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1 February 2019

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OF A PARASITIC CAPITALIST SYSTEM AND THE 2019 ELECTION IN LAGOS STATE

Wole Olubanji
Member of SPN, Lagos State

One of the intrigues that heralded election-time politics in Lagos State was the dramatic abandonment by a majority of APC members of Mr. Akinwumi Ambode. Tinubu was widely pilloried in the media for feudalizing the Lagos political space, as aptly described by Olu Fasan in an article in BusinessDay newspaper of October 15, 2018. Naturally almost all the gubernatorial candidates in the forthcoming election in Lagos state agree with Olu Fasan, and believe that this sort of feudalization would prevent their lofty dreams of winning office in Lagos State from materialising.

These candidates and many others – including those who are genuinely offended by Mr. Tinubu's hegemony in Lagos State – do not examine the conditions that gave rise to and still sustain Mr. Tinubu's unfettered control over Lagos politics. Indeed many of them just want to grab a piece of the pie. The current strongman politics in Lagos is sustained on a costly patronage system, and through the instrumentalities of the state. This patronage system has been seamed into the public service; and because it indeed executes public services, it is guaranteed a flow of income from the Lagos State public treasury. This system is based upon the failure of capitalism to develop the country and the resultant dependent of most of the ruling class on looting the country, especially government contracts and revenues from oil and gas exports. It is responsible for the paradoxes peculiarly associated with Lagos, of being, for example, an island of affluence in the middle of an ocean of squalor.

From the two different gubernatorial debates held in January 2019 among contestants for the gubernatorial seat in Lagos, the Lagos traffic gridlocks featured prominently. Some of these candidates reminded us that we are living in the 21st century, an age of bullet trains and transportation-crafts that would have wowed Ford and the Wright brothers, were they to be among us today. However, it should be noted that the perennial traffic girdlock in Lagos is symptomatic of a government's failure to respond to demographic growth and technical imperatives in 21st century city.

In 2008, the Lagos State government started a light rail project, has shifted the completion date of the project on several occasions, and now set 2022 as the latest completion date. The review of completion dates is almost always accompanied by a reviewed cost implication. Governor Fashola (as he then was) increased the cost of the 57km light rail project from its former estimated cost of $135 million to $1.25 billion in the year 2010. Guardian Sunday Magazine of 1st July, 2018 wrote the following in an article assessing the rail project: "However, the project has suffered many delays, with the state government and the supervising agency – LAMATA, sometimes giving contradictory reasons for delay in meeting the numerous deadlines." In another African city of Addis Ababa, a 31.6km light rail project conceived by the government, cost at $475 million, was completed in three years. In 2019, the lines of Lagos light rail project are still elusive, and several billions have been purportedly expended on it by successive APC-led House of Assembly and executive arm of government. The dreams paraded in the recent Lagos gubernatorial debates are quite familiar, similar to the desire for a megacity that the present political party administering Lagos government had also expressed in the past. But the process of those materialising those dreams are corrupted such that the process of modernizing has had to be accompanied by pains and abject poverty. The gubernatorial candidates in the forthcoming Lagos elections have not told us how they intend to attain for Lagos those lofty heights in a different way.

Just as it is obtainable all over Nigeria's public sector; government's projects in Lagos are intricately designed, often woven into written laws, to enrich some big men with concerns in the big businesses. We have written laws in Lagos that specifically name privately owned business entities as the chosen agents of government – capitalism's notion of competition notwithstanding. Sometimes, the projects that are contracted to big businesses can be carried out by MDAs at lesser costs. But that would essentially mean cutting the oxygen supply to the patronage system that Mr. Tinubu currently sits atop.

During the brief altercations within the Lagos APC about the time of its last party primaries, the newspapers reliably informed us that Mr. Akinwumi Ambode's widely acknowledged offense was the abandonment of the party structures. The papers updated us after enough tongues loosened, as the victors were savoring their victory, that the slight to these party structures was indeed the departure from a Sanitation Contract, which left LAWMA in the cold and brought in VisionScape to administer sanitation in Lagos State. The party structures have been well accommodated in the LAWMA arrangement; but Vision Scape only accommodated Mr. Ambode's concerns. The disagreements within the APC party structures were not about efficiency or otherwise of the existing Sanitation programme of the Lagos State government; it was simply about the gluttonous dimension that party members suspected Mr Ambode was assuming. However, the LAWMA arrangement was extravagant and guiling – the Lagos government subsidises this firm, privately operated, which still extracted sizeable tokens from Lagosians.

Fleecing the state's treasury through the public services – a characteristic of rentier capitalism that it is – is not restricted to Lagos State. It is a nationwide plague. The Punch Newspaper once reported that construction of road projects in Nigeria, at an average of N1 billion per kilometer, is one of the costliest in the world. It exceeds the World Bank's benchmark of N236 million per kilometre set for developing countries like Nigeria. The practice of engaging contractors to implement government's project comes with its own shenanigans, including hyperinflation of the costs. This situation has engendered an ironic situation of aggravated pains among the poor whenever government purportedly spends on infrastructures. But the irony is felt more deeply in Lagos, with an economy larger than several African nations. Almost 10% of Nigeria's 13 million out-of-school children are from Lagos State, and yet Lagosians pay more multiple taxes/rates than several poorer states in Nigeria.

Lagos as a city, expanding demographically needs an economy that is planned on both long and short term estimations, and on the basis of the resources that presently abound in the city. But the contract-system of implementing government's project, backed by law in Lagos State for example, can only afford tokens and retarded growth in the long run. It of course would bless unimaginably anyone lucky enough to be favoured in Mr. Tinubu's Lagos APC with a government's project to execute. It is important to note that the Socialist Party of Nigeria is the only political party in Nigeria with a publicly proclaimed party programme to end the costly contract-system approach to executing government's project. The party calls for well-equipped and adequately-staffed public works departments which are democratically run in addition to nationalization and democratic management of the commanding heights. For other parties there is ideological agreement or commonality that was conspicuously on display during the Lagos debate, embedded in the silence or ignorance over the material basis of the patronage system that is retarding the Lagos growth.

The contract system as long as it exists in Lagos State or elsewhere, would engender white-elephant projects, patronage system and an anti-growth political hegemony. This could also mean that even if any of the opposition parties from the two debates succeed in upsetting Mr. Tinubu's hegemony such party leader would also be on his way to becoming the latest Godfather in town.

Lagos and Nigeria does not need leaders who can dream alone, but those that would materialise these dreams differently – differently from the fraudulent practices and failures of our recent history. We need schools, we need running water in our homes, we need transportation that is cheap and prompt; but we would not get these basic 21st century amenities in long years to come on the basis of capitalism that makes it possible for those charged with governmental powers secure fortunes for themselves at the expense of ordinary people.

Unfortunately the Socialist Party of Nigeria is not in the gubernatorial race, and the gubernatorial debate could have been ideologically enriched beyond the narrow horizon that l capitalism offers. But it is standing in three House of Assembly seats in the state's forthcoming election, with as much the same radical programme to demand accountability and an end to contract system on the floor of the house of Assembly. As a principle of the SPN, none of her elected representatives would draw the outrageous emoluments that Nigerian politicians draw at great cost to social growth.

BudgIT, a data-driven organisation committed to accountability in public offices, issued a Lagos State Data Book in late 2018, with a scathing criticism of the Lagos State House of Assembly. BudgIT believes that: "This situation (of opaque administration of public funds in Lagos) is exacerbated by the non-capacity of the Lagos Assembly to enforce conditions that mandate the Lagos State government to articulate its policies, present a detailed budget and/or submit standardized performance measurement indicators. Lawmakers have presided over a sustained culture where governors appear to sit back and routinely award contracts without accountability."

Of course this culture of silence among lawmakers was not created by diffidence or want of what to say to power; the silence is also materially rooted in a patronage system that assures holders of political offices jumbo remunerations and perhaps a few contracts. It would therefore be wrong if the unwholesome developments in Lagos are blamed only on members of the executive arm of government. The executives can be indeed sanctioned and propped by members of the House of Assembly. It is for this reason that the electoral campaign to liberate Lagos must holistically acknowledge the role of a radical and pro-people legislative house in budgetary allocations and restraining the executives from its traditional acts of profligacy.

Lagos State has some remarkable elements of progressive policies, and as recent as the second republic, under the Lateef Jakande's governorship. About 30, 000 units of cheap houses, including roads, hospitals and schools were constructed all within four years. In fact the administration had commenced actions on a light rail project, before the Buhari coup of 1983 terminated the administration and its public good project. Jakande's projects were executed speedily and at cheaper costs; but this is because his administration empowered directly the agencies of government (especially PWD – Public Works Department) to execute such projects. For example at the height of the road construction project, Jakande's administration established an Asphalt Plant in Lagos State to further reduce the cost of construction and up efficiency. Today many Lagos politicians bow in reverence to Jakande's antecedents. They often fail to acknowledge that these feats would not have been achieved under a parasitic system that plan government's policies just to enrich the politicians and their cronies.

But why the feats achieved under Jakande seem no longer possible? The reason is that Lagos was run by Jakande when the world economy was enjoying a decades of growth. At the same time there was a counterweight to capitalism globally in the shape of the non-capitalist former Soviet Union and similar states. Although these states, run dictatorially by a bureaucratic elite, were a caricature of genuine idea and programme of socialism, their existence imposed some restraints on imperialism. The combination of these countries' collapse back into capitalism and the world economy entering unstable period with regular crises of booms and busts opened the way to the neo-liberal offensive against living standards and to defend profits

Capitalism is now back in its normal mode with profit-first neo-liberal capitalist philosophy which says government has no business in business and sees everything including education and health care as commodity that must be paid for and earn profit. That is why there have been severe attacks on welfare programme not only in Nigeria but also in Europe. Gains won by working people in the past have come under sustained attack and any new reforms won are today more temporary than before.

Therefore it is only a party with a socialist program like that of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) that is prepared to challenge the ruling class which can achieve the feats of Jakande and surpass them not only in Lagos but in the entire country. This is one of the reasons we have consistently called on workers, artisans, traders, youths and the masses in general not only in Lagos but also nationally to join the SPN in order to build it as a formidable mass party that could wrest power in Lagos and nationally.