Published On: Sun, Mar 25th, 2018

LUC and the power of citizens’ engagement

After the sustained campaigns against the Lagos state’s new Land Use Charge (LUC) by different interest groups, the State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode eventually succumbed to pressure, announcing a review of the charges payable by all property owners across the state. Specifically, the state government reduced the commercial charge by 50 per cent; properties occupied by owners and third parties in the same premises used for manufacturing purposes, and properties used for industrial and manufacturing purposes by 25 per cent; and owner-occupier properties by 15 per cent.

The state government equally introduced an instalmental payment plan for property owners across all categories, and completely waived penalties for late payments of the LUC, thereby providing additional relief to property owners.

The Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Akinyemi Ashade reeled out the concessions on the Land Use Charge Law at a news conference in Alausa, saying the exercise was received with mixed feelings by various interest groups who expressed serious concerns. Almost the entire executive council was present at the briefing. Ashade noted that the state government reviewed the LUC payable by all property owners across the state in its desire “to build world-class infrastructure and improve the well-being of its citizens”.

He added that the state government made the concession in line with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s tradition of inclusive governance and civic engagement, noting that the government was committed to the welfare of its citizens and understands the importance of continuous engagement with the populace.

“The rates and reliefs include 40 per cent general relief, 10 per cent for 70 years and above, 10 per cent for properties owned by persons living with disability, and 10 per cent for properties that are 25 years old, and so on and so forth.

Shunned of all the facing saving and tongue in cheek double speak by the officials of the state government one thing is clear: The state government simply bowed to the pressure mounted by interest groups against the obnoxious increase in property rates. Championed by the organized private sector led the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, followed by the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, which threatened legal action and mass protest respectively, government capitulation was inevitable.

Coming in an election year, it was most insensitive and bad politics for the government to contemplate such policy. And the outraged it generated within a short period of time following its introduction signaled sufficient warning to the government that the honeymoon was over. For a state that has been so thoroughly dominated and silenced by a one man rule, such strong and sustained opposition was apparently unexpected.

As a newspaper, the lesson from this development is obvious and quite instructive: No government can survive resolute citizens’ action and political engagement. Because in the final analysis, the ultimate power to appoint and dismiss political leaders still resides with the people and any government that ignores this fundamental fact does so at its own political peril.

Another lesson is that good governance is not given but demanded. Forever, Nigerians have expected their leaders to provide them good and quality governance and dividends of democracy to no avail simply because they have abandoned their civic responsibility of holding their leaders accountable. This is demonstrated in the government bungling of the refuse collection and disposal mess which has left the state in a heap of rubbish. Without putting pressure on the government as displayed in the LUC matter, there may not be any relief.

We agree with the governor that the government needs to raise more money to implement its development and infrastructure project which are laudable. Ambode had disclosed that N13.2 billion was generated as LUC in 2017, as part of N284 billion raked in as taxes and targets internally generated revenue (IGR) of N897bllion to cover the N1trillion 2018 budget.

But as they say Rome was not built in a day and the huge public infrastructure deficit facing the government cannot be possibly addressed by one administration. It is simply work in progress. After all the projects are meant for the people who must be alive to enjoy them.

Again the governor argued that the hike was necessitated by the delay in reviewing the rates in the past five years. This is beggarly and reflects a lack of rigour in policy formulation in government. Payment of the charges could have been graduated over a period of time with sufficient notice to the public and flexible plans as currently instituted without taking anything away from the policy. But the people do not matter to this government and being made to eat the humble pie is the consequence.

However, we commend the maturity and responsive leadership provided by Gov. Ambode in the LUC saga and recommend it to the national government. The mark of good leadership is not in the awesome power at its disposal but in responding to the will and wishes of the people.

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