Fashola can use Lagos successes

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A caller to Traffic Radio in Lagos, a city that is a byword for chaos, pollution and crime, complained that an illegal building blocking a drain was flooding his neighbourhood.

“The governor will send a team to take it down,” taxi driver Billy Ganiyu said as he listened to the state-run station. “He hates that sort of thing.”

That residents of the city believe the authorities will act on their complaints shows the progress Lagos state governor Babatunde Fashola has made. Re-elected last year with 81 percent of the vote, Fashola is courting residents and investors by building roads, an urban railway, bridges and hospitals, and cutting red tape.

In a city ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the third-worst place to live, his successes may set Fashola up to bid for Nigeria’s presidency.

Global hotel chains Intercontinental, Sheraton and Radisson have either set up or expanded in Lagos since Fashola took office in 2007. So too have supermarket groups Shoprite and Massmart and luxury car manufacturer Porsche.

His government plans a free trade zone with an international airport and a port. Two years into his second four-year term, Fashola is selling bonds to raise funds for infrastructure in the city of 22 million people. Expectations have grown so high that “if there’s a blip, the impression is you’re slacking”, Fashola said in an interview.

On his achievements, he lists “cleaner streets, the ability to repair roads in a much more sustainable way, and keeping the streets lit up at night”.

Fashola has faced criticism for some measures considered draconian and detrimental to the poor, such as restricting the movement of motorcycle taxis, imposing tolls on a key highway and partly demolishing the waterfront slum of Makoko. The government says it plans to build the Makoko residents a new, safer neighbourhood with utilities.

“These people are expendable to them,” said Felix Morka, the executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre, which advises the Makoko community. “If the government has its way this place won’t exist, maybe within five to 10 years it will be glass houses, penthouses.”

David Cowan, a London-based Africa economist at Citigroup who has been travelling to Lagos for more than a decade, said: “Things have definitely changed for the positive. I’d put a pretty high percentage that he [Fashola] will use Lagos as a platform to run for [presidential] office and I think that would be very good for Nigeria.”

Fashola, a member of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria party, bats away the speculation, saying he “still [has] a lot of work to do here”. The state needs to invest $5 billion (R43bn) in infrastructure annually over the next 10 years to make up a decade and half of neglect under military rule that ended in 1999. Lagos state sold 80 billion naira (R4.3bn) of debt in November, its third issue in six years.

Chike Nwagbogu, who co-runs the Bogobiri hotel on Lagos’s Ikoyi island, said that while infrastructure in Lagos had improved, Fashola still had a lot to do. He said he was spending 50 000 naira a day on diesel to run generators because of power cuts. – Chris Kay from Bloomberg


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