According to reports, senators were recently engaged in fierce debates over a bill seeking for an Act to make special provision for Federal grants to Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio-economic significance and other connected purposes. The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), purportedly sparked huge uproars at the upper chamber that it took the frantic intervention of Senator Ike Ekweremadu who presided and had to bang the gavel a number of times to still fraying nerves. Tension became particularly heightened when Senator Olusola Adeyeye (Osun Central) allegedly referred to the FCT “as a rotten pampered child”. Though the Senator was to later withdraw the statement, the resultant unruliness it generated did not easily vanish.
It will be recalled that this is the second time that said Bill would be experiencing stiff opposition at the upper chamber. It was earlier presented during the 7th Senate, but was turned down at the committee level on the ground that according Lagos such status should be a matter of political decision, which should be kept out of the Constitution. Thus, it could be said that with the 8th Senate, the bill made an appreciable progress. Though, in this second instance, when the bill was eventually put into voice vote, the nays obviously had the day.
Judging from the response of senators who expressed strong opposition to the bill, the following could be inferred. First, some of them, either rightly or wrongly, supposed that Lagos already had sufficient resources to take care of its needs. Second, the usual tribal interplay in our national life was quite evident in the rejection of the bill. Senators who either supported or opposed the bill largely did so in a manner that gave a hint of tribal sentiment. Third, legal or constitutional constrain was a major issue. Fourth, political contemplation was equally a strong and decisive factor in the rejection of the bill.
It is, however, important to stress that in a multi-ethnic and evolving democracy like ours, several of the tendencies that frustrated the Lagos special status bill, as highlighted above, cannot be entirely wished away. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that it is rather regrettable that the bill was majorly discarded because it was perceived by its protagonists as a Lagos bill.
The truth, however, is that the need to accord a special status for Lagos is more of a national project. There is hardly any Nigerian that doesn’t have a stake in Lagos. A special federal grant for Lagos is, therefore, a necessary blueprint for the development of the country. Being the pane through which the whole world views the country, granting a special status to Lagos remains the best possible way to drive Nigeria’s development as Lagos is the country’s most industrialized city with needs that align with national growth and development.
On the position that Lagos State already has sufficient resources to meet its needs, it is important to affirm that the population, cosmopolitan and commercial standing of the state put a huge pressure on both its resources and infrastructure. The present downturn in the national economy equally exerts further pressure on Lagos as many see the City State as a place that offers a glimpse of hope for economic survival. Consequently, according to a recent survey, Lagos witnesses the influx of about 25, 000 people daily from all walks of life.
Lagos State government, in the last sixteen years, has invested a huge amount of money on infrastructure development, especially construction of drainages, durable roads, beautification and restoration of parks to forestall the negative impact of flooding, erosion and other environmental hazards. However, these efforts are not enough for obvious reasons. Today, Lagos does about 9,000 metric tons of refuse daily, more than what the whole of Ghana is generating. The branch networks that some banks have in Lagos outstrip what they have in the whole country. The number of heavy duty trucks and other vehicles that ply Lagos roads on a daily basis is quite alarming. Same goes for the number of pupils in its public schools as well as those that daily visit its public hospitals. Consequently, the State spends more on infrastructure upgrade and provision of other basic life necessities than any state in the country.
Aside the pressure on its infrastructure, there is a crucial moral angle to the quest to accord Lagos a special status. When the FCT was moved from Lagos to Abuja, there was a subsisting agreement that the city would not be abandoned. Indeed, the Late General Murtala Mohammed acknowledged the onerous nature of the responsibility of leaving Lagos alone to deal with the burden of infrastructure the FG were leaving behind then, bearing in mind that if Lagos hadn’t been the federal capital, it probably would not have been having these problems. In fact, five cities; Enugu, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan, Kaduna and Lagos were later designated as ‘Centres of Excellence’ by the Murtala Administration as part of a plan to make them cities of pride by the federal government. However, successive Federal Governments have refused to take a cue from countries such as Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and Tanzania, which, after relocating their capitals, did not hold back developmental programmes in the former capitals.
No nation grows by treating the needs of its golden geese with discomfiture since the future growth of the country’s economy is tied to the development of Lagos which generates the bulk of the VAT accruable to the country, hosts over 85 per cent of Nigeria’s industrial hub, over 65 per cent of its financial nucleus and over 75 per cent of its active workforce. With each day, the population and needs of Lagos continue to increase to reflect this important role. As the economic hub and former capital of Nigeria, Lagos remains the first port of call for eager millions of youths from all parts of the country who long for means of survival from the uncertainties of a struggling economy like ours.
It is, therefore, hoped that the upper chamber and other critical stakeholders would rise above sentimental considerations and treat the issue at stake more dispassionately. As it earlier established, in order to ensure that new windows are opened for development and growth in the national economy, it is only rational that the Federal Government constructively engages Lagos for a partnership that would enhance the prosperity of not only the state but the country at large. Given the centrality of Lagos to the overall social-economic aspiration of Nigeria, this remains the way forward.