By Ladipo Adamolekun
I was one of the resource persons at the Lagos-Kano Summit held in Epe, Lagos State on February 28th and March 1st. I would like to share with readers my five takeaways from the Summit: (1) Leadership by example, (2) Challenge of weak institutions, (3) Challenge of security, (4) Internally generated revenue and the taxpayer, and (5) Possibilities of state partnerships.
The leadership by example demonstrated by Governors Ambode and Ganduje at the Summit deserves to be acknowledged and commended. They attended all the plenary sessions and each attended one of the several simultaneous parallel breakout sessions during the two-day Summit. Unsurprisingly, their deputies followed in their footsteps. If both leaders maintain this leadership style during the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) they signed at the end of the Summit, there would be concrete beneficial results for both states, including opportunities for eventual reappraisals during a follow-up Summit. Of course, the assumption is that the two Governors would win a second term in their respective states.
During the opening plenary session on governance, an emphasis on the centrality of strong institutions in assuring good governance was accompanied by an acknowledgment of the country’s weak governance institutions: weak public services, weak and corrupt judiciary, weak and corrupt legislatures, and weak political parties. Expectedly, a question was posed on how best to tackle the challenge of weak institutions in the country with particular reference to civil service institutions. In addition to Botswana and Singapore that were cited as examples of countries with strong, efficient and incorruptible civil service institutions, participants were told that there are also good lessons to learn from the strong, efficient and incorruptible regional civil services in Eastern, Northern and Western Nigeria during the pre-military era.
The sharp focus of the plenary session on security was on the specific problem of assuring security in mega cities (Lagos and Kano). During the discussions on the various dimensions of the problem, two good practices in Lagos were highlighted: (i) the rebranding of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) of the Nigeria Police Force and (ii) the Security Trust Fund (STF). Regarding the RRS, Governor Ambode has rebranded it through provision of adequate equipment (vehicles, gadgets and helicopters) and a resource person who doubles as an insider cited concrete examples of its interventions that were both rapid and effective. The STF is a public-private partnership. Although Lagos State Government contributes about 70 percent of the Fund (and the balance is provided by the private sector) the Board is chaired by a private sector chieftain. In addition to funding the RRS, the government draws on the STF to provide equipment, logistical support and other incentives for the Nigeria Police Force contingents deployed to the State. It is partly because of the conducive business environment that these security measures have made possible that the government feels confident to consolidate the status of Lagos State economy as the fifth largest in Africa.
Best practices in enhancing internally generated revenue (IGR) were discussed extensively with illustrations from Lagos State’s success story: it generates the highest IGR in the country annually and is the least dependent on the Federation Account among the thirty-six states. The recent improvements in Kano State that is one of the top ten states in respect of IGR were also highlighted. But my takeaway from the session was the focus on an important balance to the emphasis on achieving continuous increase in IGR through a discussion of the taxpayer’s perspective: the need for governments to always pay attention to providing concrete answers to citizens’ question about why they pay taxes. In the late 2000s, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) posed the question succinctly as follows: “We do not see the justification for the quantum of taxes that we paid because it does not reflect on our living conditions or the development of the state. We are still providing for ourselves those amenities that the government ought to provide for the citizenry such as light, roads, hospitals, schools, and so on. So, why then are we paying taxes?” (Vanguard, March 17th 2008). In other words, it is by using the proceeds of IGR to deliver quality services to citizens that governments can justify their demands for taxes. Strikingly, the on-going controversy over the recent increase in land use charge (LCU) in Lagos State is a ringing affirmation of the need for governments to always pay attention to the taxpayers’ perspective in the drive for increased IGR.
Based on my membership of the Steering Committee of State Peer Review Mechanism of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) between 2011 and 2016, I am aware that governors across the six geo-political zones showed keen interest in peer learning and in the periodic exchange of views and experiences among them. Although the NGF still exists and is convened from time to time to address ad hoc issues, efforts focused on peer learning and partnerships among states appear to have moved to bilateral and geo-political zone levels. Governor Ambode of Lagos State affirmed his strong commitment to state partnerships in his opening speech at the Summit by reminding participants of three prior partnerships in which Lagos State is involved: South West geo-political zone, especially through membership of Odua Investment Company, and bilateral partnerships with Ogun State and Kebbi State. (Lagos-Kebbi State partnership is made famous by Lagos-Kebbi rice, christened “Lake Rice”, that is sold at affordable prices in Lagos). Strikingly, Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State attended the first day of the Summit on February 28th. Strong evidence that both Lagos and Kano States attach great importance to their partnership is provided in the wide-range of development issues covered in the MOU they signed.
It is important to mention the Federal Government’s acknowledgment of the importance of the Lagos-Kano partnership through the presence of Vice President Osinbajo at the Summit’s opening ceremony. In his very good speech, he highlighted both the historical and economic significance of Lagos and Kano in the evolution of Nigeria and praised the two governments for their significant contributions to the recent improvement in Nigeria’s international ranking in the Ease of Doing Business.
Governors engaged in results-oriented partnerships are contributing more to promoting national unity than former military rulers and some civilian political executives and legislators who vacuously affirm that Nigerian unity is “settled” and not negotiable.
Professor Ladipo Adamolekun writes from Iju, Akure North, Ondo State.
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