By Rotimi Fasan
THE rains are again here and Lagos, Nigeria’s Centre of Excellence and City of Aquatic Splendour is in the firm but cold embrace of flood. It’s been water everywhere even when there has been very little of it to drink or use for other important purposes. The city is once more going through the annual ritual of heavy flood and the last few days, especially this past weekend, has been nightmarish for many residents of Nigeria’s number one city. While Lagos is not new to flood the severity of the floods seems to have increased dangerously in the last few years. This is happening even as the state gravitates towards its much talked-about megacity status, signposted by the dreamscape Eko Atlantic City. But whether the annual menace of flood and the decaying infrastructure that accompanies it accords with the status of the smart city Lagos is projected to become is another story. Moreover, it is remarkable that a state with a relatively solid revenue base should suffer in the manner Lagos does, owing to a myriad of natural and man-made disasters, including a grievous lack of political will and bad choices occasioned by Nigeria’s skewed federalism. I’ll return to this point shortly. But first to the floods.
The heavy rains of last weekend are responsible for the latest floods. While many parts of Lagos from the island to the mainland are affected, the worst hit areas are the so-called affluent communities of millionaires and billionaires, and the middle or upper middle class people who pretend to wealth they do not have. From Ikoyi, Lekki to Victoria Garden City, Badore and Ajah to Banana Island, the whole Island was under lockdown. Images of vehicles stalled in heavy floods, people stranded at bus stops or swimming in the flood were all over the print, broadcast and social media. The pain was beyond words and the loss of property as people were forced out of their homes will not be known for a while. Which then begs the question of what type of mega city Lagos is growing into and what hopes are there for a so-called Eko Atlantic City if the surrounding neigbourhoods show all the signs of a city out of joint?
Yet this cannot be because the Lagos State government under its present or previous leadership has been sleeping. If anything the present governor has been praised, like his predecessors, for the rapid manner he has brought development to different parts of the State. But the question persists as to whether a state that makes so much revenue from internally generated sources is doing enough to provide needed infrastructure and ensuring the integrity of the master plan that guides development within it. What could be responsible for the shame of a megacity that finds itself floating on water following just two days of nonstop rainfall?
For one, the heavy floods point in the direction of a major change in weather pattern that has been reported in other parts of the world. The Nigerian government has not been known to take a clear position on the issue of global warming even when it appears to pay lip service to it. It accepts global warming as a fact of contemporary life even while it does next to nothing to address it. Each year Nigerians are warned to expect heavy rains and the most government does about this is to embark on drainage clearance. Beyond this perfunctory ritual nothing more appears to show the Nigerian government’s belief in global warming. But even if our government or people do not believe in it, effects of heavy rains in recent years should alert us to the dangers. There is also no doubt that certain parts of Lagos are overpopulated with more people moving into such areas and embarking on infrastructural developments in apparently unauthorised manner.
Those who have the means, at least to compromise urban planning regulations, may have been erecting structures in the wrong places at a rate that is harmful to the environment and the security of all. Evidently there is massive environmental degradation in which the people and government are implicated. Land filling and reclamation on the Island especially with regards to developments of Eko Atlantic City is something that should be looked at closely. There is every possibility that activities directed at establishing Eko Atlantic might be having adverse effects in other parts of Lagos. The massive reclamation of land that accompanies this could have truly devastating effect if not done with care. There is a limit to how far man can interfere with nature without consequences. And a lot of what is going on in Lagos particularly on the Island seems to have little regard for the natural order of things.
Given its status as Nigeria’s major and most metropolitan state, Lagos deserves special consideration. The city is home to Nigerians from all parts of the country and the rate of infrastructural decay in the state owes a lot to the massive inflow of people into it. Yes, Lagos makes so much from internally generated revenue, but it has to be supported to be able to continue to provide the kind of service if provides to other parts of the country. But there appears to be a conspiracy of silence if not a gang-up against Lagos by those who ought to take the lead in ensuring the state meets national expectations. The ongoing spat between the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Raji Fashola and the National Assembly is a pointer to the kind of bellyaching that many get into on account of what they misperceive as the special treatment of Lagos. Fashola, the immediate past governor of Lagos, should and does have a sense of what Lagos means to Nigeria. But our lawmakers appear to be too fixated on taking care of their personal needs and engaging in turf wars to appreciate this.
Otherwise, there would be no justification in diverting funds meant for the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan Express Road into the construction of boreholes and what-not in other parts of the country. The development of Lagos is for some people a zero-sum affair. For them Lagos is being developed at the expense of other places. Yet its people like our legislators in Abuja own the choice estates that violate urban regulations which results in the environmental chaos that is Lagos. The Apapa-Tin Can Island Road begs for rehabilitation in spite of the billions of naira it brings Nigeria. Why should this be so? The aborted metroline project is another indicator of how Nigeria’s federalism has badly served Lagos. These are some of the reasons Nigerian federalism has to be reconsidered and reworked for the good of all. The time for that is now.