Does Lagos Need a Special Status?

Does Lagos Need a Special Status?

By Azuka Onwuka

Senator Oluremi Tinubu
Senator Oluremi Tinubu

In a land where justice and fairness are put above ethnic interest, Lagos would seamlessly be given a special status because of its position as a former capital of Nigeria which hosts millions of Nigerians and continues to attract more Nigerians every day. But Nigeria is a peculiar country where local interest is put before justice and national interest.

Sadly, those who want Lagos to be given a special status to make it get special funds from the federal government and those who kick against it have the same problem: “My interest is more important than yours.”

When Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos State) moved the motion at the Senate on October 5, Senators Gershom Bassey, (PDP, Cross River State) and Philip Aduda (PDP, FCT) asked that the same special status be given to Calabar, erroneously referred to some as the first capital of Nigeria, and Abuja, the current Federal Capital Territory. (Calabar once served as the seat of Government of the Niger Coast Protectorate, Southern Protectorate and Oil River Protectorate. Similarly, neither Lokoja nor Zungeru was ever the capital of Nigeria. They were respectively the capital of the British protectorate of Northern Nigeria.)

Senator Olusola Adeyeye (APC, Osun State) supported Senator Tinubu and added that Abuja the Federal Capital Territory was “a rotten and over-pampered baby.” Senators reacted to that expression by booing Senator Adeyeye and making the Senate rowdy. The Presiding Officer, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, told Adeyeye to withdraw the statement. He did but the damage had been done. When Ekweremadu put it to vote, those against the bill were far more in number. He raised it two more times to be sure, and the Senate responded against the bill and it was thrown out.

Many people from the Southwest who commented on the development on the radio newspaper review programmes or social media platforms when the news broke were clearly angry that “other Nigerians would come to Lagos to enjoy the facilities in Lagos but would not support Lagos to be given a special status.” The argument from them was that if Lagos was given a special status and more funds, the facilities that would be created would not be used by only Lagos indigenes or Yoruba indigenes but by all settlers in it irrespective of their ethnicity or nationality. That is the truth. But it confirms my earlier point that each side to the debate has only been concerned about its interest.

On the other hand, those who opposed it did so by placing their self interest top on the scale too. Their argument was that Lagos already has benefited immensely from its status as the capital of Nigeria from 1914 when Nigeria became a country to December 12, 1991 when General Ibrahim Babangida eventually moved to Abuja (77 years), making it attract the headquarters of multinationals, banks, embassies, etc, whose tax has ensured that the state can survive without any allocation from the federal government. This scenario has ensured that people move away from their respective states and settle in Lagos, building houses and starting businesses, which help to boost the economy and status of Lagos to the detriment of other states.

With all these advantages that Lagos already has, they wonder why Lagos should be asking for more. They see Lagos as the first son in a family of 36 children who already has a private jet and chains of businesses and investments but is still asking for more plots of land from the father, when some of his younger siblings are still struggling to feed.

Another point is obviously the absence of consultations and horse-trading before the bill was presented. Did those behind the bill consult their colleagues? Did they promise to support the bills of their colleagues about their states or zones? Have they supported the bills concerning other states or regions? Legislative business is give and take.

Another point is the stand of Senator Oluremi Tinubu on the leadership of the Senate. She had not hidden her opposition to the Senate leadership of Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu since last year, when they were elected to lead the Senate. On many occasions when Ekweremadu presided over the Senate, Senator Tinubu had stormed out of the Senate, because she believes that a member of the minority party should not be the Deputy Senate President. However, she was a Senator in the last 8th Assembly when Mr Aminu Tambuwal defected to the APC, the minority party then, but still retained his position as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, despite calls that he resign to avoid setting a bad precedent. She never spoke against that. Did she expect those who have loyalty for Ekweremadu and Saraki to show her support on the Lagos bill when she did not show support and respect to their own “men”?

Finally, in a case filled with self interest, there is always a higher interest. The same way Lagos wants a special status because of its human population and position as a melting pot for all Nigerians, so do the people of the Southsouth want a special status as the source of the wealth of the nation that is devastated by oil exploitation. Similarly, the people of the Southeast want a special status as oil producers as well as the only zone with five states and a zone that has suffered years of neglect. In like manner, the Northcentral people want a special status as the zone whose land was taken to build the capital as well as the zone that produces the food of the nation. The Northwest people want a special status as the zone with the highest population (according to the 2006 census). The Northeast people want a special status as the zone that has been devastated by the Boko Haram religious extremism.

Within these zones, different states and cities also want to be accorded a special status for one reason or the other.

Therefore, no state or zone would want the other to get the special status when it has not got its own. All the demand for special status boils down to asking for more funds and attention from the Federal Government.

Rather than pursuing individual and narrow interests that will be difficult to realise, why not fight for a higher interest that will benefit all? The Southwest, led by Lagos State, had been at the forefront of the calls for the restructuring of the federation until last year when the APC won the presidency. Why not woo other Senators and sponsor a bill for the restructuring of the nation?

If that is achieved, no state will demand a special status and cry of marginalisation or injustice again, as it will have more control over its affairs and wellbeing. The tax from Lagos will no longer be shared to other states. Rather Lagos will pay a tax to the Federal Government. A state that bans sale of alcoholic beverages will no longer engage in the chichidodo complex of seeing alcohol as taboo but spending the money derived from taxing alcoholic companies. States will become more creative and hardworking, giving companies incentives to set up plants within their territories and getting protection. Many Nigerians abroad will return home to help build their states as healthy competition among the states will increase. The imaginative and creative skills of Nigerians will burst forth.

Pursuing such a cause will unite the people behind the Senators rather than this cause that creates divisions and quarrels among Senators and other citizens. Lagos is not called the Centre of Excellence for nothing. Her Senators should lead the charge to get Nigeria restructured rather than focusing on getting a special status for Lagos, a move which zones will oppose on the ground that they also need a special status too. If restructuring is achieved, it will be to the applause of Lagos as well as to its advantage in particular and Nigeria in general.

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