A train to somewhere
Last month, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu gave Lagosians a special Christmas present when he officially rode on the new light rail of Lagos. The city rail has been long in coming, but finally it is here. We hope that this is the beginning of new things to come, as Lagos fully embraces its status as a megacity.
The new city rail is expected to make Lagos livable and relieve the burden of residents, who commute from one end to the other of the bustling city. Now the city rail is here and we are rejoicing. What the governor needs to tell us is the immediate and future plan for it. Now our hope is ignited that there is indeed a bright future for the Lagos megalopolis.
The Lagos rail was the dream of Lagos State during the Second Republic when iconic journalist, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, was governor. Jakande was an action governor and he promised that within 36 months, the metro line would be ready. He paid the international consortium $76 million for initial mobilization. On June 16, 1983, he turned the sod for the project for which another N689 million (then naira was naira) was allocated and he promised that by July 1986, the metro line would be running.
Jakande, a meticulous editor, believed in deadlines and Lagosians have learnt to trust him. Then trouble came on December 31, 1983. That night a group of soldiers led by a young major invaded the Lagos House, Marina, and arrested the governor while he was working on his desk at around 3:00 a.m. The Second Republic has been kicked into the dustbin of history.
Jakande ended up in Kirikiri Prisons and the metro line project also suffered a terminal fate. The new regime of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was suspicious of all politicians and their projects. Though Lagos State Government had already paid for the project, the new man in Lagos, Group Captain Gbolahan Mudashiru, abrogated the agreement and cancelled the metro line project. The French consortium took the Lagos State Government to court and in the end, the government was forced to pay another $100 million as penalty. Therefore, the Lagos State Government lost almost $200 million (about N150 billion) and got nothing in return.
It is a thing of joy that Governor Sanwo-Olu, who was just about 18 when Jakande lost his job, has now redeemed the old dream. One person who would be very happy about this is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu whose regime as Governor of Lagos State came up with the idea of a new light rail system for the city. His successor, Governor Raji Fashola, started the project and he almost brought it to completion but then left the rest for his knighted successor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who concentrated more on the notorious and often chaotic bus system where he achieved a measure of success.
Now the city rail is here. One hopes that this is only the beginning to link Lagos with other states in the South west through the rail system. It is an old dream that Lagos would be fully integrated with the economy of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Kwara, Kogi, Delta and Edo states. This was the dream of those who were in charge during the old Western Region that stretched from Badagry to Asaba. The dream was that River Niger to the North and the East should be the natural boundary for the sphere of prosperity that would have its source in Lagos. Now Lagos seemed poised to take on its natural role as the instigator of economic progress in the South-West.
There has been a constant struggle between those who think Lagos should be separate and those who believe it is part of the South west. As late as the year 2014, delegates from Lagos State were often at logger-heads with their other colleagues from the South-West during the President Goodluck Jonathan’s Constitutional Conference. They were propagating the reactionary regimen of Gedegbe L’Eko Wa (Lagos is separate), which was propagated by the leaders of the old National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC), during the First Republic. The NCNC had been the dominant party in Lagos and most of the Lagos political big wigs, including the likes of Chief H.O. Davies and Chief Modupe Johnson pitched their tent with the NCNC led by the charismatic journalist, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the West African Pilot.
Indeed such was the dominance of the NCNC and Azikiwe in Lagos that an NCNC chieftain, Dr. Bashir Olorunnimbe, became the first Mayor of Lagos. His deputy was Mazi Mbonu Ojike, who was then being touted to become the next mayor. Then history moved in a different direction. In the aftermath of the 1955 Constitutional crisis, the mayoralty system was abolished in Lagos and the city was made a part of the Western Region. The Oba of Lagos, Oba Adeniji Adele, was appointed to take his seat in the Western House of Chiefs in Ibadan. By the time Nigeria became independent in 1960, Lagos had been declared the Federal Capital Territory and the NCNC was at bay, thanks to the political genius of a new boy on the block, Ganiyu Dawodu, who was to become chairman of the Lagos City Council on the platform of the Action Group party.
In 1985, while I was researching for my book, House of War, I interviewed Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, first elected Governor of Ondo State, for many days over several months. Ajasin was a foundation member of the old AG and a member of the House of Representatives during the First Republic. I wanted to know from him why the old Ondo Province was neglected in terms of industrial development. He said that was true, despite that cocoa, the bedrock of the regional economy, was predominantly from the old Ondo Province (now Ondo and Ekiti States). He said the Awolowo regime and the successor-government led by Chief Ladoke Akintola, planned that only few cities including Lagos and Ibadan, would be for industrial development at that time. All other parts of the West were to feed these two industrial cities with raw materials and other necessities. With these, Papa Ajasin said, “it would be easier to control industrial waste.”
The grand plan was that the region would be connected with rail and extensive waterways transport system. The dream was kept alive down the generations and when we formed the Alajobi Committee of the Yoruba Nation, it was one of our cardinal programmes. In 2011, a comprehensive plan for a regional rail network was submitted to the governors of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Ondo states by a caucus of Yoruba leadership. The programme was to be brought to life by “leveraging private finance with states equity constituted by land and right of way.”
The promoters of the rail initiative, who are prominent citizens of the South-West, want the governors to provide the political muscle to see the project through. When the All Progressives Congress (APC), came to power in 2015, the promoters were optimistic that the governors would work to repeal the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act of 1955 (as amended in 1990) which granted monopoly to the NRC. As of now, nothing on this has been done despite that each of the state governments has the Ministry of Regional Integration. But for the Amotekun security initiative based on the proposal from the Afenifere Renewal Group, there would have been few things to point to on a regional scale. Even the governors could not integrate the growing of rice on which our people spend billions of dollars every year.
Sanwo-Olu rail is a pointer to the future that regional integration is necessary and possible. The rail system is the only way to truly create one large, productive regional economy. With a good rail system, the farmer in Ado-Ekiti can directly send his product to Lagos on a daily basis. An engineer can live in Ibadan or Okitipupa and work in Lagos. The governors are the only ones who can make the dream of our founding fathers to come alive. We hope that in 2023, after the General Election, the governors would summon the political will to take the first step forward. Lagos has shown us that dreams do come true.