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Pulse of special status for the mega city

By Tobi Awodipe
28 November 2021   |   4:04 am
The average yearly population growth in the developing world is three per cent and Nigeria’s rate has been put at about 2.7 per cent. The city of Lagos alone has a yearly population growth of eight per cent.

Sanwo-Olu at the 2022 Budget Presentation

The average yearly population growth in the developing world is three per cent and Nigeria’s rate has been put at about 2.7 per cent. The city of Lagos alone has a yearly population growth of eight per cent. With its population pegged at about 25 million, Lagos is among the top 10 of the world’s fastest growing cities and urban areas. There is an estimated daily influx of 10, 000 people, foreigners and Nigerians from other states, into Lagos, and the city keeps welcoming even more people. Now, the megacity is groaning under the weight of its gargantuan responsibility towards all whom it has offered a home, as scarce resources have been stretched to a breaking point.
Lagos as one of the world’s 10 fastest growing cities, come after Beeithai (China), Ghaziabad (India), Sana’a (Yemen), Surat (India), Kabul (Afghanistan) and Bamako (Mali). Presently, however, Lagos is the only one on this list without a constitutionally recognised special status, in terms of development attention. For instance, China designated Beeithai as a “Special Economic Zone and Marine Protected Area,” while India recognizes Ghaziabad as “a national Capital Region” and Surat as a “Smart City” under an urban renewal programme funded by the Indian government. The other cities are political capitals.

It is, therefore, not surprising that while presenting the 2022 Appropriation Bill of over N1.388 trillion before members of the State House of Assembly for consideration and approval last week, Lagos State Governor Bababjide Sanwo-Olu again, reiterated the need for the state to be accorded a special status by the Federal Government. Speaking during the budget presentation, Sanwo-Olu explained that the 2022 budget was to allow for consolidation of the gains recorded by the government over the years.
He said: “Our strident clamour that Lagos State should be granted special status and complementary funding to enable it maintain and improve the infrastructure that services the national economy remains relevant. Lagos is and must be recognised as the national asset that it is, which is a pre-eminent melting pot of cultures in Nigeria, the economic capital of Nigeria and the most populous megacity in all of Africa.
“We as a nation must realise that every investment in Lagos has implications for national development, whether it is the 10-lane airport road leading from the International airport or the Lekki deep seaport, together with the six-lane Lekki Epe Expressway, or the Red and Blue rail line moving 32 million commuters from Okoko and Agbado to Marina. These all serve to improve the commercial capacity of Nigeria and prepare her as a trading hub ready for the African Continental free trade area agreement. 
“The 2022 Budget is aimed at consolidating all our efforts so far, into timely delivery of our electoral promises of a Greater Lagos to all citizens and residents of the state. Despite experiencing one of the most challenging times in modern history in our beloved state, we have advanced in a manner that ensures that conviction of our progress is incontestable.
“Lagosians can testify to the improved standard of infrastructure delivered by our administration throughout the 377 wards across the state, which aligns with the state’s mission to eradicate poverty and promote economic growth through infrastructural renewal and development. We are therefore again announcing our commitment to delivering the Lagos of our dreams: Africa’s model megacity, a global economic and financial hub that is safe, secure, and productive. In 2022, we will focus obsessively on completing ongoing projects, expand social intervention programmes and support for citizens, and micro and small businesses…”

Special Status Clamour: Not New
ALTHOUGH Governor Sanwo-Olu has repeatedly raised the issue at various times, he is not the first to clamour for conferment of special status on Lagos. In 2015/2016, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, representing Lagos Central, had proposed a bill on special status for Lagos State. She had sought the promulgation of an Act that would make provisions for federal grants to a state that is overwhelmed by the presence of a very large population of other Nigerians on its soil. The bill was overwhelmingly voted down, as the Senate felt that the proposal was ‘ill timed’.
A cursory look at history shows that the demand for special status for Lagos is not new, and while those in power have been reluctant to concede to this demand, the idea has refused to go away, because there is hardly any dispensation in Nigerian history, when the request to have a separate or special status for Lagos has not been raised in the past half century. There have been arguments that there is a need to clearly define “special status” because there is the political angle, which is the aspect that has beclouded the judgment of the Senate over time.

Why Lagos Deserves Special Status
AS the biggest economy in Nigeria and one of the biggest in Africa, experts and stakeholders have been unanimous in their submission that Lagos is definitely qualified to be a stand-alone region. Lagos is the fifth densest megacity in the world after Dhaka, Mumbai, Karachi and Manila. They have hinged their argument on the fact that Lagos is the most populous state in Nigeria and the largest city in Africa, as well as being one of the largest in the world in terms of its population. It is one of the largest economies in Africa, making up more than a third of Nigeria’s GDP. Lagos GDP is about six per cent of the total GDP of Africa. No other state in Nigeria holds the key to over 75 per cent of all manufacturing activities in the country, or accounts for 70 per cent of Nigeria’s maritime trade as Lagos presently does. If tax revenue is important for the system to work, then Lagos bears the biggest burden of ensuring this, as it generates almost 85 per cent of Companies Income Tax available to Nigeria.
In his submission, Governor Sanwo-Olu proposed that the revenue sharing formula should be 34 per cent for Federal Government, including one per cent for Abuja, 42 per cent for State Governments, 23 per cent for Local Governments and one per cent for Lagos State (special status), as against the current revenue allocation formula, which stands at 52.68 per cent, 26.72 percent and 20.60 per cent for Federal Government, 36 state governments and 774 local governments respectively. “I should say that it will actually be unfair to expect the state to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary to give due consideration to all the variables that support our advocacy for a special status. The call for a special status for Lagos is not a selfish proposition. It is in the best interest of the country and all Nigerians, for Lagos, which accounts for about 20 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and about 10 per cent of the nation’s population to continue to prosper.”

Special Status: For And Against
DESPITE the listed merits advanced in favour of conferring special status on Lagos, not all seem to be for it. The governorship candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) in the 2019 elections in Lagos, Babatunde Gbadamosi, dismissed the plea for a special status for the state. In his view, it was a ploy to turn the citizens of the state into beggars before the Federal Government. “I see no reason Governor Sanwo-Olu should bother his head begging for special status for Lagos, when the state already has a court ruling backing it to collect Value Added Tax (VAT),” he said. “What Lagos should go ahead and do is to take what belongs to it by right, which I think the governor wouldn’t want to do, so as not to offend his godfather, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“Why beg for a special status now that APC government is in power? Go back to APC’s campaign promises. It was clearly said that special status would be considered for Lagos. So, what has happened? Tinubu bamboozled Nigerians with Enron Power project, when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in control of Federal Government, but failed. So, why couldn’t Sanwo-Olu continue from and seek for independent power generation and distribution for Lagos, instead of turning us into a beggarly state?
“What would a special status amount to besides the state going ahead to put policies in place to collect its VAT? I don’t see any sense in turning Lagos to a beggar state,” he said.

But Ambassador Ayoola Olukanni, the Director General of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), the umbrella body for all the various affiliate member chambers within the country, said Lagos rightly deserves such support because of its position, not only in Nigeria but Africa as a whole.
He said: “Lagos is the sixth largest economy in Africa and needs support in every way to function effectively. It’s sad that after all these years, the infrastructure hasn’t grown in tandem with the population. Lagos is the gateway to Nigeria. The ports in Apapa have been abandoned and don’t function, as they should. Most goods that come into Nigeria come in through Lagos, yet it doesn’t get the necessary support to continue this huge responsibility. Lagos is very important as far as Nigeria is concerned.

“The pressure on Lagos, as far as economic activities are concerned, is enormous and the present infrastructure isn’t working. A large number of SMEs are located in Lagos and the International Trade Fair, which is the number one trade fair in the country, is situated in Lagos. Many SMEs exhibit there and we’re talking of assisting SMEs, a major driver of the nation’s economy. So, we need to support the place that hosts these SMEs.
“Also, Lagos will play a key role in bringing AfFTCA to life. If you incapacitate industries in Lagos, you are incapacitating industries across Nigeria. Speaking on behalf of businesses and commercially, it would be good if this special status can be granted. Most media houses including print, TV, radio and online are headquartered in Lagos, which is a reflection of the importance of the city to the nation’s economic drive as a whole.”

Also, the State publicity secretary for Lagos PDP, Taofeek Gani, said the special status call is well supported and long overdue. He said it is a disgrace, an embarrassment and an indictment on the part of both the state and federal governments that this has been delayed till date. “The APC claimed then that the PDP was not in support of this status because we were in power then. But they have been ruling for about seven years now, yet haven’t granted themselves this special status. We fully support that Lagos should have a special status, as it is truly the only cosmopolitan state and a hub of commercial activities.
“However, we must be careful that it must not be used as a conduit pipe to steal even more funds but must be used for the common good of the people. Why some people are not supporting this is because we have seen some opportunities that have come to Lagos before, which were hijacked by some elements for their personal and selfish use. We can all see a former Lagos State governor that is controlling the state’s total revenue collection. If the special status is granted and that set of people is still at the helm of affairs, the people will not benefit from it in any way. If we don’t fix the revenue collection of this state, the special status will not change anything. There must be checks and balances to control excesses. This special status would definitely help in community and state policing that we have been clamouring for,” he said.

On his part, APC member and Chairperson, Isokan CDA/Oshodi Development Committee (ODC), Kazeem Fawole, regretted that despite several efforts for this special status to see the light of day, some people were bent on preventing it.

He said: “In the Seventh Senate, Oluremi Tinubu raised it more than once but it was killed. Lagos is long overdue for this because if you look at it, the whole of Nigeria is in Lagos. Lagos and Kano were both created in 1967, with 20 local government areas and later, Kano was increased to 44, while Lagos remains 20 till date. Jigawa and Kano were carved out of Kano and Jigawa has 24 local government areas. If we want to be truthful, how many people are in those three states combined in comparison to Lagos?
“The registered number of houses in Lagos is over eight million and that is the number the government is aware of because the real number is not known. At the last census I participated in, there was a house in Ijora that we spent three days counting the total number of people living in it. One room alone had 16 people. Now, multiply that by the number of rooms, flats and houses in the state.
“We lack the political will to say the truth. But we all know democracy is a game of numbers, and the real reason the motion was killed is because there are more Northerners in the house compared to the Southerners. We need to begin to tell ourselves the truth because that is the only way we can move forward. Lagos is long overdue for a special status and the earlier this is granted, the quicker we can move forward developmentally and in all other ramifications.”