Posted by Chima Nwafo | 16 December 2019 | 768 times
Elsewhere in the developed and genuinely developing nations, cities are dynamic because their political economies are resilient and energetic. But in Nigeria, whatever progress or growth in the economy can only be attributed to the dynamism of the Nigerian. This is indisputably confirmed by the general reference to “good old days,” which sceptics and sycophants labour in vain to dismiss. Yet, every Nigerian above 50 can recall from whichever Nigerian city he/she dwelt, that life was better, more enjoyable, with a cleaner and safer environment 50 years ago. Economy-wise, you don’t need an expert or pliable financial analyst to tell you that the steep descent of the Naira through the years is the symptom of a badly managed, weak economy. The following Nigerian Post Office advertising jingle of less than 40 years is an example: “Federal Savings Bank, You can Open an Account with 10 Kobo.” More recently, the Nigeria Bottling Company can also recall how long ago a bottle of Coke sold for 15 Kobo, which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation mischievously cited as an alibi to justify an increase in the fuel pump price at the time. By 1988/1990, N250-N300 could fetch a standard, spacious 3-bedroom flat at estates in Okota, Ejigbo, Egbeda/ Akowonjo, etc. Compare the cost today, just 31 years after.
Much as this discourse is not about economics, quality of life and cost of living in cities is within the realms of economic activity, even though today you read of a Nigerian university graduate saying he has never heard of “factors of production.” On reflection, I realised that way back 2006, a graduate of Economics had told yours truly during a job interview that she had never heard of the word Macro-Economics, lest being taught. Perhaps, in the same way, the ignorance of the role of a city or urban area manager among Nigerian politicians and civil servants explain the derelict state of the city infrastructure and the near absence of social amenities. For example, that is why Lagos godfathers often talk condescendingly to residents rather than appreciate their contribution to the economy of the state.
In the same vein, other states and urban areas in the country do nothing to compete with Lagos because they wrongly believe that being a former capital, with seaport and airport facilities accounts for its status as the commercial nerve-centre. So, others do next to nothing to attract investment or professionals and skilled labour. This is, indeed, sad because even the current Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, residents equally share the same mindset: Lagos is a bigger market with more opportunities. Yet, in this global ICT-driven world, these politicians/public servants who manage our states and cities travel out, but will never see the competition for development among Western and Asian cities. New York commanded all the advantages attributed to Lagos up to 1930s, but that was not for too long. Available evidence today, especially during the competition to attract the second corporate headquarters (HQ2) of Amazon showed the competitiveness of US states, cities and university towns: This was widely advertised over time, and responses and offers from smaller and less-endowed cities and states unveiled competitive and attractive offers, despite the tough terms set by Amazon. Besides, unlike Nigeria where all the money-bags flock at Abuja and Lagos, that is not the case in the Western world. Given this convergence of top businessmen and political big-wigs at Abuja and Lagos, state governors, contrary to the spirit of federalism, waste state monies on “Liaison Offices and Guest Houses” at Abuja, with fewer still in Lagos. Most unfortunately, it provides them with an opportunity to invest the stolen funds far-away from their respective states yearning for investment.
Abuja and Lagos is synonymous with beautiful and modern estates, our best in terms of architecture, city infrastructure and employment opportunities. Not even the federal presence-starved oriental states bother to make their state capitals and commercial towns attractive and investment-friendly. Yet, our two cities – out of 36 state capitals and commercial centres of note – Lagos and Abuja ranked far lower among both world cities and fellow African capitals in Mercer’s 2019 Quality of Life City Ranking. It’s pitiable that in this latest edition, as in past ones, cities such as Dakar, Senegal; Cameroon’s Yaounde and Douala; Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya; Libreville, Gabon; Kampala, Uganda all stand far ahead of our best: sitting among the bottom 30 on the ladder are Lagos and Abuja. The oil capital and only Nigerian city with a mayor, Port Harcourt, was not even ranked at all. For obvious reasons, I chose to exempt South African cities of Pretoria Johannesburg and Cape Town. It’s also interesting to note that little Banjul, The Gambian capital, was recognised for recording improvements since the 2017 and 2018 ratings. “This ranking indicates differences in quality of living factors affecting expatriates in popular assignment destinations and should not be used as the basis for determining hardship premiums, as many complex and dynamic factors must be taken into account,” states Mercer.
First, it is a shame that Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kaduna, and Ibadan which hosts the largest concentration of international bodies and research institutes are not featured among notable cities, whereas Duala is. Second, it is clear evidence of the fact that our cities are like orphans. There is no responsible public official – either elected or appointed – who is directly responsible for the development of our cities. As a matter of fact, Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Onitsha, Aba, Ibadan, including all the state capitals grew by the circumstances of their history or politics. So, no one takes charge to contend with the challenges of an urban centre, despite the growing rate of rural-urban migration.
Yet, United Nations and other experts agree that the global trend that brought 50 – 80 per cent of the world population to the city can only get worse. “Urbanization is due, in part, to rural-to-urban migration, in part to natural increase.” Nigerian politicians and state governors need to appreciate this fact that sub-Sahara Africa is currently the fastest urbanising region.
“We live in an increasingly urbanised world. Half of humanity is now urban. More than 70 per cent of people in Latin America, North America and Europe live in cities. While 60 per cent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa still live in rural areas, it is the fastest urbanising region in the world. The United Nations predicts that by 2030 Africa will be a predominantly urban continent,” said one expert.
Given the scarcity of job opportunities, electricity and other social facilities in our rural areas, it is left for the politicians and city managers to think of how to provide enough jobs, investment-friendly and livable environment for city-dwellers.
“Economic growth only comes from increasing quality and quantity of the factors of production, which consist of four broad types: land, labour, capital, and entrepreneurship. An inclusive city is a city in which processes of development include a wide variety of citizens and activities. These cities maintain their wealth and creative power by avoiding marginalisation, which compromises the richness of interaction upon which cities depend. Economic development is the engine that helps cities to grow successfully,” noted a US economist.
It is possible to use urbanisation to achieve sustainable development by tailoring the way cities are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed and managed. But in our circumstance, who cares?
Besides, the government and its agencies talk glibly about “Ease of doing business and foreign direct investment” - based on their own indices, as dictated by the Central Bank and not in tandem with World Bank specifications and realities of the market. In their warped matrix, the state of our cities is not part of the conditions to be met in ease of doing business. But in modern economies, it is, because it is the city’s status that will determine the convenience and productivity of the investor or technical experts. Perhaps, that explains why we don’t get the best in terms of foreign investment. The available ones care less because they come to exploit rather than co-develop the resources.
For nations who care: “Mercer’s authoritative survey is one of the most comprehensive of its type in the world and is conducted annually to enable multinational companies and other organisations to compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments. In addition to valuable data on the relative quality of living, Mercer’s survey provides assessment for more than 450 cities throughout the world; this ranking includes 231 of these cities,” of which Abuja and Lagos belong to the last 30.
“This year, Mercer provides a separate ranking on personal safety, which analyses cities’ internal stability: Crime levels, Law enforcement, Limitations on personal freedom, Relationships with other countries, and Freedom of the press. Personal safety is the cornerstone of stability in any city, without which business and talent cannot thrive.”
With the addition of PERSONAL SECURITY index at a time Nigeria is facing her worst security challenge, it becomes a case of double wahala for dead body. But, then, it is high time the political leadership, especially the National Assembly, think of legislations that will decrease the stranglehold of governors on state finances and every aspect of development, which has created a spike in infrastructure and developmental deficit in both cities and rural areas.
•Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express, and Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: email@example.com; +2348029334754.
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