Smart, Resilient… a Feather in Lagos’ Cap

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Steve Ayorinde

Smart and resilient are great adjectives to describe a person or an entity that knows how to get the job done admirably. These words more than qualify the giant strides that Lagos State is recording lately and two key events of the past couple of months underscore the remarkable profile that Lagos is enjoying especially from global institutions.

When Governor Akinwunmi Ambode declared right from the outset of his administration that he was looking beyond Lagos being a megacity, but to build and project the state as a Smart City, the import of that profound aspiration was probably lost on many people. However, it became clear in June when the governor, in company with a few members of his cabinet, signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Dubai towards a plan to build Africa’s first Smart City in Lagos.

A smart city, of course, is a growing concept that draws from the success of Dubai’s innovative knowledge-based industry clusters to empower business growth for companies and knowledge workers all over the world. Technology drives a smart city and Dubai itself, with its enviable wonder-clusters like the Media City, Internet City and Financial City all within the Dubai megalopolis, is testimony to how something close to an el dorado can emerge in modern urban planning.

Malta has since caught the bug, with its own Smart City. And next is India, with Smart City, Kochi. It is now the turn of Lagos to have this wonderful initiative that is expected to bring multi-billion dollar investments to the state, create thousands of jobs and transform the Ibeju-Lekki axis of the state into a jewel by the Atlantic.

To Governor Ambode, this is a deliberate attempt “to establish a strong convergence between technology, economic development and governance,” he spoke excitedly in Dubai when the first step to making the Lagos Smart City dream a reality was taken. To him, the vision is clear. “A smart city Lagos will be the pride of all Lagosians. We are encouraged by the fact that we do not, as a government, need to develop at a slow pace but take full advantage of the digital age and fast-track development of Lagos to a real megalopolis that we can all be proud of.”

Even before the Smart City project commenced, there had been a cause for Lagos to celebrate a month earlier when it was named among the final group of 37 cities chosen in a highly competitive selection process to be part of the 100-member Resilient Cities Network. Nine other African cities joined Lagos on the list of the world-acclaimed project that aims to build urban resilience, an idea pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States.

Lagos was chosen from more than 325 applicants on the basis of willingness, ability and need to become resilient in the face of future challenges. And it does say something about the arrival of Lagos on the main global arena when the President of 100 Resilient Cities, Michael Berkowitz said: “We are so proud to welcome Lagos to 100 Resilient Cities Network. We selected Lagos because of its leaders’ commitment to resilience-building and the innovative and proactive way they have been thinking about the challenges the city faces.”

It is evident that the pro-people, innovative ways in which Governor Ambode-led administration has been tackling issues confronting this Africa’s most-populous city-state is not lost on the international community and is indeed earning their nod and applause.

“For us,” Berkowitz remarked thoughtfully, “a resilient city has good emergency response and meets citizens’ needs. It has diverse economies and takes care of both its built and natural infrastructure. It has effective leadership, empowered stakeholders and an integrated planning system. All those things are essential for a resilient city,” he stated.

What the 100Rc boss has described is indeed the story of Lagos and the hit-the-ground running approach adopted by Governor Ambode to tackle the myriads of challenges that confront Lagos as a megacity with the highest population in the country but with the smallest landmass. Innovative thinking that comes with courageous execution and prudent management of resources, therefore, are two essential elements that Lagos State government has adopted in approaching its ‘continuity with improvement’ policy.

Month after month, Lagosians are seeing the benefits and Nigerians as a whole now see the evidence of exceptional leadership that is on offer in Lagos. Safety is top-notch with ceaseless support for the Police and other security agencies through the innovative Security Trust Fund. Emergency Rescue Operation is the best in the country, perhaps in the whole continent, with the massive investment in the Lagos State Emergency Management Authority (LASEMA) Rescue Unit.

Traffic management has recorded its most significant improvement ever with the infusion of well-trained university graduates into the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), phenomenal construction of new roads and relentless rehabilitation of bad ones all across the state as well as ingenious ways that ensure that traffic flows freely along previously notorious routes.

The lay-by at Oworonshoki that ensures free-flow of traffic for vehicular movement from Third Mainland Bridge has been described as something akin to a miracle while the pedestrian bridge and the lay-by being constructed at Berger-Ojodu axis is already widely acknowledged for the ingenuity behind it. Of course the walling off of the problematic Ketu-Mile 12 Ikorodu Road service lane has brought succor to millions who move to and from Ikorodu town.

Yet, resilience must be in the DNA of a thinking government that bequeaths to Lagosians the Light Up Lagos project as one of its prime legacies; while noting the fact that the teeming youthful population needs empowerment through an initiative like the N25bn Employment Trust Fund which seeks to support young entrepreneurs and start-up businesses with soft loans.

The good news about Lagos joining the league of resilient cities is that it is not a mere jamboree. The gains are enormous. “As a member of 100RC, Lagos will gain access to tools, funding, technical expertise and other resources to build resilience to the challenges of the 21st century,” Berkowitz said.

In other words, Lagos will now be eligible to receive grant funding to hire a Chief Resilient Officer who will lead the city-wide resilience building process and engage stakeholders from across different government agencies, public and private sectors and various communities “to incorporate diverse perspectives and knowledge.”

Lagos will also receive technical support to develop a Resilient Strategy that reflects the city’s distinct needs and the support and services they need as they work towards implementing the strategy. In the class of 2016 Resilient Cities are Capetown, Addis Ababa, Luxor and Nairobi from Africa as well as Atlanta, Washington DC, Toronto, Kyoto, Seoul, Tel Aviv, The Hague and Salvador.

This is the company that Lagos now keeps.

As a new network member, Lagos is expected to gain access to a variety of work platform partners, who offer tools and services valued at more than $180m at no direct cost to 100RC members, in areas such as innovative finance, technology, infrastructure, land use and community and social resilience.

Undeniably, it all comes down to the qualitative leadership that Governor Ambode is providing and his vision to see this city-state blossom as the jewel of the south of the Sahara. No wonder that as the profile of the state continues to rise, the governor too, like a general that is forging ahead courageously at the battlefront, is having his cap decorated with a feather.

One of such worthy commendations is the latest by the United Kingdom-based African Leadership Magazine whose online poll on Good Governance in Nigeria saw Governor Ambode emerge as the winner for the remarkable developments that Lagos State has witnessed in the past one year.

Governor Ambode came tops with 37.2% of the total votes cast, ahead of Governor Nyesom Wike (Rivers) with 29%, Governor Willie Obiano (Anambra) with 18%, Patrick Okowa (Delta) with 13% and Nasir el Rufai (Kaduna) with 5%. The online poll, which ran for a month from July 5th attracted Nigerians from all walks of life who voted to select the country’s top five Best Performing Governors.

The publisher of the magazine, Dr. Ken Giami, in announcing the winners practically summed up what has endeared the Lagos State governor to millions of residents and visitors. “Mr. Ambode’s emergence as the winner of the polls,” he said “is a clear indication that more Nigerians are increasingly becoming aware of his strides in Lagos State, which is quite commendable.”

Yet another testimony to Lagos’ good fortune under Ambode came from one of those polled, who noted that “Akinwunmi Ambode came to power with his blue-print for the greater development of Lagos State which he has since then pursued with precision. His pursuit of 24-hour economic mechanism, when attained, would propel revenue generation for Lagos State in ways unmatchable by any other state in Africa.”

On September 22 when Ambode will be formally decorated with the prestigious African Leadership Excellence Award as Best Performing Governor in Nigeria during the International Forum on African Leadership at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the world will have another opportunity to hear the good news emanating from a smart state being run by a smart governor who, perhaps, also doubles as its Chief Resilient Officer.

–Ayorinde is a Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy