Once upon a time, the state was an “urban jungle.” If you walked around the noise-polluted streets, which were overcrowded with rickety commuter buses, cars, cart pushers and wheel barrows and thronging with screaming street traders, ubiquitous markets stalls around pole-high refuse heaps and putrefying gutter oozes, you might find one or two human corpses decomposing on curbs, corners or street intersections.
I said “walked” because if you had chosen to drive, you could spend an entire day trying to get through one single avenue of a stretch not more than 500 metres. Traffic jams were as controlled as bedlam. That way, you would know traffic hell but you wouldn’t get far enough in the adventure to know what an urban jungle looks, screeches, groans and stinks like.
Relief could come swiftly, sometimes, from this suffocating crowd of people, corpses, howling automobiles, and refuse heaps and puffs of exhaust fumes, soot, smoke and dust; it could come when a truck load of armed robbers pay your side of town their usual visit, take shots at vultures on roof tops and pandemonium happened, and the crowd took to their heels and the next moment, the roads have magically thinned out. And shops and their keepers are robbed, cars that ran into one another in panic and got stuck had their trapped drivers robbed or killed.
But for one slowed-down moment, you will have relative calm and quiet, because street traders, urchins and policemen will disappear on a forced break. The robbers are usually not as noisy; they just wave their guns and shoot to kill as deterrent. You will have this graveyard peace until the robbers leave and the mourners take over. And the traders return, and car drivers sound horns to jostle for right of way to escape, and the dead corpses and refuse heaps regain their living and lively neighbours.
Lagos State was such an urban jungle in 1999. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo called Lagos that (I didn’t) to spite those who were in charge there. That was when Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had just taken the job of governing Lagos. That was Lagos then. Talk about dysfunction, forlorn and chaos. Ask the residents, then, about despair.
Does any of these sound familiar? Do we have a template for examining Nigeria today or not? Take your pick of descriptive words for security nightmare, economic despair and existential dismay.
Like Nigeria today, that jungle —that was Lagos— had serious and grave revenue problems. It was over 6 million strong in population, lacking in all it lacked but only generating internal revenue of N600,000 a month, N7 million a year, which was mercilessly guzzled down month by month by a civil service that was stuck with an “unaccountable” wage system. Financially, Lagos was going broke, insolvent; successive military governments were content if they could pay salaries of government workers and hobbled on with the wieldy status quo.
Tinubu fixed and modernised the Lagos treasury mechanisms. He established a coherent and integrated revenue management system as well as a development plan such that successive administrations could easily watch, manage and improve the revenue stream into the coffers of the state as well as follow a blueprint for adding milestones to the economic and infrastructural development in an organised and sustainable order. Lagos grew from earning N600,000 a month in 1999 to N45bn a month today, translating into about N14.6bn a year in 1999, through N83bn in 2007, and amassing to N550bn today —an increase of a whopping 7,400 per cent. A revolution has happened.
Just as Nigeria has recklessly remained a monolithic economy for decades, depended on oil and still depends on it to fund her budget today and has consequently reeled from one economic downturn to recession to instability or the other, Lagos —like most of the states— once depended on federal allocation to meet its financial, social service and development obligations. Tinubu, as governor, had just created additional local councils in the state and Obasanjo ordered him to reverse it or forfeit federal allocation of funds to the local government areas of Lagos State. Tinubu wouldn’t; he was done with the state’s dependence on external revenue handouts anyway.
Tinubu dared and weaned Lagos from dependence on monthly federal allocations from Abuja. His administration was funding 57 Lagos LGs and LSDAs for the entire period of his two terms as governor. Lagos continued to fare better than many other states economically. In relative terms, the state even fared better than Nigeria in growth and Gross Domestic Product indices even while being so starved of federally allocated funds.
The model that resulted from Tinubu’s restructuring of governance is still working the magic for Lagos. The state is financially viable, generating over 75 per cent of its revenue independent of federal grants derived from oil revenues. It is on the backbone of a working, modern and accountable financial system, operated by a highly trained and motivated public service, that the state had risen to become the fifth largest economy in Africa. Imagine if all the states of the federation are inspired and motivated by the centre in a competition to match the Lagos experience. That is the kind of economic revolution we as Nigerians should look forward to beyond 2023.
After revenue marshalling, comes the will power to transform the “urban jungle” into a modern, clean and prosperous state. Tinubu had employed novel measures to improve service delivery and system efficiency in the state’s public sector. He was ready to tackle the challenges of forging order out of utter disorderliness in the affairs of Lagos State.
The urban jungle breathes because nobody obeyed traffic rules; roads were dilapidated; laws were disregarded whether they were the ones regulating refuse collection and disposal, the payment of rates and taxes, or the approval of building plans and permits. While retooling other relevant agencies, Tinubu created new ones like Lagos Internal Revenue Service, Lagos Waste Management Authority, and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority. Their duties were as essential as they were labour intensive so Tinubu could absorb tens of thousands of unemployed youths, removing them from the streets where some had added to the menace of insecurity.
In other words, Tinubu was cleaning up Lagos and restoring orderliness through these agencies, and creating thousands of well-needed jobs at the same time; that was not all, these agencies were turning into big revenue earners for the state. We get more physical development for Lagos, more jobs for the people and more revenue for the state. This is the kind of social engineering and economic ingenuity Nigeria cannot afford to discount today.
Tinubu created Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) and established the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system to transform public transportation in Lagos State. Five years into his administration, Tinubu had completed and commissioned 308 road projects out of 422 contracts awarded. Lagos was irreversibly gaining in urbanity and sophistication after losing the “jungle” characteristic. Tinubu speedily completed the upgrading and renewal of the Lagos Island Central Business District Roads project to give the state’s crucial economic zone a new verve: roads and street pavements, traffic lights and markers, modern drainage facilities, and street lightings.
The same Tinubu administration, in 2006, signed concession agreements that gave birth to the Eko Atlantic City —an artificial city built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean, which now protects Victoria Island and parts of Lekki from further erosion. Same year, 2006, he also signed the partnership agreements that gave birth to the Lekki Free Zone Development Company to manage the Lekki free export processing zone, where Dangote Refineries and Petrochemicals —the biggest in Africa— is sprawled today. The zone has, under construction, an international airport, a deep-sea port and is said to become the “biggest job-creation zone in the whole of West Africa”. This is the definition of having enough vision to guarantee prosperity for generations in posterity. Nigeria is ready for such a visionary.
The same Tinubu has thrown his hat in the ring. He has made public pledges on tackling our chronic power and energy crisis and promised to secure Nigeria and her imminent prosperity. He wants the job to govern Nigeria: the same man, same purpose, same intent, and same call, but different specimen and time. It was Lagos in 1999, now it is Nigeria in 2023. I lived in the urban jungle and now I thrive in modern, mega city Lagos. My candid appeal to you, Nigerians: employ this man. He has a will of steel, a passion for success unequalled, a head tuned well for innovation, is practiced and fully-grown in the act of fixing jungles of social, economic and political kinds. And he has his proven ways.
This article was going to be about prospects for Nigeria’s macro-economic health and prosperity, all-round development and eradication of extreme poverty. I wanted to refrain from adding to the praises of Tinubu’s courage, democratic tenets, charitable nature, and the rest. But after his feat at the just-concluded APC presidential primaries, making reference to Asiwaju’s political sagacity has become too tempting. He got 1,271 votes where his closest rival scored 316 votes. Such a mass of support confirmed one thing only: that Tinubu enjoys cross-regional support and has built bridges between the multi-cultural peoples of Nigeria.
Such a widespread support base will come handy when he tackles headlong our intractable security problem, which is a symptom of the level of disunity and suspicion in the land. A pragmatic leader like Tinubu has no choice but to build the necessary consensus —he is good at this— across board if he must live his passion of quickly transforming the wieldy and inefficient model of governance Nigeria is presently saddled with. Without unity and unity of purpose, such social regeneration and rapid economic development will be impossible. If you know Asiwaju Tinubu, you would know that he does not allow anything, no matter how subtle or blatant, to get in his way of keeping a promise.
Nigerians, let’s make him President come the general elections next year. This is a task that all Nigerians of good will must be prepared to see through. We have waited too long for a man of decidedly known focus, passion and capabilities. Nigeria has waited too long to unravel as a world power and the black world’s pride. To those who do not care if Nigeria ever rises, don’t touch Tinubu; he doesn’t know how to stay down. To the rest of us, progressives and compatriots, the teeming majority, we must keep the date with destiny. We have to give this job to Bola Ahmed Tinubu with our Permanent Voter Cards. God bless Nigeria.
David, the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Strategy and Security, Lagos State House of Assembly, writes from Lagos
This article was originally published in the Punch newspaper on July 6, 2022