With a seemingly indeterminable population often quoted as being anywhere in-between 12 and 18 million people, Lagos State is undoubtedly home to just as many people as are required to form a distinct sovereign entity. As Nigeria’s commerce hub, the state’s economy has an annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $90 Billion which is higher than that of the Republics of Ghana and Benin combined, and places the Lagos economy as the fifth largest in Africa. It is not for nothing that some people joke that Lagos is a country.
One would imagine that a fledgling state able to compete with other countries in terms of trade volume will also have a robust political system, as may be obtainable in a country, a fundamental element of that being a virile opposition able and willing to consistently engage the ruling party on the merits and effects of its policies. The state however appears to be trapped in the fate of the country within which it actually exists and that does not appear ready to change anytime soon. The All Progressives Congress (APC) has had the good fortune of forming the government at the Centre at a time the major opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been in disarray, contending for the most part with its internal division and barely able to lead thought on any fundamental national issue.
Just as it obtains at the centre and relatively for much longer, the APC has been in government in Lagos state without any opposing party critically reviewing its actions and decisions while leading a debate on their viability. It must be admitted that the responsibility does not fall solely on the PDP but it is the only party with the required structure to give APC a real fight at an election. With this identifiable potential and aspiration of one day taking over government in Lagos, the PDP ought reasonably to regularly present well-researched positions on the governance of the state and the collective aspiration of its residents. The PDP has however failed to do the needful, choosing rather to bind itself to generic and sentimental statements that cloth APC’s policies as destructive without showing an empirical path to its conclusion or its own alternative policy and how better results can be achieved. As far as intellectual engagement is concerned, the PDP has been a lazy opposition.
A number of other political parties exist within the Lagos political space but with barely any realistic chances at upstaging the APC or PDP in terms of following. It would perhaps have been helpful for them to stand in the intellectual gap caused by PDP’s abdication of its responsibility (one conferred by virtue of its size and logistical capacity). I have attended the meetings of a few of the other parties and my verdict is that they are not just lacking the financial muscle to contend with the APC, they also do not show signs of having the mental strength required to compete for the hearts and minds of the people. It is for instance saddening to see that a year to the general elections, no opposition party has clearly articulated the issues that should be the focal point of debates around the governorship election in Lagos state.
For the avoidance of doubt, there have been numerous issues worthy of deeper debates than the stringing of a few words like “anti-people”, “incredulous” and “draconian” among other adjectives that commonly feature in press statements. We should like to hear from PDP, KOWA, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and others, their considered opinion on the eviction of huge numbers of people labelled squatters on the lagoon waterfronts, the increment in toll fees, the Lagos embedded power projects, the Lagos oil exploration initiative, the development of the Atlantic City, the planned acquisition of the National Theatre & Museum, the remodelling of certain parks and the recent amendment of the Lagos Land Use Charge law among others.
One would imagine that serious contenders for popular support would have carried out cost-benefit analyses of the government’s various projects as well as initiated far-reaching conversations on the environmental and social implications of the projects. An easy cop-out is the limited resources but if a party cannot innovate its way out of its challenges, it does not deserve to be in government as it promises no hope of resolving the problems facing the country which have over the years remained unsolved not necessarily because there is inadequate funding but also because political will and innovation have been missing.
In the absence of enlightened discourse by the political parties, a few civil society groups have attempted to stand in the gap, pressuring the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration on the lack of transparency in the state government’s expenditure and procurement processes as well as protesting its lack of empathy in the implementation of certain policies. The truth however is that there is a limit they can go and opposition parties need to wake up to this responsibility before the civil society is overwhelmed to the point of surrender.
The ongoing debate about the legislation of a private corporation into the Land Use Charge (Amendment) Law is a good point to begin and it is hoped that they do not simply come around just to make noise to be seen ahead of the 2019 elections without making vital inputs. The best of governments need a virile opposition to keep them on their toes to continually deliver the best. Lagos is too important to be left alone in the hands of the APC administration.