The Apapa community has joined the rest of the 20 million Lagos residents to welcome Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, the state’s new governor who was sworn in for a four-year term Wednesday.
The new governor who emerged winner of the March 9 governorship elections which he contested on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is not a political neophyte, nor is he new to Lagos politics, economy, governance and bureaucracy having served as two-time commissioner in the state.
To most Lagosians, Sanwo-Olu’s emergence as their governor is a return of the native. He knows and understands the terrain; it is believed that the opportunities and challenges that define Lagos as Nigeria’s commercial capital and the largest economy in West Africa are not lost on him.
It is on the basis of this, more than anything else, that the coming of the new governor was greeted with high expectations and, for the Apapa community which comprises the residents, business owners, port operators and users among others, this is most likely the coming of a Daniel to judgment.
Apapa is Nigeria’s premier port city. It has the first Government Reservation Area (GRA) in Nigeria where the great legend, Obafemi Awolowo lived along with many white-men and middle class natives who worked either at the ports or in the blue chip companies on Lagos Island.
Apapa was described as a “city of aquatic splendour” with an alluring and thriving environment for both residence and commerce that revolved around port and other marine activities. The port city is home to Nigeria’s two busiest seaports that account for 75 percent of both import and export activities in Nigeria. Its economy is valued at N20 billion a day.
But today, this port city, for all it stands for or used to stand for, is under siege. It is an occupied territory. It has lost its charm, its essence and, indeed, its soul, to mindless and uncontrolled activities of men without conscience. And so, it is no longer at ease in the port city.
The residents and business owners particularly are not only traumatized and disillusioned, but also marooned like birds in a boundless desert which is why Sanwo-Olu comes as a glimmer of hope, a silver lining in the sky and a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.
The expectation is high and made a lot higher by the new governor’s campaign promise to the Apapa community. “I will clear Apapa gridlock in 60 days,” he said, and the people believed him, not because he has any magic wand, but because, unlike others before him, the new governor has shown empathy for the plight of the people in this side of town whose daily experience are stress and pain.
Clearing Apapa gridlock by whatever means is in the best interest of every stakeholder, but more to the Lagos State government. Lagos is Africa’s 7th largest economy. Its internally generated revenue (IGR), which comes mainly from taxes, stood at $1.3 billion in 2015 and this is three times more than the state with the second largest IGR and 39 percent of the total IGR by Nigeria’s 36 states.
The Apapa gridlock affects Lagos economy in a very significant way. Lagos was ranked the third most difficult city to live in the world by a credible international assessor. Lagos environment is a very difficult one that hardly supports business growth and Apapa is major contributor with its trademark congestion and gridlock that have refused to go away.
What this means is that Lagos IGR would have been more if the environment were more enabling—businesses would thrive, make profit and pay more tax. More businesses would spring up, create jobs and increase both company and personal income taxes for government.
Sanwo-Olu knows this much and perhaps needs to know more about what happens in other economies where port cities are well developed and their positive impact well harnessed by the government.
A close look at 126 of the world’s major metropolitan areas reveals that cities which serve as major seaports experience faster growth than inland cities. Ports play a substantial role in the economies of metropolitan areas. But this is not the case with Apapa and, by extension, Lagos.
In Rotterdam, for instance, port-related activities accounted for 74,000 direct jobs and 13 percent of total metropolitan GDP in 2007. In Shanghai, the number of jobs related to port activities reached 840,000 in 2012, up from 347,000 in 2002. Shanghai’s port accounted for 7.6 percent of the city’s GDP in 2012.
Conversely, unlike these cities, the number of jobs that has been lost since Apapa became what it is over 10 years ago and how that impacts negatively on Lagos economy can only be left to the imagination. This is why Sanwo-Olu should prioritise Apapa and make good his promise. Apapa is waiting for him.
When Apapa moves away from its present congestion and gridlock which needs only political will to address, Lagos will also move and its economy, which is stoutly held down by this anomaly, will rise.