In my previous article published in EnviroNews Nigeria edition of Sunday, June 26, 2016, I touched on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Lagos State Government (LASG) and Smart City Dubai for the creation of Africa’s first smart city, Smart City Lagos. Some issues of concern were discussed, which included location, state of preparedness by the LASG, pattern of development and Omo onile aspect. I went on to make suggestions on what government can do to avoid delay. I dwelt on style of approach to realising the big dream of a Smart City Lagos by suggesting that officials of Team Smart City Lagos must take stock and found out if the key ingredients that would propel the project to success are readily available locally. This part II of the article is a continuation of the discourse on more salient issues which, for reason of space, were not covered in part I. I consider them very significant and helpful, because all well-meaning residents of Lagos support the initiative of turning the fortunes of Lagos Mega City around for better livability, economic prosperity and sustainable urbanism. Therefore, all hands must be on deck.
A smart city is not “from-the-shelf or ready-made project”. It is not something that could be done in a hurry. It is not a project of immediate result, but an incremental development which will gradually evolve along a time-line Plan of Action, premised on Strategic Planning with specific elements of achievable targets. Smart City Dubai (SCD) Project is a “glove-fit example” of what I am trying to explain here. Based on my research findings, the SCD project was designed to achieve targets in six focus areas: “smart life, smart transportation, smart society, smart economy, smart governance and smart environment.” The umbrella plan where SCD idea emanated from is Dubai Plan 2021, which the SCD project derived its six areas of focus.
I quote the mission statement of Dubai Plan 2021, which perfectly aligns with the six focus areas of SCD project:
- A city of happy, creative and empowered people
- A smart and sustainable city
- An inclusive and cohesive city
- A pivotal hub in the global economy
- The preferred place to live, work and visit
- A pioneering and excellent government (Dubai Plan 2021).
The strategy to achieve all of the above planning goals relies on a tripod principle: efficient communication, integration and co-operation.
It is instructive to note that, as far back as 1990, the Dubai Authority had started laying the foundation of the essential infrastructure and high-yield economic activities that would make her economy very buoyant: tourism, world-class malls, sporting complexes, high end hotels, globally linked telecommunications, clusters of hi-tech industries/ business townships, efficient air and surface transportation, home-grown and high-skilled workforce, good governance and prudent fiscal management aided by a supportive government from with emanated policies and regulations that encouraged friendly business environment. With all of these essentials, a strong foundation for the development of Smart City Dubai became a fait accompli.
The Smart City Lagos is a smart initiative. It is an initiative that would outlive its initiator(s) long after they have left office. What LASG must ensure and entrench is a solid foundation which will guarantee uninterrupted implementation of this laudable project, even when there is a change of administration from one election circle to the other. As the political head of the current administration in Lagos, State, Governor Akinwunmi Amobde is credited for his progressive visions for “Future Lagos” including the Smart City Lagos, the focus of this piece. However, expectations must not be raised too high that all the visions he has for Lagos would be accomplished in one “fell swoop” during his tenure. Government job is always a “work-in-progress”, a continuum. Where an administration ends, is where the next administration will take off. Smart City is an unending process. “Governments will continue to explore, refine and continuously revive ideas until they get it right.” (Infographic).
As pointed out earlier, Smart City is a product of painstaking/strategic planning. It even goes beyond that assertion. This now brings me to the central focus of the part II article.
Steps Team Smart City Lagos should consider taking
- Engage the citizens and other perceived stakeholders to jointly create a Smart City Lagos (SCL) vision. Avoid elitism. Stimulate citizen-led public discussions using different avenue/forum for both the educated and non-educated citizenry as a way of enlisting everybody’s support/collaboration. Use the opportunity of the public engagement to sell the SCL’s ideas and its focus. For example, elaborate on how government would make “Lagos cleaner, safer and more prosperous”, the job creation aspect, and what the citizenry stands to gain from “the project becoming a world’s first carbon neutral city(?).” Whittle down the jargon to a language the masses will easily understand. Avoid use of terminologies, which the educated can’t even decipher, talk less of the majority of illiterate population. Task the Ministry of Information and Culture to do appealing Radio and TV jingles in local dialects including zonal Town Hall meetings to arouse the interest of the populace about the SCL project. Using these communication channels for a largely illiterate population would go a long as an effective outreach approach.
- Set an achievable target: Smart City Lagos can have a couple of objectives such as provision of core urban infrastructure, a decent quality of life for the citizens and sustainable environment, centre for innovations in smart technologies and destination for green tourism. This is a general statement of purpose. Smart cities all over the world set achievable target that would stand them out among their peers. For example, Vancouver, Canada set a clear target to become the greenest city in the world by year 2020; Dubai Plan 2021 aims to make Dubai the smartest city in the world where smart applications are used for every day transactions. A target of five years (2021-2016).
The Lagos experience in terms of pressing urban problem is that of “mobility and chronic traffic congestion.” The situation has defied effective solution over the years despite humongous government financial injection to improve the transport sector. One of the objectives of a smart city is the ease and convenience at which people travel within the city. A Smart City Lagos must aim to set a target within a given timeframe to drastically reduce vehicular congestion on Lagos roads by putting in place efficient public transport by year 2026, a timeframe of 10 years. In terms of smart transportation, Smart City Lagos should strive to be “an advanced city not where the poor move about in cars, but rather a city where the rich use public transportation.”
- Strong Institutional Framework. Without very strong institutions that will drive the dream of Smart City Lagos, it will be very difficult to achieve any result. These institutions vary from governmental institutions, educational institutions to organized private sector. All Lagos State Ministries must be challenged to move with the ICT age. It is shocking to find out by this writer that 25 numbers of Government ministries and 86 Agencies/Parastatals in Lagos do not have online services that citizens can hook on to. The common information on most of their websites are descriptive/administrative information such as vision and mission statements, names of past Commissioners and Permanent Secretaries, Departments, and photo reels. They lack downlandables, statistical information for research, pdf application forms for specific-purpose transactions and sundry IT information the public can easily access. How can these government Ministries provide smart services to the public or smart solutions for functions under their purviews…traffic congestion, motor vehicle licensing, water provision, security, health etc? The point being stressed is that a Smart City cannot be created in a vacuum. Information – a combination of telecommunication network, internet, wireless broadband, and using various sensors to connect them to the internet for communication and exchange of information – is a perquisite to making a city smart.
Smart City Lagos would require a mass pool of government workers knowledgeable in ICT to key in into the vision of the LASG. It is impossible and difficult to perform e-government functions with no staff capacity. This will necessitate wholesale in-service training and turn-around orientation from an analog to digital, smart transactions.
- Establish a Think Tank Technical Team. The appointment of swot Pat Utomi of the prestigious Lagos Business School as the Chairman of Smart City Lagos by Governor Ambode is encouraging. Utomi’s pedigree as an intellectual and someone with penchant for excellent performance, it is guaranteed that he would provide the right leadership for the SCL project. But it transcends beyond that school of thought. A Think-Tank Technical Team (TTTT) comprising intellectuals, galaxy of professionals, IT-solution experts and versatile administrators should be established to work closely with the Pat Utomi-led Group. The TTTT would serve as the “brain” behind the provision of smart ideas and smart/practical solutions to nurture the growth of the SCL. Prof. Utomi with his well-grounded background in political economy together with other members of his team will preoccupy itself with issues of administration and management; and investment matters. The two groups must have an open –door policy and participatory in their style of operation. They should be open to constructive criticism and receptive to external ideas from city residents.
Parting piece of Advice
Smart City Dubai might be the first choice of LASG as a learning laboratory to create a similar smart city in Lagos, because of the latter’s excellent experience in the venture of developing functional and sustainable city. We make bold to say that, as good as Smart City Dubai, the authority in Lagos should spread its tentacles of “city learning” wide and far. Lagos State Government should not put its egg in one basket. There are other global smart cities, which the SCL can learn from. This point is ably demonstrated in a recent presentation about New York’s PlaNYC, where Mayor Bloomberg stated that his team:
“drew on the experiences of Berlin for our renewable energy
and green-roof policies; from Hong Kong, Shanghai and
Delhi for our transit improvements; from Copenhagen
for our pedestrian and cycling upgrades;
from Bogota for our plans for Bus Rapid Transit;
and from Los Angeles and Chicago for our plan to plant one million trees.”
(United Cities and Local Governments, 2010: 1)
I consider the above statement as the height humility from a former Mayor of a city globally acclaimed as the World’s Capital. The handlers of the Smart City Lagos can use it as a lodestar for their important assignment.
By Yacoob Abiodun (Former Secretary, National Housing Policy Council; Urban Planner; Planning Advocate)