LAGOS AS BEACON FOR SOUTHERN NIGERIA
Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, has many things going for her, writes
Nigeria is at a crossroads presently and chief among what plagues it is insecurity. Across the land, terrorism, campaign for territories, killer herdsmen, kidnappers and banditry seem to be the order of the day. And it is cause for concern for every leader and also responsible citizens. In the helplessness of the situations, leaders are challenged to forge a way out of the mess.
While some of the emergencies like kidnapping and campaign for territories spread across the country, others are quite distinct to some regions. Every region has its challenges. And in the course of arresting this emergency, many stakeholders, including religious leaders have preached – with words. But it remains the duty of political leaders to propagate action. And as if waking up from a slumber, the southern governors are now coalescing ideas and resources to wage their battles to move their region forward - something the northern governors seem to have mastered. Well, it’s never too late to start a good thing.
So, it was impressive watching the governors gather in Lagos on Monday to discuss governance across the south. I also commend the choice of Lagos as the secretariat for the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) as the coalition is called. Though it is not centrally located in the southern region, Lagos is undeniably not just an economic powerhouse but has become a melting pot for all Nigerians. Its place in the country is so important that if it catches cold, the likelihood of the whole nation sneezing is real.
I remember watching Babajide Sanwo-Olu during his campaign for the post of Lagos governor and wondering whether he was just another stooge. But his entry into governance has convinced me that again, Lagos is blessed with people with ideas and action. In his first year as governor, along with the normal challenges of protecting life and order as well as producing democratic goods and services, Sanwo-Olu was tested with the Covid-19 pandemic to which the state responded excellently and even became a model. The governor also responded dynamically to the END SARS protest which also had Lagos as the epicentre. While sadly, the protests were ultimately hijacked by hoodlums who unleashed violence on the society, the state’s effort to rein back law and order cannot be summarily discounted.
Continuing in the excellence streak initiated right from the time when Bola Ahmed Tinubu was governor and practically abandoned financial-wise by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Lagos now leads other states in terms of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). If Lagos were a country, it would rank among the richest countries on the African continent. Little wonder other states have not only wondered about the state’s financial success but have sent delegations to come and learn the secrets.
But aside from learning how to generate more revenue, there are other things which other southern states can and should learn from Lagos. While the system of operating on the basis of ‘state of origin’ in Nigeria was useful at a time, currently, it has become somewhat antiquated and a sort of Achilles Heel for progress across the land.
Unlike some states, in Lagos, opportunities such as government appointments are awarded based on merit, even though that catchment for candidates on the basis of ‘state of origin’ has not been completely discarded. There are several instances such as the recent forming of a committee to revamp the film industry in the state. The nine-man committee comprised four Lagos State government officials and five entertainers. Curiously, all the five entertainers on the committee are non-indigenes of Lagos and there was hardly a whimper of complaints. This stems from the fact that Lagosians care more about excellence. Also, it is perhaps only in Lagos that Nigerians from other states have held prominent positions in the state’s cabinet. Examples include the current Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Samuel Egube, who incidentally has Delta as his state of origin and also a former Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Ben Akabueze, who hails from Anambra State. Such welcoming gestures are largely absent in many other states outside Lagos.
And when it comes to commerce, the state has ceded space for people from different parts of the country to trade. In Lagos, there are some markets dominated by traders from other states in the country. But no one really cares. This welcoming attitude is also what other states can do well to imbibe.
Hence, when the southern governors chose Lagos as their secretariat, it came as little surprise. Lagos doesn’t have it all but there is nowhere comparable to Lagos. With its airports, it is easily accessible by all. There is virtually no state in the country without its presence in the state in one way or the other in the form of a liaison office. So, it was perhaps only natural for the southern governors to adopt Lagos as their secretariat. I mean, Lagos is the real deal.
Though the purpose of the meeting was crucial, perhaps solemn given the grim occurrences necessitating it, I couldn’t but feel a tinge of joy watching Ondo State governor and Chairman of SGF, Rotimi Akeredolu, inspecting a guard of honour in Lagos.
Speaking on behalf of the SGF in Lagos, Akeredolu said: “The Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness, and unanimously agreed that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between southern and northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the south.”
In May, the southern governors had met in Asaba to discuss among other things, how killer herdsmen have been marauding farmers. At that meeting, they had unanimously declared a ban on open grazing of cattle, a request that some elements in the federal government including President Muhammadu Buhari, opposed. However, as the Chief Security Officer in their various states, it stands to reason that such calls were indeed in their purview to make. But the matter has reached a critical stage that keeping mute is no longer an option. And at the end of the meeting on Monday, the southern governors demanded more control over security by renewing the call for State Police
The governors also rejected the proposed three per cent share of the oil revenue to the host community and supported five per cent contained in the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill. They also rejected the proposed 30 per cent share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins. And most importantly, the governors asked that in 2023, Nigeria’s president should emerge from the south.
The federal government may consider the issues raised by the southern governors as tetchy but like it has been demonstrated in Lagos, good things often do not come easy. Anyway, I pray that following the Lagos example, the dreams of the southern governors are actualised.