The Co-Chair of the Ehingbeti 2021, the Lagos Economic Summit, which commences today, Mr. Yemi Cardoso, in this interview speaks about the benefits of the initiative to the state. Oluchi Chibuzor brings the excerpts:
Over the period of its conception and the exhibition of some of the ideas that originated from Ehingbeti, will you say the forum has achieved some of its goals in Lagos State?
I would definitely say yes. Let me just refer you very simply: The participating forum in Lagos state was never a talk shop, it was never a place where people just went to say nice things and chat and go away, it was not. It was two things: That are very important: For policy and investments. The goal of Ehingbeti rarely was placed on the fact that you cannot encourage investors if you don’t have a good policy environment it will not work. So, Ehingbeti was put together for both sides or for multi- stakeholders to dialogue and listen to each other. I think that it is very important to dialogue and listen to each other; at the end of the dialogue communiqués are given and I recall, I think it was the first or second Ehingbeti, there were 17 communiqués jointly agreed by both the public and private sectors.
After that, it was published, I mean this was 20 years ago, yes electronic Media were around, but not as it is now, but for government then to put in newspapers and publish it in number of papers and say this is what we are going to set ourselves out to accomplish in the next one year. After the one-year, you come back for another session of Ehingbeti and before you go into that, you account for what you meant to have done and what you promised you would deliver. Now, I recall in the first summit or the second, they spoke about 17 items and out of that, they achieved 15 and took the other two to the next year and explained why that was. You see, when you do that you are encouraging a system of accountability. I recall that one of the things they spoke well then was how they are going to publish audited statements of the state and that was one the things they did at that time. Then, the whole issue of Lagos economic summit group was set up largely to implement the outcome. So, it was not even a question of where we going to do this; a body was actively set up to ensure that it happened and to be responsible to those who had given them that responsibility.
So, to answer your question if you go back in time you will see that the whole issue of partnerships which is what Ehingbeti is about – partnership between the public, private, civil society – coming together as one to ensure that they are able to have a shared vision. This is not one talking down on each other, the vision is shared and the vision is implemented in way that gives confidence to all that have a stake in this. That is to ensure that stakeholders feel confidence enough that they can continue to invest in an environment where they can see continuity in policy. Stakeholders have to know that the policy environment is enabling and they have to know that the policy environment is consistent. If they get a sense that there is inconsistency, you have a problem, if they get a sense that you talk and you don’t implement, you have a problem. I am very pleased that Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has decided to bring it back and that is why we are here today celebrating 20 years of the start of Ehingbeti.
I don’t think there are many state that can boost of having a planning tool like this that has been consistently doing this for a number of years.
You have talked about accountability and the so many achievements I would like you to itemise some of these achievements that were recorded in the past Ehingbeti summits?
Now, I think one of the things that we want to say is that the Land Use Charge which basically forms a large amount of the revenue of the state today. The idea was finally established at Ehingbeti. Nobody likes paying tax and when the issue of Land Use came up for discussion, there were a lot of push back from the private sector and many of my private sector colleagues at that time were very disappointed in people like us. They said we were bringing the policy to kill businesses and honestly, at that time, there was nothing you could explain to people other than to say that if this state is growing at such a phenomenal pace, I think then it was between six or eight percent per annum in terms of population and it was a megacity or becoming a megacity and the resources were not growing in tandem. You could see at that time, in 1999, in Lagos in particular, the infrastructure were in pieces and the only way that we could expect to see the outcomes and we expect to see positives development would be to have a quantum leap in revenue generation or spending which means we are spending; without that it was not going to be. You go to Johannesburg, you see nice infrastructure everything works and you come to Lagos and expect it to happen it won’t. So, we had to explain that to a very skeptical audience.
The beauty, I must tell you was that when we have Ehingbeti, we called in what we called experts to this discussion, we also brought in some of the independent internationals bodies, including the World Bank and the UN Habitat and we had frank and open discussion. We did everything possible to convince the skeptics that the state requires a lot of physical infrastructure. That honesty was one of the things that helped to redefine that whole understanding of the need for Lagos to generate revenue due to the massive and growth in population.
So, I think Ehingbeti was very instrumental in creating the awareness of what the challenges of the status of Lagos as a megacity was and I must give kudos to the press because they bought into this idea very quickly and they began to understand it. I used to read things that amazed me about how they were able to properly articulate the concept of megacity and the challenges that Lagos had.
Of course, you will want to go on to things like the whole transportation systems and how we were able to get different private sector entities to take an interest in investing, not only in transport in following Lagos round, but also in things like social responsibility. At one point in time in 1999, we did not have a situation where private sector would take a liken to their environment; they did not, government did it own, private did own. But with Ehingbeti, many of the companies started doing land scapping, roundabout and they we proud of been able to have been their banners out there and to say yes XYZ company did this, this did that and did the other.
These are most the things that came out, even the whole issue of emergency response system too came out from Ehingbeti. Do not forget that emergency response system and some of you may not know this, but a lot of donations came in from private sector much as government ran it, but a lot of the donations towards building the infrastructure and ensure it works came in from private sector.
It was one-day residential programme when both parties sat down. When I say residential you come in a day before, you check-in and you stay there the whole day till the morning after and then you have time to talk off line to discuss matters, things you did not agree necessarily in the course of the plenary and you thrash them out. I think those were all the things that helped to make the exercise beneficial and successful in the sense that once you are all on the same page, then you will go out and try as a much as possible to work as one group.
Something that stick very much to my mind I must tell you and this was something that came out of Ehingbeti again – the water system, the mini water works. This came up for discussion in Ehingbeti and it was at a great debate and obviously most time, it is a function of the resources and all that. But when you have donor agencies also present and willing to be carried along and work with you, it became easier. What we did, I recall the concept of putting a mini-water works in many of these locations in particular in lighted areas was something that clearly came out of Ehingbeti. Much of the things that you see for example – the plans with respect to the old Lekki corridor which was growing at a phenomenal pace, were conceived within Ehingbeti. The concept of which I have mentioned before – accountability – whereby you go back and accounts to those who asked you to come in and do certain things every year, was also something that was pioneered in Ehingbeti. What it does is that it put government on its toes.
I see serious participation by players in the private sector in the Ehingbeti project; what could be responsible for this development?
A number of things. Firstly, Lagos is an economic nerve center of not just Nigeria, but the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. It is the economic nerve centre to the extent that Nigeria is so important to the whole continent. So, Lagos by intuition is also very important to the whole sub-region. So, this rarely is where a lot of activities are born and a lot of activities take place. So, I think there is that recognition from the private sector that you cannot engage in and when I say private sector not just locally, but even internationally that you cannot engaged in Nigeria without thinking about Lagos in one form or the other. So I think that is number one.
Number two, I think there is also the realisation that there has been consistency with respect to issues of policy development and policy implementation. By no means perfect, but there has been consistency by and large and now with Ehingbeti for those that should remember this, it is now a forum, it brings back the idea of a forum where you can actually challenge and ask the question.
So, where for example certain things don’t work you can go to Ehingbeti and tell people why they don’t work and look for answers from those who are implementing or those who are considering to ensure you have a voice; I think that is also very important. I think that Ehingbeti has a reputation of not being a top shop. They also understand of course that these are very difficult times for the country, and very difficult times for Lagos. I think that the expectation is that Ehingbeti will be able to create the forum whereby both public, private and all stakeholders would be able to come together and share their ideas; because so much has happened, especially with the COVID-19. We have had a situation where much has been at a standstill and some could argue that maybe it will continue like that till next year, but I think the real thing is to take the bull by the horns now and see how we can surmount those difficulties.