Mrs Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf, a Pharmacist, is the current Commissioner for Home Affairs in Lagos State. Having served as Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment in the previous government, she speaks on her experience in that administration, her new role and Its challenges, what she intends to bring to the table this time around, the person and government of governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, issues of perceived interference and influence by the party, APC leaders in his government, and his performance so far. This, and other issues, she shares in this discourse, with BENJAMIN OMOIKE.
There are complaints that four months into this government, the governor is yet to set the ball rolling. Many say they are yet to see work on ground. Others say forming his cabinet took a long while. Could you assess this government’s performance in the last four months?
I disagree with anybody that said it took a long time before we were appointed. The last time, that administration took five months before Commissioners were appointed. He was sworn-in on the May 29th and we were appointed on 19th of October. People always forget things easily because we are very anxious in this part of the world. Whatever we believe in is what we look forward to. If they say this government has not started doing anything, I can count many things this government has done. When we are in pains, that is when we remember but when the pain has been alleviated, we forget there were times we had the problem because it has been solved. We will not relent, we will continue to improve.
If we look at few months back, people in Apapa could not access their homes in hours, but today, the gridlock in Apapa has gone, but people have forgotten how it disappeared. The last administration battled it for a long time but couldn’t solve it easily. If you go to Badagry axis, where people have been crying because of bad roads before this government came in place, today there is massive construction going on there.
I understand that people want everything seamlessly. This is Lagos and the number of people coming into Lagos everyday is over 150 and only very few percentage go back to where they came from.
If you look at those okada guys along Ikeja expressway axis, all of them are not Nigerians and if they are, they are from far northern part of the country. We don’t even have the exact number of people living in the state. We keep telling our people to come and register but they don’t. When a parent does not know the number of children he needs to feed and just doing it on assumption, some will be well fed believing the father has done his best but there might be a lot that were ignored because they did not show up.
I will plead with Lagosians to ensure that when government puts anything that will benefit them on the table, not in form of money, but law, they should adhere to it.
We have been on the issue of LASSRA in the last eight years, but the data is showing less than 10 per cent of Lagosians have registered. There are lots of challenges, both the people and government need to rise up to. In the last two cabinet meetings, we have been battling with how to ensure our primary health system is better than the private sector. If they don’t see that now, does it mean the government is sleeping? No! We have our priorities. This is the rainy season, if we go out there and invest all our resources on road rehabilitations and road falls, and everything is washed away, that means we are wasting tax payers money.
I will urge Lagosians, that before they start giving us marks; they should give us more time and they will see that the best of our government is coming very soon. We have rolled up our sleeves, put on our booths and we are ready to give Lagosians the best of the dividends of democracy. I can assure them. The governor is having sleepless nights, not because he doesn’t feel like sleeping, but thinking how best to satisfy Lagosians.
You don’t think he will be encumbered by party leaders as there are those who are of the opinion that, considering the circumstances surrounding his emergence, he will be a rubber stamp governor?
That insinuation comes every four years. I could remember when the immediate past administration came on board; people were saying the governor won’t be allowed to do his job. It’s always the same scenario and this one will not be different. We are used to it, but by the time they see the action and performance, they will say something else. When you are in government, you are here to serve the people, not any party leader. Lagosians were the ones that gave us the mandate and the governor campaigned through the nooks and cranny of the state.
Was it only one person that voted for him or millions of Lagosians? Is it only the party leaders? The governor understands his job and he is on top of it. He is man of high intellect and he is giving it everything it needs.
What were some of the challenges you met on ground when you resumed as Commissioner for Home Affairs?
My predecessor, Honourable Abdulateef AbdulHakeem, did his best for the ministry and raised the bar in terms of Hajj operations. I have heard from many of the pilgrims regarding their experiences in the last few operations and it was highly commendable.
The other aspects of the Ministry have not been doing so badly. The challenge I met on ground that I am looking at the best way to stop, is noise emanating from our religious homes and disturbing the environment. It is a serious challenge and many of the citizens have written petitions to the Ministry, and I am sure the Agency that is mandated to oversee the noise pollution in the state, would also have received so many petitions. I have met with the General Manager of Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASEPA, the Agency that regulates all kinds of pollution in the state, and we have agreed to meet with religious leaders to see how we can tackle these issues in the state. After that meeting, I will be able to say what the state government will do and read out riot acts to religious houses that still want to be disturbing the people with their speakers.
Another issue similar to it is that one of our mandates is regulating, supervising and monitoring money lenders in the state. I want to look at their operations, how efficient and effective they are and how seamless their operations are. We have to monitor and look at it properly. Are the borrowers doing well with the funds that they borrowed? Can we look into the interest rates? Those are the things we are trying to look at. Also, the issue of citizenship is part of the mandate of the Ministry. We look at how to protect our citizens wherever they are and we are bringing holistic approach on how to ensure Lagosians know their rights.
I realise there is a disconnection between the people and the government. Some people believe government is just there doing nothing. We are actually here because they are there. We are to protect the people and there must be a connection between the people and government.
We really want to bring our people close to the Ministry and see to their affairs, what they really want from the government and how we can partner together. The Ministry should be a link between the citizens and the government, and we should be able to tell the people what the present government has in store for them in terms of the agenda of this administration.
We have the T.H.E.M.E.S pillar agenda, which is T- for Transport and Traffic Management, the H- for Health and Environment, the E- is for Entertainment and Tourism. We have M- for Making Lagos 21st Century Economy, we have the other E- for education and S- for Security.
We need to send out information on what the present government really means about these entire things, that they are not just a pillar. It is something that will touch our people and have a direct positive impact on the people of Lagos State. We want to have their confidence, so we won’t just sit down without carrying them along and getting them involved appropriately.
In the last administration, you were in the Ministry of Wealth Creation as Commissioner. Now overseeing a different Ministry in another government, how challenging is that, especially considering your background as a Pharmacist?
As a graduate of University, you went there to acquire universal knowledge. You are not meant to be static or stagnant wherever you find yourself. When I was first appointed to the Ministry of Youth and Social Development, I was never a social worker but when I got there, I became a social worker in less than two years. I was able to do as much as I could by that time. I was not posted to the Ministry of Health where I could apply drugs and to the glory of God, my footprints are much on ground in the first ministry till date. I have received messages from the people in the Ministry saying they are carrying on with the legacy I left behind.
When I was deployed to the Ministry of Wealth Creation, I had beautiful programmes for them which I wasn’t able to do as much as I could do at that time. I can tell you that the few I was able to do, I did it well. I did documentation of incubation centres in the state and trained people for two years, who benefitted from skills gained there. We also planned with various organisations.
If I was not an economist and not a banker, and could put all that together, I don’t see anything challenging or obstacles in this present Ministry, which is just about Religion and other things. I am good to go.
If you look back, what will you like to do differently in this new Ministry which you didn’t do in your previous two Ministries?
I don’t think I left any stone unturned in my former Ministries. I had good relationships with my staff. My first Permanent Secretary, PS, is now the Head of Service, H.O.S, and we are one bonded family. The other Permanent Secretary I worked with is now the Permanent Secretary, Finance. We are like sisters. Most of the staff that worked with me, we became like family. I have not seen anything that I didn’t do well in my previous Ministries that I need to put in practice here. But no matter what, we still need to improve on everything we have been doing; it is not as if there won’t be challenges. But wherever you find yourself, ensure you do the best at all times. Don’t believe in tomorrow, I believe in the present that I have to give my best now. I don’t procrastinate, I ensure wherever I find myself, I maintain peace with everybody.
In June, you wrote a book in commemoration of your 45th birthday. Can you give insight into what the book is all about?
It’s not just a book; it’s the collation of all the speeches I made while I was in office so that some people that did not attend those events can have a message from the book
At the end of your term, what will you like to be remembered for?
I will love to be remembered for putting in the best that has never happened in the Ministry — being the first female Commissioner in the Ministry. I have many things I want to do and I am sure in less than two years, we will see it.