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OUR N4BN BUDGET FOR THIS YEAR'LL TRANSFORM LAGOS ROADS- AKINTOLA

By NBF News
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• Gbenga Akintola
One major feature of the city of Lagos is the notorious traffic gridlock, which the State has become synonymous with.

Commuters in every part of the state complain of man-hour loss, as a result of the terrible traffic situation often occasioned by the deplorable state of roads across the state and, sometimes, reckless driving, especially amongst commercial bus drivers.

But the Lagos State Government agency in charge of ensuring that Lagos roads are in good shape, the Lagos State Public Works Corporation (LSPWC), says it is toiling day and night to ensure that the over 9,000 roads across the state become motorable.

The Executive Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LSPWC, Mr. Gbenga Akintola, in this interview, admitted that the challenges confronting the agency are enormous, as a result of the huge number of dilapidated roads across the state.

Akintola gave an insight into what the agency is doing to ensure that Lagos roads are pot-hole free by the year 2014, amongst other issues.

Excerpts:
Repositioning LSPWC activities in the last two years

I would say it's been very challenging and exciting. Challenging in the sense of where I am coming from. I came from a background that is alien to part of this disposition and, by that, I am referring to the fact that I have been living in the United Kingdom prior to 2010 when I took over this job. I have been working in a completely different environment. But when I got in, the impression I had about the civil servants was quite different from what I was confronted with.

One had the impression that civil servants are lazy people that do not want to get things done. But contrary to that, I must say that with all honesty, the calibre of staff I met when I took over indicated that the interest was there, but there are other things one had to quickly decide and dig out through my simple interaction with the various cadres of staff. And that revealed to me that the workers were really committed. But what was missing was the moral needed to motivate them to do more. I found out about this from the onset.

Having discovered that, I made them to realize that we are here to serve the people of Lagos State, because it's a call to duty, very simple. And I believe that anything worth doing, is what doing well. Besides, I believe in people thinking of what they can do for their nation or state. And not what the nation, state or community can do for them.

Bearing that in mind and considering my area of training as an Architect, having worked the better part of my youthful life in various fields in England, spurred the interest in me to contribute my quota to the development of Lagos State.

But like I said earlier, my interest was more in the area of identifying the fact that the workers were really willing to work and put in their best. But there was still a missing link. And the missing link was that there has not been a proper means of interaction and communication to really know what issues and challenges the workers are confronted with. Having identified this, I went further in my investigation and discovered that the morale was absolutely not there for the workers.

Again, I found out that there was this confusion as to what has been happening to the corporation, especially in the area of service delivery to the public, which has been in the doldrums. Also, there was the issue of the work place environment. It may interest the public to know that, this building housing the LSPWC, which is the headquarters, was constructed in 1998. And ever since that time, not a single coat of paint has been added to it. So, there was this gloom around the office premises.

We also have areas where we have old equipment that are not being used littering everywhere. And the premises was now turned to a thoroughfare, where people use as a passage from one road to the other, especially when there is heavy traffic. As it can be seen, this office premises is bordered by two major roads - Ogunnusi, and Works Yard Road - leading towards the tail end of the old Lagos toll gate. So, people now use the premises as a short-cut. But when I came on board, I had to change all these anomalies.

What we did was to fix all these rots by letting the workers know that it is the taxpayers money that is keeping them here and paying their salaries as well. And when we get these taxes from Lagosians, we can't give them excuses. So, we must never give them excuses when it comes to service delivery, and that I made them to understand first. Again, I made them realize that what they can't take, they shouldn't give. For instance, you go to a shop with your hard earned resources and you ask for a product without getting first class customer service. The feeling will be bad. And one will definitely feel cheated. So, that was exactly what Lagosians were feeling about us as at that time when I stepped in as the helmsmen.

The contract the workers signed with government was that; they will resume at 8.00am and will also be up and doing. So, why should anyone breach this agreement? The environment should be in such a situation, whereby when people come to transact one form of business or the other, we must be seen as serious minded people. And that is why, when you come to our office premises now at 7.45am, everybody is already seated and working, unlike what obtained in the past.

What we have done here now is to redefine our scope to be a professional family outfit, whereby everybody keys into these processes that have been put in place. After identifying the fact that we have a lot of challenges, which I have summarized, we then fashioned out the solutions together with the entire work force. When you fashion out solutions, you don't impose it on people, because the solutions are there already. So in that case, all you need do is fashion out the solution and adapt it to your needs.

We equally realized that in solving the challenges as a collective effort, there was the need for restructuring and rebranding. And that led us to have a new logo and brand colour. When you travel to the United Kingdom, you will notice that the background of the vehicle number plate is yellow, so that when one commits a crime, the rear number plate is easily identified. And that is the essence of having our brand colour changed to yellow because safety is the key word here.

After the rebranding process, we now sat down and designed a five-year roadmap for this organization. And in doing that, we said 'what are the things we need; where do we want to be in the next five years? And that is what we are following rigidly now. The content of the five-year road-map is not rigid but dynamic; meaning that; we can switch things around if necessary. And that has been happening.

At the moment, the environment has changed due to its re-organization. The staffers are now more appreciated. We don't think that because they are paid salaries, they should not be appreciated. No! We go ahead to say thank you, when they perform exceptionally well. There is also a birthday roaster for every member of staff. And on such occasion, we get a cake for the celebrant, alongside drinks and snacks, just to celebrate and appreciate the celebrant, with a birthday card that I will personally sign. And it may interest you to know how far this has gone to boost the morale of staffers, because they know that the management cares for them. We have people here that have never cut cakes in their lives, likewise my humble self too. So this, to me, is a way of saying we care.

There is also the need to add that we have not changed our team. It is still the same set of workforce I inherited that I am still working with. No single member of staff had been sacked or moved.

Determining priority roads for rehabilitation
What we do is to first get information on roads we consider very strategic from relevant agencies like the Lagos State Traffic Management Authourity (LASTMA). As you know, LASTMA is responsible for traffic management in Lagos State. They are categorized under 20 zones, having 20 zonal coordinators who now report back to us if they have roads they are managing that have traffic congestion caused by dilapidated roads. We equally have a robust Customer Service Department, where we get calls from members of the public by calling, texting or using our website, via www.lspwc-ng.com to make enquiries or lodge complaints on roads they ply. The website is very interactive because the complainant can also attach the photograph of the road in question.

Apart from that, we get calls from members of the State Executive Council (SEC) and, most especially, from the governor as well. We equally get calls and information from virtually every Lagosian. On priority roads, that is essentially determined by the size of the roads and the number of the volume of commuters plying such roads.

I give an instance. If there is a pot-hole on Ikorodu Road and another in Mokuolu Street in Akoka, Yaba area, you will agree with me that the volume of traffic on Ikorodu road is far much than what it will be on Mokuolu road. So, the priority that will be given to the pot-hole on Ikorodu Road will be expedient, compared to that of Mokuolu. That is not to say that we will not attend to the Mokuolu road as well.

Besides, what we do again is that when a situation arises on a particular road and it is so chaotic that if we decide to work there during daytime, it would create serious traffic mayhem to the people, we work at night.

How we prioritize the work we do starts from information gathered on the dilapidated road in question. We then ascertain the importance of that road to commuters, vis-a-vis the volume of vehicular traffic on such road and size, bearing in mind that we have Trunk A, B and C. Trunk A being major roads, while B and C are roads plied from town to town…inner roads, so to say.

Access to funding from government
As you are aware, our agency is not a revenue generating one yet. And the only way we can get better funding from the state government is to improve on the level of our performance and service delivery to the members of the public.

The first thing you come in contact with when you leave your house daily is the road. When the government sees that you are actually doing the service you are to provide by coming up with solutions to the myriad of problems people are encountering, like travelling to various destinations in less time, while car owners are having more money in their pockets as a result of good roads that won't damage their cars.

Again, we must bear in mind that the amount of money available to government is very minimal and not enough to carry out its statutory obligations to the citizens. And that is why government is struggling to make sure that all the areas where services are needed to be provided must be delivered upon.

In this instance, when government discovers that a particular agency is not performing up to expectation, government will be reluctant to fund such agency. But I believe that with all sense of dignity and modesty, we at LSPWC have been able to, at least, move Lagos roads to another level. Though. Still, there is a lot of work to be done. We have the strategy because we are doing the right thing, and I believe that if we are able to sustain our efforts along this line, the number of dilapidated roads in Lagos will be reduced to the barest minimum.

In a nutshell, I think the key to better and improved funding lies in performance and raising the bar in terms of service delivery.

Let me give you a practical example. Government, having realized the imperativeness of better and steady funding for the corporation, such that its operations can assume a non-stop dimension, increased our allocation by 50 per cent in the 2010 supplementary budget. And the following year, that is 2011, our budget was N2.2 billion. So, for this year (2012), government has increased our budget to N4 billion. This is to tell you that government itself appreciates what we are doing. And, beyond that, these increases in budgetary allocation will further help us to achieve our vision of being the foremost road maintenance and rehabilitation agency in Africa, while also transforming roads in Lagos to world class standards.

So, without even asking government to give us more money or improve our funding, the testimonies from members of the public alone will encourage government to fund us more because it will be the belief of the people that if government gives us more money, we will perform better, based on what is on ground. And, by so doing, the people's voice will count in canvassing more funding for us…and that is already happening with the funding statistics I mentioned earlier.

So with this development, government can look into other areas that are not delivering on their mandate and take from their budgets to add to ours, because when the roads are good health gets better, in the sense that you spend fewer hours in traffic, get to work early and inhale less carbon monoxide, which is injurious to our health.

Again, for us here, accountability, transparency and due diligence is our watch-word. The prudence expected of any public institution is entrenched here at LSPWC. It is no joke, because we are a Direct Labour Agency, and that has helped government to save huge resources. As a result of our operational strategy and mandate, we don't award contracts in LSPWC.

Plans to become a revenue generating agency
Yes, we have plans to become a revenue generating agency, but not at the moment. Before we can do that, we need to reduce the level of potholes on Lagos roads to the barest minimum. As for revenue generation, we can achieve that by competing for jobs in other states. We can equally be producing and selling asphalt.

At the moment, we are blessed with the largest asphalt production plant in the whole of West Africa. We have a plant that is capable of producing 300 tonnes of asphalt in an hour.

Beyond that, I can say for sure that we are the best well equipped road maintenance agency in Nigeria. Infact, we can compete with the likes of Julius Berger and others. We recently acquired a state of the art machine called 'Pothole Patcher'. It is a one-stop machine that has all the facilities to repair roads. The machine nips in the bud any fresh pothole coming up. That is to tell you that we are being proactive in this regard. The machine can fix 20 to 30 potholes in a swoop, depending on the distance and locations of the potholes. It equally has a compartment that can store up to six tonnes of hot asphalt and keep it hot until it is completely exhausted. We have two of that machine.

In essence, we are already producing what we require to repair Lagos roads and we still have excess, so why can't we commercialize it? But still at that, it is something we need to do properly. I believe anything that involves money requires extra care. When you are in trust of public funds, you need to be very careful.

Revenue generation for LSPWC is not something we want to rush into, because we need to fix our own problems first. You don't start competing for external jobs when you have not finished fixing your own roads. And that is the reason why I said 'not yet'. Though it is part of the five-year roadmap that has been designed, and we hope that two years down the line, we would have brought down the defects on Lagos roads to a situation whereby you can call the corporation and say, you have a pothole on a particular road…and I will say confidently that it will be fixed in a couple of days. That is my plan for the corporation. But with the current situation on ground, there are still problems. A lot of potholes and so many bad roads are currently being fixed.

However, I believe that at the rate we are going now, two years down the line, Lagos roads will be pothole free.

Managing 9,000 roads in Lagos The totality of roads in Lagos state is about 9,000. Out of these, 35 are federal roads, 452 are state roads, while the over 8,000 remaining are local government roads.

Having said that, I can equally confirm that in the last 12 months the LSPWC has fixed in excess of 18 federal roads. We do not really need to wait for the Federal Government to fix our roads before we go into fixing them, because what is important is that when people ply these roads, they don't ask of jurisdiction because they are the ones encountering these problems, they actually go to the people that can solve their problems.

Now, for the 452 state roads, we have managed to fix majority of them. But the over 8,000 roads remaining belong to the local government, which we have not reached.

What we have done is to have a meeting with chairmen of the local governments across the state, asking them to nominate between five to 10 roads in their respective councils. That is how we have been working.

I can confirm to you that from December 1, 2011 to February 2012, the corporation programmed to fix 354 roads. And I can confirm to you that we have succeeded in fixing 300 of such roads, while the remaining are on-going.

We have now released the programme from March 1 to May 31, 2012, where we will fix another 400 roads. Specifically, in six months, we would have fixed close to 700 roads. So, in concentrate terms, we can say that we are fixing an average of between 100 and 110 roads per month, and that is the way we have been working.

And what we have done, basically, is that in every local government, or local council development area, we deploy a maintenance gang to each of these locations on a daily basis. And, on a daily basis as well, we operate with at least 60 gangs working all over Lagos. And this cuts across Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu, Alimosho and all the other local governments and LCDAs.

Let me quickly add that we are taking advantage of the dry season to increase the number of our gangs to 60. But before now, it used to be 40.

Tackling road abuses
Road abuses are part of the major problems why our roads don't stand the test of time. And these abuses ranges from; spilling of petroleum products on our roads, burning of tyres, cooking on roads, indiscriminate cutting of roads without proper authourization from the relevant government agencies, dumping of refuse in drainages and a whole lot more.

Apart from what LSPWC is doing to address this anomaly, I think the first port of call is for people to take ownership of our roads. And when I say that; I mean that the people should see our roads as a collective property and not that of government. Government is only managing these roads on behalf of the public. Lagosians are actually the owners of these roads. And I don't think there is anybody in the world that will want what belongs to him or her to be destroyed by anybody.