Brand Lagos and the Greedy Landlords at Alausa
When the Lekki Toll Plaza was commissioned about ten years ago, I said the entire project was driven by greed. Today, we see even greater greed in the manic drive for revenues. When the anti-tolling protests heightened, the state promptly rolled out a media campaign and tried to put out a lot of illogical argument to justify what was clearly an ill-conceived project, driven by unrealistic projections. As the road expansion progressed a second toll gate was promptly mounted, well ahead of completion of the road being tolled. More protests followed and some level of sanity prevailed and tolling was suspended at the second toll plaza.
Early this year, the tolls were increased by more than 60%. Meanwhile, construction work has been painfully slow, moving at snails speed just as the motorists who daily use the road. To make matters worse the Abraham Adesanaya-Sangotedo axis of the road is now partially buried in refuse. Meanwhile, on the best of days, this road is not built to a standard that justifies the toll being collected on it. The state government, through their official and unofficial spokesmen have argued irrationally that tolling major roads is common in developed countries. Now this is the problem with many of our leaders! In their myopic and vacuous reasoning, they fail to see the full picture of our situation in this country and the need for original thinking and home grown solutions to our uniquely Nigerian problems. How could government officials be stealing so much money in this country and expect ordinary working class people to gladly pay extra for the “privilege” of plying a decent road to work?
The average middle class family in this country (and many live around the Lekki corridor) spends more than the minimum wage simply to enjoy the basic comfort that electricity provides. I do not know why we should subject ourselves to such suffering that a decent road that takes you to work should cost you more than the taxes you pay! If you live and work in Lagos, you already pay multiple taxes and if you run a business, you pay so much more. In addition, you will generate the electricity to run your home or business and sink a borehole. Is it too much to ask for a decent road? The road we are talking about in Lekki is not even as good as “normal” roads that other countries take for granted. Yet we have to pay to use it!
While I commend the Lagos State Government for all it is doing to develop the state and restore law and order, I believe in putting the welfare of the people at the forefront of any development plan. At least, it’s there in the constitution they swore to obey, that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.
If you build a ten-lane highway between Lagos and Ibadan today and ask people to pay toll, I don’t think we will protest. If you do the same between Shagamu and Ore-Benin, I am sure people will gladly pay the toll. But you don’t build a toll road in a densely populated residential area, on a road that people must ply to work every day. We are talking of people already impoverished due to the failure of state facilities. Instead of taking people off the roads and putting them on trains and ferries, we are building toll gates and trying to tax Okada riders!
Let’s look at a 70-kilometre stretch of the Lekki Road (some erroneously call it Expressway!), there are no public general hospitals, no stadium, no public parks and playgrounds. No public amenities. No low cost housing estates for the low income earners. Yet the state rakes in billions of naira in all manner of charges and levies accruing from development of private residential estates in this axis.
The latest act of greed is the unreasonable hike in the Land Use Charge. The relatively easy option of rent seeking has beclouded the vision which should be driving the development of Lagos. Where are the industrial estates? Industries are relocating to Ogun State! Where is the tourism industry? Where are the initiatives that will create employment and stimulate the economy? It is easy to tax people and keep taxing people, but why not develop the economy in a holistic way that generates employment and increases the number of tax payers instead increasing the taxes payable?
The state is becoming the most expensive place to do business in Nigeria and while we pay so much in taxes and levies, it is becoming difficult to see what the state is giving residents in return. It is important that Lagos adopts a sustainable development model and begins to create a good destination brand that will attract tourists and investors in the tourism industry. The state has all it takes to become one of the leading tourist destinations in Africa and I don’t understand why this sector has not received the attention it deserves considering the potential for revenue and employment generation.
The perception of Lagos as an unreasonably expensive city is fast gaining ground. Worse still, the state is regressing to a state of titanic filth, with the visionscape controversy and the mounting refuse now threatening to bury our houses! Add to this the multitude of able bodied men and women who daily line the roads hawking all manner of merchandize. The picture is not pretty at all. The image we are seeing is that of a jungle rather than a 21st Century City. Lagos State should refocus its development strategy on employment generation rather than revenue generation. Because when people are employed they will pay taxes. All these hawkers should be taken off the roads, not by laws and fines but by giving them something better to do. You cannot tax them effectively when they’re street hawkers. Their activities contribute to the loads of garbage on the roads and give the state a bad image. The best solutions are not always the easy ones, but that is the hard road the state government must now begin to take.
•Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.
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