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How not to govern Lagos

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The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

Lagos State is very peculiar. In terms of landmass, it is the smallest state in Nigeria, measuring just about 3,345 square kilometers, which is about the size of a local government in Niger State with a landmass of 76,363 square km. But that is where the smallness of Lagos State ends.

In every other index of measurement, the state is a towering giant.

It is the most populous, claiming to accommodate 25 million human beings or about 16 percent of Nigeria’s estimated population of 150 million.

Estimates also say that about one third of industries in Nigeria are in Lagos.

In the context of national and even continental geo-economics, Lagos State is simply awesome. It is rightly called the economic capital of Nigeria and as the fifth largest economy in Africa; the state is to Africa what the State of California in the US is to the world.

When the annual budgets of states in Nigeria stayed far below the one billion mark in the late 80s to early 90s, Lagos was the first state to cross that bar.

And this year, the State has entered the books as the first to scale the one trillion mark with its N1.046 trillion budget as approved by the State House of Assembly.

This is to say also that something called ‘Budget of Kinetic Crystallization’ with which Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, where the most thriving industry is a yearly carnival in December, plans to fund a N1.3 trillion budget in 2018 is the biggest joke of the decade.

Lagos State is a pacesetter and trailblazer in many more regards. It is the only state where the dichotomy between indigenes and settlers is blunt, to the extent that any ethnic group can aspire to political leadership in the state. The character of representation of the state in the National Assembly attests to this.

Three (Oshodi/Isolo II, Ajeromi Ifelodun and Amuwo Odofin) out of the 23 Federal Constituencies in the State are represented by non-Yoruba; namely Tony Nwulo, Rita Orji and Emmanuel Oghene Egoh.

This is even more so at the state executive level where the persistent enthronement of non Lagos indigenes as governors became one of the defining campaign issues in the 2015 governorship election in the state.

And as we can recall, the factor that threatened most the crowning of Akinwumi Ambode was the disposition of the so-called non-indigenes of the state.

Also, the state civil service is a geo-ethnic potpourri. Outside competence, about the only requirement, which is not compulsory, to aspire to anywhere in the state’s political and bureaucratic systems is ability to speak the Yoruba language. Discriminatory practices against non-indigenes of the state in real operations are often too soft to compel a change of the unwritten code.

At the level of private sector participation in the affairs of the state, non-indigenes seem to have an upper hand. Pause and imagine for a while what would become of Lagos, if all the businessmen and women from the Southeast were to quit? Know also that both the richest man and woman in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija are resident in Lagos. In fact, both started evolving from Suru-lere.

Lagos parades the best in almost everything. The best lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, journalists and troublemakers, who sometimes assume the euphemism of rights activists; they are all in Lagos.

The city’s excellence in businesses and the professions is therefore driven by a competition among the very best in the country. Nothing else can explain better the pre-eminent status of Lagos in national affairs.

Nigeria is believed to be in real crisis when Lagos is in crisis. For instance, fuel scarcity, is assumed to have been resolved as soon as supply to Lagos normalizes. In all, no serious Federal Government wants to risk crisis in Lagos.

In the build-up to the 2003 general elections when the PDP was on rampage to capture the entire Southwest including Lagos State from the then Alliance for Democracy (AD), the appetite for Lagos suddenly vanished when it was mentioned to President Olusegun Obasanjo that there was no art as yet to calculate the collateral damage to the country if Lagos State was forcefully snatched from Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, then Governor of the state, who was seeking a mandate renewal.

That is Lagos for you. It is configured by a combination of natural and socio-economic advantages to cause cold in Abuja and the entire nation when it sneezes.

It is about the only state in the country that can run without the federal monthly allocations and nothing will happen to it. This is why managing the state is as tough as managing the country. It is not a zone for trials of costly political and economic experiments because a misstep here has a way of appearing like a national flaw.

In the last two weeks, the state government has been trying, albeit with very minimal success, to explain why Lagos residents, in addition to whatever taxes that exist, must pay more on their property and to register their vehicles.

Maybe Governor Ambode had thought that since his signature projects are everywhere in Agege, Abule Egba, Oshodi and Mafoluku, to mention just a few, he had absolute justification to ask for more money from Lagos residents to continue the good work.

He woke up one morning and took a bill seeking increase in property taxes to the state legislature for rubberstamping and inclusion into the body of tax laws in the state. Some people have argued that Ambode is pressed for more cash to deliver the recurrent and capital components of the huge 2018 budget.

Maybe! But you see, there is a way you eat your food and you will be accused of stealing your own food. That is precisely what Ambode has done with the tax increases.

Now, it is even taking more taxpayers’ money to manage the fall-outs as different officials of the state spend time and resources to engage and seek the understanding of various stakeholders on the issue.

The government is unfortunately doing the first thing last. When you fail to prevent crisis, you manage same at even higher cost. That is what is happening with the land use charge issue in Lagos State.

I had taken time in the earlier paragraphs to establish the uniqueness of Lagos to make a point about how it should be governed. It is the most elevated social, political and economic landscape in Nigeria and the rules here should be refined; close to, if not exactly, what obtains in all elevated climes.

The things that will go unchallenged even in Abuja may be vehemently opposed in Lagos. I want Ambode to seriously note this as he struggles to explain himself out of the current crisis.

Again, maybe Governor Ambode took his huge endorsement in the Southwest media as a measure of his infallibility. He went on overdrive and he is yielding to gravity.

The Lekki toll increase heat had not quite simmered completely when this tax wahala joined. Lately, refuse has refused to leave the streets of Lagos, forcing officials of the State Ministry of Environment and its agencies to be explaining constraints more than they are working to arrest the development.

Going forward, I can guide the Governor for free. The mouth can only munch so much at a time. When the bite is more than the mouth can take, the resultant spill is always messy and the media is at liberty to point out the folly.

And so, in the final analysis, it will pay better for the Governor of Lagos State to take the right steps than to explain well after a series of missteps have been taken.

It is only when the action is bad that one seeks good explanation. A good act needs no explanation to establish itself. The new tax law is not a good act, hence the plenty explanation that has attended it.


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