By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Though the #EndSARS protest has come and gone, its calamitous effects on the country have continued to reverberate. The protest, which started as a peaceful demonstration, degenerated into chaos after it was hijacked by hoodlums. The distasteful actions of the mobsters led to the vandalization of properties worth billions of naira.
In Lagos State, especially, the ruinous outcome of the protest cannot be forgotten in a hurry, and reasonably so. No thanks to its destructive aftermath, many public assets in the state were left in utter ruin. These include the Lekki Toll Gate Plaza, BRT Terminal, Oyingbo (where scores of new busses were razed) and BRT Bus Terminal, Ojodu-Berger (where over 100 busses were razed), traffic lights, and the VIO/FRSC Office, Ojodu (where FRSC branded cars, generators set etc were set ablaze).
Others include Lagos High Court, Igbosere, Lagos; Lagos Television, Agidingbi, Ikeja; Lagos Theater, Oregun; Lagos Forensic Centre; Oba of Lagos’ Palace; Kings College, Lagos; Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Secretariat; Lagos Island Local Government Secretariat; Lagos Island East LCDA Secretariat; Lagos Mainland Local Government Secretariat; Ibeju Lekki LCDA Secretariat and scores of Police Stations. This is aside numerous other private assets that were destroyed by the rampaging protesters.
It is in the light of the sheer magnitude of the wanton destruction that Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, recently disclosed that the state will need about N1 trillion for the reconstruction and repair of the properties and infrastructure that was vandalized and destroyed by hoodlums.
In its characteristic forward looking style, the Lagos State government has put the ugly episode behind it, as it now focuses on rebuilding the state with a view to making it stronger and greater, in-spite of the debilitating effects of the protest.
Consequently, Mr. Governor has signed an Executive Order for the formation of an eight-man Lagos Rebuild Trust Fund Committee to coordinate the rebuilding efforts. The Trust Fund would be responsible for getting detailed cost of restructuring and rebuilding of destroyed assets. The Funds will also advise the government on the most critical assets to prioritise and identify emergency response service critically needed.
As part of the government’s objectives to fully heal the wounds of the crisis, the governor also announced the formation of six other committees. They are: Business Continuity Committee; Assessment Committee; Execution, Measurement and Evaluation Committee; Communication and Engagement Committee; Trust Fund Implementation Committee; and Security and Enforcement Committee.
With the move, Governor Sanwo-Olu expressed optimism that the state would attain new heights of development for a more resilient system and become more united in achieving its development goals.
However, as the government begins the challenging move to rebuild the state, it has become pertinent to, once again, bring to the front burner the contentious Lagos’ Special Status question.
Within one year, Lagos has been the epi-centre of two defining happenings: the COVID-19 pandemic and the #EndSARS protest. In view of its status as the country’s economic, commercial and industrial nerve centre, Lagos would always experience strain on its infrastructure.
It is on this premise that the need to accord a special status to Lagos has become essential. 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 a special status to Lagos remains the best possible way to drive Nigeria’s development, as Lagos is the country’s most industrialized city with needs that align with national growth and development.
In-spite of its small landmass, Lagos is presently experiencing such a phenomenal population explosion that it is being projected to be the largest megacity in the world by 2022. Many are of the view that the city’s best possible population is 40 million. Whereas the annual population growth in the developing world is 3 per cent and Nigeria’s is 2.7 per cent, that of Lagos stands at a stunning 8 per cent and it is likely to accelerate.
The state’s landmass is rather small by Nigerian standards (Kano State, which officially has about the same population with Lagos 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 infrastructure development.
The Lagos transformation project requires an enormous financial requirement, far beyond the capacity of the state government. Former governor of the State Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, once revealed that a sum of N6.14 trillion is needed to build and upgrade infrastructural facilities in the state in the next 15 years. And that was about eight years ago!
In the last 20 years, the state government has invested huge resources on 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. 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 upgrade 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 Federal Capital Territory 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 were leaving behind then, bearing in mind that if Lagos hadn’t been the federal capital, it probably would not have been having these problems.
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.
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 Ahmad Lawan, 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 impassively.
•Ogunbiyi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.