Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.

By Setonji David

WHAT manner of special status for Lagos? The argument, to grant or not to grant, could easily have arisen out of avoidable misconceptions. Does any state in Nigeria hold the key to over 75 per cent of all manufacturing activities in the country? Or account for 70 per cent of Nigeria’s maritime trade?

If a cog is thrown in the wheel of Lagos’ progress, could any state replace 55% of all VAT revenue which accrues to the Federation Account from Lagos out of 36 states? If tax revenue is important for the system to work, Lagos alone generates over 82% of Companies Income Tax available to the Nigerian State.

If her economy slumps, if for any reason half of the jobs in Lagos were to disappear, is there an easy way Nigeria can absorb the army of jobless citizens that would be unleashed on the polity? Has Nigeria got the answer to any of these dilemmas that could easily be thrown up if Lagos were to become shackled by the starkly real threats to her development that are staring us all in the face?

I imagine any of you, dear compatriots, somewhere in Paris or Hague, at an International Conference, listening to a speaker presenting city profiles as he latched onto Lagos: Lagos State’s GDP is bigger than the rest of West Africa put together; if Lagos is a country, it would be the 5th largest economy in Africa. I imagine you smiling and nodding your head proudly and muttering loudly to a few people’s hearing: “Lagos, in Nigeria. Lagos is in Nigeria.” After all, the flag on your desk, which everyone could see, was clearly of Nigeria. Lagos stood for Nigeria, for our pride as Nigerians, for our backbone as the largest economy in Africa. Are we going to stand up for Lagos now?

Lagos, God forbid, may soon slide into a difficult state of intractable decline, developmentally. While the average annual population growth in the developing world is three per cent and Nigeria’s rate is 2.7 per cent, Lagos has an annual population growth of staggering eight per cent. With a population realistically put at 24 million, Lagos is among the top 10 of the world’s fastest growing cities and urban areas. There is an estimated influx of 10, 000 people, Foreigners and Nigerians from other states, into Lagos every single day. Lagos has been a willing host to all.

Now, Lagos groans under the weight of its gargantuan responsibility towards all whom she has offered a home. A population growth challenge like Lagos’ needs to be met with building more roads, providing housing, providing more resources for disposing solid waste, building more schools, providing security and health facilities. The then Governor of Lagos State, Governor Tunde Fashola, as far back as 2017, shouted hoarse that Lagos would require an investment of N6.14 trillion over the next 15 years to build and upgrade infrastructural facilities in the state for her teeming populace. Despite her commendable feat in IGR generation, Lagos is in want of a helping hand from the rest of the country. Is it wise to fold our hands and just look, do nothing?

City Mayors Foundation, an international think-tank dedicated to urban affairs, in 2011 recognised Lagos as among the world’s 10 fastest growing cities. Lagos comes after Beeithai (China), Ghaziabad (India), Sana’a (Yemen), Surat (India), Kabul (Afghanistan), and Bamako (Mali). As of today, Lagos is the only one on this list without a constitutionally recognised special status in terms of development attention. China designated Beithai as a “Special Economic Zone and Marine Protected Area”, India designates Ghaziabad as “a national Capital Region” and Surat –a city of six million people in 2016- as a “Smart City” under an urban renewal programme funded by the Indian government. The other cities are political capitals.

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If Nigeria did not move the political capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1999, the Federal Government, as before, would have continued to complement the effort of the state in providing jobs, housing and other infrastructural amenities to absorb the growth rate. But the capital moved. Should the Federal Government’s social and infrastructural investment in Lagos have stopped? Even the federal roads in Lagos, for not getting priority attention, have constituted an acute economic drain and waste on the fortune of the state’s development.

A case in point was the utter neglect of the Apapa-Oworonshoki expressway, the lack of parking and loading lots for trucks serving Nigeria’s two major ports, and the resultant gridlock. Property value in Apapa crashed, businesses relocated outside of Apapa and Nigeria to avoid being grounded, goods -imports and exports- and machinery were delayed beyond pardonable spells on this axis. Lagos suffered. And Nigeria’s economy reeled from loss of port business to neigbouring countries, lower capacity utilisation in industries, lower company profits and foreign direct investment flight.

Let it be known that other countries have moved their political capital before but most managed the developmental fallout with fairness. A few countries have more than one capital. Some countries have a political capital, as well as a judicial capital and a legislative capital. Malaysia has Kuala Lumpur as its official and royal capital and seat of national legislature, and Putrajaya as administrative centre and seat of national judiciary.

The Netherland and South Africa have their state functions spread likewise. The Netherlands has Amsterdam as de jure capital under the constitution of the Netherlands and Hague the Seat of government and residence of the royal family. South Africa has Pretoria as administrative and executive capital, Cape Town as the legislative capital and Bloemfontein as her judicial capital. These are decent efforts at making sure that the burden of development continued to be shared by the respective federal governments.

And indeed when General Muritala Mohammed announced the proposed movement of the capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1976, he was aware of this moral and developmental imperative. He had promised that Lagos and three others –Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kaduna- would be turned into centres of excellence to ensure developmental spread. Nigerian leaders today –the Senate- can revisit this promise and start somewhere, where the need is greatest, by recognising and providing for Lagos’ Special Status.

There had been two attempts, failed, sadly – for a bill to designate the state as special in terms of allocation of development resources due to its socio-economic significance and peculiar needs. The bill sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, the senator for Lagos Central Senatorial District, proposed a law that allocates one per cent of federally-generated revenues as special grant for Lagos State.

It was to compel the Federal Government to officially recognise Lagos as the country’s commercial capital. Some senators did not see any need for a constitutional intervention and others raised arguments for special status for their own states. Needless to say, a good bill was drowned under the weight and noise of political posturing.

It is not that Nigeria ought to grant Lagos special favours. Rather, the Federal Government ought to support and encourage Lagos to grow in the many ways it had grown and afforded Nigeria greater tax revenue, greater GDP growth, greater number and quality of jobs for Nigerians of all tribes, and greater influence in the comity of nations. Let the derivable content of a special status for Lagos State change from “special favours” as presently perceived to that of fair share of stakes and opportunities.

It is equitable for Lagos to enjoy derivation benefit, as with oil producing states, in regard of her 55% VAT revenue contribution to the federal purse. It is fair for Lagos to receive derivation percentage of her 82 per cent contribution to the income tax revenue accruing to the centre. Prof Yemi Osinbajo was recently reported as revealing that all the 214 people who paid up to N20 million each as tax per annum were resident in Lagos. That of another 914 who paid between N10 million and N20 million tax, only two were resident outside Lagos.

It is actually fair; reasoning from the angle of a Lagos many would claim belongs to all Nigerians, to allocate that one per cent of all federally-collected revenue to address development challenges of this microcosm of Nigeria.

Nigeria has only one Lagos. Just like America has one Big Apple, New York City, New York when hit with a disaster was not another American state. It was a rallying point for national awakening, vigour, action and affirmation. As Nigerians we have one state with the nature, character, significance and importance of Lagos. When Lagos is in distress we ought to listen. From all tribes and corners, from all works of life, we all have a part of us within the borders of this “every man’s land” – Lagos.

The Nigerian Senate and other stakeholders, can lead the way, reinvent Nigeria and her thirst for robust unity and development by showing that as a nation, we can collectively do the right thing in spite of the pressure to differ for personal reasons and parochial political interests. Let our federal lawmakers prove –now- that our diversity is truly a basis for a strong progressive country.

Recognise and confirm Lagos State’s special status and let the attendant benefit revamp Lagos, speed it to becoming the major African hub of progress, commerce and development that the biggest city in Nigeria ought to be. This is for the well-being of all who reside in Lagos, for Nigeria’s trajectory of growth and for the pride it affords all Nigerians.

Hon. Setonji , Chairman, House Committee on Information, Strategy, & Security, Lagos State House of Assembly, wrote from Lagos

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