By the year 2050, Nigeria will have a population of 410 million people, the UN has projected. We will become the third largest country in the world, after India and China. We are currently seventh. Let’s pause for a minute. Imagine the number of hospital bed spaces, the gallons of water, the megawatts of electricity and the millions of new jobs we would need by 2050. Imagine the number of graduates we would be churning out. As things stand now — with an estimated population of 190 million — we are struggling to get enough doctors to attend to patients, get rid of the refuse on our streets and combat unemployment. So how would things be in 2030, 2040 and 2050?
Lagos state, where I have been living since 1989, presents a very interesting (I wouldn’t say alarming) scenario. With a population projected to hit 32.6 million by 2050, Lagos will become the world’s sixth largest city in the next 30 years, according to the Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto. All states are equal but some are “more equal” than the others. Lagos is a special case. It has the largest voting population in the country, serves as the nation’s financial capital, hosts the biggest factories and generates the biggest revenue in real economic activities (not to be confused with oil extraction). Its economy is rated as Africa’s fifth largest if it were to be a country.
Being big comes not just with the bragging right but also a range of big challenges. As a megacity, Lagos also faces mega challenges: housing, sanitation and water, transportation, healthcare and security. As of today, we are already suffering debilitating traffic congestion, water shortages, refuse pile-up, homelessness, “no bed space” at public hospitals and varying degrees of security challenges. What would the state look like when the population hits 32.6 million by the year 2050? How many Lagosians would be jobless? How many people would be sharing a room? How many patients would be rejected by hospitals? What can we do today for the sake of tomorrow?
Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), recently unfurled some intriguing statistics and insights which I will be discussing shortly. The increasing population of Lagos, he said, puts enormous pressure on the infrastructure and it is a matter of urgency to continue to invest in expanding it. He said, for instance, that 93% of passengers and goods are moved by roads, with about one million vehicles hitting the road daily. My thought: if we are witnessing traffic gridlock today, with a population of roughly 20 million, what does the future hold when that figure nearly doubles? Will there still be an inch of space on our roads?
I am a bit amazed that the state has not made significant progress in its rail project. We were all excited when the project started nearly a decade ago but here we are, still hoping. I would also think that for a state practically sitting on water, ferry services are still extremely marginal to public transportation. We cannot begin to talk about decongesting the roads if the alternatives remain largely undeveloped. The alternatives, Sanwo-Olu said, need “massive investment” to take the weight off our roads. I agree 100%; I would even say that a multi-modal transport system is a must if we are to survive the years ahead. This must be central to the Lagos transportation agenda.
Let’s talk about potable water. I currently live in an estate that would be classified as middle-class. However, we do not have public water supply. I have been living there for over 17 years. We have always had to rely on borehole. In fact, public water pipeline is not on my street. The last we heard was that the Lagos state government was preparing to start taxing us for “mining” water. This is extortion taken too far. Why would I invest hundreds of thousands of naira in sinking a borehole if the state were living up to its responsibilities in the first place? Even for health and safety reasons, it’s the government that should be supplying us with potable water.
But while I can afford to sink a borehole and provide myself with water, what about the millions of Lagos who are not that fortunate? In his presentation, Sanwo-Olu highlighted the fact that only about 33% of the 540 million gallons of daily water needs of the state can be met by the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC). That leaves us with a daily deficit of over 330 million gallons. “By 2025 the state will need 780 million gallons daily to meet the potable water requirement of the population,” he said. In summary, we are still far behind in meeting our current needs much less ready to face the future. This, again, must be priority on the agenda.
On electricity, Sanwo-Olu noted that Lagos currently needs 15,000 megawatts of electricity to effectively power its economy, but it hardly gets 1,000mw from the national grid. This is the situation in 2019. If we fast-forward to 2030, 2040 and 2050, what would we be needing and what would we be getting? This may look like a frivolous question, but if we had planned for 2000, 2010 and 2020 ages ago and faithfully implemented those plans, we would not be here today discussing and lamenting over power shortage. But while we cannot undo yesterday, we can design a new future today to avoid living a life of lament tomorrow.
Sanwo-Olu gave credit to the “transformative leaders” (namely Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Mr. Babatunde Fashola and Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode) for the progress the state has made since 1999 and spoke on his vision of “building on this progress” if he is elected. He talked about expanding PPP collaboration to improve access to healthy water supply and electrical power, injecting funds to boost small and medium scale enterprises and building more centres for vocational training. He code-named his policy proposal ‘THEME’: Transportation & Traffic Management, Health & Environment, Education & Technology, Make Lagos a 21st Century Economy and Entertainment & Tourism.
Truly, Lagos is a peculiar state. Being coastal and having served as the nation’s capital for 77 years, it enjoyed political and commercial advantages that have continued to draw people from across the country and even from neighbouring countries. It is one state where genuine businesses thrive without government patronage. In fact, the state government is basically a minority in the economy. Put together, these facts suggest that Lagos does not need to panic about its future, whether it is 2020 or 2050. With the right attention being paid to the basics that will sustain life and business, it wouldn’t matter too much if the population hits 32.6 million as projected.
However, creativity is needed in tacking some of these challenges. Lagos is one of the smallest states by landmass. There is need for smart thinking in terms of policies on transportation, housing and healthcare, among others, in order to accommodate the projected population rise. It is baffling that the Lagos state government does not allow landowners to develop more than two units of housing on a plot of land. I wish I could understand the logic behind it. Here is a state that is severely short of land. I would think that planning policies would encourage high rise buildings and less cumbersome approval processes. That is the way to go.
Meanwhile, people are disappointed when we point to the “strides” being recorded in Lagos state. I hear many people say Lagos has not changed much. I quite understand. Those who lived in Lagos in the Independence era will argue that things have gone backward. Even though I had been spending holidays in Lagos since the mid-1970s, I never became a permanent resident until 1989. And I can say with every certainty that the Lagos of 2019 is vastly improved compared to the Lagos of 1989. I have seen the city transform right before my eyes, especially from the time of Brig-Gen Mohamed Marwa as the military administrator of Lagos state, from 1996 to 1999.
In 1989, refuse heaps used to be part of the landscape. Today, the system of refuse collection has definitely improved (I agree that the heaps have returned in recent times but I would take that as a blip). We used to see decomposing human remains on the road. Not anymore. We used to employ wrestling and kung fu to be able to board commercial buses called ‘molue’. Today, I see people orderly queue up to board BRT buses and I envy them. In fact, these buses are air-conditioned these days. There are now functioning ambulances and emergency centres. It is easier to say nothing has changed when you don’t know where we are coming from.
There is no doubt that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu started the current regeneration of Lagos in 1999, and subsequent governors have continued to build on the foundation. Sanwo-Olu definitely wants to be a new chain in the link. However, with all the money that Lagos is making, things can be better than this. Speeding up the development of the state is a task that must be taken as “extremely urgent” by whoever wins the 2019 governorship election. It would look as if 2025 or 2050 is very far away. But if we are still lagging behind in meeting today’s needs of a megacity, we would need to double up if we are to have a functional state in the years ahead.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
It’s been three months since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on an indefinite strike over their perennial dispute with the federal government. We don’t seem to realise it, but three months can disrupt the life journey of a human being. This is one of the reasons wealthy and struggling Nigerians started sending their children to schools abroad, Ghana inclusive, notably after ASUU’s year-long strike in 1996. It is not that ASUU doesn’t have genuine complaints, but I wish there were other ways of resolving these disputes without a strike. In the end, it is the students — the real reason universities exist in the first place — that always bear the brunt. Depressing.
One of the major defects of the 1999 constitution is the creation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), supposedly meant to guarantee the independence of the judiciary. But how can the chief justice have the power to nominate 60% of NJC members? Who performs oversight on the CJN himself? The NJC he clearly dominates would be unable to discipline him without a resort to illegal means, as we are now seeing in the Justice Walter Onnoghen case. In the 1979 constitution, the Federal Judicial Service Commission (which still exists) was saddled with the functions of recommending and disciplining federal judges. And it was not under the CJN’s control. Better.
A lot of people were very critical of Ms Kadaria Ahmed for subjecting the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi, to “hostile interrogation” during The Candidates town hall meeting on Wednesday. Many said she was comparatively lenient with President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. But I have a different opinion. I believe Atiku and Obi handled the grilling very well. I don’t know if any other interviewer would be as “hostile” on them as Kadaria was on the night. They should be glad that they had the opportunity to answer those harsh questions and were still able to hold their own. Perspectives.
History repeats itself, isn’t it? In 2015, former President Olusegun Obasanjo backed the APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, and savaged the PDP flag bearer; US, EU and UK put pressure on Jonathan to play by the rules, so much so he accused US President Barrack Obama of interfering in the elections; and somebody asked a court to disqualify Jonathan because he was going for a “third term”. We’re now in 2019. Obasanjo is backing the PDP candidate and savaging President Buhari; US, EU and UK are putting pressure on Buhari to play by the rules, so much so Buhari is accusing them of interference; and somebody is in court to stop Buhari. Drama.