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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Lagos Land Use Charge Law: The angst of a disappointed public

“If a law is unjust, the [citizenry] is not only right to disobey it, they are obligated to do so.” (Thomas Jefferson, US 3rd President 1801-1809).

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State

Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States was a savant, political thinker,  and a prolific writer on the subject of democracy. He was the proponent of many democratic ideas which endure in the practice of democracy in the United States over two hundred years ago till date. He, it was that was credited with the concept called “consent of the governed.” In his analytical mind, Jefferson strongly believed that the existence of any government is dependent on the wish of the people. That is, if the people want the government to exist, it would. It is people that would create their own government and collectively concord or consent to follow laws their government makes.

However, Jefferson cautioned that government must not abuse the authority given it to intimidate or oppress the governed. Therefore, he argued that if the government makes laws that are fair and protective of the citizenry, the people would easily obey the law. Conversely, the people are at liberty to petition the government to change laws or acts they considered unfair or unjust. His brilliant idea was incorporated into the American Constitution including other fundamental human rights and freedom granted to all American citizens under the First Amendment of the supreme statute book, which guarantees the rights of the people to freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and to petition the government. Wherever democracy is practiced in other countries of the world, Jefferson’s idea has become a lodestar.

The above narrative is the genesis of the opening quote.

From this point, I will expatiate more on the title of the article. Readers should be informed from the onset that the write-up is not to pillory the Governor Ambode-led administration in Lagos State concerning the controversial Land Use Charge Law 2018, which the governor signed into law on February 8, 2018. Unfortunately, the governor, given the benefit of doubt, might be oblivious to the consequences and the hubbub the legislation would instantly generate among the stakeholders who frowned at some provisions of the new law. Many of the vexing issues raised by the antagonists of the law had been brought to the attention of the LASG for further review and from recent newspapers report, the Lagos State House of Assembly has constituted an ad-hoc Committee to jump-start the review process. The public is waiting and watching.

What we want to argue here is that the LASG is inadvertently making other mistakes of governance using wrongful approach, even when it says the umpteen time of being an inclusive and pro-people government, but in tokenism. We shall prove the case as this piece progresses.

Secondly, the government’s misconception about urban administration, planning, and management of a complex megacity such as Lagos, further contributes to the unpardonable mistakes being committed repeatedly by the LASG albeit, it has good intentions. Until there is a re-think of approach and paradigm shift to urban administration in Lagos State, the government’s ad-hoc responses to the multi-dimensional problems plaguing the megacity might not be the panacea.


Clarification of Lagos megacity status

First and foremost, the government and the citizenry perception of Lagos megacity status lacks clarity in the mindset of the government and the governed. A city becomes a megacity when it attains a threshold population figure of 10 million and above. It is not a “status symbol” appellation for a city that has arrived in the true sense of our local parlance the way Lagos megacity is being portrayed. When one hears the encomium and praise-singing that “ Eko ti di megacity, Eko ti di megacity (Lagos has become a megacity) at every political event and Town Hall meeting held regularly in Lagos State, such vainglory amuses trained mind in the planning profession. The megacity status of Lagos should not be construed as a joyous milestone achievement. The more the population, the mega the management problems such humongous population spike of over 20 million will thrust on the lap of the government. The problems become daunting for a city like Lagos where urban planning policy or practice is a symbolic effort. The tasks ahead call for critical thinking how effectively the LASG would deal with the challenges using the right solutions aimed at improving the resident’s quality of life. Put succinctly, the megacity jargon applicable to Lagos is least praise-worthy. Lagosians and government officials should be less sycophantic about the appellation of a Lagos megacity, but consider it as a clarion call for a proactive policy approach to planning the future of the giant city.

Let us examine the backlash arising from a faulty democratic approach to lawmaking.


Land Use Charge Law debacle

Ab initio, the process leading to the passing of the Land Use Charge (LUC) law by the Lagos House of Assembly was very defective, undemocratic and to say the least it lacks inclusive dialogue with the rainbow coalition of relevant stakeholders such as the Organised Private Sector (OPS), Nigerian Employers Consultative Assembly (NECA), Resident Associations across the megacity and ridiculously without any input from professional body such as the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers.

This fact came to the fore during the stormy dialogue Governor Ambode had with the aforementioned entities. The government took a mis-step. What the LASG should have done initially was what the government eventually did belatedly. At the forum, while raising some cogent issues, a couple of speakers did not mince words about their displeasure concerning the absurdities contained in the law. It begs to repeat the Thomas Jefferson’s axiom that “the more a subject (such as the content of a law) is understood, the more briefly it may be explained.” Additionally, what all agree is probably right, but what no two people agree on is most probably wrong.

No responsible citizenry would oppose to paying their taxes, but when people are taken for granted as if their opinion does not matter, the flurry of condemnation and public angst against the LUC law was justified. Once a law is considered unjust, the citizens are at liberty to disobey it. If not, impunity reigns supreme. Dissent is an acceptable complaint if the citizens feel that what the government is doing to them seems practically and morally wrong. Surely, the Lagos State electorate did not vote for elective despotism. The basis of government should be the opinion of the people willy-nilly.

Political rivalry and consequent effects on Lagos megacity management is another identifiable foible of governance in the state.


War of supremacy between the Federal Government and Lagos State

Back in time, the unnecessary political rivalry between the Federal Government and LASG led to a lost opportunity, which could have engendered better management of the Lagos Megacity Region. I crave the indulgence of readers to digress a little purposely to give a narrative of what transpired some years ago during the tenure of former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola (2007-2015). In our clime, most politicians and government officials seem to be short-sighted without due consideration to the adverse effects of their political decision(s) while in office and how posterity would judge them after they vacate the office. More often than not, they leave a myriad of problems for the incoming administration to contend with.


Botched Lagos Megacity Development Authority(LMDA)

During the second tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 under a People’s Democratic Party-controlled federal government, the idea of the Re-development of the Lagos Megacity Region was agreed upon between the then Governors of Lagos and Ogun States, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and Gbenga Daniel respectively. To that effect, a 21-member Committee was set up in 2005 under the Chairmanship of Professor Akin L. Mabogunje, a world-renowned pundit on development matters, consultant to the World Bank and 2017 Nobel Laureate prize for Geography, the Prim Vautrin-Lud.

The Committee was to identify areas of common concerns within the Lagos Metropolitan area which extends northwards beyond the boundaries of Lagos into some towns(Ado-Odo/Ota, Ifo, Obafemi, Owode, and Sagamu) in Ogun State. Such issues of concern triggered by rapid urbanisation include security, sprawl, land use planning, waste management, transportation, water supply, urban renewal, and provision of infrastructure. The Committee was to proffer solutions to the identified problems, recommend the appropriate institutional and legal framework on how the two states and the Federal Government can collaborate to manage the effects of growth in the Lagos Megacity Region, propose management and organisational framework including funding arrangement.

By the time President Olusegun Obasanjo left office in April 2007, the Federal Government considered and approved the Committee’s recommendation to set up Lagos Megacity Development Authority (LMDA) legalise by an Act of the National Assembly, to manage the entire megacity region under the chairmanship of Professor Mabogunje. In readiness to take off, the office of the LMDA was located at Oyikan Abayomi Drive in Ikoyi area of the megacity. It started skeletal operation when Babatunde Raji Fashola was the Governor of Lagos State. Regrettably, the LMDA was short-lived due to the war of supremacy over which governmental entity Federal Government or Lagos State should head the Authority.

The issue of how to fund the office was also contentious. The LASG vehemently opposed tripartite funding arrangement but preferred a lump sum grant from the Federal Government to single-handedly operate the office. The then Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, a professional urban planner, was the enfant terrible with myopic vision and bias,  who adamantly insisted that the Federal Government should hand over the entire LMDA office to the Lagos State government to manage. Strangely enough, he was not overruled by his then principal for trying to scuttle a brilliant idea which the government and people of Lagos State would have been the ultimate beneficiaries in the long term.

In the course of muscle-flexing and political grandstanding between the Federal Government and Lagos State, an Act of the National Assembly to legally formalise LMDA was stalemated. All operations at the Authority were grounded, the professional officers seconded from Lagos and Ogun States were recalled and the office was abruptly closed down. Thus, Lagos State lost the oppourtunity to have a purpose-specific Authority capable of addressing the daunting urban problems plaguing the entire megacity region.

Megacities all over the world, by their sheer physical size, high population, and complex planning challenges, are managed by Metropolitan Council or Metropolitan Authority made of elected officials from most or the entire jurisdiction in a Metropolitan area. Such classic examples are New York-New Jersey Metropolitan Planning Authority, Greater Tokyo Metro Government, Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority, Greater London Planning Authority to mention a few. Similar Authority is being canvassed for Lagos Megacity administration, planning, and management. The office should be autonomous and complemented with very dynamic multi-disciplinary professionals and a generous budget for programme/project implementation.

The Governor’s office should concentrate on governance and policy matters and stop dabbling into project execution. Issues of megacity planning are better left for those with the acumen and competence to do the work. If Governor Ambode administration has any vision for Lagos State, the opinion of experts should be sought, civic engagement must be part of the process of consultation before the vision comes to fruition.

We want to also counsel that, rather than government engaging in grand public pronouncements about how to make Lagos megacity an Eldorado with everything in the superlative degree, the government must pay attention to what the denizens do, what they want or prefer and those things they can easily achieve. Cities are about people and to survive as sustainable settlements, they need to focus on helping residents to achieve material and spiritual rewards. Lagos megacity can thrive better as a “city for all” when it attracts newcomers hoping to find better conditions for themselves and their families and when the megacity provides a better quality of life for those already living there.

Governor Ambode must try to maintain his sobriquet as an AKOREDE (he who brings fortune) and avoid being sucked into the vortex of public controversy due to the passage of a law or policy low on benevolence and high on malevolence.

By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner; Planning Advocate, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos)

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