“The success of Lagos is the success of Nigeria…” – Hon. David, Badagry II Constituency.
Honourable Setonji S. David, served the Lagos State Government for over 25 years in several ministries as an engineer and retired in 2014 before the attaining the statutory age of retirement. A civil engineer, he is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and the Nigerian Institute of Civil Engineers as well as a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management. A graduate of the University of Lagos, he has three masters degrees in environmental resource management, business administration, and public administration. Since 2014, he contested and won a seat at the Lagos State House of Assembly to represent Badagry II Constituency. In this no-holds-barred exclusive interview, he reveals his vision and mission in politics. Excerpts:
DDH: What are some of the major projects the state is executing which your committee is aware of and facilitating?
Hon. David: I am sure you know that Lagos State is the pace setter in Nigeria, in all respects. We are doing so many things that other states are actually coming [to emulate]. Even the parliament of Lagos State, the House of Assembly, other states come here to see what we are doing and copy us because of the level of dynamism. I will mention two of the projects to you. Look at Badagry Expressway, a ten-lane road, that the government is executing. Ordinarily, Badagry Expressway belongs to the federal government. But what we are doing, because we cannot continue to leave Lagos for the federal government to be toying with, that was why the state government, despite that we don’t have enough resources, is trying its best to provide that. There is nothing like that road in the whole of West Africa, perhaps in Africa as a whole, if am not overstating it. It was started by the previous administration and as government is a continuum, the present government is trying to complete that project. The other one is railways. Also, several roads have been awarded that by the time they are completed, Lagos will really be on top.
DDH: Does the rail project have a completion or commencement schedule for passenger transportation?
Hon. David: Like I said earlier, this is a state government project. We didn’t have enough resources, that is why we could not award it in a lump sum. We tried to segment it depending on the availability of funds. So, I cannot tell you exactly when it will completed but I can assure you that the state government is committed to get it ready at the appropriate time.
DDH: What are some of the major challenges of infrastructure development in the state?
Hon. David: You see, it’s unfortunate that the federal government has left Lagos State to cater for itself. It’s only in Nigeria that a state that was serving as a federal capital will just be abandoned to itself. And we have been clamouring for the fact that Abuja is taking a percentage of our national budget and the same thing should have been applicable to Lagos State. Abuja is being developed while they abandoned Lagos State. And what is unfortunate is that the infrastructure that was left by the federal government like the roads, they abandoned everything for the state government. Apart from the fact that we have our state projects to take care, even the federal projects have been abandoned. So, there is no special fund for Lagos State, that is part of what we are clamouring for in the state: that they should give special status to Lagos State because of the role we have played in the life of this country for over forty years since before independence and after independence. The economic nerve centre of Nigeria, even of West Africa is Lagos. And you just abandoned the place for whatever reason. But thank God that today the state government and the government at the centre are being governed by the same party. So, hopefully, we believe that the government at the centre will have a rethink about the status of Lagos State and do what is right.
DDH: Are these problems peculiar to Lagos State?
Hon. David: As defined by the United Nations, any city that has a population above ten million is considered to be a megacity. And Lagos State is over 20 million and the United Nations has said in another twenty years or thereabout we will be ranking with the first three most populated city in the world. So, we have serious challenge of infrastructure deficit and our services are being overused. As a civil engineer I know that we have other modes of transportation that the government should look into. But what can we do without funds. That’s why we continually appeal to the federal government that Lagos State belongs to Nigeria. The success of Lagos is the success of Nigeria. And there is no part of Nigeria that is not represented in Lagos. We are all living here, we are all Lagosians and we don’t discriminate in Lagos. As I am talking to you now, in this administration, we have Igbo men and women. In this administration, we have Hausa men and women here in Lagos State. This is the state that belongs to everybody in Nigeria. So we are appealing to the federal government to do something speedily to help us so that we can face our infrastructural challenges.
DDH: What are the activities of your committee to support, fast track, expedite or enhance the implementation of projects of ministries you oversee?
Hon. David: I am the chairman of the House Committee on Physical Planning and Urban Development. Essentially, it’s a service ministry. We want to ensure that the haphazard developments that are done in most of the states are actually checked [in Lagos State]. We want to ensure that developments in Lagos State adhere strictly to regulations. And that’s what we are doing. We are playing the role of oversight, superintending over that ministry to make sure that they do what is right. And the negative image that has plagued us over the years, this committee is out to check it so that what we are doing in Lagos will be good enough for us. But you know that because of the population compared with the land mass, we are constrained. Like population per square kilometer [in Lagos], even in the whole of West Africa, you cannot compare any other place with it. Despite that our committee is doing all that is necessary to ensure that our development is planned.
DDH: When you talk about image, are you talking about things such as building collapses and things like that?
Hon. David: Yes, things like slums, urban degeneration, renewal, etc, those are the things we are talking about so that those developments can be steady and befit the status of the state.
DDH: How does your committee carry out oversight functions? Please give instances.
Hon. David: Yes, we have been doing that as a committee. For instance, in the last two weeks we visited all the agencies that are under the ministry we are superintending. We have been telling them what they are supposed to do to ensure that they do what is right. And I have told them severally that it is not going to be business as usual. If any form of infraction is noticed in any of these ministries, we will not hesitate to take necessary steps because Lagosians are watching. We have to ensure that what we are doing in Lagos, we are doing it right because a situation where buildings collapse can never be tolerated again. I want to assure you that we are on top of the situation, we are monitoring all the ministries, we are monitoring all the agencies to let them know that you cannot just do whatever you like. Any structure that is not supposed to be approved, you approve it and there are issues, you get yourself to blame. We have emphasized those things for them and I think our people are having a change of heart.
DDH: What are those ministries and agencies under your committee?
Hon. David: There is only one ministry, the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development. We also have Lagos State Building Control Agency, Lagos State Physical Planning Authority. These are some of the agencies and I think two others under that Ministry.
DDH: What are your constraints as a House or as a Committee?
Hon. David: You know democracy is evolving. That is why sometimes people compare us to the developed world like the USA which had been practicing democracy for over two hundred years. We are just coming up. But we have challenges. In terms of the number of staff we are supposed to employ to actually monitor those agencies, we cannot afford it yet. But we are reviewing regulations on daily basis so as to modernize our way of doing things. With time things will get better. So, we cannot say we don’t have challenges, paucity of funds is there because if you are doing oversight functions, you must properly equip yourself. Ordinarily, we are supposed to have some consultants working for us. We cannot get everywhere. But some of them we cannot even do now because of paucity of funds. By and large, within our challenges, we are still trying to make sure things are done right.
DDH: On the personal side, you concluded your civil service career and got elected. How did that process come through?
Hon. David: I have always loved politics. Let me quote this man, Betolde Bretch. He said, “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, takes no part in political life. He doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of bread, of medicine or political decisions. He evens prides himself of his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics. He doesn’t know, the imbecile, that from his political nonparticipation comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and, worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations…” So, I have always had the interest in politics even when I was in school. Anything that happens in my environment, I want to know what is going on. Apart from that, naturally, am very compassionate, with due respect. Without sounding immodest, I love to be in a position to assist others. It’s only when you participate in politics that you can actually affect your society to the level I want. That is why I told myself, let me participate and my people have been clamouring for me since a very long time ago that I should leave civil service and come and represent them. I looked at these things. I was a deputy director but I decided to come out. I thank God, I contested even against the incumbent. I was victorious at the primaries.
DDH: You rose to the position of a director in the civil service?
Hon. David: I was a deputy director.
DDH: What are your political agreements with your constituency about what your political activism will deliver to them?
Hon. David: In this part of the world, our level of expectation or understanding is a little bit on the low side. We are legislators. The executive is the one that executes projects. We make law for the good of society and we transfer to the executive to implement. So, it’s the executive that handles the money but that notwithstanding, our people still expect us to execute projects for them. I want to tell you that precisely on the 3rd of this month, I provided eight bore holes in all eight wards of my constituency. And because of the epileptic nature of power supply I also bought generators for each one of them in our two local governments. Apart from them I have also facilitated the construction of some roads in my area. As an engineer, I know the role good roads can play in a community; it can accentuate development. For that reason I have been liaising with Ministry of Works in one way or the other to come and help us. About two roads were done within this short stay in my position, so am passionate about development in my area. That’s why am here to affect them positively. The pressure is mounting and the challenge is overwhelming but thank God I have been able to kick-start things.
DDH: How do you see your sojourn in politics in Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole?
Hon. David: Am out to affect my people positively, in whatever form because I understand their challenges. I believe strongly that I can assist them. Like I said earlier, I love to do good to everybody, that’s the truth of the matter and that’s why am passionate about things; whatever I can contribute, because there’s so much decadence in our society. Our political system has collapsed. Everybody is chasing money and those things cannot help us. I am trying to let them know that things can get better. That’s the essence of my living. What’s the essence of life if you cannot help others, if you cannot affect others positively. Jesus Christ came to this world to come and die for our sins, to die for us, not because of himself. And that’s how we ought to live our lives so that we can affect our own people and better their lot.