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Lagos needs more transport and less talk

Eromo Egbejule
By Eromo Egbejule
West Africa Editor of The Africa Report

Posted on Friday, 16 August 2019 16:30

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu takes the oath of office during a swearing-in ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Lagosians want city officials to focus on delivering services, rather than tax farming their residents.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has submitted the names of a second batch of cabinet nominees for state assembly approval, five months after winning the governorship elections.

One nominee in particular stands out: Joe Igbokwe.

The caustic spokesman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos and former General Manager of Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance And Regulatory Agency, is no stranger to controversy.

He recently called out anyone criticising President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for nonperformance as liars.

But this week, Igbokwe raised concerns after he said ride-hailing companies in Lagos jeopardised the state’s Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) – a mass transit solution initiated under former governor Babatunde Fashola.

  • In a recent Facebook post, Igbokwe questioned investments by bike-hailing startups like Safeboda, Gokada, O-Ride and Max, which have found their niche helping Lagosians navigate the city’s notorious traffic jams.
  • “Instead of partnering with govt on BRT, you invested “5.3 million dollars” in okada business and expect that Lagos state will allow you jeopardise its multi-billion naira mass transit investments,” Igbokwe’s post read.
  • Last month, reports surfaced that Lagos state was considering implementing an annual license fee of N25 million (about $70,000) per 1,000 bikes on bike-hailing companies. A further N30,000 will be paid for each registered bike rider after the 1,000 mark.

If the license fee comes into effect, it will drastically affect the capital base of these startups and likely put them out of business in the long run.

In the past Igbokwe has been accused of propaganda:

  • In July 2018, the Premium Times newspaper published a report about Igbokwe’s penchant for posting misinformation and controversies on his Facebook page, just weeks after information and culture minister Lai Mohammed started a grand campaign to curb “fake news”.
  • He has previously been likened to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist with whom he shares the same first name.

But Igbokwe’s latest statement about the BRT has been interpreted as protectionism and evidence of state officials predilection for rent-seeking.

An unhealthy appetite for rent and revenue

For years Lagos has consistently posted the highest figures for Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) nationwide.

  • A significant part of this comes from the road marshals of the city’s chaotic bus transport system, which continues to dominate Lagos roads despite the introduction of the BRT.
  • The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), a collective with a gargantuan appetite for violence and multiple levies, has extorted billions of naira over the years by “taxing” the iconic yellow danfo buses and other commercial vehicles.
  • The union members are considered the foot soldiers of former governor, eternal political godfather and leader of APC, Bola Tinubu.
  • Acting as tax collectors for the transport system and as perennial gangsters during elections, the NURTW has earned itself a fearsome reputation.

This revenue collection came in handy when Tinubu battled former President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999-2007 when the duo, leaders of the opposition and ruling party respectively, had a protracted battle over the allocation of funds from the federal purse to the state.

Lagos’s independence blossomed, as did its capacity for rent-seeking.

Lagos plans to phase out the yellow buses and introduce 5,000 new air-conditions buses, already commissioning gigantic terminals in different parts of the state. But the state still faces an uphill task displacing NURTW because they remain in Tinubu’s good graces.

Ease of doing business remains a tough matter for Lagos, which if classified as a separate country, would be the seventh-largest economy on the continent.

Bottom line: Rather than solely focusing on buses and motorcycles, the government should focus on improving the state’s infrastructure. Its waterways are barely utilised, the roads are a shadow of themselves and the metro, initiated in 2009, is yet to be completed.

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