Home » Articles, Columnists, Goodluck Jonathan (2010-present), NNP Columnists, Philip Ikomi, Presidency » Mr. President, We Don’t Need Another City of Hope – By Dr. Philip A. Ikomi

Mr. President, We Don’t Need Another City of Hope – By Dr. Philip A. Ikomi

By Dr. Philip A. Ikomi | NNP | July 3, 2014 – A few days ago, I tuned my television to a new channel. The channel has probably been transmitting for quite some time and is not new; but it was new to me because I just stumbled into it while searching for a station where I could watch the World Cup football in English. That was when I saw an advertisement inviting people to a Centenary square or a location by such designation where an event would be hosted by President Jonathan. People were advised to be seated by 1:30 PM for the event which was billed to kick-off at 2:00 PM.

I thought that Mr. President’s name was only being used by the organizers of the event, but that Mr. President was not likely to grace the occasion. A few days later, I read in the papers that the president had actually set the ball rolling for the construction of a multi-trillion Naira city to be known as the Centenary City. Mr. President was reported as saying that the city would not know shortages of water, electricity, nor for that matter lack security. It is laudable that Mr. President knows that presently all Nigerian cities are short of all these necessities. He should be commended for showing such insight although it is an open knowledge. Perhaps he should be praised for saying publicly that all Nigerian cities lack these necessities and that something should be done about it.

However, that thing is not to build a brand new city with the hope that all these ills will not plague her. The manner in which he said it makes one believe that he certainly was not hoping that the new city would not have these ills. He was emphatically saying that the city would not have the ills. That is, he knows that the city will not have the ills because he is going to appropriate the sum of trillions of Naira to accomplish the goal.

Already a 1200 hectare piece of land on the airport road in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has been acquired for it and contractors have even been awarded a no-bid contract for it. We are told that some firm from Dubai would be involved at no cost to the federal government. At this juncture it is necessary to point out an alternative use for the the trillions of Naira that would soon be sunk into this city, which in all likelihood will degenerate into nothing different from the other cities we currently have in Nigeria, including having inadequate water, electricity, and security. For one thing, the present FCT knows no little of the ills of other cities in Nigeria already even though it is the youngest. But for demolitions, it would today have become aesthetically more like Ajegunle, in Lagos than Victoria Island or Ikoyi in Lagos. Even so, there are shanties all around her and the city suffers from traffic congestions, poor sanitation, and grossly lack security with Boko Haram unstoppably planting bombs anywhere they please.

I would therefore like to humbly submit that instead of going ahead with this plan that many Nigerians did not have a chance to even have a say in before it was being shoved down their throats as it were, let the president take a step backward and consider giving the funds to the states to upgrade or improve on the infracture of their existing state capitals and other important large cities in their domains. Since those who have been contracted to do the work have not yet started, this is a good time to tell them not to bother. Some state governments have grappled with the ills of the cities they inherited from previous governments and have thrown their hands up in dismay as they confront the needs in their cities and the paucity of funds available. They will be glad to have the federal government step in to help out.

Since the president has the lofty goal of having a city with no shortage of water, electricity, and security, and many state governors have similar goals for their cities, it will be a win-win situation. The beauty of this suggestion is that Nigerian cities will begin to look more like what the federal government wants. Nigerians will begin to learn from the state level, how to live in a modern city. Their behavior will begin to change in the proper direction to elevate all Nigerian cities. The learning, beginning from the states, means that when it comes to living in any new city that might be created in the future, they will not bring bad habits to the new city. There will always be a need for new cities but we need to ensure that we build new cities that will breed a new culture derived from an existing culture that we would like to foster.

Besides the obvious benefit of having many improved cities that Nigerian city inhabitants could learn to live properly in, the other benefit of funding existing cities is that Nigerians of all economic and social stratifications will continue to live amicably in their present locations in existing cities rather than unwittingly creating a city for the elite as the Centenary City appears destined to be. If it walks like a duck, quacks, like a duck, it is a duck. The president was reported as saying that the Centenary City will not have individual generators, water supplies, or security. This means that the city will be a place where there is a collective provision of these necessities. Since costs cannot be wished away, it means that, judged by present standards, a city that provides its inhabitants with these necessities will be out of reach for the ordinary Nigerian.

This means the jet-set, namely, those that will fly in, and drive into their homes a short distance from the airport in Abuja will be the beneficiaries. Remember, the city is only a few moments away from the airport on the way to Abuja. A similar community already exists in the country with a planned airport to be built from reclaimed land to serve it. It is called Lekki. Victoria Garden City, and others are also similarly built although they are small, the intention is the same, namely, to build places where there will be no shortage of necessities for those who can afford them. In the immediate surroudings of these are the shanty towns like Maroko and others. But that defeats the goal of a government in a democracy. In a democracy the benefit of the majority is usually the prime consideration for government expenditures.

Thus it is not okay to use public finance to build for “those that can afford it” or to partner with the private sector to go into such ventures, because the government wants to recoup its money within a specific time. Government’s plan should be strategic, and not-for-profit and thus government should not be in the business of helping people who are already rich and can afford to build and equip with the wherewithal to do so while leaving the poor and middle class to fend for themselves. A government that does that has lost the reason for its existence. The government of Lagos state is busy using the people’s funds to reclaim land from the sea to build communities for the rich and to plan an airport for the same and yet says it cares for the people because it provides a grossly inadequate number of low cost housing for the masses.

In addition, this pitiful situation goes on while Lagosians are dying and getting injured in serious accidents in “danfo” buses with no seat belts, steel and wooden seats and cramped interiors where people are forced to carry one another on their laps to increase the number of occupants so operators could make more money. On Lagos state streets one still sees the “molue” which are death traps because of their suffocating interiors, portable seats which are placed in the center isle once the bus is ready to move, and the highly injury prone welded seats and iron bars used to partition the interiors. A government of the people would long have none of these on the roads of the city or state. Citizens get injured and worse, killed because of the nature of the interior of the buses as well as the obvious disregard the operators have for road safety laws as their over-riding concern is how to maximize their daily returns.

Although the buses being run by the Lagos state government are highly patronized but grossly inadequate, the government is reluctant to increase the number of buses and deal a mortal blow to the danfo and molue for fear of special interests.Obviously, in a land of the blind, the one eyed is king. The Lagos government is hailed as “great” because the people are oblivious of their rights under a democratic dispensation as they had been too long ruled by military despots. How would Lagos have looked if all that money spent reclaiming land from the sea were used to build high rise flats dotted all over the landscape of Lagos to serve the poor and middle class? We will never know. When I see the concentration of high rise buildings in Brazilian cities as I watch the World Cup, I wonder why not in Lagos?

I will not be wrong to suggest that top government officials including high ranking politicians probably planned the Centenary City to move away from lesser Nigerians who naturally cannot afford to live in a high cost city. That would explain the secrecy since it was not publicly debated prior to Mr. President’s announcement. High government officials and legislators are paid so outrageously that they could afford to live in such a place right now, but in the future they are also likely to make provision for themselves to be able to live there in addition to their already excellent tax payer funded abodes in Abuja. All it takes is additional legislation on their part, which they will be quick to make so that they could more comfortably live in the new city. So, Mr. President, the ball is in your court. You can continue with this city hoping that it will not have shortages of water, electricity, and security, and that it will be a model city and one that caters to high profile government officials and politicians, while other Nigerians build shanties around it, or give it up and take the alternative approach of funding the states to upgrade their cities and thereby have cities that model the proper behavior for living in modern cities. Either way, it will be a legacy of your transformation agenda.

Capt. Philip A. Ikomi, Ph.D.
Retired Airline Captain and Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.

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Posted by on Jul 3 2014. Filed under Articles, Columnists, Goodluck Jonathan (2010-present), NNP Columnists, Philip Ikomi, Presidency. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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