Eko for Show: Creating a Sustainable Plan for Developing Lagos

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

I had to endure a scathing article on the filth of Lagos in a professional engineering magazine (IEEE Spectrum) of which I am a subscriber. After doing my duty (as a patriotic citizen, thank you very much) of penning a rebuttal of the typical afro-skepticism displayed by the author in perpetuating everything African in negative light, I faced the actual reality that Lagos is a city on the brink of losing it. Lagos is Nigeria’s abandoned child. The funny (and not so funny) thing is that she remains the abandoned child making it good. As abused and maligned this great city is, she has taken in it in her stride. Hedging forward and churning out the human capital that sustains the engine room of our national economy. If Nigeria has any hope for a diversified economy, that hope lies and ends in the relentless energy, entrepreneurship, and commerce of Lagos and Lagosians.

The sad part of the whole debacle of Lagos is that the pariah status of this great city-state is unlikely to change any time soon. The “antagonization” of Lagos since the departure of the federal seat of power is also a sad commentary on the leadership qualities of Nigerian leaders. Lagos no doubt cannot just be another state of the Federation. This is a city-state deserving of a special status. Lagos and Lagosians are not free loaders; they deserve every attention they get because in many ways than one they support the vital wobbly economy that the remaining 35 states rely upon. If Lagos goes, so goes West Africa and that is not an exaggeration. A state that pays 80% of the Value Added Tax and gets a paltry sum back is bound to experience a crippling dearth of capital to sustain development. I do not get the formula that allows Kano and Sokoto to outlaw alcohol consumption, thus reducing the amount of VAT they pay to the center; yet, they continue to reap equal if not more percentage of VAT from Lagos beer parlor patrons.

Don’t get me wrong- Lagos has been abundantly lucky. For one, her enlightened progressive minded electorate and sheer luck have given her the best governments you can afford in Nigeria even in the dark periods of military dictatorship. No state can boast of deft administrators like Mobolaji Johnson, Lateef Jakande, Marwa, and more recently Ahmed Tinubu. These occupiers of the round house might not meet the litmus test for governing Geneva or London, but they were the brightest and best of their generation of leaders in our leadership lacking country. But (and a big but for that matter), is that Lagos development as rapidly as it is evident, as tweaked as it might be is highly volatile and hardly sustainable. Most development efforts by these past governments were shortsighted and short term; most lacking in vision or aborted in their gestation periods. This has made Lagos the testing ground for white elephant projects and grand urban experiments gone awry.

To create a sustainable development plan for Lagos, we must first agree that we have a common interest in seeing that Lagos is able to sustain the rapid growth she will experience in the two decades growing forward when her population is set to double to about 20 million, possibly leading the world. It is in our interest that our Country’s largest city become a symbol of National pride not one of disgrace. Lagos cannot be a punch bag of jokes or a parody of the lack of planning currently emblematic of everything Nigerian. Then, we must agree on what the problems are. The problems of Lagos can be mainly classified into four areas: Traffic Congestion, Poor Housing/Living Condition, Environmental Pollution, and Epileptic Power Supply. While the temptation will be to treat these problems as a collective Nigerian problem, it is instructive to note that we have a unique opportunity to isolate the cancer and treat it in Lagos, hoping we can use lessons learned from this experience and transplant the positives to our other big cities- some on the verge of joining the big leaguers.

There will not be a single method of solving all these problems. In fact, application of various technologies or management methods will go into a single problem hoping to make the situation better and sometimes achieving multiple aims. Take the perennial traffic problem of Lagos and its connecting Islands. An immediate exercise to map the Lagos roads (making at available in hardcopy and on the Internet) and improve the efficiency of the public transport system by using the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Corridor system as it was applied in Sau Paulo, Brazil with modifications and immediately junking all those eyesores called molues will not only cut down the time it takes for an average Joe to get around town, but will cut down the problem of pollution that aimless driving and the ill maintained pollutant automobiles spew into Lagos air on a daily basis that makes it the 13th most polluted city and climbing as she doubles her population. Some of the ideas enumerated below are mine, but will go a long way in jumpstarting this process.

  • Mapping the roads will cut inefficiency, pollution and traffic congestion
  • Federal Government must commit to maintaining roads and/or give subvention to local authorities to do so. Special allocations to Lagos must also be given.
  • Building super-linked toll ways in a public-private sector partnership to re-route vehicular traffic around or away from choke points for willing paid users. A private sector financed roads, will relieve the burden of financing on the government allowing them recoup their money from tolls collected over time.
  • Identification of super- nodal traffic points and linking them with high speed bullet trains. Yaba, Oshodi, Victoria Island and Ikeja are obvious candidates
  • Elimination of Molues, and replacement with private sector managed but city branded buses utilizing BRT corridor to ferry traffic between major-nodal points within a super node.
  • Clean up Lagos with emphasis on solid wasters, public drains, water ways, and sewage. That National Theatre area is an eye sore in need of urgent attention.
  • Relocation of filthy markets beyond congested urban limits & incentives for developers and investors to build modern grocery stores as replacement
  • Government backed mortgage market to encourage lower middle class home ownership. Urban condominiums that allow high rise residency are a good idea.
  • An immediate drive to supply Lagos with constant power supply through a combination of gas and clean coal fired power stations and possibly nuclear located in Otta (would it not be wonderful to convert Otta Farms for this venture?)
  • Improvement of the public health & safety Facilities in form of clinics, fire stations, & ambulance services located in every ward of the state and managed by residential associations which will be in better position to maintain them.
  • Building Vertically; skyscrapers and high rise condominiums should be developed to replace the slums. Call it gentrification, it is inevitable.
  • Enforcement of building codes to stem rise in incidences of collapsed buildings
  • Stepped up urban renewal project to audit buildings in Lagos, marking some for demolition & gentrification efforts with emphasis on replacing lower efficient, poorly built buildings with stronger, more efficient ones
  • Collaborate with private sector to build a New Lagos City as a point of advanced technologies, tourism, high tech jobs & new economy based on planned city model. Favorable location in outlying Islands towards Badagry can emulate the Dubai or the Shanghai models of building eco-friendly satellite cities.
  • Collaborate with the private sector to improve the connectivity of Lagos to the international information super-highway making Internet available to all schools.
  • Public safety & local police to stem insecurity and restore sanity to the city
  • Above all, a re-orientation of city occupants to protect and treat public poverty with deference. This can be achieved by the strict enforcement of laws discouraging anti-social behaviors like defecating and urinating in every corner of Lagos which creates the putrid stench the city is well known for.

As you can see, it is my believe that many of the controversial policies like state police and devolution of powers which generate much brouhaha and debate on the national level should be implemented first in Lagos. If the rest of the country sees what a smaller, efficient government held accountable does to Lagos in terms of development, they will certainly insist in no time to unleash the energy of development on the whole country. We can then hope that Lagos will rise from being the poorest mega-city in the world to one of the most forward looking economically, environmentally and infrastructurally. Lagos can be a test bed for good governance and policy oriented politics. It will only keep in line with the broad concept of Eko Akete Ilu Ogbon. Great wisdoms can emanate from how we manage the development of Lagos going forward. Let us join hands together to uplift this beautiful lady called Lagos. Eko for show.

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