anywhere to go to; we don’t have any other country, we don’t have any other state. So, it is in our individual and collective interest that we build things for ourselves and for the future. That is what I will say and that is the encouragement that I want to leave with all of us and I kept saying that as a person, as long as I have this mandate, I will not shy away from ensuring that I give hope to my fellow citizens. And we will take all the lessons forward and build a better and stronger future for ourselves.

How is the Lagos State Government monitoring home care for COVID-19 patients in such a way to prevent further transmission?

We have a home-care pack that we give to them and in the pack, all of the medications are there. But beyond that, we also follow up with what we call EkoTELEMED call centre by which health care professionals call home-care patients on a daily basis. The number is 08000EKOMED. Health professionals are on the other side of the call centres in which they are dialling the patients’ phone numbers, monitoring and asking them questions. In the home-care pack we give out, you have your hand sanitisers, face masks and temperature gauge. The professionals will call and ask you all necessary questions, such as “What is your temperature today? How are you feeling with the medication you are using? Are you still able to isolate in your house, home or wherever you are?” And if they realise that your symptoms are not getting improved or your conditions are escalating, they will make an arrangement to pick you up and that is the kind of thing that has been happening.

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Lagos has over 44,000 COVID-19 cases. As the epicentre of the pandemic in Nigeria, is the state planning to purchase vaccines outside of the arrangements being made by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19?

We are having conversations on this at different levels. We actually want the Federal Government to take the lead. As a sovereign, they have all the protocols and contacts to make and we are conversing. We are still having another meeting on Tuesday with the PTF and the NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control) under the federal umbrella. Internationally, there is also a coalition that has come together – about 190 countries working with the World Health Organisation. There is a list of how they want to be able to ensure that even the poor nations and the fairly-disadvantaged nations must also have the vaccines at some point in time. So, Nigeria has got involved in that but we want the nation to take the lead and we are giving them that space as a state, because they are sovereign. But other than that, as a sub-national, we are also taking our destiny in our own hands. We have started conversation with some of the vaccines manufacturers. I have made contact with Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca. Johnson and Johnson (vaccine) is not out yet. The Moderna has written to us and we have written back to them. So, we are making our sub-national contacts but we do not want to be dealing with middlemen or people that are not in the frontline supply chain of some of these vaccines. We don’t want to run foul of the protocols. But we have started making contacts even at the board level with the manufacturers. How that will work out, we still have one or two weeks to see but we have started making the contacts already. And it is important for me to make this clear – we don’t have to vaccinate the 20 million people that we have in Lagos State. The plan is to just ensure that there is herd immunity and that typically speaks about 50 to 60 per cent of the population. That is the kind of target we really need to meet.

How much, in terms of fund, is Lagos State setting aside to purchase vaccines?

The conversations are still at various levels. We are speaking with the organised private sector. So, they can also help us raise some of the finance that is required. We have our friends in the private sector who are telling us that they understand that this is public health issue but they also want to work with us because our citizens are also their staff members. We can have conversation and have a middle point that  will enable us to jointly raise the finance that is required. So, we have a decent amount in our budget around COVID-19; billions that we put in there. Certainly, it will not be enough but a lot of grants will also come in from Gavi, which is a global body we are speaking to. So, we know there will be support that will come in but we can take the first step in ensuring that we put our money where our mouth is. But we are working with the private sector to be able to raise the required funding for this.

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Do you agree with those who say Lagos is overcrowded?

Maybe the right word is not overcrowded; maybe there is a lot of pressure on the infrastructures. There is a way in which you can plan a city and even with the population, we can actually turn it into positive energy, if you have data, which is one of the things that is lacking in our environment here, which is one of the things that we are actually also working on. With data, you can do a lot of planning. With data, you can actually estimate and know that even in different local governments, this is the number of schools you need to have, the number of hospitals you need to build. Once you do that, then you can serve your people very well. But when you have undocumented people, when you don’t have an idea of how many people are coming in, then it makes a nuisance and mockery of whatever you are doing. So, those are the kinds of things that we need to be able to balance. Once we do that, what we just need to do is to ensure to use our land efficiently? Places where you do not need to have one-storey buildings, you need to go vertical; you creatively design your model to be able to have a liveability standard that is equal to other parts of the world and make the city very resilient. Those are some of the things that we are working on.

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The Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality was given six months to complete its assignment. A lot of eyes are on that panel and the question people are asking is, after that, what next?

They have done about three months now and so, let us be very patient with them. We have given them a job to do; it is a very difficult job. Let us be very positive that all the recommendations and decisions that will come out of it will be things that all of us will see that fairness, equity and transparency have come into it. I cannot begin to speculate or imagine what will come out of it and what will be their recommendations. We have given them a job to do, so let us just hope, sit back and expect that with the calibre and integrity of people that are there, they will do a job that all of us will be truly proud of. When they come out with their recommendations, it also depends on what kind of recommendations. If they say XYZ should be given certain amount, they have the budget to be able to do that. If the recommendation is that a few people should be sanctioned, then we will look at the procedure of ensuring that those sanctions are meted out. If they say that some regulations or procedures should be improved upon, we will ensure that we bring out policy that will ensure that we don’t have a repeat performance. But I cannot begin to speculate what will be the outcome of the inquiry. We can only believe in the credibility of the citizens that we have put on that panel, that they will do a good job and fair job.

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What should we be expecting this year on the Fourth Mainland Bridge that you have talked about?

It is not just Fourth Mainland Bridge; Fourth Mainland Bridge is just going to be one of our deliverables. Fourth Mainland Bridge, I must say, is really (an) off-balance sheet development. It is a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model and it is something that will marvel all of us. We are hoping that we can sign a concession before the end of this year. It is a 37-kilometre ring road. It is like M25 that you have in the United Kingdom and it is eventually going to hit the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway when it finishes. But Fourth Mainland Bridge is just one of our projects; there are several landmark infrastructures that we will be delivering. Our rail projects, the red line and the blue line, before we end our administration, we believe they should be up and running. We are building several bridges on the regional roads, (including) the bridge at Pen Cinema, which will be opened sometime next month or the month after. We are building roads in Ikorodu. We are constructing a road from Eleko Junction towards Epe. There are other connecting roads and we are spreading development round the city, but Fourth Mainland Bridge will be an icing (on the cake) because it is a 37-kilometre ring road. So, it is something that we are really expecting, but like I said, it is not on our own budget; it is an off-balance sheet item, meaning it is a PPP concession.

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