How to make Lagos a 21st century city – Oxford Professor

Danfo Buses, Lagos [Photo Credit:Bella Naija]
Danfo Buses, Lagos [Photo Credit:Bella Naija]

A professor at the University of Oxford, Paul Collier, has said that a 21st century Lagos is one which would accommodate the elites as well as the ordinary people.

Mr. Collier, a professor of Economics and Public Policy, spoke Thursday at a two-day international conference tagged ‘Towards a Smart City: Preparing for the Next 50 Years of Prosperity’ in Lagos.

He said to sustain the city’s continuous progression of the past 19 years as well as achieve its target for the next five decades, citizens must have confidence in the leadership of the state.

“One respect in which a foreign professor have a little bit different eyes from you is I only see Lagos from time to time, I’ve been coming here for about 40 years and so I’ve seen quite a lot of the 50 years of change,” said Mr. Collier, who delivered the keynote speech at the event.

“And actually, I want to say the real change I’ve seen is not over 50 years, it’s over 19 years, it’s the 19 years of democratic Lagos. To my mind that’s the real celebration, it’s been 19 years of very visible, material progress, you can’t miss it. I know that because I’ve worked in a lot of African cities, you can’t, unfortunately, say that for many big African cities.”

Mr. Collier said the governments in Lagos have been lucky to enjoy a level of freedom rarely seen in most African cities.

“The starting point is to say what is a smart 21st century city mean? Smart does not mean elite. Smart means a city that works for everybody in it. A city that works means that ordinary people can become productive and so earn a decent living.

“Elite means that where people live is a liveable decent environment and so the city is productive and it’s liveable not just for an ordinary elite but for everyone, for the ordinary person, the citizen of Lagos. That’s where we are headed.

“It will be a beacon that gets imitated, not just within Nigeria but across Africa. Other cities will look to Lagos, you are already the lead city, you are Africa’s mega city. But to become Africa’s 21st century mega city and a beacon, you need to do the next steps.

“In doing those next steps, remember your big asset is the confidence your citizens have in the leadership and for that to be sustained, the leadership must work for everybody in the city.

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“You cannot build a functional city with a political horizon of two years. I deal with a lot democratic African governments and typically, they’re so unsure of their power they tell me only give us suggestions which we’ll deliver in two years, because that’s the time on average to the next election, we can’t afford to do anything that looks beyond that.”

Mr. Collier noted that the key elements in a 21st century city are density and transport.

“Between them deliver good connectivity, without connectivity you got a lot of people crowded together but they can’t benefit from being together,” he said.

“The benefits of being together, called economics of agglomeration, depend on good connectivity amongst people and that means livable density combined with good transport infrastructure.”

Thursday’s conference was one of the activities rounding up the “Our Success Story” themed year long celebration of Lagos At 50.

The conference focused on four major areas – Information and Communication Technology, transportation, ease of doing business, and tourism.

Earlier, during his remarks, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said as the celebration draws to an end, there would be a deep reflection of what the next 50 years would be.

“The smart city initiative is Lagos urban development vision to integrate all sectors of governance into one box of growth and development through efficient service delivery to each citizen,” said Mr. Ambode.

“The future prosperity of Lagos is dependent on how well we can equip our children and youth with technological and educational skills they can use to develop the solutions for the future.

“The ease of doing business in Lagos is very critical to the continued prosperity of our state. We know that in order to facilitate investment in infrastructure, it is imperative that we get our acts together in our public service delivery, especially the quality of our services by public servants in government in order for the private sector to have greater confidence in government also.

“We have put in place the policy framework for a technology driven land administration and mapping, tax administration and justice administration. All of these will come on stream in the coming months.

“I will like to hear the bitter truth about what is next for Lagos to do.”

While noting that Lagos is the fastest growing city in the world with a growth rate of 85 people per hour, Akinyemi Asade, the Commissioner for Finance, said it has thus become imperative for Lagos to continually look into the future.

“By unpacking common challenges, we confront and leverage the latest technologies in support of the development of our state. This conference aims to do just that,” said Mr. Asade.

“To discuss and challenge our thinking on moving Lagos towards the smart city status. Technology presents a remarkable platform and opportunity for people, communities and cities to improve the quality of life, service delivery and efficiency as well as economic development.”

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