In my opinion, only a handful of state governments since 1999 have shown vision and innovation on the level of the Fashola-led one in Lagos. Its many shortcomings aside, it has, in ways small (ambitious street-signage and street-lighting projects) and big (the BRT, Marina CBD, Independent Power Plant and Housing Scheme projects, the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge, and the ongoing light rail) proved itself to be a worthy model for the rest of the country. Recall that it was as a Peoples Democratic Party state governor that Rabiu Kwankwaso visited in 2011, barely two weeks after being sworn in, to tap into Babatunde Fashola’s urban development vision.

But there is still plenty of work to be done. There are swathes of the city that have remained untouched by development; think of Ajegunle, described in a recent newspaper report as “rural”. There are also the generally dismal conditions of public schools and hospitals across the state, and the burdens of a tax regime that could do with some reining-in and much simplifying.

Transport is another critical challenge. Lagos is possibly the only city of its population and economic significance in the world that has yet to implement a modern citywide railway system. (There’s a legacy line that runs north across the city, from Iddo to Ijoko in Ogun State, but it is sorely lacking in comfort and capacity). New bridges are long overdue in this crowded city. London’s Thames River and Paris’ Seine are each crossed by more than 30 bridges. Lagos, with more people than either city, and a larger body of water (a fifth of the land mass is covered by water, compared to less than five per cent of Greater London) has a grand total of three bridges crossing the lagoon. That lagoon also has plenty of room for a boat transport system, much bigger than what currently exists.

Then, there is the disturbing absence of transparency around much of the state’s financial affairs — there is an ongoing debate regarding the applicability of the Freedom of Information Act in Lagos State; from newspaper reports, the state government has argued that it is a federal law that is not binding on the state. Judicial and constitutional games aside, what justification exists for the flagship state of the party wielding the banner of “Change” to deny citizens the legal backing to oblige the government to be open and transparent in all its decision-making and financial procedures. (This is where the PDP comes in: Lagos would be a good starting point for recreating the party as a credible opposition party).

Also very important is – and this is for me a personal obsession — the attitude of the megacity to what I call, paraphrasing Oxford academic Paul Collier, Lagos’ “bottom millions”. (I wrote about this in this column in July 2013, in a piece titled, “Fashola, his Lagos, and the ‘bottom millions’”). The Fashola administration adopted “Eko O Ni Baje” – loosely translating as “Lagos Will Not Fall Into Ruins” – as its guiding slogan, symbolising its corrective and preventive approach to the governance of Africa’s most populous city. The Akinwunmi Ambode government ought to continue that work, but should put as much effort into making social and economic inclusiveness a priority.

We need to find a way to balance the shiny-glass-tower vision of Dubai and Singapore with the emerging lessons in inclusiveness from a place like Brazil. On a visit to Rio de Janeiro last year, I was told that occupying a plot in one of Rio’s favelas (slums) for a minimum of five years entitles residents to a government document granting them a long lease – usually 99 years — on the land. Holders of this document can only be evicted “for compelling reasons”, one activist told me, and this has to be followed by “fair compensation”, which would include new housing. Luiz Claudio Vera, an official in Rio’s land agency told the Business Insider magazine last year: “Bringing families into the formal city is a great benefit for Rio. You integrate the community into the city, you put thousands of homes on the formal market, you take residents out of the shadows, give them an address. This property starts to exist for legal and credit purposes.”

Lagos State under Governor Fashola appears to have favoured demolitions over integration. Ijora Badia is one of the prime manifestations of this vision: as many as 10,000 residents displaced in January 2013 when bulldozers and security agents rolled in. In its place, the government plans a thousand apartments, which it says the displaced residents will be able to bid for under the state’s new mortgage scheme — a dubious promise at best.

While there is an argument to be made for cleaning Lagos up, we also need to balance this megacity ambition with moral considerations; a recasting of the concept of the EIA as an “Ethical Impact Assessment.” We cannot afford to build a state in which the rights that people have to life and to economic opportunity are proportional to the amount of money they currently possess; pushing the poor to the city’s edges should never be seen as a feasible development solution for any city. And no, “crime” is hardly an excuse for erasing slum settlements, considering that there is probably more high-stakes drugs and money crime going on in the luxury high-rises of Ikoyi and Banana Island than in Badia or Makoko.

I hope that Governor-elect Ambode will take the issue of land-titling and property rights seriously. Instead of attempting to seize Makoko from its inhabitants and turning it into an array of luxury waterfront villas, what the government should be focusing on doing is making life more meaningful to its current residents. Let the rich who seek new playgrounds continue to bid for the overpriced waterfront spaces in Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi. In the northeastern Brazilian town of Recife, on a stretch of land known as Brasilia Teimosa, right next to the Atlantic Ocean (think of the real estate equivalent of Bar Beach in Lagos, now replaced by Eko Atlantic City), former President Lula da Silva led a regeneration programme that built new homes to replace the slum’s shacks, built community parks, and a new sea wall, fixed roads, and installed new streetlights (stainless steel that would not be corroded by sea salt). He succeeded in giving dignity to the poor inhabitants of an area long contested by powerful political and economic interests.

Also, as residents of the area have become more prosperous, they have by themselves improved the quality of their housing: aluminum sheets replacing tin roofs, ceramic tiling replacing house facades and flooring. In Lagos, we would evict them all, demolish the shacks and then recreate the area as a gated estate, affordable to only the city’s richest residents. The displaced persons would become urban refugees, forced to relocate to other slums, or to the city’s margins. That’s no way to run a city.

This would be the time to remind Governor-elect Ambode of one of his campaign theme songs, (“Gbogbo Wa La Leko”- Lagos Belongs To All), and of the sense of inclusion he’s promised to promote in Lagos. While the arguments about indigeneship and migration rage on (who’s a true Lagosian? Do I, whose grandmother has lived here for 77 years, whose father was born here, and who has myself lived here for 10 years, qualify, or not?), what should not be up for debate is that all residents deserve a megacity that gives them a voice, dignity and the freedom to aspire to make a better life out of current circumstances — regardless of tongue, ethnic group, gender, religion, or social class.

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