Ambode: Romancing the stone

At the “Lagos Means Business” stakeholders meeting held last week, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode engaged in Deliberative Persuasion, issues of governance which Aristotle says include Ways and Means; war and peace; imports and exports; and legislation and defence of country.

Ambode explained that his government would utilise the increased Land Use Charge to raise the bar of good governance for the benefit of the electorate who voted him into office. He wants the citizens to support his quest by paying their taxes.

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Section 24(f) of Nigeria’s Constitution requires “every citizen to… pay his tax promptly.” This should enable Ambode to fulfil Section 14(2)(b) of the constitution: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

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However, rumbles from the streets of Lagos, following the declaration, indicate that the embers that are stoking the fire against the new Land Use Charge are embedded in some of the issues raised at the stakeholders’ meeting. And Ambode’s extempore responses reflect his thinking and the direction of his government.

Those who cynically remark that participants who asked questions at the meeting might have been planted did not consider the calibre of those individuals. The cynics fail to realise that the issues raised are existentialist, put the governor on the spot, and can be used against him.

Someone said that Lagos State, with a population of 24.5 million, can only produce three per cent of its food requirement. Unless Lagos practises vertical farming, its landmass of 3,345 square kilometres can hardly produce the food it needs.

To the call to support farmers, Ambode pledged a food reserves strategy. While noting that Lagos State consumes 4,000 goats and 6,000 cows daily, he asked the farmers to tell him where they needed help.

Somebody, obviously traumatised by the perennial traffic jams on Lagos roads, wanted to know how the government would complement the obviously inadequate road transport system with maritime or water transport.

The governor acknowledged the inadequacy of the Lagos mass transit system with the alarming revelation that more than eight million residents of the city commute on foot every day! He pledged to speed up work on rail transport, dredge the waters, and encourage private investors in intrastate maritime transport.

The individual who observed that Ikeja is saturated, and wanted Ambode to establish new industrial parks with all the necessary infrastructure and facilities was informed that a new industrial park that would cater especially to Small and Medium scale Enterprises was already being established at Imota in the Ikorodu Division of Lagos State.

The governor assured those who called for a framework or structure to engage the Organised Private Sector and their foreign associates who want to do business in Lagos that even greater commitment would be made to make Lagos a good investment destination.

He assured foreign investors who naturally consider the security and political stability of an environment before deciding where to invest that Lagos State would be strong on security, and successive governments would build on the policies of previous administrations.

The governor affirmed that his government would encourage those who want to partner the state in managing Lagos dump sites, and would also provide a workplace at Imota for those who want to engage in the recycling of the waste of Lagos to wealth.

But the governor didn’t provide adequate answer to the question, “What prevented Lagos State, that wants to attract tourists, from having a central sewage system.” Maybe, it’s because the one who raised the question didn’t quite establish the linkage between tourism and sewage system.

The governor shouldn’t have allowed himself to be dragged into issues of Corporate Social Responsibility. The whole gamut of governance is social responsibility anyway. But his intention to encourage corporate organisations with good CSR programmes is commendable.

In response to what appears to be a snigger that tax paid by residents of Lagos State was used to maintain only 130,000 civil servants, the governor gave an aside that only 33,000 policemen protected 24.5 million residents of the state.

He established that those who serve Lagos State are not just those who push files in the offices. They include those who do daily the grimy grind; the traffic wardens, the fire brigade, and the “broom brigade”. His thinking that sacking workers would create serious social problems is correct. He pledged to use his experience as an insider and a former Accountant General of Lagos State to plug financial leakages.

While encouraging Corporate Lagos to increase its collaboration with the security efforts of the state government, Jim Ovia, Chairman of Zenith International Bank, who is obviously satisfied that proceeds made into the Lagos State Security Trust Fund coffers were well-spent, announced an increase of his organisation’s contributions to 150 per cent.

It is commendable that within 48 hours of the observation by a participant at the stakeholders’ meeting, the Lagos State Government and the military issued an ultimatum to all trucks parked on Lagos roads and bridges to vacate. Ambode revealed plans to acquire land at Orile Iganmu for a 1300-truck trailer park.

To the query why the Lagos State judiciary does not seem to enjoy financial autonomy, the governor revealed that first line charge due to the judiciary from the state revenue is paid directly to, and is administered by, the judiciary. He however cautioned that the judiciary might not be in the best position to handle projects, which are ideally in the ballpark of the executive branch.

The governor showed some humility in asking for suggestions on how the probate and succession or inheritance section of the state Ministry of Justice can generate more revenue. In agreeing that the operations of the State Lands Registry could be improved, he pledged to use appropriate technology to stop corrupt practices like land theft, and to streamline permits for building constructions.

Ambode says that Lagos State will collaborate with entrepreneurs who would like to take advantage of Deferred Payment plan for land, on a case-by-case basis, and only if they can guarantee jobs to take the youths off the streets.

But his plan to partner private investors to establish a Games Village in Lekki didn’t quite address the inquiry as to what Lagos would do to develop a viable local football league, and wean Corporate Lagos from indirectly sponsoring foreign leagues through adverts on DSTV’s foreign TV channels. He needs to revisit the idea.

Governor Ambode should take judicious notice of the whispers of outlandish sentiments that the land use charge is a subtle way to bar the Igbo resident in the city from owning land in Lagos, though could not be his intention.

The foregoing issues form the undercurrents of the resistance to the increase of the Land Use Charge — and address them.

Em, Governor Ambode, who hinted willingness to shift ground, may need to review the charge a little downward. The Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers has counselled that “the Charge should take cognisance of rental trend which in most locations is either stagnant or going southward.”

The governor, who is doing a good job by the way, must do everything positive to retain the votes of worried Lagos tenants. Arguments that Big Business is orchestrating the backlash present Lagos as anti-business.

Sermonising that rich Lagos should protect weak Lagos is like romancing the stone.

Twitter @lekansote1

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