Changing the fortunes of a megacity
Toun Aderele
Published: 09-MAY-07

In 1950, about 300 000 people lived in Lagos. This year a controversial headcount put the present figure at 9 million. By 2015, the United Nations says Lagos will be the world’s third largest city with a projected population of 23 million people.

This rapid overpopulation is a huge source of concern for the city’s planners and authorities. As hundreds of thousands of Nigerians and people from the country’s neighbours pour into the city daily, stretching its Public utilities to the limit, the pressure to find solutions to Lagos’ multifarious problems grows.

Experts have said that the challenges faced by the government of this coastal city are symbolic: they are the harbinger of what Nigeria’s other growing big cities are going to face in the not-so-distant future as rural-urban migration continues to increase. For Nigeria to grow, they argue that Lagos, the country’s commercial and industrial heartland, must become competitive within the African and global setting.

Before last month’s general elections, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Lagos’ governor Bola Tinubu had put aside deep political differences to agree on modalities to transform Lagos into a well-funded, smoothly-run megacity. With Obasanjo’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) losing the elections in Lagos and Tinubu’s Action Congress winning it, that difference is likely to crop up again.

As the post-election processes begin, watchers say it is reasonable, even at this early stage, to begin to examine the implications of the general elections for life in Nigeria.

The concern for and about Nigeria is easier to understand when it is realised that Nigeria’s 140 million people constitute 20 percent of Africa’s population — in other words, one-in-five Africans is Nigerian. A democratically governed and economically secure Nigeria is expected to join Egypt and South Africa in forming the train which, if effectively harnessed, can pull Africa out of its straits. The gubernatorial election in Lagos State has been declared won by the Action Congress (AC), one of 49 opposition parties facing the PDP. Its candidate and governor-elect, Babatunde Fashola, is Chief-of-Staff to the incumbent governor and a member of the inner bar of the legal profession. Some argue that Lagos, for a sub-national entity, has the fifth largest economy in the continent. Despite its potential or claimed strength, it is clear that Lagos is presently uncompetitive as an investment destination and lags well behind Cairo, Nairobi, Addis-Ababa, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Indeed, while Lagos plays host to the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the severe challenges of Lagos have seen Accra begin to take over the traditional sub-regional leadership role of Lagos.

As a destination for investment and non-commercial activity, the challenges of Lagos cannot be overemphasised. As the Nigeria Standard of Living Survey, published by the National Bureau of Statistics shows, notwithstanding its commercial and industrial position in Nigeria, poverty remains endemic in Lagos. While the national incidence of poverty improved from 65 percent in 1996 to 54 percent in 2004, sadly for Lagos poverty has risen significantly. Sixty-three percent of Lagosians are now classified poor — earning less than $1/day. This compares with 53 percent in the 1996. Indeed, presently 30,3 percent of rural households and 40,9 percent of poor urban households in Lagos are unable to satisfy their food requirements.

The keen election contest in Lagos State revealed that despite its endowments, the state is absent in the key sectors of our country’s economic life — for example, agriculture, oil and gas which represent two-thirds of Nigeria’s economy are hardly represented in Lagos. Furthermore, Lagos does not compare favourably with its continental peers as a location for knowledge-based economic opportunities emerging around Information Communication Technology (ICT). These characteristics leave Lagos relatively unproductive and therefore uncompetitive.

The challenge of productivity is worsened by the present condition and output of human capital. Information, credited to the Federal Ministry of Education, used by competing candidates in the course of the campaign indicate that: (i) approximately two-thirds of eligible children in the 6-17 age bracket are not enrolled at school; (ii) only half the secondary school classrooms are in good physical condition; (iii) 20 percent of primary school pupils and 60 percent of secondary school students complete their education. The poor state of education provides part of the explanation for rampant urban youth unemployment estimated to be 54 percent in Lagos State compared with a national average of 17,4 percent. Healthcare in Lagos also paints a sector of inadequate provision with only 16 percent of the State’s rural population and 49 percent of urban poor households being able to gain access to medical facilities. Poor access is compounded by an unsatisfactory quality of service — with more than half the urban poor population being dissatisfied with the quality of care and attention they received. The loss of man-hours to debilitating traffic illustrates the inadequacy of transport infrastructure

Perhaps the most satisfying element of the governorship election contest in Lagos is the general agreement among the candidates that the current position in Lagos cannot be allowed to continue. All candidates by election day identified the need to (i) facilitate expansion of the economic opportunities by making Lagos attractive to enterprise; (ii) raise the pace and dimensions of Human Capital Development; (iii) upgrade and expand infrastructure provision; and (iv) strengthen, within constitutional limits, the apparatus of Security, Law and Order. Specifically, the consensus was that the next government in Lagos needed to facilitate significant improvement in its economic climate by; (a) reducing the cost of doing business in Lagos through infrastructure renewal and expansion, (b) encouraging the development of emerging economic sectors which afford greater employment opportunities, (c) revisiting the regime of taxation and levies to reduce the fiscal burden while improving efficiency, equity and creative use of resources.

If electoral promises provide any indication of likely government policy activity, then we can continue to expect that attention will be paid to human capital development, especially education and health. In education, the leading candidates offered to ensure that no charge is levied at point of use up to tertiary level. In addition, policy will be directed to raise quality and skills relevance with emphasis on basic and vocational education. Education, the candidates agreed, holds the key to creating new economic opportunities in Lagos as well as halting the growing population and menace of socially excluded persons, popularly referred to as 'Area boys'.

While the objective of expanding health and waste management facilities were agreed, there was less harmony as to the modalities of implementation. Provision of healthcare facilities provided the basis for some of the sharpest disagreement. While the governor-elect opted to continue with state provision of infrastructure, Jimi Agbaje of the Democratic People’s Alliance canvassed a model based on the concept of Health Management — with the State paying capitation fees while facilities are owned by practitioners and Health Maintenance Organisations. Watchers of the eagerly followed televised debates say Agbaje’s ideas were innovative and a way above those of his co-contestants.

"We see a Lagos that begins to compete as a sub-national city state with Johannesburg, Dubai, Hong Kong and Shanghai. A City-State of aquatic and natural splendour, populated by a well educated, skilled and healthy people," Agbaje said. Urban planning also came in for discussion in the televised debates. All candidates accepted the urgent need to upgrade existing and supply new economic infrastructure. Combined with recognition of the need to focus on housing for low income groups, these promise to herald the beginning of the programme of public works and expenditure capable of delivering job opportunities and raising economic activity. There was also general agreement on the need to encourage the development of an Integrated Mass Transit Scheme which. As with health, unity was limited to identifying the objective.

While the governor-elect appears to have foresworn light rail as a solution because the route projected in original plans has been converted to alternative uses, others however continue to insist on the primacy of light rail in any arrangement to resolve the transportation challenges in Lagos. By the conclusion of the electioneering process, the concept of economic zones had also gained wide currency with the leading contestants promising to introduce ‘economic zones’ across the state. The vexed issue of power supply served to remind the aspirants for the position of Chief Executive of Lagos State of the limitations of their influence and power. As Nigeria has become a 'generator' economy, the electorate wanted categorical assurances of improvement in power supply. While ‘Femi Pedro, erstwhile Deputy Governor and candidate of the Labour Party, did promise to ensure the availability of uninterrupted power supply within two years, informed observers noted that such a promise could only materialise if the Federal Government successfully commissions ongoing projects and are able to raise capacity beyond the projects under construction. Maintenance of security, law and order is another area where State governments in Nigeria have to be creative if they wish to exert any influence. Constitutionally, the security agencies are federal agencies and thus fall under the exclusive influence (some say control) of the federal government. The election provided an opportunity to air the debate on the need for State Police forces. Perhaps the most encouraging promise on the stump was made by Jimi Agbaje. In his view, without transparency, the process of governance would exclude the electorate — thereby reducing the extent of accountability of government. To remove this spectre, he promised that the finances of Lagos State would within two years of assumption of office be subjected to the scrutiny of international rating agencies. For a number of observers the governor-elect would do well to add this to his platform. -Business in Africa Magazine (West Africa)

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