The Lagos State All Progressives Congress gubernatorial candidate, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and his running mate, Femi Hamzat, on Tuesday pledged to run a transparent budgetary system if elected into office in next year’s polls.
The duo spoke at an interactive session with journalists in Lagos.
“The reality there is: what is there to hide?” Hamzat, a former commissioner for works in the state, asked.
While it provides a summary of its annual expenditures and proposed incomes for a fiscal year; the Lagos State government is regularly criticised for keeping details of its budget away from the public.
The APC-led state government, which has governed the state since the return of democracy in 1999, has never made available details of its budget for public scrutiny.
“I’m surprised it’s not available,” said Sanwo-Olu while responding to a question on if their government would upload a detailed budget on their website.
“I’m actually hearing it for the first time, I thought Lagos State was top on that.”
Between 2003 and 2015, Sanwo-Olu, 58, has held different positions in government including the commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Commerce and Industry, and Establishments, Training and Pensions.
He was serving as the managing director of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC) before his move to unseat the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, as the party’s flag bearer in the election.
However, despite holding such high positions in government, he said he was not aware of the secrecy in Lagos government’s financial details.
Sanwo-Olu’s running mate, Hamzat, is also a long-term cabinet member of the state, having served as commissioner for Science and Technology as well as Works and Infrastructure between 2005 and 2015.
Ambode’s aggressive reforms has seen the average monthly internally generated revenue hit N34 billion in 2018, the highest ever in the state.
The state’s internally generated revenue for the first quarter of 2018 stood at N142 billion, more than Abia State’s budget for the entire year.
But activists pushing for accountability in the government’s expenditure have continually met a brick wall.
Last year, the Lagos State government lodged an appeal at the Court of Appeal seeking to set aside a high court ruling which held that the Freedom of Information Act is applicable to the state even without ‘domestication.’
The government’s decision came amidst a plethora of FOI requests by activists including ones asking for the government’s financial statements over the past five years and another seeking an account of its spendings on public schools in the state following a $90 million World Bank loan.
According to the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, only seven Nigerian states have signed in to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international mechanism that promotes good governance through openness and curtailing of secrecy in government activities.
Lagos is not among the seven states.
During the interaction with journalists, Hamzat stopped short of describing the OGP and the organisation that promotes it as meddlesome interlopers.
“Why are those agencies not going to the United States to give us the budget of the Department of Defence, even Congress don’t scrutinise it,” he said.
“The reality is that there are many things the government knows that if you know you won’t sleep.
“When they said Boko Haram is coming to bomb Third Mainland (bridge), you think it’s a lie? Where’s the budget for that? So we’ll put it in the budget that we’ll fight Boko Haram with N4 billion? You can’t.
“I’ve seen people talk about various things… governor’s security votes.
“I’ve even seen a governor, who is now the vice presidential candidate of Atiku talking absolute….to me, complete ignorance.
“You wonder how that person was a governor. Saying that he saved this amount in Diamond Bank, when erosion in Anambra State is the worst in this country and you can’t solve that. And you are telling me you saved so much. As a governor, is it your responsibility to save money?”
On the perennial traffic gridlock in the state, Sanwo-Olu said “creative thinking and solution” is the way out.
“One of the things I said this morning is very simple: there were areas where we were travelling today we had four lanes, here is blocked, you have the other four lanes that is empty and moving in the opposite direction.
“Why can’t we think of a solution whereby, in the morning or whenever it is that this is blocked, let’s create two additional lanes from these four lanes that are empty?
“All we need to do is look at – how do we solve the issues around enforcement and management of it: Where are the entry and exit points? Make this one six lanes in the morning when you are going, the other one two lanes and in the evening you do a reverse.
“You can solve some of these things without needing to build all of the things that are going to take you one or two years to build. It is the model we use in some of the toll plazas. It’s going to take a lot of patience and enforcement.”