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Lagos Land Use Charge: Breaking the eggs to make an omelette

By Niyi Anibaba

Several decades ago when the great Tai Solarin wanted to establish the nexus between painful sacrifice and  breakthroughs, he reached for a famous saying he credited to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s illustrious first Prime Minister.

“You cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs,’’ he said, ‘’throughout the world, there is no gain without pain.’’ Simply put according to the Oxford Advanced Dictionary, ‘’you cannot achieve something important without causing a few small problems.’’

And the late Solarin added: ‘’The biggest successes are preceded by the greatest of heart-burnings…All that is noble and laudable (is) to be achieved only through difficulties and trials and tears and dangers. There are no other roads…Our successes are conditioned by the amount of risks we are ready to take.’’

Yes, that is the gargantuan risk Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is taking through the Land Use Charge he has initiated in Lagos in order to bring present and future development to the citizens. He must break the less satisfying and short-lived eggs of inadequate infrastructure to cook the more delicious and fulfilling omelettes. Naturally between an offer of ordinary egg and a dish of omelette, most would opt for the latter, given its exciting culinary experience.

That’s the point of the Lagos State Government which I think we must understand. We need this understanding in the narrative so we all can be part of the new Lagos in the making. The fact of a state that has been captured as the fifth largest in Africa comes with so many other indices of development and growth: burgeoning population, decaying public facilities, unplanned outer city settlements, overworked transportation system, frightening crime statistics, chaotic market profile and a host of other indicators of the typical city centre in a developing country.

Recently an international observatory body projected that this former capital of Nigeria would leap from its present population of about 20 million to around 35 million in 2030. Without a scientific study giving any prognosis, we can conclude, not assume, that Lagos of the future would be a bedlam if the authorities of the day do not move fast to abort that fast approaching future. Of course a disastrous accident waiting to happen can be avoided if the right steps are taken.

I believe Ambode isn’t oblivious of the opposition that would come with asking property owners to swallow the pill of Land Use Charge Act of 2018 which annuls a previous one that had been in existence since 2001. Under it there are multiple rate increases of up to about 400%. There has been an uproar. Landlords say the revised law will make them tenants in their own homes while tenants complain their landlords will pass on added charges to their rents.

Another grievance is that government didn’t consult stakeholders nor embark on wide enlightenment prior to announcing the new deal. There is also the charge of insensitivity against Ambode: he is accused of bringing on the new law at a time of inclement economic conditions.

They appear not to be moved by government’s stand that it needs to enlarge its income via a modern and improved tax regime to meet dire challenges which the current revenues can’t cater for. The key issue is to tackle the infrastructure shortfall estimated at nearly N15 trillion. Oil proceeds can’t offer any succor. Neither can the traditional handouts chip in long-term solutions. Foreign aid wouldn’t do either. Massive borrowing would be counterproductive as it would enslave the future before its arrival.

The way out is to look inwards and tap from the resources of the people through ingenious administration hallmarked by the body language of officials the public can trust with their political mandate and hard-earned money.

To be sure Ambode can be relied on to use public wealth put in his care to position Lagos for the future. In less than three years he has changed the landscape of this city-state, building roads, rehabilitating them and erecting flyovers and interchange terminals that remind you of some exotic cities in Europe.

Last week observers saw one more reason to believe Ambode in his quest to seek the people’s tax to provide development for the state. In the ardor of the controversy over the new tax regulation, with some critics asking for its outright revocation, the governor gave cheering news to newsmen who cornered him after an event. He revealed himself as a listening leader who would gladly review any policy in the interest of his people, including the law in question.

After insisting that the Land Use Charge Act is targeted at fast-tracking development and protecting the future of the state, Ambode said: ‘’…a responsive government will listen to the yearnings of her people…At the end of the day, it’s all for the development of Lagos. What this government is interested in is to create a trajectory and framework of permanent prosperity for Lagos. It  is about the future and if there is going to be permanent prosperity in Lagos, some things have to be done but I can tell you based on the dialogue and the things we have been receiving, obviously we would respond positively to those yearnings.’’

And only a few days after that declaration, Ambode walked the talk when he reduced tariffs of the Land Use Charge by 50% and waived fines late payment of charges.He took the decision following concerns expressed by Lagosians.It is rare in the history of Nigeria for a governor to so reverse himself in a major policy issue.

It is a dramatic signal that we are living with a government that listens and cares.

It’s left for us to cooperate with a man who has demonstrated uncommon courage by introducing a tax increase for our security now and for children where others might for temporary gain be cocooned only in the comfort zone of their offices. He has also said he is ready to take a look at gray areas in the interest of good governance.

Let’s break the eggs and make the omelette our people deserve. We’ll bear with the price and sacrifice and heat in the kitchen in the hope that the inconvenience will give way to a prosperous future.

  • Aniba ba is a Lagos based public affairs analyst.


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