Opinion: How Lagos may be underdeveloping the rest of Nigeria

by Chinedu George Nnawetanma

While much has been said about the diversification of Nigeria’s economy from petroleum, very little has been mentioned about its diversification from Lagos.

About one in every eight Nigerians lives in Lagos, a sprawling metropolis near the southwestern extremity of Africa’s most populous country. Not only is Lagos the economic epicenter of Nigeria, but also virtually every sector of the country’s economy is rooted there: commerce, manufacturing, finance, banking, insurance, healthcare, real estate, information technology, entertainment, media, hospitality, tourism, fashion, arts and sports.

Lagos accounts for about 30% of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and more than 50% of its non-oil GDP, according to the Lagos state government, which goes further to claim that the city accounts for over 80%, 70%, 60% and 50% of the country’s international aviation traffic, maritime cargo freight, industrial and commercial activities and energy consumption respectively. Additionally, the Lagos state government was responsible for about 38.44% of the combined internally generated revenue of Nigeria’s 36 states in 2016.

For a country of over 180 million people and numerous other urban centers, these figures are huge and disconcerting. Unsurprisingly, Lagos’ alluring economic climate has seen economic migrants throng to it from all across Nigeria, in pursuit of economic opportunities that are all but lacking elsewhere. Over 600,000 new residents arrive Lagos on an annual basis, that is, over 1.2 million in two years. By contrast, London, which is arguably the world’s premier global city, welcomes only about half of that, despite possessing the caliber of infrastructure that Lagos can only dream of.

This economic asymmetry wherein Lagos wields such a disproportionate influence over the rest of Nigeria has had pronounced repercussions for both. For Lagos, its exploding population puts an enormous strain on its already overstretched infrastructure, encourages the mushrooming of slums in communities at the fringes of public utilities, widens the gulf between the rich and the poor and surges the crime rate.

Its fragile natural environment has also struggled to cope with the pressure of ever-increasing human activity. Indiscriminate urbanization has disrupted the natural equilibrium within and around the city, making it prone to environmental disasters such as flooding, erosion and sea level rise.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Economist Intelligence Unit, in the 2016 edition of its Global Livability Index, ranked Lagos as the third worst major city in the world, coming only before the war-ravaged Tripoli and Damascus.

For Nigeria, its Lagos-centric economy has undermined its development everywhere else, leading to the stunted performance of secondary cities like Enugu, Onitsha, Kano, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Warri, Aba, Jos and Ibadan as their human capital are regularly haemorrhaged and absorbed by Lagos. It has also made the entire economy vulnerable to shocks emanating from Lagos; an economic meltdown there can have catastrophic reverberations countrywide.

The bulk of the blame for Nigeria’s skewed economic architecture must be shouldered by its successive federal governments for a consummate failure in national economic planning and the equitable geographical distribution of the mechanisms of development. By accident or design, almost all federal government investments and development projects in Nigeria are channelled into or through Lagos.

This is at variance with what is obtainable in more successful economies like Germany, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, China and even South Africa whose secondary cities receive as much attention as their leading economic hubs, enabling them to remain competitive and complement those first cities.

To engineer the accelerated and uniform development of Nigeria, concerted effort must be made by the federal government to promote investments in other parts of the country, especially in the secondary cities. Among other things, adequate hard and soft infrastructure must be provided to boost their investment readiness and pave the way for the birth of stronger local economies that will generate well-paying jobs and curb the need to migrate to Lagos for gainful employment.

Part of the blame also lies with the governments of the other 35 states that make up the country for failing to put enough effort into utilizing their comparative advantages for sustained economic progress.

Finally, the private sector has a role to play too. They must get out of their comfort zone in Lagos and seek out new opportunities in uncharted economic territories that abound in the country. Nigeria is more than just Lagos.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija


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