Benjamin Okorie
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In 1992, Lagos lost its status as the federal capital. Its loss is Abuja's gain. Despite cries for it to be granted a special status, Lagos, more or less, has been abandoned, writes EMMANUEL OLADESU

Lagos, the former Federal Capital Territory and the fifth largest economy in Africa, is in pains. When will it get special status?

The city provokes an ambivalent emotion. On one hand, it is a prosperous city; a city of peculiar hope and promise. On the other hand, it is a city of stress, distress and disappointment. Lagos, it can be argued, is a reference point in 'the good, the bad, and the ugly.' However, in reality, it is perceived by many as the city of first choice and pride of Nigeria.

Since the federal capital was relocated to Abuja in 1992, the Federal Government has not looked back. Put succinctly, Lagos, more or less, has been abandoned.

A city encircled by the sea, seventy-five per cent of Lagos is water. Therefore, flooding is a natural occurrence, despite the government's effort.

There is much pressure on the social amenities provided by the state government. This is due to the sheer population explosion. The over-population had initially destroyed the implementation of the original Master Plan of the city as the federal capital of Nigeria.

As the commercial nerve centre, host to headquarters of major multinationals and embassies, and the major seaport, Lagos is critical to Nigeria's economy. The economic worth of Lagos is underscored by its contribution to the total Value Added Tax (VAT), which is put at more than 50 per cent.

Even, foreign officials acknowledge the importance of Lagos to the country. World Bank officials, who visited the late President Umaru Yar'Adua in Abuja, were taken aback when no representative of Lagos State government was in the team that accompanied him. Taking a cue from that omission, the former President later gave the then Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) a special seat in his Economic Team.

As far back as 2001, the World Bank had rated Lagos as the regional economic capital of West Africa. Also, the Vision 2020 and the National Financial Sector Strategy document have emphasised that Lagos was crucial to any economic calculation and reform that may be contemplated by the Federal Government.

It is indisputable that Lagos contributes 31.98 per cent to the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is the nation's lead contributor in the non-oil sector, with the 19 per cent attainment, which is equivalent to the contribution of 13 Nigerian states.

A member of the National Assembly, Opeyemi Bamidele, said: "The city of Lagos alone accounts for over 70 per cent of national industrial investment, 65 per cent of total cargo freight, over 50 per cent of Nigeria's communication subscribers and over 70.16 per cent of international and 58.30 per cent of domestic aviation traffic.

"With three lighter terminals and two ports, Lagos generates 50 per cent of Nigeria's port revenue and the Murtala Muhammed Airport, located in the heart of Lagos, is the major hub for aviation within West Africa, as well as between the regions and Europe."

Historically, Lagos had served as the seat of government from the colonial days. It is a huge city, with a sprawling population thirsty for sophisticated infrastructure. It is a city of economic potentialities. Covering an area of 3,600 square kilometres, it is endowed with rich natural resources, including natural gas and oil. In the Lagos hinterland of Epe, Apa-Kingdom in Badagry, Eti-Osa, Ikeja and Ikorodu are found crude oil and bitumen, silica sands, clays and woods. Some of them have not been tapped.

Lagos shoulders enormous national and regional responsibilities. There is no family in the country that is not represented in Lagos. The search for employment has led to migration to the city by Nigerians in search of real or imagined greener pastures. The population grows in geometric proportion. The bustling nature of the populous city is discernable in the morning through the traffic snarl. The sheer movement of people creates a pilgrimage scenario. Thousands of vehicles enter the city from sunrise. Few of them would leave before sunset.

Lagos has suffered systematic political marginalisation, subjugation, deprivation and oppression. The hand of previous federal administrations were heavy on the city-state. The metro-line project conceived by former Governor Lateef Jakande was cancelled by military rulers. The Independent Power Project (IPP) initiated by former Governor Bola Tinubu was frustrated by the Obasanjo administration, claiming that power was in the Exclusive List.

Oil-producing states are entitled to 13 per cent derivation, but Lagos, the major VAT haven, is entitled to nothing. In the distribution of local councils, Lagos was also short-changed. While old Kano State, from which Jigawa was carved out, could boast of 74 local governments, Lagos only has 20 councils. When Asiwaju Tinubu created an additional 37 local council development areas, it drew the ire of the power-loaded Federal Government. The allocations to the pre-existing 20 councils were withheld.

Today, the city groans over the collapse of federal roads. The Federal Government is a distant government. Thus, to Lagosians, the state government is to blame for all bad federal roads.

The 'Lagos Question' resonates. The solution, many believe, is a special status or special economic assistance to the Centre of Excellence.

Many Nigerians thought that Lagos would achieve the dream under the Buhari administration. Their hopes were rekindled when Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) sponsored "A Bill for an Act to make provision for federal grants to Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio-economic significance and other connected purposes" in the Senate. However, the hope was dimmed, as a majority of the senators shot the bill down at its Second Reading.

Does Lagos, the economic capital, deserve much strategic care like Abuja, the political capital?

Since the relocation of the seat of power from Lagos to Abuja, the city has been denied the status of a former national political and administrative headquarters. Nigeria has refused to follow the paths of other countries, such as the United States and Brazil, which accorded their former capitals special status when they moved them to new cities.

It appears there was no concrete agreement on the role of the Federal Government in maintaining Lagos and Abuja as "dual cities," unlike the experience of Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and Tanzania, where capitals were relocated.

Bonn was the capital of Germany between 1945 and 1994 before it was moved to Berlin. The agreement on the movement was signed. According to the document, the German Government has responsibilities for the maintenance of the old capital.

Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil before it was moved to Brazilia. The relocation did not lead to its neglect. The federal roads, buildings and other infrastructures in the old and new capitals are still been maintained simultaneously.

The former capital of Malaysia is Kaura-Lampur. Now, the new capital is Putrajaya, reputed as a leading computerised city in the world. While Putrajaya is the administrative capital, Kuala-Lampur is the legislative capital hosting the country's National Assembly.

In Australia, Sydney was the capital before it was moved to Campera. However, most government activities still take place in the old capital. These include international conferences, conventions and other important meetings.

The old capital of Tanzania is Dar-es-Salam before it was moved to Dodoma. The city has not lost influence, despite the relocation.

Due to the neglect of Lagos, there is much discomfort. The Trunk A roads, drainages and canals which the Federal Government should construct and maintain have been abandoned. Until now, Lagos/Ibadan Expressway was an eyesore. Lagos/Ore and Lagos/Abeokuta roads are still death traps.

Lagosians have had a bitter experience during the raining season. Waters come from the drainages of local government and state roads do not find space in bigger drainages on federal roads, thereby compounding flooding. Lagos government had invested huge resources on infrastructural development, including the construction of drainages, roads, urban beautification and renewal, and restoration of parks to prevent flooding, erosion and other environmental hazards. But, the increasing population has made all these interventions inadequate. That is why Lagosians are demanding for more ecological funds to assist the state to deal with the environmental hazards.

It is evident that, despite its N30 billion monthly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Lagos still needs federal help. The pressure on its social amenities makes any robust investment in social infrastructure like a drop in the ocean. Schools are congested. Health centres appear grossly inadequate. Thousands are jobless and homeless, making violent crimes an option for frustrated, idle hands. The state government, which has been elevated by circumstances into a mini-Federal Government, carries the burden.

Senator Oluremi Tinubu's bill was meant to address some of these problems in the national interest. Noting that Lagos is under strains, the federal legislator once said: "It is obvious that Lagos State has been left to deal with these pressures on its own at a huge cost."

Those who support the bill were of the opinion that appropriating an amount not less than one per cent of the total revenue accruing to the Federal Government to Lagos as a first-line charge from the Federation Account would be a right step in the right direction. If the Federal Government can grant the request for special economic assistance, the grants will be utilised in meeting the infrastructural needs of millions of Nigerians who have made Lagos their home. The allocation would also be invested in improving on the intra-city railway infrastructure to decongest the roads and to make the socio-economic environment-friendly.

But, the "Bill for an Act to make provision for federal grants to Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio-economic significance and other connected purposes" was rejected by the majority of the legislators.

Those who opposed the bill said it was untimely. Others said they would only support the bill if Calabar and Abuja would receive the same consideration.

Ordinarily, there is no politician and businessman of note who does not have anything to do with the megacity. Across the 57 councils and five political divisions of Ikeja, Lagos, Epe, Ikorodu and Badagry, there is a thin line of difference between the indigenes and non-indigenes. Unlike in other states, the doors of political and elective offices, and the civil service are not shut against non-indigenes, who now appear to be in the majority in the urban areas. There is no discrimination in Lagos by the sons of the soil.

In the 70s, former military Head of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon had set up the Federal Government/Lagos Committee to recommend certain special considerations for the city. The committee was headed by former Federal Commissioner for Finance, the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who later became the President of Nigeria. But, the recommendations did not see the light of the day.

Gowon's successor, the late Gen. Murtala Muhammed, whose administration approved the relocation of the capital from Lagos to Abuja, following the late Justice Akinola Aguda Panel Report, promised that the city would not be abandoned because of its position as the economic nerve centre. The decision was captured by the minutes of the defunct Supreme Military Council (SMC).

When former military President Ibrahim Babangida moved the Presidency to Abuja, a prominent women leader, the late Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, reminded him during the commissioning of the Third Mainland Bridge, to redeem his promise to Lagos. "As you relocate to Abuja, keep your promise to Lagos," she told the Gen. Babangida.

When the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, initiated the creation of zonal centres of excellence, he accorded Lagos a priority, along with Port-Harcourt, Kaduna, Kano and Enugu. However, it did not become a reality.

When Alhaji Femi Obasanjo left office, prominent Lagos leaders, including Alhaji Femi Okunnu (SAN) and the Eleko of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, took on the battle of reclaiming Lagos lands and other property illegally acquired by the Federal Government. Not all the property have ben reclaimed.

Does Lagos also deserve compensation for hosting the major seaport at Apapa? The Federal Government makes billions of naira daily from port activities. It is even doubtful if the port authorities and multi-nationals transacting businesses there maintain a commensurate corporate responsibility to the state.

The question is: when will Lagos get special status?

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