Written by Ola Balogun Wednesday, 03 November 2010 00:44
No doubt, Fashola government in Lagos state means different things to different people. To the elite, who wishes to drive his car without hindrance through a well flowered road, a road that is devoid of poor children hawking the streets, with beggars completely packed off the visible arena of passage; to him, Fashola is a hero. To a poor woman who had lived all her life selling in one corner of the road, a condition force down her throat by immense poverty, with her children hawking all over Lagos at the risk of being arrested by the police. These children suppose to be in school, but public education has completely collapsed. When she is ill she has to go to native doctor because public health is dead; a small apartment she stays will either soon be pulled down or is already demolished in the interest of Mega city project; to her, Lagos has never been so hellish as it is now. Of the estimated 18 million Lagosians, 11.55 million (64.2%) are living below poverty level, under genuine democracy who really own Lagos?
Overview of Mega Project
The major goal of the present administration is to turn Lagos into one of the most modern mega cities of the 21st century. Light rail is said to be under development, in the form of Lagos Rail Mass Transit. The proposed light railways is expected to consist of blue-line districts on the outskirts and inner red-line destinations. The Badagry Expressway, linking Lagos to Benin Republic, is also being rehabilitated by various contractors.
Since Lagos is always under threat of flooding, the construction of a new seawall, which was completed in 2008. It contains the powerful ocean surge wall that protects the city from flooding.
A proposed Eko Atlantic City is a housing project that is aimed at accommodating the main Lagos elites, screening them away completely from poor Lagosians. This is in addition to traffic light being fixed, streetlight and flower being planted. All is to transform Lagos from Mega slum to Mega city; but the question is; where can you hide 11.55 Million poor Lagosians? Drowned in the sea? Shoot at sight? Or completely relocated to other towns? Only time can tell.
At what cost?
The major beneficiaries of this white elephant project are contractors, friends and family of the Government in power and the elites who are delighted by the flower planted all around. About 1.5 Billion Naira was spent just to demolish Bank of Industry building. Part of Funsho Williams’s road (Western Avenue), about 2 km road was awarded for N7.7 billion. To demolish popular Oshodi, the sum of N1.5 billion was spent. Just for Christmas decoration, over ₦600 million is said to be spent in 2 years.
Consequent upon this spending spree, Lagos is now the biggest debtor of all the states in Nigeria. Lagos is presently groaning under the biggest debt in the history of the state. Specifically, there have been two large debt trenches taken by Governors Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola. The first 5-year bond was for ₦50 billion and was taken in 2008. The most recent bond issue was another ₦50 billion, completed in April 2010. This effectively makes Lagos one of the most indebted states in the country, with combined bond issues of ₦100 billion. The plan for Lagos calls for another ₦175 billion to be borrowed, to finance all the various projects proposed for the city. Lagos state government has to pay bondholders ₦2.3 billion every month, given that the interest rates on these bond issues is about 13%. Half of that will be paid for the next 5 years, while the other half has three years to go. ₦26 billion a year is a large amount.
Fashola administration proposed a budget of ₦429 billion for 2010, but it expects a total of ₦307 billion in the fiscal year. Of the total budget value, it is expected that ₦204 billion will be raked in through internally generated revenue (IGR); N78 billion from the Federal Allocation; dedicated revenue estimated at ₦20 billion while the extra-ordinary revenue stands at ₦5 billion. This leaves a budget shortfall of close to ₦123 billion for the fiscal year. During his presentation, Fashola did not explain how this difference would be made up.
This state of things worries even a section of ruling elites in Lagos and this explains the basis of the sharp division that is going on within their ranks. A section of ruling elites want Fashola to suspend the idea of Mega project and concentrate on distributing the remaining money among themselves so as to cut spending drastically, but Fashola and his own group recognize that their political future rests wholly on the success of Mega project no matter the cost, at least it will strengthen the support of upper middle class and some bourgeoisies for him. This division has been very difficult for them to manage and is already pouring onto the street. However, Fashola himself knows quite well that this level of debt is unsustainable and absolutely unjustified. If there must be a cut in the spending, he reasoned, it is not contractors who handle mega project who will bear the burden; it must be Lagos workers and poor.
Who is bearing the burden?
Despite the fact that this mega city project is 100% in the interest of the elites and it means enormous pain for the overwhelming majority of Lagosians; this Government is still placing huge financial burden on workers and the poor.
Lecturers in Lagos State University have been on strike for poor condition of service for 3 months now, their counterpart in other tertiary institutions in Lagos are also presently on strike. The medical doctors working in Lagos state hospitals are off duty, for the same reason raised by their colleagues in higher institutions. Primary and Secondary school teachers are already mobilizing for a show down. Lagos civil servants are one of the worst paid in Nigeria, all to ensure contractors and political colleagues are kept happy.
It is just a matter of time before these isolated strikes and grumbling become a mass street protest. The real Lagosians are very angry and very desperate to better their lots. They have endured for too long and are already running out of patience. Though they are not yet aware how powerful they are in overthrowing this despotic and extreme minority Government of Fashola, events will clarify it to them in the coming period; they will soon be aware that Lagos belongs not to the elites, but to over 15 million ordinary people of Lagos.
Workers Alternative to Mega Project
Lagos is obviously presently a slum and must be developed into a city. Lagos requires mass rail system, good roads, lighting, good qualitative education and health facilities and most importantly, a happy, civilized and enlighted people living within it. To fix Lagos, less than 1% of the amount presently expended is enough. Do away with political jobbers, the thieving contractors, patronizing family friends and profit first motivation. With mass public works, living wages for the workers, active incentive for the teachers and the doctors, a real Mega city will be built, a mega city that contains decent affordable accommodation for ordinary Lagosians, where poor children are not on the street because they are in the school with qualitative free public education, where a major improvement in the environment is not accompanied with pain and woe for ordinary Lagosians. That is, a Lagos of the real Lagosians, in the interest of Lagosians and for the Lagosians.
Does it require the Wisdom of Solomon for Fashola Government to realize and pursue the alternative highlighted above? Why has it been so difficult for them to sympathize with the plight of common people of Lagos? When will they be tired of making life difficult for ordinary masses? Well, it is only us the ordinary Lagosians who are seeing this as wickedness and unjust, they are not and cannot see it as such. We always see things from different point of views and therefore can never come to the same conclusion. Under capitalism, which he operates, interest of the rich must always be preserved at the expense of the ordinary people. Interest rate must be paid for loans, even if every worker dies of hunger. Therefore, it is only our government that can see things the way we see it and can do things the way we want it. The most important pre-requisite to have our own government is to have our own political party, party of ordinary Nigerians. They have their own parties, many of them. The leadership of Labour centres formed one (Labour Party), but they refused to mobilize into it, nature abhors vacuum, if we refuse to enter the party, wrong and enemy of the people will manage it for us. It is our party and we must control it in the interest of the people and for the people.