PUBLIC POLICY AS A TOOL OF ECONOMIC GENOCIDE: THE LAGOS EXAMPLE BY UGOCHUKWU RAYMOND OGUBUARIRI.
It was a renowned philosopher of old, William James, who once remarked that: “In a change of rule among the citizens, the poor change nothing except the name of their master.” Evidently, the residents of Lagos State are being confounded by the sad realization that the governing party – the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN – is no less autocratic and repressive than its discredited opponent – the Peoples' Democratic Party, PDP. The disdain of lagosians for the PDP and their disappointment with the party's performance (especially at the Federal level) in the run-up to the 2011 general election have been so deep that they could neither contemplate nor tolerate the misadventure of conceding even a local government to the PDP. By the same token, their faith and sense of optimism in the redemptive capability of the Raji Fashola's administration was so commanding, indeed, so overwhelming, that they had to rally massive support for the governor even in defiance of an alleged plot by his political god-father to truncate his electoral reincarnation. Having shown some sensitivity to infrastructural regeneration and some signs of commitment to the alleviation of the deplorable sufferings and squalid conditions of most lagosians during his first tenure, the re-election of governor Fashola was, strictly speaking, a definitive mandate from the people of the state for him to liberate them from their wretched, pitiable, excruciating entrapment in the jaws of tyrannous poverty and stressful existence. However, judging from the draconian policies being churned out by Fashola's regime in contemporary era, especially in the last few months, it will be safe to posit that his seemingly populist disposition during his first tenure was essentially a self-serving, tactical gimmick. Otherwise, how can one justify or even rationalize the mindless imposition of extortionate tolls on citizens resident along the Lekki–Epe corridor of the state. Expectedly, some would be inclined to argue that this policy is permissible on the excuse that government cannot effectively midwife the provision of infrastructures without taxing the citizens. I make no pretence about contesting this basic fact, except to say that such a defence is tenable only when it is considered in abstract, universal terms. For when you relate it to the conditions and context of the Lekki–Epe toll, it exposes the actions of the Lagos State Government as highly immoral, discriminatory and patently repressive. First, questions have been raised regarding the propriety of erecting three gigantic toll plazas within the same stretch of road of about 49 kilometre in distance. The economic implication of this for a tricycle rider who would be made to part with N120 for going through just one toll gate is better imagined. Also, considering the fact that a loan of N64 billion was alleged to have been obtained by the Lagos State Government from South Africa for the purpose of constructing an additional lane on both sides of the existing Lekki-Epe road, how justifiable is the idea of mandating a private firm – LCC, to extract tolls on all the lanes? For residents and/or indigenes of communities domiciled within the Lekki–Epe axis who were made to surrender their land to the then Jakande's administration for the purpose of constructing the existing road (as a public good), will it not amount to an act of gross injustice bothering on daylight robbery for them to be subjected to this new policy of tolling the road by a private concessionaire after having forfeited – or surrendered – their land to an earlier administration in the public interest, More fundamentally, if the underlying reason for this selective ill-treatment is to target the high-profile individuals who are known to inhabit the Lekki axis and to compel them to share in the burden of infrastructural development in the state, then, equity demands that such a logic ought to have propelled the State Government to extend its dragnet by replicating those toll plazas at such other locations as Bourdillon in Ikoyi as well as other palatial habitations in other parts of the state where the “high and mighty” are known to hibernate.
If the Lekki–Epe toll plaza is considered unjust, especially, by the reason of its three-fold duplication, then the recent policy of governor Fashola regarding the astronomical hike in the tuition of the state-owned university, LASU, is simply a “death warrant” targeted against the ordinary lagosian with a meagre means of livelihood. By this singular act of jerking up the tuition payable by new students of LASU from N25,000 to an average amount of N250,000 (indeed, N348,750 for students in the College of Medicine), the governor has invariably declared poverty as “a criminal offence” in the state. By implication, he has sentenced the poor lagosian (desirous of escaping poverty through the acquisition of tertiary education) to a life of perennial ignorance and disempowerment without remedy.
It is on record that the ACN party had conducted its campaigns during the 2011 general election with a manifesto that affirms and upholds “education as a social service.” What is even more curious is the fact that governor Fashola himself had his Law degree in University of Benin at a time when academic tuition was just a negligible pittance. One therefore wonders the rationale for his idea of drawing comparisons between Nigeria and United Kingdom and for his argument that Nigerians in the UK spend up to N2.5 million in tuition alone. If truth must be told, how many Nigerians can really shoulder such an outlandish academic expenditure in the UK, except, of course, if you are privileged to be inducted into the roguish club of political buccaneers and treasury looters all masquerading as Nigeria's leaders? Moreover, what are the comparative minimum wages of workers in UK and their counterparts in Nigeria? Consider this: if you are a worker residing in Lagos with a monthly salary of N20,000 and you decide to starve yourself, disregard all other expenses, and save all your salary. At the end of the year, you would have only save N240,000 which would still not be enough to pay the tuition for a course in Communication/Transport Faculty in LASU for just one academic session. If as a salaried parent, you happen to be afflicted with the singular ill-luck of having three children all of whom have gained admission into LASU at the same time, then your damnation is real, and brutally so!
To all intents and purposes, it would appear that the much-taunted slogan that “Lagos is working” is naively exaggerated, at best, and patently problematic, at worst. The cost of living and the prospects of economic survival in the state today have become much more brutish and slimmer than they were some couple of years back. The daily vehicular logjams – orchestrated partly by bad and unserviceable roads – have become particularly hellish. When these nightmarish conditions are further compounded by policies that expressly violate the interest and well-being of Lagos residents (such as multiple tolling, arbitrary increment of tuition, proscription of student unionism, hike in tenement rate and land use charge, ban on the use of motorbike or “okada,” etc.), then, the picture that emerges is one in which lagosians are increasingly being compelled to ask whether the ACN party is not a political Siamese twin to the repulsive and often-maligned PDP?