The battle line of economic leadership of the African continent has been long drawn between South Africa and Nigeria. While Nigeria could boast of vast human and natural resources, South Africa relied on refined strategy, discipline and global best practices to hold sway for a long time.
High on the list of major issues undoing Nigeria in the war for economic supremacy include absence of democratic governance, corruption, impunity and disregard for laid down principles, among other things.
With democracy marking its longest uninterrupted run of 15 years in Nigeria last month, coming on the heels of the country becoming the largest economy in Africa, courtesy of the rebased gross domestic product, investors seem naturally attracted to the country. However, this excitement appears ready to be dampened by unnecessary muscle flexing by few influential landlords in the Lekki axis of Lagos State.
Of the various factors of production, land being a fixed resource is often a determinant factor as other factors rest on it to add to the production chain. This is where urban and regional planning plays an important role in economic development. So with the desire for Nigeria to catch-up with the developed world is high among well meaning Nigerians and lovers of the African continent who point at the leading role expected of the country as the main reason for their craving, the need for professional urban planning and implementation cannot be overemphasized.
Infrastructure and urban development are two important areas that Nigeria needs to catch up with the world’s leading economies, even with her rebased GDP. These two areas are paramount in attracting businesses and investors, particularly from foreign ones.
It will recalled that urban development in Nigeria took the front burner under the civil administration of former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, whose patriotic zeal fired up one his helmsmen, Mal Nasir El-Rufai, then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory to take on violators of the capital territory’s master plan in combatant fashion. This was a brave decision as many beautiful houses were pulled down and many toes stepped on in the bid to get housing and other urban development elements conform to the original master-plan of the Abuja FCT.
Interestingly radical El-Rufai demonstrated enough courage by trying to stick to development plans laid out long before the administration that appointed him came to power. This saw many mansions as well as shanties, erected in violation of the FCT’s master-plan pulled down. Even very senior serving government officials were not spared the bulldozers under El-Rufai’s command. Nigerians loved this action Minister for enthroning the laws over men, no matter how highly placed. It remains one of the low points of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration that the reform El-Rufai started in the FCT has not been sustained.
It has to be said that while the El-Rufai reign lasted, the pain was severe but well meaning Nigerians still commend the strength of character and vision shown by the man in taking sides with common good and constitutionality as against personal interests and self seeking individuals. Little wonder the man’s popularity soared in the process.
Environmentalists are now taking solace in the drive by the Gov Babatunde Raji Fashola administration to position Lagos as a megacity. This drive is commendable because it has seen the visionary governor set up professional agencies like the Lagos State New Towns Development Agency to help actualise the vision. El-Rufai and Fashola share the common character of championing the supremacy of the law over men, irrespective of social, religious, political or economic status. This has seen Lagos State become a reference point on discipline and rule of law in Nigeria’s democracy. The strong leadership disposition of Gov Fashola has seen opinion leaders from other states call on their governments to take a cue from him.
This good reputation has come under several tests that Gov Fashola had passed. There is another test, though with news filtering out that few landlord residents of Lekki Phase 1 estate have beaten their chests that the master-plan of the estate will not stand. This has left Nigerians wondering, who has the responsibility to plan estates, as I understand that few powerful individuals have taken it upon themselves to fight businesses that want to follow the master-plan of the estate in opening branches there to a standstill. This action points towards impunity, impudence and decadence, banes that Nigerians must fight and get rid of or face retrogression!
The late Moshood Abiola with all he represented and represents in Nigeria did not champion any class system that killed businesses or confined other citizens behind the walls or to a safe distance from his residence. He lived in a people’s area of Ikeja and all manners of businesses, so long as they were legal, existed close to his residence. His cherished and well respected family still lives there with common people and businesses as neighbours.
There is inherent danger in having a state government under Gov Fashola order the stoppage of certain commercial developments at Lekki Phase 1 estate upon the complaint of people who can boast of having the ears of those that matter! This could lead to impudence and decadence. Laws are made for men and when men feel they are above the law, it spells anarchy, mostly if they carry on as such. The drift of society towards anarchy is often gradual and Lagosians must watch out for those minded towards lording it over the state under any guise as this might derail the ship of state.
If claims that some powerful individuals are using every means possible to stop businesses from going on with developments provided for in the master-plan of elite estates like the Lekki Phase 1 are true, it breeds a certain kind of fear that must be guarded against if the interests of common people like my humble self are to be addressed to avoid setting an avoidable dangerous precedence. Should this handful of people succeed in altering the master-plan laid out by the LSNDA, it makes a statement that whoever does not like the master-plan of the estate of his/her residence can follow the footsteps of these fellows and alter it to suit personal motives. This is a clearly avoidable danger.
The issue that comes to mind on this is: ‘Should the government bow to this pressure, stop the commercial developments at the Lekki Phase 1 estate, understood to include a filling station designed to international standards altering the master-plan in the process; would that not amount to changing the rules in the midst of the game?’ My simple mind tells me that the government should count on the impartiality and professionalism of its officers and reach proactive decisions should the need arise. Where one or two persons feel comfortable to coerce government into cancelling developmental projects that could benefit the masses in today’s Nigeria, it questions the integrity of leaders, professionalism of government officials and defines our quest for democracy!
I am not of the opinion that government agencies are infallible, what I stand by is that estate master-plans are strategic and corrections to strategic plans must be done cautiously not at the behest of persons who can be adjudged to be pursuing myopic or personal interests, rightly or wrongly. Government must at all times be seen as unbiased and protective rather than exposing the weaker segments of the society. Today when governments and well meaning individuals are striving to attract investment and businesses to the country, does it not amount to some form of foolhardiness to see some people chase businesses away from Lagos with her reputation as the economic capital of Nigeria?
With word of mouth at the Lekki axis of Lagos having it that few individuals have taken the soul of the estate, it is sinister for businesses and investors as a resident volunteered under anonymity. “If a clique has withstood Tantalizers and ASCON, who would dare look towards investing in this area?”
Good enough, this issue is now generating public attention. The issue appears to be engaging attention as it came up for discussion on a national radio programme on Raypower, Factfile, on June 2, 2014. During the programme monitored in Lagos, citizens expressed concern that less than 10 people are standing in the way of investments that could help the state on the drive towards attaining the megacity status her leaders have been craving for.
A Consumer Rights Advocate and Member Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Shina Loremikan while fielding questions from the public wondered the rationale behind six people lording it over a vast population including the government and her agencies.
Loremikan reasoned that altering the master-plan, setting aside the professional work done by the LSNTDA and quashing the approvals obtained by the businesses that desire to invest in the area at this point would amount to changing the rules in the midst of the game. “No nation can progress with such arbitrariness,” he submitted.
This appears to be an ominous tale of how the feudal in Lagos are altering development and business plans at the peril of the general public and the economy.
These issues are begging for answers and the business communities, not just Lagosians are watching to see the way the pendulum swings. The master-plan of any estate is set out blindly, that is without any knowledge of who the landlords or occupants would be and if it comes to a point of altering such a plan because certain people have bought into it or now live there, it spells doom. The ball is now in the courts of decision makers to send the right signals to all stakeholders by reaching a pro people and pro business decision on this. The world is waiting!
Olaseni Durojaiye, consumer rights enthusiast, writes from Ikeja, Lagos
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