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The challenges of governance and development in Lagos

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 In as much as I am a thoroughbred Lagosian, becoming governor has put me on a path of rediscovery; a path which yields new surprises at every turn. In my view, the challenges of governance in Lagos are really no different from the challenges of governing any other mega-city. And, make no mistake, with an estimated population of 21 million, Lagos is as mega as they come.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, Lagos had a population of around 2 million. So that represents a tenfold expansion in about 40 years. New York by comparison had a population of around 7.8 million in the 70s. In 40 years this rose by 300,000 to 8.1 million. In London the population during that same time rose from 7.4 million to 8.2 million.

Lagos has an annual growth rate of about 5 percent. So in those 40 years we have surpassed the combined populations of New York and London. So, I suppose the first major challenge is the population boom; rapid urbanisation and how we have dealt with it over the years.

Unfortunately, the two decades that followed the 70s were characterised by lack of infrastructure development. By the time we returned to democracy in 1999, the population had mushroomed without a corresponding rise in terms of development, especially the necessary infrastructure like roads, schools, hospitals, malls, and those things that support daily life and should be taken for granted. We had to act. And we had to act fast.

Lagos has always stood as a magnet, a factory of dreams and aspirations for many Nigerians. So, even as the infrastructure was not improved, the population kept rising, people kept pouring in.

The second major challenge is security. 21 million people, remember! We have to keep them all safe. We have to keep them safe from themselves. We have to keep them safe from the bad eggs of society, of which every country unfortunately has its own fair share.

When I was elected six years ago, we had to make some tough decisions on how we wanted to maintain peace and security in the state. The police force is federalised and the funding was inadequate to meet the needs of the citizens of Lagos. Policemen literally didn’t have enough guns or vehicles to do their jobs properly. Daylight bank robberies and violent crimes were the order of the day. Festive periods were met with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Businesses rushed to close at dusk to avoid being targets for armed robbers.

To restore a sense of order, we set up the Lagos State Security Trust Fund. Aside from a regular commitment from the government, this fund has been further endowed by private businesses and individuals in the state. Anyone can contribute.

One of the most touching contributions has come from a school. The children donated their pocket monies and asked the principal to hand it to me at the Trust’s annual meeting where we present the accounts to the public. It was a comparatively small gesture but it was huge in terms of self-sacrifice and a sense of duty.

Through the fund, crucial equipment needed by the state police command has been procured and made available to fight crime. Beyond that, it has also allowed the state to build their capacity with innovative and training and modernised policing techniques. It has helped to democratise our police to the grassroots even if some people still play ostrich about the merits of state policing. The Fund has enabled us to reduce violent crimes by over 80 percent. We went for 2 years without any crime during Christmas and other festive periods. We went for 2 years with no reported bank robbery attempts in the state. We have lately suffered a few bank robbery attempts but none has been successful. I don’t know any city or state with our population size that has our security record in any part of the world.

That leads me to the third challenge, unemployment. How to ensure that 21 million people are gainfully employed? Other challenges include waste management, housing, education. They are no different from what any governor in America is dealing with. But perhaps the crux of the matter is which government should do more – the state or the federal?

In my country, the debate has an origin quite different from the cost of government alone. It is based on our post-colonial history where we had three semi-autonomous regions and the central government. Each of the regions kept the bulk of their resources and contributed to the central government to enable it to carry out its national responsibilities.

The system was not without its problems. But we had stable electricity. We had more food – enough to eat and enough to export. Illiteracy levels were higher but there was evidence to show that it was being addressed. Our universities had more learning in them and acquired a respectable reputation. It was a Golden Age for our country. But things started to fall apart and we quickly began to lose our lustre. The military came in and unified the regions and things have never been quite the same since.

Although we have a “Federal Government”, the constitution was written by the military. So we have state courts where judges are picked by the Federal Government. We have state legislators but no state police to enforce the laws they make. There are no state prisons, so we rely on federal officers to police our states and keep convicted persons away from law-abiding citizens. We have federal traffic safety officers to issue driver’s licences to drivers in the state and also seek to regulate municipal traffic inside the states.

Many states cannot control their sources of finance such as local taxes on consumption, lotteries and hotels. The Federal Government holds on to these at worst; or encroaches upon them at the best. Consequently, all states get monthly allocations from the Federal Government, and the majority have few alternative sources of funding.

Lagos, of course, has chosen a different path. It lives largely on the revenue it raises by itself. 70 percent of its N499 billion ($3.2 billion) budget for year 2013 and the preceding years have been self-generated. The Federal Government’s monthly allocations only account for 30 percent of Lagos’ annual resources-to-budget cost.

In order to maintain this financial hold, the Federal Government keeps 52 percent of the nation’s resources. The states, all 36 of them, get a 26 percent share between them. The 774 local governments, including the 37 created by Lagos, share only 20.2 percent of the country’s revenue amongst them. The debate, therefore, is not only about the cost of such a large government but also about its effectiveness.

The impact of a behemoth Federal Government is no less exacting on the transport system in a sub-optimal way. In Lagos, the local governments have 6,415 roads, the state government has 3,028, and the Federal Government has only 117. Yet the local governments have only their share of 20.2 percent (shared with 717 others) and the states have only their share of 26 percent (shared with 35 other states) of national revenues to fix these roads. Remember, the Federal Government owns the least number of roads. Yet she keeps 52 percent – the lion’s share of the federal resources.

How efficiently, therefore, can the Nigerian governmental system provide roads that are so critical to prosperity for her people?

These are the structural challenges of government that we must overcome.

They sum up the demand for a truer federal union that is being demanded by the 36 state governors in terms of fiscal and political federalism. I associate myself with this demand in its entirety.

Excerpts of a speech delivered by the governor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Washington D.C, United States on April 26, 2013.

 

Fashola is Governor of Lagos State.

 

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