Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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An open letter to Governor Sanwo-Olu on the people of Lagos and the environment 06 Jun 2019

LagosState Governor Babatunde Sanwo-Olu

Dear Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu,

Greetings, Sir.

I hope you don’t mind. I decided not to echo the ring of “congratulations” that you have been receiving since you were elected Governor of Lagos State in March. You are probably tired of it already.

To be frank, I didn’t support you during the campaign. I couldn’t have. For the first time, I had come out of my quiet place and lent professional support to the decision of Professor Kingsley Moghalu to run for president. I later became the spokesman for his campaign, seeing that he represented the ideal political leadership I had craved for our country. Besides, the campaign that backed your candidacy, with due respect to you, was unsavoury.

But you are now the governor of my state of residence. Our efforts to forge a country that works, and Lagos that is true to its socioeconomic potentials, should not start and end with campaign rhetoric, especially for those of us outside of the governing structures. As a result, I have decided to offer a little contribution of ideas that might help make your government successful.

I had two options in delivering these ideas. One was to write an op-ed, which would be a critical analysis of your very first few days in office. I did not consider it too early to make such an analysis. But, as it is usual with my essays, I would at the end proffer solutions to the issues that I would have identified. This is hardly effective in Nigeria as critical analyses of government are seen as impertinent or sponsored. They are, therefore, generally ignored by the concerned public officeholders.

The second option was this highfalutin open letter format. In more than 10 years of my active editorial and publishing career, I had never written one. From an outsider to the officialdom, open letters are usually condescending. If written from an ultimate insider in Nigeria’s power structure, the snide reaction is “why not advise ‘his excellency’ privately.”

I decided for an open letter, only because I believe it will improve the chances of reaching you. Who knows, you may find something useful in what I have to say.

You came into office to take advantage of programmed “low-hanging fruits” and opportunities for “quick win”. Therefore, the Lagos State 2019 budget had to wait for you to sign it. Since your inauguration on May 29th, you have launched a transport scheme for the staff of Lagos State Government (LASG). You have reiterated your promise to clear up the long queues of trailers that have exacerbated the traffic snarls to and out of Apapa where Nigeria’s functioning ports are located. And you have extended the working hours of the men and women of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to 11:00pm. Interestingly, you have also spoken of a new environmental consciousness of the LASG.

As it were, it looks like you are set on your way to becoming the ultimate “Action Governor” of Lagos. The public communication of your readiness for action further confirms it. But I am really concerned.

To begin with, and with emphasis, there are no low-hanging fruits and quick wins for the Lagos State administration of Governor Sanwo-Olu. The political conspiracies that created the seeming opportunities, only deepened the challenges you would face as governor. By signing this year’s budget of the state at the beginning of June, the chances of success for fiscal 2019 in Lagos have been significantly eroded. And you have seen the extent to which the fiscal framework of the state is manipulable. This appears to work in your favour this time; it might also work against you another time.

More than a year ago, public service in Lagos began another round of precipitous collapse. Suddenly LASTMA appeared overwhelmed and clueless in the chaotic fixture of Lagos traffic where motorists, keke drivers and okada riders, perversely, have been running traffic red lights and driving or riding against traffic. The chaos has become shameful and life-threatening at the same time. Refuse has also piled on the streets and in the drains.

Bad habits die hard. The Lagos chaos has invited people who apparently have no education on city life. Suppose you succeed in clearing the trailers that lined the roads to Apapa in 60 days of your inauguration as you promised. Can the traffic situation be fundamentally fixed if the Apapa-Mile2 Expressway and its extension to Oshodi are not fixed?

Now is not the time for superficial solutions to the challenges of Lagos. Some speak of a Lagos masterplan. If it truly exists, I doubt it has ever been implemented in the last 20 years. The transport arteries that were built by the 1970’s have ruptured due to misuse, overuse and lack of maintenance. There is no central sewage system. No linked drainage system. Housing development in the state excludes the biggest constituents of the demand.

But this is not an attempt to advise that you should start building all these infrastructures now. The meticulous planning that would be involved, and bringing to financial close the key infrastructure projects to be funded by public private partnerships, will span more than the life of your current administration. Of course, it is time to plan for the long-term performance of Lagos. But a well-educated plan would not focus on physical infrastructure. By the way, under the current national infrastructure framework featuring huge public borrowing, scandalously expensive project pricing, and dependence on foreign sourcing of technical expertise, materials and even substantial labour, Nigeria cannot meet its exaggerated infrastructure needs.

Long-term planning in Lagos should focus on the education of the people of Lagos and the environment. This is the way you can make real positive impacts in the next four years and Lagos will transform over the long-term. Nigerians often wish that the government would focus on just one agenda at a time and succeed with it. Maybe power; maybe roads, we often crave. I think you can have a two-point agenda: the people of Lagos and the environment of Lagos.

This agenda is not as limited, or limiting, as it may suggest. It presents a foundational paradigm for sustainable development of Lagos. It is a springboard that will onboard other areas of development needs. This agenda will foster human development in Lagos. In the long run, it will bring down the cost of governance; not because of smaller government, but because some oft-repeated public expenditures would be eliminated. Environmental sustainability would be achieved as Lagos accelerates growth and development in its industrial, service, trading, real estate and tourism economies.

Let me give a hint of what the education part of the agenda should entail. Lagos needs to invest in providing quality primary and secondary school education for residents. It needs to upgrade Lagos State University (LASU) to a world-class institution. And the LASG needs to invest heavily in the civic education of adult residents.

Investment in education in Lagos needs to be comprehensive. It needs to include physical infrastructure, teaching staff, R&D, technology and internet connectivity. The Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) needs to be completely transformed to an institution providing excellent medical education and tertiary healthcare of world standard.

This is no mean challenge at all. Nearly all the 20 million Lagos residents need an education. I will provide further hints about what the civic education should address and how to deliver it to the large population. Much of the contents of the curriculum should be developed electronically for standardisation and deployment over multiple electronic platforms. On the web platform, some residents can learn at their pace. But the public schools and the civic centres around the state should also be used in the evening hours, to enable the “students” to immediately start putting some of the knowledge they have newly acquired into action through their interactions.

I propose a wealth redistribution framework that rewards participation and learning outcomes be built into the education programmes.

The contents of the civic education programme will teach the good use of public spaces and transport infrastructure, sanitation, common courtesy, and appropriate environmental practices, especially waste disposal. Voter education is also important if there is any plan to retrieve the politics of the state for a new, progressive direction.

The idea here is that Lagos cannot physically develop living its people behind, largely inadequately educated and as social misfits. This is what has happened before your coming into office as governor. If your predecessors had genuinely wanted to develop the state, they would have felt quite frustrated. They provided pedestrian bridges to people who wouldn’t use them. They reinvested in iron/barbwire fences to force usage, but the fences were soon after brought down. As we have learnt with the use of pedestrian bridges, it is very difficult to enforce compliance where a large part of the population has no appreciation for why laws and regulations should be obeyed and therefore disobey.

The environment component of this two-point agenda is also both symbolic and pertinent for the modernisation of Lagos. The areas of investment in the environment include physical planning; drainage system, including covering the gutters; waste water management; greening; public toilets; enforcement of environmental standards; cutting carbon emission; and ending noise pollution.

Obviously, healthcare is not a specific component of this agenda. It is said that “a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.” I believe “an educated and environmentally-sustainable nation is a healthy nation.” Ditto for Lagos State. Besides, healthcare is so important it is a national programme in the advanced countries.

I would like to end this letter, which I believe you solicited by inviting Lagos residents to come forward to contribute ideas to the progress of “our” state in your podcast on social media, by making a few forecasts. These two-point agenda, if well implemented with honesty and accountability, will: one, create “cultural capital” for Lagos; two, foster inclusive prosperity; three, enhance regulatory competency of the LASG; four, foster environmental sustainability; and, five, you will become the father of modern Lagos – but by that I don’t mean the “godfather” of Lagos politics subsequently.

I wish you and your administration success.

Kind regards,

Jide Akintunde
Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria