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The Special-Status-For-Lagos Bill

By Martins Oloja   |   08 October 2016   |   4:13 am
Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

Now that the politicians have killed the Special-Status-for -Lagos bill sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, the statesmen and other good people should begin to organize for its revival instead of agonizing as the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode and some others are doing. Yes, the rejection of the very important bill is a tragedy but the sponsor of the very important bill and indeed the politicians in Lagos and Abuja who are still smarting from the political defeat should have learnt some lessons by now: that the governing Party, APC is now a house that is divided against itself and so it is having difficulty to really stand. Besides, Lagos politicians should note too that the National Assembly is not the Lagos State House of Assembly where politicians could have easily got a camel called Lagos-special-status bill to pass through the eye of a needle.

I mean here that the sponsors of the bill should have borrowed a leaf from the wisdom of the late General Murtala Mohammed who dreamed of Abuja 40 years ago. The General who understood the times like biblical children of Issachar, knew what critical stake holders would like to hear in his broadcast to the nation on 3rd February 1976 when he artfully designated Lagos, Kaduna & Port Harcourt as “special areas” while proclaiming Abuja as the nation’s new capital. From the outset, the then head of state and his strategists had looked into the seed of time and foreseen likely opposition from the sophisticated southwest about the Abuja dream. And so as insiders then disclosed, he got his deputy then, General Olusegun Obasanjo to get Justice Akinola Aguda, a Yoruba to head a presidential panel on recommendation of a new capital city. And when the Panel had recommended a place then called Suleja in the present site, which later swapped name with Abuja in the current Niger state, Mohammed also sought to appeal to the sensibilities of the people in the South and the far North. This was how he appealed specifically to all the zones that were likely to be aggrieved by the capital location from Lagos to Abuja:

…Lagos will, in the foreseeable future, remain the nation’s commercial capital and one of its nerve centres. But in terms of servicing the present infrastructure alone the committed amount of money and effort required will be such that Lagos State will not be ready to cope. It will even be unfair to expect the state to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is therefore, necessary for the Federal Government to continue to sustain the substantial investment in the area. The port facilities and other economic activities in the Lagos area have to be expanded. There is need in the circumstances for the Federal Government to maintain a special defence and security arrangement in Lagos, which will henceforth be designated a special area. These arrangements will be carefully worked out and written into the new constitution. Kaduna and Port Harcourt are to be accorded similar status and designated…

As I was saying, the sponsors of the Lagos bill have been naïve, in this connection. They ought to have built a groundswell of opinions and consensus within the two chambers of the federal legislature before the debate and eventual vote that buried the dream. Really, the lobby to get the bill passed was poorly or not done at all. They should have known that success of Lagos is a burden and it constantly gives false impression that all is well with the city that the federal government has failed to invest in after the 11.8 km Third Mainland Bridge the General Babangida regime completed in 1990. The proponents of the bill should have recalled the 1976 promises of Murtala to Lagos, Kaduna and Port Harcourt people and built some arguments around a premise that Obasanjo failed the nation when he did not fulfill the promises to the three zones then when he succeeded Murtala in 1976.

What is more, the supporters of the bill should have used some analytics in the campaigns to illustrate some revenue profile from Lagos to Abuja’s federation account. They should have sponsored some documentaries on the parlous state of roads from Apapa seaports to the Murtala Mohammed international airport. Why didn’t they sensitize the numerous legislators from the North to deepen their understanding of the reasons Lagos actually deserves a special status? I am persuaded that the significant bill was hacked for lack of knowledge of its importance. And as it is written, there is a time for everything. Why was the bill listed for decision at a time the ‘General of Bourdillon’ in Lagos was reported to have fired some missiles in the direction of the powers in Abuja where the legislators live and work?

Specifically, what was in it for the Port Harcourt and Kaduna people that General Murtala also promised in 1976?

One other lesson for the reputation managers in Lagos is that it is unwise for a debtor to showcase his new car key to his creditor. Lagos has been regularly over-dramatised as a super-rich state that does not require any special status to fund its affairs. This perception too has always been poorly managed. This is one the many troubles with the controversial bill.

Meanwhile, before we continue with our “songs of sorrow” on the bill, as Kofi Awoonor once mused, it is time to remind President Muhammadu Buhari too that he has a historic responsibility to contribute to the development of Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos.

Behold, there are three things the president can do immediately to reconnect with the Lagos that is no longer dominated by only the Yoruba. First, he should honour his rescheduled visit to Lagos immediately. He reportedly suspended his visit to Lagos from May 23 -24 this year. This is the time to heal some political wounds in the southwest and indeed Lagos. The state does not like to be classified with southwest except when they want to play politics just as they want to do in Ondo state now where some conspiracy theory is in the air – for governorship election. The second thing is that when he visits, he should stop over in Apapa where he will inspect the Ports facilities in the area. From there, he will be moved to take over the Lagos bill. Certainly, the president will see again why the Murtala’s promise of 1976 was necessary and he will feel the evil his successors have done to the memories of our Apapa where four agencies, the Nigerian Ports Authority, (NPA), Nigerian Shippers Council, (NSC), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) rake in hundreds of billions of Naira to the federation account.

Besides, the president will see the need to consider appointment of a Special Adviser or even a Minister of Lagos Affairs who will assist in making his mark in Lagos he once stayed as Head of State. This is not new. In 1959, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu (from Adamawa State) was federal Minister of Land and Lagos Affairs. Besides, another politician from Katsina state, Mallam Musa Yar’Adua Snr, (Mutawallin Katsina (father of Shehu & Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) was Minister of Lagos Affairs during the First Republic. There are more reasons for that office now.

Again, time for Economic Summit on Lagos…

As I had also once suggested here, the APC government should convene an Economic Summit on Lagos where we need to talk about development of Nigeria via attention to Lagos. We have to talk about development of the Lagos, which makes the bulk of the money that Abuja spends. And General Obasanjo should be at the Summit on Lagos for many reasons.

Former President Obasanjo is one of the big “soldiers of fortune” to use the description of Siollun (2013) when the Apapa ports were conceived and built. He was in power in 1977 when some emissaries from Abu Dhabi came to Lagos, the then capital, to ask Nigeria for what they then called “bilateral loan” to set up their Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). We obliged them and we used our wealth then to celebrate Festival of Art and Culture called “FESTAC 77”. Today Abu Dhabi with a population of 2.33 million, is the second largest Sovereign Wealth Fund in the world with a whopping $773 billion (USD) by 2014 survey. Norway is the world’s largest with $882 billion.

Nigeria with a population of about 170 million has only $1 billion (USD) capitalization just as Senegal’s ($1b).

This same big man, Obasanjo, who succeeded Murtala in 1976, was supposed to work Lagos as Nigeria’s commercial capital into the 1979 Constitution. He did not fulfill that promise by Murtala as it was “not his will”. The influential Obasanjo returned to power as elected President in 1999 and left in 2007. But between him and former Governor of Lagos State (1999-2007) Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu there was no love lost. The two of them for eight years never discussed how to rebuild and expand facilities in Apapa as well as the required infrastructure network to sustain development there as Murtala promised in 1976.

The Lagos of the Poets (Ofeimun 2010) can make you fall in love with the city by the Lagoon but it is still by 21st century standard an under-developed city and herein lies the imperative of not leaving it alone to the state government. The challenge for Lagos today is that of the ever-expanding city, soon to be one of the world’s largest. Its population is now estimated conservatively by the UN among others to be anything between 15 and 18 million, and is expected to reach a possible 25 million by 2020. By 2025, it is expected to be the third largest city in the world.

In 2015, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) made N196.26 billion. And in 2016, it has projected N201. 3 billion. The bulk of this revenue comes from Lagos alone.

What is more, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) collected a total of N903 billion in 2015 out of a target of N954 billion. The Comptroller-General of Customs, Col Hamid Ali (Rtd) who confirmed this figure had earlier declared to the press that 75 per cent of this revenue was generated in Lagos.

The FIRS reportedly collected N1.23 trillion from VAT nationwide in 2015. It is the same pattern: Lagos expectedly contributed about 50 per cent of the revenue. But the Apapa port roads that provide the biggest revenue for Nigeria are the most deadly in the state. Needless to talk of the lead-laden pollution arising from the heavy traffic in that part of the city. This is part of the reasons the Lagos bill should not be allowed to die (many times) just like the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). All told, the President should take over the Bill from Senator (Mrs) Tinubu and reinforce it as an executive bill so that Lagos will be to Nigeria what New York is to the U.S.

Inside Stuff Grammar School:
Defective vs Deficient:
Note that when something is not working properly, it is defective; when it is missing an essential part, it is deficient. Defective applies to quality, deficient to quantity. Think about their noun forms: defect and deficit to understand.

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