Lagos deserves special status

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PHOTO: bellanaija

Lagos is a special state in Nigeria generally believed to be the most populous black nation in the world. The state was the last capital of the federation until December 12, 1991 when Abuja was legalised as Nigeria’s capital. Lagos has been so critical to economic development of the country that a radio station in the city, Nigeria InfoFM actually daubs the state “the economic capital of West Africa” in its daily newscasts. The reasons for the special status are not so far to seek: the state plays host to so many economic and strategic agencies including critical revenue organs. The only viable international airport is located in the state; the best local airline is also there; the two most viable seaports are in the state, and more important, Lagos is the capital of the financial services sector.

Specifically, the state is the most viable capital of the money and capital markets in the country. What is more, the property market is second to none in Africa’s west coast. Besides, the state in global context is in urban and regional planning journals as the largest market for any goods in the continent. The consumer index and indeed the purchasing power of residents of the state are legendary. The collectible tax profile of the state for federal and state is second to none in the country. That is why it is often touted that Lagos makes the money that others spend in a convoluted federation that depends on oil revenue and tax mostly from Lagos.

The point needs to be stressed that more than 57 per cent of the revenue from domestic petroleum product sales accrues to the Federation Account from Lagos alone. And so Lagos is inscrutably overpopulated. The state already tagged as part of the world’s mega cities and still rapidly growing, has over stretched facilities and public utilities that the state alone can no longer cope with. It has been a huge concern to the government of Lagos State that it is always in the eyes of the storm, especially in tax administration.

It is in this context that the nation and indeed the National Assembly members should understand the significance of the “Bill on Special Status for Lagos” that was just killed by the federal legislators. It is a tragic error of judgment.

That is why those who understand these historical backgrounds have felt that the remarks the other day by Senator Olusola Adeyeye (APC, Osun Central), which reportedly inflamed the senators that rejected a bill seeking a special status for Lagos should not have counted. The anger that pervaded the air in the rowdy chambers beclouded the senators’ sense of judgment. They failed to see the good in the bill presented to them.

In the main, that noisy rejection should not be the end of the bill. The draft law should be properly rearticulated and represented for the obvious strategic importance of Lagos.

Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central) who sponsored the bill specifically asked the Senate to use its legislative powers to provide for “special federal grants for Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio-economic significance.”

Among other things, she reiterated that Lagos is the main gateway to the country; home to the major ports that serve Nigeria, accounting for over 90 per cent of all maritime trade, with the accrued revenues being delivered into Federal Government’s coffers.

The sponsor had lamented that the teeming population that defines Lagos puts undue pressure on the available infrastructure hence, the grant is needed to meet the infrastructural needs of the state that services hordes of citizens from other states and visitors alike.

The special bill seeks to make provision for economic assistance through grants as provided for under Section 164, sub-section (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

Ironically in a fit of unrighteous indignation while canvassing for support for the bill, Senator Adeyeye did an unreasonable comparative analysis between Lagos and Abuja, which caused some outrage. He said the nation’s capital did not deserve the kind of privileges and support being accorded. “The FCT is a rotten pampered child.” This greatly infuriated the senators.

As Nigeria’s primate city, the critical importance of Lagos as the economic nerve centre of Nigeria is not in doubt. Sadly enough, the Federal Government stopped making contribution to the functionality of Lagos ever since the capital was moved to Abuja in 1991. This is in spite of the huge revenue drawn from the state.

What is more important now is for all stakeholders to go back to the drawing board. The lobby for the Lagos bill was not properly managed. The framing was flawed. By merely focusing on grants rather than demanding for part ownership of the revenue-yielding assets, the bill appears to be seeking for special favour, which is not logical. The bill should seek for equity and fairness in revenue sharing within the context of federalism we want in the country. The same arrangement holds in New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Bombay, and other capital cities around the world where seaports, for instance, are managed by the local government councils that host the facilities.

Instead of presenting the bill as a novel demand, it should have been anchored on the strategic promise made by the late General Murtala Muhammed when negotiating capital relocation from Lagos 40 years ago. Gen. Muhammed, who in 1976, initiated the idea of moving the federal capital to Abuja, proclaimed in his broadcast to the nation that Lagos, Kaduna and Port Harcourt would be given “special areas” status. In other words, the Federal Government would contribute towards maintaining the cities. Murtala promised to work this into the 1979 Constitution. It was his vision and mission statement in his broadcast to the nation on February 3, 1976 that was not honoured by the successor regime. The drafters of the Lagos bill should have considered the geopolitical importance of General Muhammed’s promise.

Forty years on, the concern ought to be why the Federal Government has not kept faith with that proposition that served as the plank for moving the capital out of Lagos. The case of Lagos is, particularly, significant given its overarching socio-economic importance.

For instance, Apapa that hosts the two critical ports, has been abandoned as the roads are terrible. The entire Apapa is now a dead end. The road to the Murtala Muhammed Airport is also an eyesore. All the federal highways and flyovers in Lagos are in embarrassing state of disintegration.

All told, the Lagos status issue and other related matters can only be sorted out through restructuring of the federation that will allow Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, among others to be managed within the context of federalism. The Lagos special status bill should be seen as a starting point and idea whose time has come.

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