Publication Source: africanews.com

To whom much is given, goes that popular English expression, much is expected. But for Lagos, Nigeria’s over-pressured former federal capital and perennial economic hub, it’s the inverse: he who lugs others’ burden has earned their fair support.

That is the plain truth, as far as the age-old clamour for a special status for Lagos is concerned — a status that should draw a special surcharge, from the Nigerian common purse, for the burden Lagos bears, for the rest of Nigeria. That demand is just for Lagos. More importantly, it is fair to the rest of Nigeria.

Which is why Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu did well, by putting that matter again on the front burner. He spoke in Lagos, at the South West public hearing of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

RMAFC is touring the six geo-political zones for inputs for a new revenue sharing formula (after its last review in 1992), among the Federal Government, states and local governments; aside from special needs, like the environment and other emergencies.  Lagos is seeking one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to service this special status  — and fairly so.

Governor Sanwo-Olu’s specific proposals: Federal Government (34%, including 1% for the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja), States (42%), Local Governments (23%), Special status for Lagos (1%).

Back in 1975 when Abuja was finally birthed, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, then Head of State, pledged for Lagos, a special post-capital status.  That was not consummated. But every passing year, that pledge had cried for fulfilment, as Lagos progressively decayed.

The roads collapsed under population and heavy-duty vehicle pressure.  The bridges, no thanks to poor maintenance and pilfering hands, got stripped of their railings.  Street lights on major federal highways became history, making urban crime to flare.  Traffic, of course, became stifling.

Although the last 22 years of democracy have witnessed remarkable urban renewal, far better than the military era, such has only attracted a stronger pull, from job and opportunity seekers from the rest of Nigeria.  The Lagos invasion of ‘Okada’ shuttle bikers underscores the explosion of unskilled hands trying to eke out a living in the city, with attendant crimes and road crashes.

Lagos, as Nigeria’s foremost job centre (thanks to its “big” economy in commerce, banking, telecoms and manufacturing), projects the illusion that Lagos is “rich”.  Yet, linked to the crippling burden it carries, Lagos is not.  Willy-nilly, however, it attracts daily economic migrants, pulled by its delusional el-dorado.  For the Lagos government, that has been a developmental nightmare, even while it tries to cope.

Besides, Lagos still supports many federal agencies and properties, active or abandoned.  Though many of these are security agencies, the state’s Security Trust Fund has periodically upgraded the Nigeria Police with patrol vehicles, bikes and allied hardware, communication gadgetry, munitions and personal gears, to give its more than 20 million estimated population a stout security cover.

Aside security, the state’s transport sector has witnessed continuous investments over the years.  Beside the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) dedicated road tracks, the Lagos Blue and Red rail lines are set for operations from 2022.  That is aside from investments in ferries and jetties, for water transportation.  But like past upgrades, these investments would pull even more citizens from other parts of the country, thus committing the government to higher education, housing and health costs.

“These [commitment to unending investments],” the governor told the RMAFC members, “are several reasons to justify the call for a special status for Lagos.  The former capital … Nigeria’s largest metropolis, still bears a heavy brunt of being home to all Nigerians; irrespective of age, class, gender, religious affiliation or tribe.”

That is the gospel truth; and the famed city of opportunities should be given the fair opportunity to rise to its strenuous challenges.

That is what the special status for Lagos is all about — and the one per cent charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund is a fair way to start, without prejudice to future upticks.