Viewpoint

March 26, 2024

Still on the question of Lagos’ special status 

Still on the question of Lagos' special status 

By TAYO OGUNBIYI

AT the end of the 18th edition of the Executive/Legislative parley organised by the Lagos State Government, the issue of advocating for a “Special Status” for Lagos in the ongoing constitutional review exercise was once again on the front burner.

The question of granting Lagos special status has been in the public space for some time and for the right reason too. During the Eight Senate, an Act to make special provisions for Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio-economic significance and other connected purposes was sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (now First Lady). The bill did not, however, see the light of the day.

Lagos is currently experiencing a phenomenal population explosion. Whereas the annual population growth in the developing world is three per cent and Nigeria’s is 2.7 per cent, that of Lagos stands at a stunning eight per cent and is likely to accelerate.

 The State’s landmass is rather small by Nigerian standards (Kano State which officially has about the same population is about four times in landmass). As if to aggravate the situation, a considerable part of the metropolis is covered by water, a situation that complicates its infrastructure needs.

The Lagos transformation project requires an enormous financial force to build and upgrade infrastructure facilities in the state in the next 15 years far beyond the capacity of the state government.

This, then, is the significance of the call for the state to be accorded a special status by the Federal Government. There is hardly any Nigerian that doesn’t have a stake in Lagos.

A special federal grant for Lagos is, therefore, a necessary blueprint for the development of the country. Being the pane through which the whole world views the country, granting special status to Lagos remains the best possible way to drive Nigeria’s development as Lagos is the country’s most industrialised city with needs that align with national growth and development.

In the last 24 years, the state government has invested huge resources in infrastructure development. However, these efforts are not enough for obvious reasons.  Today, Lagos does about 15,000 metric tons of refuse daily, more than what the whole of Ghana generates. The branch networks that some banks have in Lagos outstrip what they have in the whole country.

The number of heavy-duty trucks and other vehicles that daily ply Lagos roads is quite alarming. The same goes for the number of pupils in its public schools as well as those that daily visit its public hospitals.

 Consequently, the State spends more on infrastructure upgrades and provision of other basic life necessities than any state in the country. Lagos, with about 150,000 workforce, apart from the Federal Government, remains the greatest employer of labour in the country. 

Aside from the pressure on its infrastructure, there is a crucial moral angle to the quest to accord Lagos a special status. When the FCT was moved from Lagos to Abuja, there was a subsisting agreement that the city would not be abandoned.

  Indeed, the late General Murtala Mohammed acknowledged the onerous nature of the responsibility of leaving Lagos alone to deal with the burden of infrastructure the Federal Government was leaving behind then, bearing in mind that if Lagos hadn’t been the federal capital, it probably would not have been having these problems. Five cities: Enugu, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kaduna, and Lagos were later designated as ‘Centres of Excellence’ by the Murtala administration.

However, successive Federal Governments have refused to take a cue from countries such as Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia, and Tanzania, which, after relocating their capitals, did not hold back development in the former capitals.

From 1954 to 1994, the capital of Germany was Bonn. It was moved to Berlin, following the endorsement of the ‘agreement of movement’ which spelled out the responsibilities of the German government for the maintenance of the old capital which it has been meeting conscientiously.

Also, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia. To date, all federal roads, buildings, and other infrastructure in both cities are maintained simultaneously by the central government. Malaysia has also maintained two capitals. Its old capital, Kuala-Lampur, has been retained as the legislative capital, where the National Assembly operates.

 Its new capital, Putrajaya, which is the most computerised city in the world, is the administrative capital. In Australia, the old capital, Sidney, still enjoys special recognition. Although Canberra is the new capital, most activities of government, international conferences, party conventions, and meetings are still held in the former capital city. The former capital of Tanzania is Dar-es-Salam. When Dodoma became the new capital, the old capital did not suffer neglect. 

The Federal Government should take a cue from these examples by according to Lagos deserving special status.

No nation grows by treating the needs of its golden geese with discomfiture. The future growth of Nigeria is partly tied to the development of Lagos which generates the bulk of the VAT accruable to the country, hosts over 85 per cent of Nigeria’s industrial hub and over 65 per cent of its financial nucleus as well as over 75 per cent of its active workforce.  

One hopes that the current Senate, under the leadership of Senator Godswill Akpabio will dispassionately look into the subject and do the right thing. Given the centrality of Lagos to the overall social-economic aspiration of Nigeria, the Upper Chamber and other critical stakeholders should rise above primordial considerations and treat the Lagos special question issue more compassionately.

The need to accord a special status to Lagos is a non-political project. There is hardly any Nigerian that doesn’t have a stake in Lagos. An investment in Lagos is, therefore, a necessary blueprint for the development of the country since Lagos remains the window through which the world sees Nigeria.

Any investment in Lagos is an investment in the future of Corporate Nigeria. It is an investment that protects and supports Nigeria’s capacity to earn more resources, support more businesses, expand businesses, and address several other developmental challenges bedeviling the country. It is a right course. It is the right thing to do!

Ogunbiyi is Director (Features), Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja