By Olalekan Fadeyi
The recent ocean surge and massive flooding experienced across Victoria Island and Lekki-Ajah axis should be an absolute wake-up call to the Lagos State government, the federal government and every coastal state in Nigeria. The gory pictures and videos of the flooding that have gone viral in the past few days clearly depict the realities of the very sour experiences people and societies can suffer and the devastation that can result from the effects of climate change exacerbated by government negligence.
Quite apart from acknowledging that the destructive effects attendant of climate change are global problems, peculiarly, as citizens in developing Africa (and in this occasion, Lagos State) with cities synonymous with very high pollution level and environmental degradation, it is understandable why we experience the most devastation resulting from flood-swollen rivers, lagoons and oceans-surge, huge displacements of people and loss of economic values resulting from damage of properties and farmlands, and most especially the unquantifiable grieve from loss of lives and the lifelong impacts these will have on particularly poor families.
Many who do not live on the Island or across Lekki-Ajah may be quick to dismiss that this problem is not peculiar to Lagos State alone, and as some Nigerians with political-cronyism inclinations would quickly adduce, that it is one of those natural disasters that cannot be avoided or mitigated against. At this juncture, it is important to note that this level of thinking is in itself defeatist for development and does not augur well for the collective growth of a progressive city, particularly one touted and popular known as the ‘center of excellence’ in Nigeria.
Let me quickly take us back to the indexes, which sets Lagos apart. Lagos State is, foremost, a high-earner state in Nigeria, particularly due to its internally generated revenue. It is a well known argument that there is a positive relationship between internally generated revenue and infrastructural development. The direction of relationship between how a state derives revenue to propel development is a function of the scale at which it deploys same towards public goods infrastructure that can improve the livelihoods of citizens. In other words, a state or city’s resilience is particularly tested by the level of relationship between internally generated revenue and its depth for infrastructural development. In the case of Lagos State, these indexes do not match its might. To be emphatic, the Lagos State government’s rhetoric over the years does not match its commitments.
As at 2013, during former governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration, the Lagos State government announced its decision to spend N390 billion ($3 billion) on infrastructural development in the state over the next couple of years. I remembered vividly during the town hall meeting organized by its Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) then, and how the ex-governor explained that the state’s project agenda required such huge funding and proceeded to break down how the money would be spent on development infrastructure.
The engagement highlighted specifically that the state government would commit and spend at least N390 billion ($3 billion) annually to expand and improve its water supply network; N2.6 trillion ($20 billion) to provide a qualitative and efficient network of roads and drainage; N1.3 trillion ($10 billion) for power supply; N650 billion ($5 billion) for information and computer technology; and N1.2 trillion ($9.3 billion) for an inter-modal transportation system. Now it’s 2017, just four years down the line with a new Ambode administration, and with the recent events in Lekki-Ajah and Victoria Island environs, every one of us, both living in and outside of Lagos, can discern whether or not N2.6 trillion ($20 billion) has been spent thus far. This is a simple case of a government with lost priorities.
For a state government – generating about N30 billion naira monthly – which prioritizes aggressive acquisition (more than planning) of land spaces by pushing back lagoons and ocean plains while ignoring the massive debilitating effects of its deforestation practices because of political cronyism and acquisition of wealth, it should not be hard to foresee that a day of reckoning is near with consequences such as those recently witnessed. How does a center of excellence with such practices not foresee the possibilities of flood-swollen rivers, streets overflown as swimming ponds with dangerous animals pushed out of their natural environments by floodwaters into residential areas, hundreds of thousands of people and businesses displaced by flooding, destruction of farmlands and properties and yet an unaccounted for number of lives lost? Certainly poor or non-existent infrastructure contributed to this loss of life and property. And the only people we can hold accountable for these are those in government now.
It is time for Governor Ambode to wake up and smell the coffee; the world is watching, and the era where many state government officials embezzle local and state funds through all sorts of manners like inflating contracts or embarking on white elephant projects or outright siphoning of funds meant for development infrastructures, which is currently affecting the development and inhabitants of Lagos, must come to an end as quickly as possible. The glory days of political cronyism, corruption and godfatherism should be excused to the abyss of forgetfulness in order for the state to truly progress and reorder its priorities towards investing rightly in development infrastructure.
It is extremely important at this point in time for the state to recognize and aggressively pursue continuity in government policies and programs. Failure to do so, sacrificing development on the altar of politics, will only bring the state into further disrepute and discourage citizens from committing adequately to paying taxes. Aside from this, the state should, as a matter of urgency, institute a new public policy discussion to engaging citizens (particularly all those affected by the Lekki-Ajah and Victoria Island axis incident) on the most effective ways to dealing with its drainage systems, solid-waste treatments, recycling and disposal as well as wastewater management, as these perhaps, are at the very heart of where flooding takes its roots in the neighborhoods, and indeed the entire state.
Let the Lagos State government be reminded that (irrespective of a seemingly popular governor) a state bedeviling itself by cronyism and corrupt practices which enable the diversion of state government funds for private and political use is only digging its own early grave, and defeating its purpose of rendering quality services and supplying amenities to its people. A word they say, is enough for the wise.
Olalekan Fadeyi is a development management expert based in United Kingdom and Director of International Centre for Development Initiatives (ICDI).