Author : Laurent Fouchard
Affiliated Institution : International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Type of Publication : Article
Publication Date: January 2011
Planning and partisan politics in Lagos
Lagos throughout the twentieth century has effectively been the seat of two rival powers. On the one hand, it was the seat of the colonial and Federal government (1914–91), which was either dominated by a coalition of Eastern and Northern political parties during civilian regimes (1954–60, 1960–66, 1979–83) or by a northern clique during military regimes (1966–79, 1983–99). On the other hand, the dominant party in the Western Region, the Action Group [AG] under its leader Obafemi Awolowo (1909–87), which has for most of the time remained in opposition to the Federal government, controlled the Lagos Town Council during the late colonial period and the First Republic (1954–66).
One of its members, the ‘Awoist’ Lateef Jakande was elected governor of Lagos State during the Second Republic under a new political banner, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN, 1979–83), while another ‘Awoist’, Bola Tinubu, was twice elected governor of Lagos State in the Fourth Republic (1999–2007) as leader of a political party Alliance for Democracy (AD), which is an offshoot of the AG and UPN. Babatunde Fashola, the last Lagos governor elected in 2007, belongs to the same political family and was elected under the banner of the Action Congress (AC), an offshoot of the AD.
There is a thus a historical antagonism between Lagos-based politicians and the federal government and this has been particularly obvious in the dispute over the allocation of public resources by the federal government. Among the various contentious issues, two had direct consequences on the planning of Lagos: the fight over the location of the capital and over the status of Lagos, and the permanent opposition between the Region (and Lagos State) and the federal government concerning the main planning operations of the metropolis.
From federal capital to a state capital
The location of the capital became a hotly debated issue in the early 1950s, within the framework of the negotiation of independence between the Colonial Office and nationalist parties. Intense debates were then preparing the future of the Nigerian constitution and the federal character of the state in which large internal power was given to three new powerful regions (the Northern, Eastern and Western Regions) (Adebayo, 1987). The British administration, Northern and Eastern parties wanted Lagos to be the capital of Nigeria, but dissociated from the Western Region.
The Colonial Office eventually decided to keep Lagos as the capital directly administrated by the Federal government, a decision perceived by Obafemi Awolowo as fiscal and economic suicide for the Western Region.
The reason was mainly financial: the port and the growing industrialization of Lagos provided large resources for the state. To abandon Lagos to the Western Region included the risk of reinforcing the financial power of its dominant political party, the Action Group. The Action Group wanted to keep Lagos within the Western Region for the opposite reason and suggested building a new capital in a central and neutral place.
The Colonial Office eventually decided to keep Lagos as the capital directly administrated by the Federal government, a decision perceived by Obafemi Awolowo as fiscal and economic suicide for the Western Region. More than ten years later, the creation of Lagos State (1967) was also the result of political opposition between the Federal government and the Western Region.
The politics of census and local government in Lagos State
In January 2007, the Federal government released the breakdown by state of the new 2006 federal census figures: Lagos State, with 9 million inhabitants, is the second most populated state in Nigeria behind Kano state (in the North) with 9.38 million inhabitants. The federal census was soon contested by the Lagos State government which organized its own census and found 17 million inhabitants, a figure considered as invalid and unconstitutional by the federal government. Censuses have always been a highly sensitive political affair because they partly determine the amount of federal fund allocation to the states.
There is a thus a historical antagonism between Lagos-based politicians and the federal government and this has been particularly obvious in the dispute over the allocation of public resources by the federal government
Previous national censuses have been grossly manipulated by the government and rejected by political leaders from the south mainly because the southern regions or states were declared to be less densely populated than the northern regions. Today, the Lagos State figure is in a way supported by the United Nations population projection which states that Lagos will reach 25 million inhabitants in 2015 (Nations Unies, 1999: 15). But one of the core arguments of Lagos politicians is to indicate that Lagos State could not be less populous than Kano state.
These two opposite figures have obvious consequences in terms of federal allocations, of political representation in the House of Representatives and the Senate, in the planning of Lagos and in the ongoing confrontation over the number of local governments in Lagos State.
The decline of the urban infrastructure of Lagos is less the result of the weakness of the Nigerian state than of a combination of three interrelated political issues. Firstly, the obsession of the first set of independent leaders with projecting a modern image for Lagos, which was limited to a few projects. Secondly, the financial neglect of the capital by the Federal government since the 1970s. Thirdly, the historical opposition between the Federal government and Lagos State leaders concerning the allocation of resources to the Lagos State and local governments.
The resources of the city, instead of being invested for the improvement of infrastructure, have been used for the building of political networks between state officials and a number of ‘civil society’ leaders. In my view, this process and the reinforcement of taxation are less a manifestation of informality and state decline than they are parts of the historical state formation in Nigeria and in Lagos in particular.
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