Lagos and the Special Status Question

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Lagos State deserves a special status in the comity of Nigerian states, writes Vincent Obia

Lagos State may have lost its bid in the Senate to be given a special status but that has not stopped it from bearing those qualities that mark it out as distinct in the community of states in Nigeria. A bill for a law to designate the state as special in terms of allocation of development resources due to its socio-economic significance and peculiar challenges was thrown out by the Senate. The proposed law sought one per cent of federally generated revenues as special grant for Lagos State. It also sought to compel the federal government to officially recognise Lagos as the country’s commercial capital.

The bill sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, who is the senator for Lagos Central senatorial district, had sparked a controversy as some senators also put up arguments for special recognition of their states, while others opposed it outright. This culminated in the defeat of the proposal via a voice vote at its second reading. It was the second time in three years that such a proposal for Lagos would be rejected in the Senate. A similar bill had failed to scale the committee stage in the seventh Senate in 2013.

The rejection of the “Bill for an Act to make provision for federal grants to Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio-economic significance and other connected purposes” does not take away the place of Lagos as one state where virtually every community in the country has considerable representation and accommodation. It is a city-state that mirrors Nigeria. A special status for Lagos will be great mark of civility and comity.

Lagos has clearly satisfied the conditions upon which the country should constitutionally recognise its special place. With the country’s premier seaport, busiest airport, and most commercially active land borders, Lagos is Nigeria’s – indeed, Africa’s – foremost global city and financial centre.

City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank dedicated to urban affairs, recognised Lagos as the world’s 20th largest city in a 2011 survey. The foundation, in a study of the growth rates of cities and urban areas for 2006 to 2020, classified Lagos as the seventh fastest growing city in the world, with the average annual growth rate of 4.44 per cent.

Among the fastest growing cities of the world, Lagos comes only after Beithai, China; Ghaziabad, India; Sana’a, Yemen; Surat, India; Kabul, Afghanistan; and Bamako, Mali. Of these cities, Lagos is the only one without a constitutionally and nationally recognised special status in terms of development attention. To be sure, Beithai is designated as a Special Economic Zone and marine protected area by the Chinese government. Ghaziabad is a National Capital Region. Sana’a is the capital of Yemen, seat of governance, and the largest city in the country. Though, the seat of the internationally-recognised government moved to Aden, as the temporary capital, following the 2014/15 Yemeni coup.

Surat, India’s eighth most populous city with a population of six million, according to the 2016 census, is designated a smart city under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship Smart Cities Mission, an urban renewal and retrofitting programme funded by the Indian government. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and Bamako, Mali’s capital, naturally have special statuses in terms of politics and economy.

In stark contrast to the privileges enjoyed by the above cities by virtue of their economic and political positions, Lagos has no special status, despite being a former capital of Nigeria and still the main commercial and industrial centre.

It is the largest city in the country, one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, and among the top 10 of the world’s fastest growing cities and urban areas. The population of the state is estimated to be over 21 million people, though the National Population Commission put the population around nine million in the 2006 census.

Lagos occupies a strategic place in the individual and collective lives of Nigerians. There are very few Nigerians that do not have things to do with Lagos, from commerce to real estate, social and political activities. The resultant huge urban population puts enormous pressure on amenities and services and pose peculiar challenges for the state.
Besides, Lagos State accounts for a large portion of the Value Added Tax collected by the federal government.

No one seems to be disputing those facts. What appears to be disputed by those opposed to the conferment of a special status on Lagos is whether it is the only state qualified for such status. There are also arguments as to whether the country can afford the financial implications of such recognition, particularly with the dwindling government revenues occasioned by the sharp fall in the prices of crude oil.

Those were some of the issues that came clearly during the October 5 debate in the Senate on the bill for a special status for Lagos State.

But while it is true that Lagos is not the only state in Nigeria that requires special attention, it is hard to deny the note of urgency in the case of Lagos. The circumstances of the state are strikingly different, and giving the state special attention should be a matter of paramount importance to all. Besides, it is not possible to formally recognise all the states requiring a special status at the same time. Usually, more states and zones are added as society evolves and new development challenges emerge.

There is no doubt that Lagos deserves a special status as a matter of urgent national importance. It would be unfair to deny the state such position. The Senate – indeed, all Nigerians – should think again on this issue.