Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of the modern day Singapore, visited Nigeria a few days before the military struck on January 15, 1966. His visit was in connection with the Commonwealth Conference held in Lagos on Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. His conclusion about Nigeria in 1966 is contained in a book he wrote in 2000 titled, ‘From Third World to First’. In the book, he concluded: “I think their tribal loyalties were stronger than their sense of common nationhood”.
The tragic preference for tribal loyalties at the expense of good governance has made Nigeria arguably the worst run of the world’s seven most populated countries. For too long, our country is used as a symbol for anything that is wrong in terms of countries that are endowed with resources. In spite of hundreds of billions of dollars that we have made from oil, Nigeria still has the second-most destitute people in the world, after India.
Unarguably, the country has structural problems. But any talk about restructuring without good governance from the constituent states amounts to beating about the bush. Today, State and Local Governments give the impression that their entire operations depend on the statutory Federal allocation. Apart from the Federation Account, each tier of Government is required by the Constitution to raise its own local revenues upon which they should run the services allocated to them under the constitution. It was evident before oil became an important source of income that this country possessed abundant natural resources and a vigorous and dynamic human resource to develop into a prosperous and progressive nation. One still believes that it is still so if we turn our attention away from oil as our main source of wealth.
With an exploding population of an ethnically and religiously diverse people, estimated at 24 million, Lagos stands out as a model of how good governance can enhance peaceful co-existence and spur growth and development. The state has seen steady improvement in its governance since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democracy. In similarity to how cities such as Chennai and Hyderabad in India and Medellin in Columbia had in the past outperformed and outshone their national government in promoting growth, child education and crime and poverty reduction, Lagos has become a laboratory which the federal government and other states of the federation can emulate for practical lesson.
A unique combination of visionary leaders, vibrant and pro active public service, an active and engaged civil society and progressive development plan have worked together to lead what was once the poster child for a slum-ridden and largely impoverished lawless metropolis, into a new modern era.
The economy of Lagos State is fast outpacing economic growth in other parts of the country and, indeed, in the sub region as the state’s non-oil revenues now sustain increase investment in infrastructure and other social amenities. While other states have been left almost bankrupt, following the drying up courtesy current economic recession, Lagos raked in N287 billion in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in 2016, well above the total budget size of more than 20 states.
With about N600 million in 1999, when Asiwaju BolaTinubu took over, the IGR rose to between N10 billion and N11 billion by 2007 when Tinubu left office. With continuing reforms in the internal revenue system, aggressive tax drive, capacity building and professionalism of the Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), the IGR of the state had by 2015 when Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), left office, risen to about N23 billion monthly.
A key secret of Lagos’ economic growth is infrastructure development which has been the hallmarks of succeeding administrations since 1999. This is premised on the principle that the better the infrastructure the more the likelihood of tax compliance. This is in sharp contrast with what obtains at the federal level where a large proportion of revenue projection has little to do with government’s performance, since about 75 percent of the national budget is projected in anticipation of oil receipt.
Aside its creative revenue base, Lagos flexibility in sourcing competent and resourceful personnel, irrespective of typical Nigerian considerations, partly accounts for its socio-economic stability. In Lagos appointment or recruitment into public office is mainly anchored on competence. Lagos is the only and truly melting point in Nigeria; a land of opportunities for all. Lagos has continued to show the way forward in its commitment to an indivisible Nigeria where no one is denied of opportunities for self actualisation on mundane considerations. The state’s primary, secondary and tertiary health facilities and, indeed, other such infrastructure remain accessible to all Nigerians without any discrimination. The State Security Trust and Employment Trust Funds are available for the good of Lagos residents.
Now, the question is can Lagos really save Nigeria? Alone, it’s unlikely — one factor is that the country’s population is expected to hit 400 million by mid-century — but Lagos can now be the model for transferring more authority to other States. And they, in turn, could help to shift the polarized national politics. Another way forward is replication of collaboration that gave rise to LAKE Rice, a kind of recession soother champion by Lagos and Kebbi state governments which also has other benefits of renewing investors’ interest in agro-based industries, boost for agric related cooperative societies among others.
From the LAKE Rice example, it is obvious other states need to look inward for more of such progressive and productive partnership, especially in terms of regional economic integration. It will be a fascinating idea for business to flourish and encourage industrialization. If income levels rose, improved education and a rising middle class will naturally follow. Greater affluence and aspiration, in turn, tend to act as a useful brake on population growth.
Another lesson from Lagos is the culture of peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance among residents. An atmosphere of peace and tranquility is the bedrock for any sustainable societal growth and development in a cosmopolitan City like Lagos. This is why the state government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, is promoting peaceful, harmonious relationship among the diverse religious groups in the State as well as ensures the sustenance of peaceful co-existence among residents irrespective of their ethnic and religious persuasion. The State has continued to operate a multi-prong approach strategy which includes a mix of public enlightenment campaign, sensitization and advocacy programmes against hate preaching and religious intolerance.
On a final note, with the recent discovery of oil in Lagos, its journey into prosperity seems to have just begun. But then, for Lagos to remain a leading light in the country, both residents and visitors alike must abide by all rules and laws that regulate socio-economic interaction. It is only in doing this that Lagos could continue to be a haven of hope for all.