What is good for North-East is good for Lagos

On Wednesday October 5, observers of proceedings in the Senate watched as Senator Oluremi Tinubu, the Senator representing Lagos Central Senatorial District, laboured to see through a bill seeking a one percent grant for Lagos from the Federation Account. The bill seeking special status for the Nigeria’s former capital was, however, shut down by the Senate.

When Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the sitting, put the crucial question to determine whether the bill would cross the Second Reading stage, the ‘nays’ had it and the bill, which was equally introduced in the Seventh Senate, was dealt a fatal blow.

In the lead debate presented by Senator Tinubu, the bill is seeking to alleviate the suffering of many Nigerians who have cause to do business in Lagos daily. She submitted: “Many Nigerians travelling to Lagos experience traffic congestion because of pressures on the road. Other problems faced in Lagos include overcrowding, emergence of slums, over stretched healthcare facilities, decrease productivity because of hours lost in traffic, environmental challenges.”

The Senator added: “The bill aims to remedy the remaining problems faced by residents and visitors in Lagos by empowering the Federal Government to make provisions for economic assistance through grants as provided for under section 164 sub-section (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.”

The bill seeks to guarantee the president the enablement to approve an amount not less than one per cent of the share of the revenue accruing to the Federal Government as special grants to Lagos.

A week after Senator Tinubu’s bill was rejected by the Senators on account of paucity of funds at the federal level, the North East Development Commission (NEDC) Bill made its way to the chamber. The Senate had mandated a committee to work on the bill and report its workability in view of the devastation occasioned in the zone due to ravaging insurgency.

The NEDC bill was, however, effortlessly passed into law with support across the geopolitical zones. Last Thursday, a former governor of Kano state, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso proposed further amendments to the bill and got Kano and Plateau states added to the list of NEDC states.

The fate of the two bills provides some avenues for critical introspection about the nature of Nigerian federation and the roadmap going forward. In simple terms, Lagos asked for one per cent of federal funds even while it provides 70 per cent of VAT, it was denied. The North-East asked for funds to build insurgency-ravaged communities, they got three per cent.

There is a great irony in there and the aphorism the reward for hard work is more work appears not to hold. The ironic twist would resonate further if broad statistics on the financial inflows from the two areas are placed on the table.

Senator Tinubu was angry, so were Senators Gbenga Ashafa and Olamilekan Adeola, all of them that fly the flag of Lagos from Central, East and West Districts. But the anger should not be restricted to the trio. It should cut across the geopolitical zones if we must maintain fairness and equity in the polity.

Lagos was the federal capital of Nigeria. It is the commercial capital and it carries the burden of human and vehicular stress more than any other state. The road infrastructure left behind by the Federal Government is dilapidated today. Many of them are in need of urgent repairs. It should not be too much for Lagos to receive a lifting from the Federation and statutorily too.

You will understand the speed with which the Senators from Lagos addressed newsmen in the Senate last Thursday. Senator Gbenga Ashafa, who spoke on behalf of the lawmakers, said the nation must address the plight of Lagos with open minds. He said: “It is Lagos that generates 70 per cent of the nation’s VAT and the one per cent we are demanding is for infrastructural development, so it is in the interest of the entire nation. “If the Senate will approve Kano and Plateau States as part of North East Development Commission because of attacks… why can’t the Senate do the same thing to Lagos?”

He stated that Lagos, as Nigeria’s former Federal Capital, has been under special infrastructure pressure which he said demands special intervention. The lawmaker urged his colleagues to have a rethink on the bill seeking special status for Lagos adding that the bill would be represented soon.

But the issue here is not about the undue rivalry being ignited between the North-East and Lagos. The question is about fairness and equity in our national life.

No one can deny the fact that the North-East and other insurgency ravaged areas need every support the nation and international community can offer. But if Lagos generates as much as 70 per cent of VAT, it should take 13 per cent derivation from that money. The same should happen if Zamfara in the future generates X amount from gold.

Why should we run a country under heavy dosages of unproductive sentiments and apparent disrespect for the feelings of some components of the federation? And why should we ignore the request from a segment of the federation when there are cogent and verifiable reasons in support of the request? By ignoring the request, are we enhancing unity or encouraging loss of faith in nationalism?

There are easy takes that can agitate some minds, though; Lagos is already self-sustaining; Lagos has benefitted from its vantage position as former capital; Lagos is the nation’s economic hub; Lagos generates IGR that dwarfs that of the 35 other states put together and so on. But the Holy book asks us to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Lagos indeed deserves its due.