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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Yacoob Abiodun: Concern for urban basic services in Lagos megacity

 “We must provide for all who make Lagos their home.” – Akinwunmi Ambode, former Governor of Lagos State at the 1st Lagos State Infrastructure Round Table, October 2017.

Lagos
A view of Lagos showing part of the central business district on the backdrop of the Lagos lagoon. Photo credit: Nyancho NwaNri/Reuters

The immediate past year 2022 could not be regarded as an “annus mirabilis” in terms of the provisions of urban basic services and sundry urban management in the Lagos megacity. From public comments during informal discussions and postings on social media to newspapers clippings, most residents of the megacity are full of indignation, lamentation, and frustration about the quality of urban basic services rendered by the municipal government and how the services adversely impacted the residents’ Quality of Life (QOL).

The statutory urban basic services consist of all those services which the city government provides collectively on behalf of the residents viz: the supply of potable water, and electricity, the provision of public parks, road infrastructure, and regular maintenance of the road network, waste disposal, health care, education, safety, security, public transport, traffic management, policing services and environmental management (pollution control/abatement). Each of these is subject to its management under a purpose-specific Ministry, Agency, Authority, and Parastatal. And where applicable, some services can be contracted to a tested private sector entity that provides the service.

The Lagos State Government has a plethora of governmental institutions in charge of the provision of the aforementioned services except for policing services, which are under the purview of the Federal Government. Space constraints cannot permit us to start enumerating each one of them. But the nagging question is: How diligently and satisfactorily have the designated institutions performed their functions? A few reports and public commentaries are reproduced here. On water supply: “Lagos is a city surrounded by water, yet there is none to drink,” (Akinbode Olufemi, Environmental Right Action/Friends of the Earth). “Over 80% of Lagosians lack access to public water.” (Report.. Lagos Water Politics). On urban management: “What have we gained in the universal basics of housing, health, nourishment, education, and urban infrastructure?… The failure of Lagos to live up to its potential should be a thing of shame for the city administrators, not occasions for vain mythification.” (Abimbola Adelakun, The Punch, January 13, 2022, back page.) On waste management: “Lagos is a city hooked on filth and garbage, held down with traffic and darkness.” (Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, Nigerian Tribune, November 1, 2022) On traffic congestion: “Commuters lose 75% of their working hours to Lagos traffic…Road rage resulting from traffic has become a significant social problem in the city.” (Adaobi Egbunike, Global Voices, August 8, 2022). On electricity supply: “The want for reliable electricity supply, is a distinguishing feature of life in this city… where millions of Lagosians are energy poor. This affects the city substantially, and not just economically.” (Gary Lai, City Monitor, September 6, 2022.) On bad roads: “Every day, Lagosians groan under dilapidated roads littered with crater-sized potholes and gullies…In Lagos, not only are the roads bad, but they are also annoying and frustrating.” (Davidson Iriekpen, This Day, January 2, 2023).

An attempt is being made in this piece to elaborate on a few essential urban services that the LASG should improve on their provision (above the current level of performance) to the mass population living in the megacity. The services are chosen because they are germane to city liveability enhancement.

Epileptic Water Supply

Water is crucial to wholesome hygiene and essential to human survival, hence the popular slogan “water is life.” Despite this truism, the supply of drinking water on a sustainable basis to the teeming population in Lagos megacity has been an uphill task and sometimes an embarrassment for the Lagos State Government.

The Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC) which is responsible for potable water supply to homes in the megacity has been underperforming since it was formally launched in 1986. A Report on the “Lagos water crisis: Alternative roadmap for the water sector,” published in 2016 revealed as follows: “The two major water treatment plants in Lagos, Iju and Adiyan, produce 70 percent of water for Lagos, but both are in disrepair, and neither is functioning at the highest capacity. Less than 10 percent of households have connections and fewer than 30 percent of the people have access to community standpipes.” (Environmental Right Actions/ Friends of the Earth, 2016). There is presently a huge deficit between the daily demand and supply of water by the Corporation. The Corporation supplies 210.5 million gallons per as against a demand of 750 million gallons per day leaving a deficit gap of over 500 million gallons per day.

The LSWC’s legendary underperformance is attributed to so many causes, chief among which are dilapidated equipment for water production, inadequate budgetary allocation, an unmotivated workforce, a cavalier attitude toward routine maintenance and expansion of the water system to accommodate additional demand for water consumption due to exponential increase in the population of the megacity among other foibles of the water crisis.

Scrutiny of the Alexander Pumping Station on Alexander Road, Ikoyi, which supplies water to Parkview Estate and the adjoining environs revealed a bevy of dilapidated and overused equipment yearning for either regular maintenance or replacement with brand-new ones for optimum production and supply of potable water to the coverage areas. For example, the overhead water reservoir tank needs rehabilitation to stop leakages- a case of putting water in a basket. A couple of the clear water pumps are overused. They both need replacement with their control panels. Ditto transfer pumps – another vital piece of equipment used in the water production process.

The Alexander pumping station would also require additional boreholes to augment the two currently being used as sources of untreated water before purification to drinking water. It was also discovered that the Dosing chemical pumps need replacement while all filters require a recharge. For a constant energy supply, the standby generator must be serviced regularly.

The Ikoyi Water pumping station is no different. The station is in a state of extensive disrepair, which is the cause of its frequent breakdown and epileptic water supply. The station cannot possibly sustain water supply to its service area uninterrupted for one month. The pumping station operates intermittently. It is a tale of woes at other mini-water stations across the megacity region.

If the LSWC should pay attention to the picayune details about the regular maintenance of water production equipment and overhaul of the obsolete equipment at the two main water pumping stations in Ikoyi, the water supply to the Parkview-Ikoyi axis will be regular. It will be a win-win situation for both the residents and the LSWC. The former will readily pay for the water consumed, while revenue for the Corporation will steadily increase substantially. The LSWC is sitting on a goldmine but refuses to exploit the golden oppourtunity at its disposal.

Therefore, we call on the LASG not to be lethargic about the supply of drinking water to all nooks and crannies of the megacity. Water is essential for healthy living. The absence of water for drinking and sanitation portends the risk of preventable diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera. As the late Benjamin Franklin, United States President, (1785-1788) rightly said… “You never know the worth of water until the taps run dry. Life is impossible without water.”

The availability of potable water supply is one of the indices used in the annual ranking of liveable cities globally. Lagos megacity is yet to attain a fair ranking befitting its megacity status in the annual global survey for the past five consecutive years (2017-2022). This is worrisome and should be a concern for the municipal government. The World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank, and UNICEF have declared that “Universal access to safe drinking water requires increased investment backed by strong governmental institutions.” The LASG cannot ignore the wise counsel of the trio of world-acclaimed institutions.

The LASG cannot afford to show a passing interest in the provision of water as an essential public service. It must be decisive on the option to take regarding the lingering water crisis in Lagos. An uninterrupted water supply is a necessity, not a nice- to-have. The government should not seat on the fence and ruminate on whether to privatise the water supply or not. The government has been previously advised not to take that route. It is NOT a “best practise.” The privatisation of Nigeria’s electricity supply sector is a study of the monumental failure of a similar option taken by the Federal Government.

Traffic congestion and management

Lagos megacity has its fair of vehicular traffic congestion, which makes life hellish for both motorists and pedestrians. A journey of 30 minutes could take three hours on the road depending on your travel period and destination. The peak hours 7 am-11 am and 4 pm-7 pm are to be avoided. During this period, you experience a traffic logjam or “go slow” in the local lingo. On a bad day, it is not unusual in Lagos for traffic to start earlier than 7 a.m. till past midnight. This writer recently found himself in such a bad situation along the Lagos-Epe Expressway where street robbers openly harass motorists at dusk.

The traffic congestion in Lagos can be tamed and reduced to the barest minimum if the LASG has the political will to tackle the menace head-on. The strategies for traffic management and control vary from an attitudinal change among motorists, intensive enlightenment campaign, rigid enforcement of subsisting traffic regulations, and massive maintenance of city road network many of which are currently pothole ridden, retraining of LASTMA officials to the prompt repairs of the city traffic lights. My experience with the latter is that most traffic lights on Lagos Island “have parked up” (not functioning). Incidentally, many are strategically located and easily noticeable, yet they are not attended to by the government agency in charge of traffic light maintenance. Such utter neglect is inexplicable and unacceptable. This is a classic case of dereliction of duty and whoever is in charge of the responsibility ought to be held accountable.

The bad behaviour of Danfo and other commercial vehicle drivers on Lagos roads must be curtailed because these groups of road users drive dangerously behind the wheel and are inconsiderate of other drivers. Daily on Carter Bridge, they create a bedlam situation by driving against oncoming vehicles while the police or LASTMA officials stand akimbo. They are above reproach because of the indulgence of most traffic control officials who have been compromised. In a city where law and order prevail, the lawlessness of these errant drivers should be sternly rebuked with appropriate sanction. All motorists must obey the law, not act above the law. The protection of other law-abiding motorists from the recklessness of errant drivers is a municipal service the LASG cannot shy away from.

Environmental pollution and city cleanliness

Environmental pollution and city cleanliness remain major problems for the municipal administration due to the large population living in the megacity. The volume of solid waste generated daily by such a large number of residents is better imagined.  It is once a butt of a local joke that “the most available commodity in Lagos megacity is garbage.” Truly so, garbage is ubiquitous. Garbage litter is everywhere and occasionally left uncollected for days because of poor arrangement and inadequate capacity for effective collection and disposal. The current landfills serving the megacity are full to the brim and the government is contemplating additional landfills to forestall an epidemic.

The Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) is responsible for waste collection and disposal in Lagos. Despite the valiant effort to improve its management of waste in the megacity, its impact is hardly felt. The Authority is overwhelmed and should embrace the recycling option to reduce the volume of solid waste destined for landfills.

City cleanliness is a product of human habit, not rocket science. If truly “eko o ni b’aje, it logically follows that “igbega Eko ti di ajumose.” It is “collective responsibility” to first ensure city cleanliness before taking the city to greater heights. The megacity takes pride in being, the fifth-largest economy in Africa, but lags miles behind the puny Kigali, the capital of Rwanda crowned “the cleanest city in Africa.” The LASG has a lot of work to do to instill discipline in the habits of Lagos residents, most especially among the poor and uneducated. The government must facilitate wherewithal to promote the practice of wholesome hygiene habits. This calls for the rapid provision of public toilet facilities in markets and motor parks where such facilities are lacking.

It is not uncommon to see people urinating or defecating on street verges or into the drains and even the surrounding water body. Such unsanitary habits can be eradicated if the government provides toilet facilities city-wide for public use. A first-time visitor to the megacity once quipped…”Lagos is a metropolis that stinks like a giant garbage dump.” This brings back the clarion call of the need for the availability of water in the megacity to promote hygiene. Without water, the practise of wholesome sanitation will be a daunting task. Again, water provision is a priority urban basic service on the to-do list of most city governments. The LASG must be decisive and do the needful.

Tpl. Yacoob Abiodun, a Planning Advocate, writes from Parkview Estate, Ikoyi Lagos

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