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Smart City Project: Connecting Lagos to global knowledge economy

By Taiwo Ogundipe
17 July 2016   |   2:54 am
The pace-setting government of Lagos State under the forward-looking Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has recorded yet another groundbreaking accomplishment by instituting what has come to be tagged Lagos Smart City.
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. PHOTO: LASG

Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. PHOTO: LASG

The pace-setting government of Lagos State under the forward-looking Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has recorded yet another groundbreaking accomplishment by instituting what has come to be tagged Lagos Smart City. The current move is a reinforcing testament to the distinctive mark of innovation and agility that has so far characterised the administration.

One commentator was led to observe: “For many reasons, Ambode, the Executive Governor of Lagos State, seems to be doing, signing and saying the right things that interest many of us. From his light up Lagos projects, Fourth Mainland Bridge and now Smart City project; Ambode seems to be the most bullish city manager in Nigeria.”

The Lagos State Government recently entered into a historic deal with the city of Dubai. This deal will see Lagos emerge as the first Smart City in Africa. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed at the Emirates Tower, Dubai by Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem and the Chief Executive Officer of Smart City Dubai LLC, Mr. Jabber Bin Hafez. Superintending the signing ceremony were the Lagos Governor, Ambode and Chairman of Dubai Holdings, Ahmad Bin Byat, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister.

The MOU is essential between the Lagos State Government and Dubai Holdings, LLC, owners of Smart City (Dubai) to develop a sustainable, smart, globally connected knowledge-based community that drive knowledge economy.

The Governor said: “This is a deliberate attempt by us to establish a strong convergence between technology, economic development and governance.” He added that the move is expected to bring multi-billion dollars investments to the state, create thousands of jobs and transform the Ibeju-Lekki axis in particular and the entire Lagos State in general.”

The Governor also stated that the collaboration is part of the larger vision to make Lagos safer, cleaner and more prosperous. He added that apart from creating jobs for the people, the project would also become the world’s first carbon neutral city. In his words, Lagos “will become an important centre for innovation in smart technologies, wellness and destination for green tourism.”

The Governor gushed justifiably: “A Smart-City Lagos will be the pride of all Lagosians just as we have Smart City Dubai, Smart-City Malta and Smart-City Kochi (India). We are encouraged by the fact that we do not, as a government, need to develop at a slow pace, but take full advantage of the digital age and fast track development of Lagos to a real megalopolis that we can all be proud of. The future is ours to take. It also marks the first Smart City in Africa when completed.”

In his own remarks, the Deputy Prime Minister, Bin Byat, said the Dubai authorities were impressed with the conduct and readiness of Lagos State Government and were eager to proceed with the state government and the Smart City Lagos project.

Reports about the Smart City phenomenon first came into Nigerians’ consciousness with the account of a private meeting with the Governor in September 2015, by a delegation led by the trained communicator and political economist, Professor Pat Utomi, who during the parley provided the succinct profile of Smart City Dubai, which he said, was reputable globally for transforming a desert village to the world’s business hub in one generation.

He said the phenomenon of Smart City in Lagos would significantly change the business climate in the state. Utomi, who is designated Chairman of Smart City Lagos Ltd., said his team had developed a business template, which would successively bring as much as $10billion into Lagos economy within a period of time.

Smart City is a universally trending idea. Africa is also buying into it. The African continent, experts believe, is gradually moving towards smart city technology so as to improve the performance and quality of urban services, as well as achieve tangible benefits at local, state and federal levels. Towards this move, experts have argued that irrespective of whatever city it is in the continent, new edge solutions for telecommunications or infrastructure have been expanding to solve city problems daily.

Lagos under the leadership of Akinwunmi Ambode is taking the lead among a few African cities that have embarked on it. Addis Ababa, Nairobi, among others, are said to be equally taking similar strides on this quest for improved livelihoods in urban area.

So what exactly is a Smart City? According to an expert, a Smart City “is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but not limited to, local departments information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services.”

Broadly speaking, according to another school of thought, a city can be defined as smart when investments in human and social capital, traditional transport and modern ICT communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources.

Another definition has it that, “simply put, as the name implies, a Smart City is the smarter version of the normal city. One that has digital technology embedded across all of its functions.”

However, experts point out that there is no one clearly defined way for a city to evolve ‘smartly’. Various cities around the world, according to records, have approached the smart city concept in different ways and have evolved differently to suit unique priorities and needs.
All cities are faced with different challenges during their evolution and in many cases, it has been established that the smart city goals and objectives have to change frequently to align with the city’s growth, priorities, and interests.

One commentator observed: “Lagos State, must as a matter of necessity come up with its own unique Smart City approach. The government must develop its own unique theme. Lagos cannot afford to copy themes from other climes because of its uniqueness. There is no city like Lagos State anywhere in the world and therefore its aspiration must be different.”

The expert pointed out that Dubai, which the Lagos State government is partnering with, has adopted its own a unique Smart City approach. Dubai’s aspiration is underpinned by the three themes of communication, integration, and cooperation. It is this integrated approach that has helped the government to achieve its aspiration of becoming a truly global smart city, the expert stated.

The Lagos Smart City project being promoted by Governor Ambode seems to have factored in the truism of the diverse nature and needs. Just like the other Smart Cities in the other parts of the world including Dubai, Malta and across Europe where there were challenges before implementation and even after, there are some hurdles the Smart City of Lagos will face.

The major one is power. In May of this year, according to an observer, the Ministry of Power released figures that showed power output nosedived from a peak 4,500 MW to 2,500 MW; which is nearly half of the original figure. According to an official statement by the Ministry, the drop in power production was caused by vandalism of gas pipelines. And there does not seem to be any respite in sight with the increasing activities of the vandals.

The Federal Ministry of Communications, under the former Minister, Omobola Johnson, first mooted the Smart City idea, according to records, in the country. Johnson’s overall intention was to ease Nigeria’s quest to evolve into a digital economy. The idea was specifically initiated to reduce Right of Way Fees imposed by states operating like ‘land speculators ‘, standardise levies, and eliminate multiple taxes load on Nigeria’s telecommunications and internet provider companies.

Five states – Abuja, Bayelsa, Cross River, Lagos, and Ondo—initially signed on, after which Anambra, Delta, Gombe and Ogun States indicated interest. Among all the states, it is now only the Lagos State Government under the visionary leadership of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode that is bringing the dream to reality even in a more upgraded version.

• Ogundipe lives and writes from Lagos