Nigeria 2023: Can Tinubu replicate Lagos success at the national level?

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Friday, 4 November 2022 15:02, updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2022 12:32
The Victoria Island waterfront is seen from the Ikoyi neighbourhood in Lagos
The Victoria Island waterfront is seen from the Ikoyi neighbourhood in Lagos June 3, 2014. REUTERS/Joe Penney

The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, boasts of revolutionising the economy of Lagos state when he was governor between 1999 and 2007 and bequeathing a blueprint to his successors which has led to economic transformation. Now he says he can replicate the feat in a country facing insecurity, balance of trade deficit and high debt. How feasible is Tinubu’s plan? 

Tinubu’s campaign strategy has been constant since he openly declared his intention to contest the presidency last January. He paints a bleak picture of the Lagos State he inherited in 1999, describing it as an uncivilised city, a jungle, and boasts about transforming it into a modern city. 

In a documentary released by his campaign, he claims there were heaps of refuse all over the state, that public schools had no roofs, that hospitals had no oxygen and that the entire state had only one ambulance. He then says he revolutionised the state and its finances and promises to replicate the feat across Nigeria. 

 “When I became governor of Lagos State, the state was nothing to write home about, but as of today, Lagos is a megacity. When I became governor of the state, Lagos was generating internally N600m ($27.4m at the time) monthly, but as of today, Lagos is proudly generating N50bn ($119m) monthly. These are all the things I put in place to make Lagos great,” he says.

At a recent town hall meeting where he hosted Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and several bank chiefs and oil moguls, Tinubu again spoke of his lofty achievements in Lagos and told the organised private sector that the job of leading Lagos and the task of leading Nigeria were very much similar. 

He noted that the private sector played a huge role in the development of Lagos and ensuring that his master plan was a success. The Lagos godfather now seeks this same partnership to make his plans for Nigeria a success. 

Tinubu’s Lagos 

Exploiting the strategic advantages of the state, Tinubu – as governor between 1999 and 2007 – entered into partnerships with the state’s vibrant private sector to solve many of its challenges.  

Tinubu also revolutionised tax collection in the state by ensuring a stricter enforcement of existing tax laws and creating new taxes. The Land Use Charge was introduced, meaning that property owners paid a percentage of the value of their property every year to the state. 

Whenever they say Tinubu developed Lagos, they go to the highbrow areas of Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki which were built by the private sector.

A traffic management authority and an environmental task force were created to enforce new laws passed by the state. Heavy fines were slammed on errant drivers and this also helped to increase revenue for the state. 

Scores of regulatory agencies were created, many of which were empowered to impose fines and generate revenue for the state. For instance, with the boom in the ICT sector in the early 2000s, the state created the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA) with powers to issue permits for use of right of way to all telecommunication operators and monitor the erection of towers, masts or the laying of cables within the state. 

Tinubu also boosted private sector investment by creating a trade free zone on the outskirts of Lagos and provided tax incentives to businesses like Dangote to construct a refinery and fertiliser plant while a seaport was also constructed within the axis.  

To develop infrastructure, Lagos State entered into concessions with the private sector by reconstructing roads like the Lekki-Epe Expressway, which was built by the Lekki Concession Company while the firm was given the powers to collect tolls. 

Tinubu’s administration entered into a controversial deal with a consulting firm, Alpha Beta Consulting, which was given with the task of generating revenue on behalf of the government for a fee reaching as high as 10%.  

Strategic advantage 

Nevertheless, critics argue that the strategic advantage of Lagos made Tinubu’s so-called achievements easy. 

For over 70 years, Lagos was the capital of Nigeria and enjoyed federal preference. Many of the legacy projects in the state – including all the bridges linking the mainland to the island – were built by either the British colonial masters or the Federal Government. 

Go to the suburbs, you will see underdevelopment and poverty

Commercially, it has the advantage of being home to the Apapa Port, the busiest and most lucrative seaport in the country. It is also home to the nation’s busiest airport, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport; and the Stock Exchange. Historically, too, the state had always been Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre and serves as the headquarters of all commercial banks and major oil companies. 

Lagos is Nigeria’s entertainment nerve centre and has been so for some 50 years when the state played host to the Festival for Arts and Culture (FESTAC). American music legend, James Brown, performed in Lagos in 1970 while Sir Paul McCartney, recorded his fifth post-Beatles album, Band on the Run, in an EMI studio in Lagos in August and September 1973. Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, established his infamous Kalakuta Republic and Africa Shrine in the state 

These attractions have made Lagos the ‘big apple’ for thousands of Nigerians who migrate daily to the state in search of greener pastures. Essentially, Lagos is akin to a combination of California (the US entertainment capital) and New York (US the financial capital). 

Slum city vs shiny city

However, the state’s gift was also a curse. After the Federal Government relocated the nation’s capital to Abuja, it did not provide a special fund for Lagos to cope with some of the dilapidating infrastructure it inherited. The state has the largest population in the country with over 20 million citizens, but is the smallest geographically. 

Decades of military rule and lack of purposeful leadership meant that the state had been unable to maximise its potential. This contributed to the high crime rate, heavy traffic congestion and a housing deficit.  

Although the finances of Lagos have unarguably improved tremendously under Tinubu’s direct and indirect leadership, the same cannot be said for the quality of life of the people.  

The state has been consistently ranked as the worst city in the world to live in after Damascus, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit. It is the worst African city to live in, worse even than Tripoli. A World Bank report also says two out of every three residents of Lagos live in slums. 

The government has been accused of only focusing on the business districts while the suburbs remain in shambles. Inner roads have become impassable in several districts while thugs loyal to the government are allowed to extort money from transporters. 

During the rainy season, the state witnesses massive flooding especially on the island due to clogged drainages and its geography.


“Lagos is one of the most dysfunctional cities in the world. Lagos sits at the bottom of every rating that measures the liveability of cities worldwide. During the rainy season especially, their shoddy infrastructure collapses on their faces and their cluelessness is revealed,” Abimbola Adelakun, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, tells The Africa Report

Can Tinubu pull off a Lagos ‘miracle’ nationally?

With Lagos as his model, Tinubu promises to amend the country’s laws to ensure that electricity power generation is decentralised and the constitution is amended to ensure that states have a larger control of their resources. 

Even so, can Tinubu pull off the ‘Lagos miracle’ on a national scale?

Lagos is not like the larger Nigerian society, but the principles of revenue generation can be replicated nationwide.

Currently, only about four states in the country are economically viable. Most of the federal tax take come from Lagos, Abuja and the oil-rich Rivers State. 

About 32 states rely on the Federal Government for survival while their citizens depend on civil service jobs. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics says 24 out of the 36 states did not attract any Foreign Direct Investment in 2021. Even so, the insecurity ravaging many northern states has continued to scare off investors. 

Tinubu’s protégés who have served as governors in other states have also not been able to replicate the ‘miracle of Lagos’. 

Daniel Bwala, a spokesman for Atiku Abubakar’s campaign, tells The Africa Report that Tinubu’s achievements in Lagos are grossly exaggerated given the fact that Lagos has always had a strategic advantage as the country’s commercial capital. 

“Whenever they say Tinubu developed Lagos, they go to the highbrow areas of Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki which were built by the private sector. Lagos is more than these areas. Go to the suburbs, you will see underdevelopment and poverty,” he says. 

However, Dele Alake, a spokesman for Tinubu’s campaign, pushes back. He tells The Africa Report that his principal would be able to do across Nigeria far more than he did in Lagos. 

Lagos is not like the larger Nigerian society, but the principles of revenue generation can be replicated nationwide.

Might a Tinubu presidency have at least the merit of improving Nigeria’s dire tax-to-GDP ratio?

“The tax-to-GDP ratio in Nigeria decreased by 0.3 percentage points from 6.3% in 2018 to 6.0% in 2019. In comparison, the average* for the 30 African countries increased by 0.3 percentage points over the same period, and was 16.6% in 2019”, says a recent joint AU/OECD report.

Speaking with The Africa Report, economist, Muda Yusuf, believes that while most states may not have the strategic advantage of Lagos, similar principles of revenue generation could be applied.  

“Lagos is not like the larger Nigerian society, but the principles of revenue generation can be replicated nationwide. One is the use of technology in tax administration. Before Tinubu’s administration in Lagos there was a lot of manual collection of revenue but he made it digital,” says Yusuf, who is the CEO of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise. 

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