By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
When the seat of power was moved out of Lagos to the Federal Capital Territory ((FCT) Abuja on December 12, 1991 by the then military ruler, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida the prognosis for the then nation’s capital was quite gloomy. Many development experts predicted it would soon end up a shadow of itself.
The doomsayers could be pardoned. The handwritings were clearly on the walls. Lagos has been stripped of all semblance of life: economic, social and political.
By the end of the exercise (relocation), virtually all government ministries, agencies, parastatals and businesses were moved out to Abuja, leaving the state bare and to cope with unviable ‘Legacy Projects’ that would soon turn derelict for lack of care and attention from the centre.
Soon after, the crack began to show as predicted. Public infrastructures, such as roads, waste management facilities, schools, housing projects, water installations and many others began to fail due to the huge pressure on them.
To be fair to them, subsequent military governors of the state from 1991, Navy Captain Mike Akhigbe, Brig.-Gen. Raji Rasaki, Col. Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Buba Marwa, could not have performed magic with the monthly hand outs they got from Abuja in the form of ‘revenue allocation’.
The state soon became a ‘failed state’ with many of its cities becoming almost inhabitable. So, it was not surprising when it came up on the list of one of the worst cities to live in the world. However, the tide soon turned. A state once tagged a ‘failed state’ soon began the arduous journey to economic prosperity. And today is one of the best economies in Africa.
It all began on May 29, 1999, with the coming to power of a former accountant with oil giant, Mobil, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, followed by three ambitious administrations that have harnessed the private sector to turn the ‘Centre of Excellence’ into the most productive part of the nation’s economy.
At the assumption of office in 1999, Tinubu, though aware of his administration’s duty to put in place appropriate policies and programmes to address the myriads of challenges, quickly acknowledged the role of the private sector in the rebuilding project.
He revolutionized the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative in Lagos. And today, the initiative has become a tool through which the growing needs of citizens of state are met.
One of the ways he achieved this was through the Lagos Economic Summit, popularly known as Ehingbeti. Starting in 2000 as an annual event, the Ehingbeti Summit later evolved into a biannual conference.
According to the state government, the Ehingbeti Economic Summit was created as a platform where members of the private and public sectors in Lagos meet for discussions that drive socio-economic and infrastructure development in the state.
Ehingbeti, it added, also aims to generate and implement ideas and innovations that will drive economic growth and development in the state.
And to a very large extent, Ehingbeti has not disappointed its visioners. The recommendations from the summit have helped the state government to redirect focus to areas of concerns to the citizens, investors, and businesses with positive results achieved.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Sam Egube, while speaking on the sidelines of the conference, said the last four successive administrations have implemented 193 out of 206 resolutions from Ehingbeti since its inception twenty years ago.
“The fact that we are expanding activities on our waterways speaks to what Ehingbeti has been able to do. The Lagos Homes Ownership Scheme (LagosHOMS) also came out of Ehingbeti”, Egube said.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of the summit was the recommendation that gave birth to the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ), a free zone which covers a total area of about 155 square kilometres.
The free zone has evolved into a new modern city within a city with the integration of industries, commerce and business, real estate development, warehousing and logistics, tourism, and entertainment. It is currently building its own airport and seaport.
With the following facilities in place and the offering of mouth watering tax incentives to Africa’s richest man and President of Dangote Group, Ahlaji Aliko Dangote, the businessman was persuaded to move his refinery project, the Dangote Refinery and Petrochemical, from the Olokola Free Trade Zone situated between Ondo and Ogun States to the Lekki Free Zone.
Today, the 650bpd refinery project which had gulped over $18bn is nearing completion. It is expected to catapult the state into economic prosperity when it starts production.
Many other economic breakthroughs have been recorded through the summit. According to the state commissioner for economic planning and budget, they included several independent power projects scattered across the state.
Also, it was through Ehingbeti that the state government initiated LPG cooking initiatives to persuade Lagosians to choose clean energy as the preferred cooking fuel, while a lot of solar initiatives are now in place in schools, workplaces and in many parts of the communities.
Other achievements include the Lekki-Ajah Expressway, the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge and the Eko Atlantic City, Agege-Pen Cinema Flyover, Abule,-Egba Flyover, among many others.
However, owing to some factors, the summit could not hold for several years. The last edition was in 2014, over six years ago. But in its drive to revive the summit and reset the economy of the state, badly battered by the last two economic recession, as well as the Covid19 pandemic, the state government, from Tuesday, February 15, to 27, held the 2021 edition of the conference, with the theme: “For a greater Lagos: Setting the Tone for the Next Decade”.
Held at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, it attracted array of speakers from across the globe, who deliberated on the inherent opportunities in Africa’s 5th largest economy as well as offered perspectives on how to manage the peculiar socio-economic landscape of the state in the coming decade.
The three-day summit had six plenary, 20 discussion sessions driven by 14.6 speakers and panelists, and was attended by over 10,000 participants.
The speakers included the founder/chair of Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Mo Ibrahim; former Minister of Finance and newly appointed DG of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; President, African Development Bank (ADB), Akinwunmi Adesina; UN deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed and the UNDP resident representative in Nigeria, Mohammed Yahaya.
They dissected various sub-themes during the summit, such as: 4th Industrial Revolution: The Imperatives and Prospects for Digital Economy; Destination Lagos: Becoming the World’s Best Investment Destination; “Eko to the World: Shaping the Future of Trade and Economic Independence; Lagos, the Industrial Hub; “Made in Lagos: Shaping the Future of the Media, Entertainment, Culture and Tourism; Security, Law and Order, among others.
Speaking on the theme Building the Wealth and Prosperity of Lagos for a Better Future, AfDB President, Adesina, believed the increasing youth population in Lagos must not be seen as a problem, but rather as an asset that should be harnessed for growth.
The AfDB boss said it was time for the state government to create a youth based economy that specifically targets skilled young population. He commended the Lagos’ Digital Skill Empowerment for the youth, and the rollout of broadband Internet infrastructure across the state.
“The future of Lagos must be knowledge based and the state government must sustain its investment in education to produce knowledgeable, skilled young people for the jobs of the future,” the AFDB president said.
Also speaking, the newly appointed WTO Director General, Okonjo-Iweala, made a case for the creation of massive industrial hubs to harness the potential of the youth and women in artificial intelligence and digital economy.
Okonjo-Iweala commended the Lagos Government’s action to build digital infrastructure around the city, noting that the fibre optic programme makes the State a new manufacturing hub of digital products that will shape the global economy in the next decade.
In a virtual address, President Muhammadu Buhari pledged that the Federal Government would continue to bring massive investments into Lagos in order to boost the State’s economic potential as one of the world’s fastest growing megacities.
The president said Lagos had demonstrated how understanding between national and sub-national governments could be leveraged for accelerated growth, alluding to concession granted the state government to rebuild the federal highway leading to Murtala International Airport in Ikeja.
“The Federal Government is today completing the Standard Gauge Railway Line that links Lagos to Ibadan in the first instance, and from there connects to Abuja and Kano, and brings ease and efficiency to what is Nigeria’s busiest transportation corridor.
“Just last month, this new Rail Line achieved a milestone extension into the Port Complex in Apapa, setting the stage for a long overdue decongestion in that area.”
At the end of the summit, the state set off ambitious plans for its development over the next decade. They include a running city-wide network of colour-coded Metro Lines that will move over 34.5 million people monthly and cut travel time in the metropolis drastically by 2030.
“Government must continue to provide an enabling environment and support for technology hubs. It should also provide venture capital to budding businesses and SMEs to boost their start-up capacity and sustain them. Government must harness the power of the youths, and put policies and programs in place to unleash their potential.
“Policies must be robust and treat the youths as assets – and concerted youth-focused capacity building in digital literacy, STEM, the arts, entertainment, sports and other sub-sectors must be created by the government in partnership with the private sector.
“Government must improve the education system through a thorough overhaul of the curriculum to provide an education that meets 21st-century realities thereby reducing youth unemployment. It must also venture into projecting its brand, and taking advantage of the coming large united African market since it plays a critical role in the industrialisation of Nigeria, and indeed the success of Africa.
“Given the importance of ease of doing business, the government should reinvent its processes and operations to improve transparency and accountability, and secure the trust and confidence of stakeholders sustainably,” among others.
While declaring the event closed, the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, expressed the determination of his administration to ensure that the 11 resolutions reached are achieved. The conversation must not end here; the dreams and aspirations for the Greater Lagos that we seek and deserve must be kept alive in perpetuity.
“We must take the learning and conclusions from this summit, and use them to forge a plan of action and implementation that will ensure that the future we are envisioning for Lagos State comes to fruition.
“We have learnt, from the emergence and spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, that we can never be too prepared. This time last year, Lagos had not yet seen its index case of the Coronavirus. A year ago, nobody anticipated what the next 12 months might look like.
“Indeed, so much has changed in the past year, humbling our confidence in the ability to predict and forecast what the future holds. The big lesson is that we must deepen our scenario planning capabilities, as national and sub-national governments, and as corporations and business entities.
“We must plan for every eventuality, including the next pandemic, which will eventually happen, at some point in the near or distant future.
“Since the year 2000, under the vision and direction of former Governor Bola Tinubu, the Ehingbeti Summit has been a cherished platform for the conversations we should be having about where we want the city to be headed, and how to fast-track that journey.
“The narrative of progress and development in Lagos State over the last two decades would be incomplete without acknowledging the catalyzing role of the Ehingbeti Summit. We must now begin to plan for the next, even as we take action on the resolutions of this one.
“I call on the private sector to be aggressive in seeking out opportunities to partner with and support the government because government alone cannot make it happen; we cannot singlehandedly finance or execute all the ambitions that lie ahead.
“Ehingbeti speaks to what governments, the private sector and civil society can come together to accomplish through deliberate bilateral and multilateral partnerships. Tthe young people of Lagos, we will create the right and enabling environment for you to establish, grow and thrive.”
Sanwo-Olu also disclosed that the race to digitise every community in Lagos had begun with the ongoing laying of 6,000-kilometre fibre optic infrastructure across the city, stressing that the Smart City agenda of the Government would fully materialise by 2030 when the entire landscape of Lagos would have been covered by a network of several thousands of kilometres of fibre optic carrying broadband internet into all homes, offices and schools.