Politics

Lagos Is Far From Excellence, Not Yet Working – Gbadebo Vivour-Rhodes

It was not by accident that the tagline selected to capture the essence of Lagos is the Centre of Excellence. The tagline does not say, close to excellent nor does it say trying to be excellent. The tagline implies Lagos is fully settled in the midst of excellence, right at the very heart of excellence regardless of its peers.

If Nigeria was a school and states students, Lagos would be the one that always came first. Since Victorian Lagos, Lagos has been a very unique paradox unlike most states that welcome you, Lagos notifies you—This is Lagos. In the famous words of Fela “Ojo Monday Eko o ni gba baluba ooo (No nonsense in Lagos on Monday).

Lagos is the most populated state and is simultaneously one of the smallest states in Nigeria. Way too often, in response to complaints that highlight the hardship and poor quality of life that faces residents of Lagos, a myopic chorus taunts back with responses like this: ‘All the people complaining are Igbo and should go back to their own state’; ‘Can their state compare to Lagos?’; ‘They have no right to complain or criticise’.

These cheerleaders expect, no, they demand we swallow the sickening taste of mediocrity and close our eyes to the very fraudulent, mercantilist state capture that has been our governance for 21 years. Fortunately, I am exempt from taunts like that.

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism ownership of government by an individual, or a group” — Roosevelt

The wisdom of Roosevelt sums up most appropriately the present tragedy that is the lot of Lagosians. It is from its massive population that Lagos extracts its huge internally generated revenue, based on its taxation system. Whilst we commend the successive administrations that have increasingly and more efficiently extracted taxes from residents and companies domiciled in Lagos, we can only celebrate a mercantilist government for so long without asking: What about the accompanying social contract, the benefits of political order?

No other state in the South-West has been ruled from the local government level to the state government and Federal Government by one power hegemony for over 20 years. So not only has this social contract been written by this power hegemony, they have had 20 years to deliver on it.

They chant Lagos is Working but expect us to turn a blind eye to the state’s inability to supply pipe-borne water and then even worse its lack of empathy to facilitate access but would rather try to tax people in their attempt to provide water for themselves.

A state in the midst of so much water but in over 20 years the All Progressives Congress political class has failed to effectively channel such huge resources for consumption. Almost every household continues to be the creator of its own water supply through piped water, boreholes, etc. What part of the social contract says it is okay to take huge loans from the World Bank to supply water, yet the moribund Lagos Water Corporation claims to cover 35% of Lagos population within the metropolis with a shortfall of 65%. Where is the excellence in that? Where is the empathy for the citizenry?

Under the Babatunde Fashola administration, $200m was earmarked by the World Bank to revitalise slums in Lagos State. Instead, the state chose to apply brute force to evict residents of places like Badia that fell under the slum renovation plan. Till date, no substantial urban development has taken place and the practice of evicting slum dwellers without providing a sustainable housing system for the poor continues to persist with respect to the forceful eviction of OtodoGbame and Tarkwa Bay.

During the Fashola administration, accountability of the World Bank fund cannot be traced because Lagos State Government runs a very opaque financial system, without an iota of transparency or accountability. Again I ask what about the social contract with the citizenry that demands transparency and accountability.

Can Lagos be called excellent whilst its residents spend 4-6 hours in traffic every day? A US study stated that on average about six litres of petrol is burnt per hour in traffic. This cost about N3,432/day sitting in traffic; the overall cost of traffic monetary-wise, health-wise, productivity-wise and overall quality of life is very, very significant and not in an excellent way.

LASG has done a very good job with its ‘packaging’ of Lagos in 20 years; it projects Lagos to start in Ikeja and end in Lekki, a beautiful image with the Lekki link bridge to boot. Sadly from Badagry to Amuwo-Odofin all the way to Ajeromi Ifelodun, to Mushin, Apapa, Surulere all the way to Lagos-East, Shomolu and Ikorodu, the state is in disrepair and one can’t help but ponder how Alhaji Lateef Jakande built so much in four years.

How did he build so much mass housing (over 30,000 housing units located all over Lagos e.g. Amuwo-Odofin, Ijaiye, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule-Nla, Epe, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu, Badagry) and still make a huge impact in the health care system of Lagos by the construction of the General Hospital in Gbagada and Ikorodu and built about 20 health centres within the state?

He started a metroline project that was subsequently cancelled by General Muhammadu Buhari in 1983. 37 years on, a government and party that has been in power for over 20 of those 37 years have been trying to build one metro line for the last 10 years.

The contract for the Blue Line (the 27-kilometre Badagry line running from Okokomaiko to Marina via Iddo) was awarded at the colossal cost of $1.2bn compared to similar projects in other parts of Africa awarded for just a fraction of that amount. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a similar contract was awarded for a 34-kilometre and 39 stations electrified light rail network in 2012, by September 2015 it was completed.

It was constructed for $475m. LASG defends the astronomical cost by highlighting the marshland and swamp areas of the Lagos Lagoon, which required piers and foundations that down to 40 and 88 metres, also the need for relocation, reconstruction and resettlements, especially for 9km of the line.

Ok, but still the Ethiopian track is 7km longer than that of Lagos. The Ethiopian system has 32 stations, Lagos has constructed 4 stations. We could compare and contrast with other projects but it’s best to assume similar factors affect the administration of projects in Africa. So even if we take the 7km cost to compensate for all the excuses, why would a 27-kilometre project cost $1.2bn when a 34-kilometre project cost only $475m?

Lagos govt plans to boost tech investments
Furthermore, the China Railway Construction Company, contractors of the light rail project, in its 2010 report, put the cost of construction at $182m. Are we saying preliminary works and relocation cost $1bn? 83% of the project cost?

Now because of the opaque fiscal and financial system run by Lagos, the state government has refused to release the contract papers for the project and have refused to answer any question or queries from any quarters on the project. Yet they expect us like sheep to pay our taxes but fail to yield to demands for accountability and transparency. Their responses are defensive as though they were doing the citizenry a favour by answering their questions. Then we have the N2.5bn 115-metre ramp that links Ozumba Mbadiwe road to Falomo bridge. This was built at N21.7m/meter.

As a reference, three flyovers were built in India of lengths 800m, 340m and 375m (i.e. over 1.5km in total length) at a cost of $7.5m (2007 cost). This equates to about $750,000 for 150 metres of flyover compared to over $15m for a 115-metre section of a flyover in Lagos. A 500-metre flyover in the Philippines costs $4m, this still comes to less than $1m per 100 metres. For how long will we play ostrich at the reckless waste of our state resources and clap at the political hegemony’s ability to tax and generate over N70bn a month without holding them to account on how it is spent!!!

A state that should aim to both reduce the number of cars on the road as well as increase the number of people being carried by each car (technology would go a long way to help achieve that) instead, LASG wants Uber and Bolt to pay N10m for every 1,000 cars, remit 10% of their revenue as service charge and use only cars that are three years or less. A state that should focus on mass public transportation is putting over 1,000 new cars on the roads because it wants fleece people of high commissions and award ludicrous contracts to their cronies. Leaving aside how erratic the state government policy affected tech companies, like Gokada, and its long term effect on inflows of foreign capital. Tech companies are moving out of Lagos in droves because small businesses in Lagos are overburdened with over-taxation and random levies and charges.

As opposed to seeing opportunities to reform Lagos, LASG will rather tax (squeeze and extract) because reform is too intellectually tasking and, most importantly, it would involve discipline, accountability and transparency.

Whilst the state boast of how much revenue they generate, it still is ranked one of the worst places to live in the world, directly after war-torn countries like Iraq. This shows you cannot tax your way to prosperity or hope to create wealth by strangulating businesses.

It is impossible for a political hegemony to self-reflect and self-correct; the gross inefficiencies, the wasteful spending and huge debts racked up with nothing really to show for it when considering the antecedents of Jakande.

Fiscal/wasteful profligacy can never be self-corrected, similar to what happened to the Peoples Democratic Party, between 1999 to 2015. The more politicians can get away with, the more citizens refuse to hold them accountable, the more they push the limits of what they can and cannot do. Hence why politicians and diapers must be changed often and for the same reason.

Lagos simply not working

Once promising, the state now wallows in a sickening state of mediocrity, captured by a fraudulent and mercantilist political class that has held sway for 21 years. Indeed, Roosevelt helps us understand the danger of the mercantile class when he opined thus; “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism ownership of government by an individual or a group.” Roosevelt’s wisdom sums up most appropriately the present tragedy that is the lot of Lagosians.

To start with, the wealth of Lagos is directly tied to the productivity and sweat equity of its citizens. More than 80% of Lagos’s revenue comes from income tax, consumption tax and several other forms of taxation. Hence, while successive administrations brag about increasing IGR, they have spectacularly failed to hold up their part of the social contract. Close to N10tn has been spent during the period but Lagos still ranks as one of the most unliveable cities in the world. Of what use are the trillions generated in tax revenue if it doesn’t improve the life or livelihood of the average citizen?

Lagos has one of the lowest scores of 11 major African cities on the city prosperity index. Lagos also has one of the least scores on productivity (<17%) and infrastructure. The harsh reality is that the current political elite and their cronies have not only mismanaged the commonwealth of Lagos, but they are also now dehumanizing Lagosians in several ways unimaginable. People now spend an average of six hours commuting to and from work in rickety vehicles, driving on roads in terrible conditions. Traffic robberies are now on the rise because cars must slow down on bad roads in dark spots without streetlights. It is worth mentioning at this point that more emphasis is placed on acquiring more tolling vans (which has its usefulness) than managing potholes and providing streetlights which directly benefit the people.

Why should low-income earners spend over 40% of their monthly income on transportation? Why do close to 40% of Lagosians live in slums or neighbourhoods with almost no social amenities? Why should LGAs be income-generating centres for party faithful instead of a tier of government that works to improve the lives of the people? Why are there very few investments in social housing for low-income earners? The reasons aren’t far-fetched: the current administration is set up to serve the interest of a small but greedy elite against the interest of the general public.

Recall that under the Fashola administration, $200m was earmarked by the World Bank to revitalise slums in Lagos State. Instead, the state chose to apply brute force to evict residents of places like Badia that fell under the slum renovation plan. Till date, no substantial urban development has taken place and the practice of evicting slum dwellers without providing a sustainable housing system for the poor continues to persist with respect to the forceful eviction of OtodoGbame and Tarkwa Bay. What is even more worrisome is that when these helpless settlers are forcefully evicted, they are replaced with luxury apartments sold at a premium to the rich and affluent.

Of course, I believe in free market enterprise but if luxury apartments are built on the blood of the poor, the least that the government can do is enact a policy where luxury property developers contribute to the social housing scheme. In four years, Jakande built over 14,000 units of low-income housing, far more than the APC administration has built from 1999 till date.

Lagos is far from excellent; Lagos is simply not and we can change this ugly reality. It starts with citizens believing that they deserve better (which they do) and voting differently in the coming elections.

Rhodes-Vivour is the Labour Party’s governorship candidate in Lagos

Related Articles