By Osebumere Odia
It is pretty obvious now, that there is a deliberate massive infrastructure renewal drive across Lagos. What may not be so obvious are the deeper implications of this drive, which we will try to highlight with a few examples. But more importantly, we will shed some light on the imperative of government becoming more efficient in generating the resources to fund these projects.
For many years, Oshodi was best characterized by traffic jams, crime and disorder. Today, Oshodi is undergoing an overhaul on a huge scale. It is being turned into a modern transportation hub, defined not only by connectivity but also by convenience. In due course, Lagosians needing to be transported to any part of Lagos may simply converge at Oshodi. Because it is a transportation hub, it is innately a commercial melting pot. In addition to the intelligent network of road exchanges that are being constructed with Oshodi as the locus, therefore, high rise structures are also springing up. By the time the developers take their leave, Oshodi would have been linked directly to the Lagos International Airport through the International Airport road, a road which is undergoing its own massive transformation into a 10-lane expressway. The bedlam of old would have been transformed into a modern transport interchange, not unlike Victoria Station in London.
There will be shopping malls, cafés, cinema halls, and lots of other commercial outlets and conveniences in Oshodi.
Creating order on the Oshodi axis will by enhancing commuting efficiency in Lagos enhance the efficiency of economic transactions, making the economy far more productive. In addition, social and commercial activities in Oshodi will create livelihoods for many people including some who may have otherwise been disposed to crime. The overall economic multiplier will be considerable.
If you live in the Ogba-Agege axis, chances are that you spend an average of six to seven hours in traffic everyday especially if you work on the Lagos Island. The reason is simple. Population growth on that axis has long exploded way beyond what the infrastructure in that neighborhood can cope with. As the population has surged so has the number of motor vehicles and physical structures in that axis. The Agege-Ogba axis is a nightmare to traverse on a typical workday.
Today, a process to redress that problem is ongoing. As was done recently on the Ajah axis and the Abule-Egba axis, respectively, both of which shared similar problems, a flyover is undergoing frenetic construction on the Agege axis of Lagos. When concluded, it will considerably enhance the commuting experience in that axis, and mitigate the congestion challenges.
Besides roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure, another area where the state is aggressively working to make a difference is power. The state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode has vowed that round-the-clock electricity availability would be achieved in the state over the next 12 months, via what the state calls the embedded power project. Essentially, it would be distributing independently produced power to residents and businesses within the state.
When this eventually happens, Lagos would have fully unlocked the value and potential in the unbundling of NEPA/PHCN. We can only imagine by how much, regular and predictable power will impact the businesses of artisans and small enterprises including hair/beauty salons, business centers, bakeries, hospitals, supermarkets and dozens more.
Elsewhere, Lagos is investing in security. There have been huge investments in street lighting and security-bolstering equipment, facilities and manpower. A Lagos Security Trust Fund has also seen the corporate world contributing funds and equipment towards synergizing government efforts. A “neighborhood watch” initiative, which is a community policing strategy, was inaugurated not long ago.
The above and more are some of the elements that have long helped to set Lagos apart from its contemporaries as a state that is truly working. These achievements are largely attributable to skillful generation of revenue internally.
The recent infographic report by BudgIT the civil society watchdog regarding the capacity of states to meet recurrent expenditure obligations on the basis of their internally generated revenue is instructive. Of Nigeria’s 36 states, Lagos was at the head of only 4 states which generate enough revenue internally to fund their recurrent expenditure obligations.
Lagos, however, needs to better manage and communicate its IGR regime for better outcomes into the future.
Only last December, for instance, Mudashiru Obasa, Speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly lamented that only 300,000 properties of the more than two million taxable properties in Lagos, actually pay Land Use Charge in the state. Land Use Charge is a property tax that if well consolidated across the state, ought to empower the government to become more impactful at restoring infrastructure. Poor taxation efficiency has meant that despite the famed IGR success over the years, only a small fraction of taxable adults and businesses in Lagos actually shoulder the entire tax burden of the state.
In contending with the challenge of better efficiency in its taxation regime, Lagos must embrace more creativity. It must strive to be more systematic and painstaking in its enumeration of taxable citizens, businesses and properties. In so doing, it needs to avidly deploy technology. Modern GPS systems can assist with property identification and enumeration for instance. Instructively, recent news reports indicate that Lagos will now employ software in ensuring that sales taxes deducted from patrons of hotels and entertainment outlets are promptly remitted to government. Its sundry ministries departments and agencies need to join forces to ensure that constant enumeration of people, businesses and institutions produces reliable harmonized data not only for taxation but also for full scale development planning.
Government also needs to more aggressively communicate its successes to enable citizens better appreciate the connection between these successes and the taxes which they are required to pay. In so doing, government has a duty to engage citizens who are irked by the fact that while they pay their taxes and levies promptly, on the micro level, development does not appear to get to them as rapidly as it ought to. There are many especially in the more remote parts of Lagos who lament that despite paying their taxes, they are still required to pay such levies as “transformer levies” for new transformers or repair of damaged transformers in their neighborhoods. Others complain that they are still required to pay levies before their earth roads are graded, while others still complain about lack or scarcity of social services in their neighborhoods including health centers, and even police posts.
Lagos needs to revive the use of conspicuous outdoor hoardings beside road construction works, which proclaim that “tax payers’ money” is “in action”. Citizens must be increasingly prodded to see the impact of their taxes, if not directly on the streets in which they live, then at least in the major access roads that connect their neighborhoods and other aspects of life in the state that impact them directly and indirectly.
Government should also show citizens pictorial visualizations of completed projects. Doing so could considerably assuage not only the inconvenience associated with the ongoing construction, it will significantly whittle away at the resistance people may have to paying taxes.
Paradoxically, despite its efforts at infrastructure renewal, Lagos clearly still has a huge unmet need in these areas. Huge investments are still required in such areas as roads, bridges, schools, healthcare, public transportation, security and many more.
Hopefully, with an increasingly adroit taxation regime, government will speedily redress these areas where it has under-invested over the years, in so doing, serving as a beacon and inspiration to other states in the Federation.
Odia, an economist and technopreneur, writes from Lagos