With a population of 21million, Lagos, Nigeria’s economic nerve centre, is one of the world’s largest cities. The population is rising faster than many experts and government officials would seem to appreciate. Many people fleeing from the north-eastern part of Nigeria in the wake of the Boko Haram insurrection are headed for Lagos. When kidnappers overwhelmed Rivers and Bayelsa states some six years ago, many from these places, including oil firms, fled to Lagos. When the security situation in the southeast became unbearable about three years ago, many relocated to Lagos; among them was the chief executive of ABC Transport.
Lagos remains Nigeria’s melting pot, long after the federal administration moved to Abuja, because of the traditional liberal disposition of the people and, more importantly, the outstanding achievements of Governor Babatunde Fashola who is easily the most important revelation of Nigeria’s current democracy. His security system is incomparable. Violent crime is at an all-time low, despite the awful employment situation in the country and the nation’s growing misery index. The favourable economic environment in Lagos has seen the state’s economic landscape change constantly. Alas, the state’s strength is also its weakness. All manner of people, not only from all parts of Nigeria but also neighbouring countries, troop in their thousands daily to Lagos in search of physical and economic security. How can the state government provide adequate employment, adequate housing, adequate transportation, adequate electricity, roads, adequate schools, adequate healthcare facilities, adequate food, etc, to 21million people and still counting?
Lagos is blessed to have as its governor a person imbued with what researchers in contemporary management science call a “double loop mindset”, that is, someone with a concrete vision of how to change the situation drastically because the current palliative or adaptive way is grossly inadequate to grapple with the enormous challenges. A few days ago, Governor Fashola went on an inspection of some capital projects financed with facilities from the international capital markets. The capital intensive projects include the 70-kilometre Mile 2–Badagry expressway, a federal highway which terminates at the border with Benin Republic. The road, which used to have four lanes, is being expanded to 10 lanes. Also being expanded is the Mile 12–Ikorodu Road. The state-of-the-art light rail on a very long bridge which criss-crosses parts of the state with the greatest population density will be completed within 12 months. These and some other projects like the brand new jetties connecting Badore, Ikoyi and Ikorodu, complete with modern water taxis, have been delayed by numerous legal actions over the right of way and compensation payment. Lagos is full of social activists who at the drop of a hat would head for the courts.
Facilities for these huge projects have been provided because of the impressive credit rating which the state enjoys around the world. It is currently BB- with a positive outlook. Lagos is the only state, otherwise called sub-national government, which enjoys such a reputation in Africa. The other two sub-national governments are in India and Brazil, two federations which make the list of BRIC nations, that is, four emerging nations whose rapid rise will take the world by storm in the next few years.
As a Nigerian, one is filled with pride over the judicious use to which the Lagos State government has put the money from international lenders. But as someone from the southeast, I must confess I am filled with envy. The old Anambra State government, with the assistance of Dr Chu Okongwu when he was the finance minister, negotiated a $110m loan from the African Development Bank for rural electrification, rural water supply and for the establishment of an industrial development centre in Awka. The mouth-watering contracts were awarded to Arthur Eze’s Triax and Kings engineering firms, which abandoned the jobs no sooner than they were started. About the same time, Prince Eze became chairman of Premier Breweries in Onitsha, the nation’s third biggest brewery after Nigeria Breweries and Guinness Breweries in Lagos. On Eze’s watch, Premier Brewery was closed down. And about the same time, Eze became chairman of Orient Bank, and ran the bank in such a way that made the Central Bank of Nigeria, during the time of Paul Ogwuma as governor, issue a circular banning him from ever being on the board of any bank. Last year, Arthur Eze was rewarded with a high national honour by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Back to the international credit facility to the Lagos State government for the reengineering of the state: True, Lagos does obtain considerable revenue from internal sources which are collectively higher than the monthly allocations from the federation account. But the revenues come in trickles from the payment of drivers’ licences, tenement rates, land use charges, etc. Therefore, it makes sound economic and management sense to borrow substantial amounts for the huge projects and pay back the loans at an agreed interval of, say, every month from both the internally generated revenue and the monthly allocations from the federation account. What is important is the efficient management of the sources of the revenue and the end to which the resources are put at the end of the day. The Lagos State government has done pretty well in this area.
It is a pity that Lagos has taken over many economic challenges of the country. Most other economic centres in the country have since collapsed. Sully Abu, a founding member of The Guardian editorial board, once called national attention to the fact that up to the 1980s our northern brothers and sisters used to shun the suggestion to live or work in Lagos because they had alternatives in their own cities. But with the collapse of industries in Kano, Kaduna and elsewhere, they found themselves flocking to Lagos. The same thing can be said about other parts of Nigeria. I used to consider Lagos too rough. But with the collapse of Nigercem, Nigergas, Nigersteel, Premier Breweries, Aba Textile, Golden Guinea Brewery, Sunrise flour mill, AVOP oil, Anammco and others too numerous to mention, I just had to leave the southeast. As a professional, I didn’t want to be underemployed. Like most of those with whom I grew up in Enugu, Lagos is our new base because of the immense economic and business opportunities available in the nation’s commercial capital.
The federal government has to realize that Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt should not be the only places with opportunities. It should, therefore, take measures to open up other parts. We had thought that the nation’s six zones should be promoted as centres of socioeconomic development, but unfortunately our prebendal politicians have turned the six-zonal structure into a deadly instrument for sectional politics and private business gains. Nigeria’s political leaders should borrow a leaf from Governor Fashola on how to run a modern political entity in the 21st century. Lagos is driving the national economy effectively.
— Emeka P. Uchendu, PhD, is the CEO of a management consulting firm in Lekki, Lagos.