CityPress - - Voices - Gbenga Odun­tan voices@ city­press. co. za

The gov­ern­ment of the state of La­gos, Nige­ria’s for­mer cap­i­tal, has proudly pro­claimed it is build­ing a city that will be­come the new fi­nan­cial cen­tre of Nige­ria and per­haps west Africa. The scale of the Eko At­lantic pro­ject is im­mense and progress is be­ing achieved through a team ef­fort be­tween in­vestors, plan­ners, engi­neers and con­trac­tors. Pitched as Africa’s an­swer to Dubai, Eko At­lantic is a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar residential and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment that is lo­cated as an ap­pendage to Vic­to­ria Is­land and along the renowned Bar Beach shore­line in La­gos.

There is no short­age of doubters and crit­ics of the ini­tia­tive, which is seen as an ex­er­cise in run­away ne­olib­er­al­ism by a coun­try that can­not even en­sure 30 days of con­tin­u­ous power sup­ply to its cit­i­zens. The truth, how­ever, is that La­gos de­serves its dream El Do­rado and the eco­nomic case for Eko At­lantic is sound.

The only prob­lem is that the plans are not rad­i­cal enough. Our ar­gu­ment is that this pro­ject is un­der­imag­ined and should be shored up ur­gently to match other in­ter­na­tional projects in fast-de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. In par­tic­u­lar, we be­lieve a city should be cre­ated along the lines of Paul Romer’s char­ter city. These are cities in which the gov­ern­ing sys­tem is de­fined by the city rather than by state, pro­vin­cial, re­gional or na­tional laws.

This would mean that the city of Eko At­lantic would op­er­ate un­der high stan­dards of trans­parency and good gov­er­nance. Its se­cu­rity would be han­dled by in­de­pen­dent polic­ing stan­dards. This could ex­tend to other as­pects of its civil and crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tems. Its san­i­tary, health, energy sup­ply, en­vi­ron­ment and other reg­u­la­tory rules should be pegged with com­pa­ra­ble stan­dards in Lon­don, New York, Paris, Dubai and Shang­hai.

This would en­sure that the laws un­der which the ter­ri­tory op­er­ates are, in essence, free of the sti­fling na­tional reg­u­la­tions that have stood in the way of most African cities op­er­at­ing at op­ti­mal lev­els.

At the mo­ment, all as­pects of the plan­ning and build­ing of Eko At­lantic are squarely in the hands of the pri­vate sec­tor in­volv­ing lo­cal and for­eign ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists. Those al­ready on board in­clude lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional banks such as First Bank, FCMB, Ac­cess Bank and GT Bank in Nige­ria, BNP Paribas For­tis and KBC Bank, as well as a grow­ing num­ber of pri­vate in­vestors.

The re­cent in­au­gu­ra­tion of a new gover­nor for La­gos, west Africa’s megac­ity with close to 18 mil­lion res­i­dents, presents a fur­ther op­por­tu­nity to re­jig plans and boldly move to­wards char­tered-city sta­tus.

Rather than just be­com­ing a fi­nan­cial ven­ture, the Eko At­lantic experiment can be car­ried fur­ther at no ex­tra cost to be­come the hub to trans­form good gov­er­nance in Nige­ria and west Africa. Al­ready, La­gos is the gold stan­dard for other parts of the Nige­rian fed­er­a­tion. In 2012, it gen­er­ated an­nual rev­enue of about $1 bil­lion (R12 bil­lion at to­day’s ex­change rate), dwarf­ing that of the other 35 fed­er­ated parts of Nige­ria.

If Eko At­lantic is com­pe­tently han­dled by world ex­perts in the le­gal, eco­nomic and in­dus­trial fields, the re­turns to the La­gos econ­omy can easily dou­ble.

Bad sys­tems and rules are the rea­son most African cities do not at­tract much-needed in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment at ap­pro­pri­ate lev­els. Bad rules have tied down the de­vel­op­ment of La­gos and 1 000 other African cities since their in­de­pen­dence from colo­nial­ism. These in­clude cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment, po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence, un­re­spon­sive­ness, over­bear­ing re­li­gios­ity, nepo­tism, hu­man rights abuses and in­com­pe­tent pres­ence of the state.

At present, the ju­di­ciary, health and ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tems of most Nige­rian cities have se­vere prob­lems. La­gos is no dif­fer­ent, even though it is still far ahead of the other 34 states and fed­eral cap­i­tal ter­ri­to­ries. Eko At­lantic ought, there­fore, to pro­vide a Petri dish to run a new kind of African city.

La­gos will have to work with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to cre­ate a spe­cial zone of re­form. The ar­range­ments will re­quire fur­ther del­e­ga­tion of con­trol to La­gos state, which in turn will give up pow­ers to the reg­u­la­tory author­i­ties of the char­tered city of Eko At­lantic.

Such ar­range­ments and con­ces­sions should be eas­ier now as the con­stel­la­tions have aligned for the first time in Nige­rian history. La­gos state is now run by the same gov­ern­ment and party that rules the coun­try. This ar­range­ment will al­low La­gos to make more cred­i­ble prom­ises to in­vestors across the world.

There will be a mu­tual ben­e­fit of ex­change in favour of in­vestors, em­ploy­ers, res­i­dents, the state and the coun­try.

In a de­pressed in­ter­na­tional econ­omy, such a city could at­tract the qual­i­fied, brave and ad­ven­tur­ous from the en­tire globe.

African coun­tries sorely need a skilled work­force from the de­vel­oped world to fill hi-tech em­ploy­ment and ser­vice in­dus­tries that will fuel growth in the 21st cen­tury.

There are suc­cess­ful com­pa­ra­ble projects across the de­vel­op­ing world. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, see­ing the tremen­dous suc­cess that dif­fer­ent rules made

Con­sist of 10km2 of land re­claimed from the At­lantic Ocean;

Be home to a quar­ter of a mil­lion peo­ple and em­ploy another 150 000 peo­ple, who will com­mute daily;

Be billed as a 24-hour, green-con­scious, world-class city; and

At­tract and re­tain top multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions.

It is cer­tain that the pro­posed changes will gen­er­ate con­tro­versy. Na­tion­al­ist feel­ings against this pro­posal may run high, but this prob­lem is not in­sur­mount­able.

Ron­ald Rea­gan al­lowed him­self the lux­ury of only one dec­o­ra­tive plaque on his pres­i­den­tial desk in the Oval Of­fice. It read: It can be done.

The gover­nor of La­gos, Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode, will do him­self and nearly ev­ery­one a great deal of good if he gets him­self a sim­i­lar plaque to re­mind him of the golden op­por­tu­nity that Eko At­lantic rep­re­sents. Odun­tan is a se­nior lec­turer in in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial law at the Univer­sity of

Kent. This ar­ti­cle was pub­lished in

La­gos to­mor­row

La­gos to­mor­row

La­gos to­mor­row

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