25 years after Abuja, Lagos trudges on
December 12, 2016 made it 25 years since Lagos ceased being the capital of Nigeria, with the movement of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to Abuja. That decision was received with mixed feelings as some people supported it, while some others kicked.
The controversy that surrounded the decision 25 years ago notwithstanding, Lagos has created an identity for itself by becoming a more distinct brand, not overshadowed by any entity.
In terms of economic and cultural issues among other demographics, the state has blossomed to become the fifth largest economy on the continent, and a major hub for entertainment in Nigeria, and by extension, the West Coast of the continent.
Also, most of the multinational and big corporations have their head offices in Lagos. It is also home to the best hotels in Nigeria, aside boasting more hotels than any other state in the country.
Though the smallest state in the country in terms of landmass, Lagos has over the years contributed hugely to the economic and commercial activities. About 57 per cent of the revenue from domestic petroleum product sales accrues to the federating account from Lagos.
It must be noted that when the seat of power left Lagos on December 12, 1991, it left behind a good number of federal properties and infrastructure
like the National Stadium, Surulere; National Theatre, Iganmu; the Third Mainland Bridge, the National Museum, Apapa and Tincan ports, Murtala Mohammed International Airport. These facilities left behind were to complement the efforts of Lagos State government in providing a conducive city for its residents and visitors.
Years later, these facilities have become a burden to Lagos and its residents simply because the Federal Government failed to maintain them. As a result of continued non-maintenance, the structures have become a blight, as well as, an eyesore for residents, who make use of them, or live within their vicinity.
Speaking on the movement of the capital to Abuja, recently, the Majority Leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Muyiwa Jimoh, noted that it is on record that some traditional rulers were against the decision to move the capital away from Lagos, as the position of the Federal Military Government that Lagos was close to the Atlantic Ocean, (which is a threat to national security) was not altruistic.
“As a student of society, majority of the capitals of countries in West Africa are close to the coastal lines, and that has not been a threat to their national security. Some of the capitals in this locations are those of Mauritania, Togo, Benin Republic, Senegal and you can continue to name them. So, there was no justification for the movement. And there was a promise by the Supreme Military Council (SMC) then that there should be a special fund for Lagos because of the federal capital it had been.”
On the gains and losses from the movement, Jimoh stated that Lagos state is still yearning for the fulfillment of some of the promises made.“Just like New York, whatever is generated, as a former capital of the United States, some percentage is retained. That is what is needed in Lagos to sustain some of the federal structures here. And we must look at this thing holistically.”
He stressed that despite the government’s failure to fulfill its promise of giving Lagos special attention, it has also failed to maintain the facilities it left behind, with many of the federal roads dilapidated, yet about 54 per cent of the Value Added Tax (VAT) accruing to the country is generated in Lagos.
“Among the port states- Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers have one port each, in Lagos, we have four ports, and that shows the amount of maritime activities and adjoining activities that go on in the state, because it is a chain.
“This also shows the pressure from trucks that ply our roads, especially since rail lines are not working. This shows that we need special attention and this is what we have been saying. And we will continue to say it because whatever is given to Lagos is for all Nigerians, virtually all the 774 local governments in the constitution have representatives in Lagos State.”
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, on his part said it would not be ideal to look at the movement from the perspective of gains and losses.
To him, what is important is that Lagos State has continued to play an important role in the scheme of things in the country. He pointed out that even though the state is no longer the country’s capital, its role as the number one state in the country has not changed, as it is still the economic and commercial capital of the country, as well as the entertainment hub of not just the country but that of West Africa.
“Of course, Lagos State is burdened by apparent neglect of previous administrations. As the former capital of the country, part of the deal was that Lagos would continue to enjoy some privileges. As a matter of fact, when the idea of moving the capital out of Lagos State to Abuja was mooted, there were three states; Lagos, Rivers and Kaduna, states that the February 1976 broadcast of Murtala specifically addressed, as cities deserving of special area status.
“And when President Ibrahim Babaginda, was executing the idea, he also promised that Lagos State will continue to get the attention of the Federal Government. In a way, most of the promises have not been fulfilled, especially in the area of infrastructural development. And I believe that Lagos State has spent more money fixing more federal roads and infrastructure than any other state in the country.”
He noted that it is due to the heavy burden and apparent neglect that made Senator Remi Tinubu, to propose the bill that the state be granted special status, which of course, if it had scaled through, she would have been enjoying special grant of one per cent from the resources federally generated from the state.
The commissioner maintained that this happening would be a fair deal, and the reason the state government has been fully behind the bill, as it also aligns with the promise by General Mohammed that three cities ought to enjoy special area status.
“But we can see in the last 25 years that Lagos State, much more than any other state deserves that level of support, so that it can continue to assist the Federal Government in shouldering some of the burden that it might not be able to carry,” Ayorinde stated.
He continued, “In the last 25 years that the capital has moved, Lagos State has continued to be the Mecca of young graduates, and people looking for greener pastures. And all of these things put a lot of pressure on infrastructure, health and education facilities in the state. It is a federation, so Lagos State cannot turn anybody back or deport anybody. This is why the Federal Government, as it is done all over the world, that certain cities, especially those that have served as capital city in America and others, such cities deserves attention.”
Ayorinde also pointed out that the story around the movement is not all negative, as Abuja has added to the bright colours of the country. That Lagos State has been able to reinvent itself without federal presence, he said is the story that Lagos wants to celebrate, as the state “was emboldened into looking inward, otherwise it would have relied essentially on the handout from the Federal Government. Instead, Lagos State re-packaged itself and IGR became the key driver of how Lagos is running its economy and it has paid off fantastically.
“Without the seat of Federal Government being in Lagos, it is still playing the role of the most important city in Nigeria, economically and culturally, and those are the two key areas you can measure the importance of a city.”
He argued that if the federal capital had remained in the state, there would have been that temptation to want to attribute the successes of the state to federal presence. “But now that the Federal Government is not here and Lagos State is able to perform wonderfully well, looking after everybody as there is no tribe that is not represented here, it means that the state has done far better in 25 years because what would have bogged it down and translate into laziness is no longer there.”
Ayorinde noted that as the fifth largest economy in Africa, home to Nollywood, and with some of the beautiful beaches in the world, it has showed that a city does not need to be a capital city before it can actually develop.”