Prof. Akin Mabogunje is the first Nigerian professor of Geography and chairman of the Lagos Megacity Development Authority. Mabogunje was also executive chairman of the National Board for Community Banks and chairman of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria. In this interview monitored on Rockcity FM 101.9, this octogenarian speaks on the Lagos Megacity Project, the recent general elections, his view about President Goodluck Jonathan presidency and his expectations from the incoming administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, among other issues
The Lagos mega-city project which you headed became political and eventually broke down. You were at the centre of it all, what actually happened?
A-I was brought into it by the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, because, according to him, foreign investors were saying they wouldn’t want to invest much in Lagos for three reasons: its transportation problems, sanitation and its security problems. It was in looking at those three problems that it became very obvious that when you talk about a Lagos mega-city you are really talking about the continuous built-up areas that we tend to think is Lagos but a large part of that is in Ogun state. In fact, if you remember, if you are coming from Ogun into Lagos, until you get to the last bridge, the area we refer to now as ‘Berger’, it’s all in Ogun state. As soon as you start getting into that traffic jam called Ibafo and Mowe, you are still in Ogun state and all the industries there are all in Ogun state. So if you try to develop all those areas, you need to have a cooperation with Ogun state, cooperation between three governments – Lagos, Ogun, and Federal Government and that was what the Lagos Mega-City Development Authority which I was the chairman was meant to do. We worked together very well during the administration of Bola Tinubu and I must say that Lagos got a lot of advantages from that working, a part of which, of course, became more difficult when Lagos backed-out of the whole arrangement and one of which has to do with the improvement in the rail movement of people in Lagos.
It has been agreed that the rail from Marina to Iddo to Agbado should be constructed along the right of ways of the rail from Lagos-Kano, but once the arrangement between the two governments broke down, the federal government has not been excited about allowing Lagos state to go on with it. We have done other things, like, developing the landfill sites which would have involved both Lagos and Ogun states but since Lagos backed-out, the federal government also blocked its interest. I must say that the understanding at that point in time was that, for any major infrastructural development like water, land fill sites and so on, the federal government will contribute 45 per cent, Lagos 40 per cent and Ogun state 16 per cent. Like I said, all these were understandings which never materialised because once Fashola came-in, the situation changed.
At what point did negotiation break down?
It was not exactly a negotiation, it was an agreement in which ministers of the federal government, commissioners of Lagos and Ogun states formed the development authority. So when there was problem, Lagos state, for instance, the third axial bridge was having problem, Lagos state raised it at the meeting and we had to do something about it. The same thing when there were problems of environmental pollution, because many of the pipes of the NNPC had become exposed, so we had to get the federal government to prevail on the NNPC to come and fix it. There were a number of things like that but when the government now says, my commissioners would not attend the meeting, that’s the end, that’s what happened.
That’s exactly what I want to find out, why should a government back-out? Why should a governor stop a commissioner from attending a meeting that would be beneficial to the state?
I have no idea, you have to ask the governor. It must be political, I won’t want to x-ray an opinion but while it lasted, it was something that was benefitting the state. The mega-city report that we wrote, was written by the three bodies, Federal, Lagos and Ogun states and some of the issues that were raised, particularly transportation, were issues that would have eased and facilitated the movement of people in Lagos. Today, that right of way which we approved in 2007 is still to be approved, like I said, because Lagos state backed out.
Is it true that there were two strong personalities, whose position and opinions and characters affected all these? The two of them identified as former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Governor Bola Tinubu.
Outright NO. Bola Tinubu came with his commissioners to Abuja, it was the foreign investors that said they wouldn’t do things in Lagos unless those issues I mentioned were resolved. Bola Tinubu was there when the mega-city authority was created. Throughout his tenure, we had an exemplary participation from Lagos, at that time, there were several issues between Lagos and Federal that I was drafted to resolve, such as the period when the federal government did not sign approval for foreign loans for Lagos, I had to step in to make sure that it was signed. There was the issue of the privatisation of the road to Lekki which the Federal was claiming that was their road, they wanted to concede it to the Chinese and Lagos State was saying it was theirs. I had to tell the president that since they could not prove ownership, the road is not theirs and they should leave it for Lagos.
Apart from Lagos, which other cities do you think need a federal attention and should be helped to become a mega-city?
One of the other things President Obasanjo got me to do was to chair a committee on housing, regional, and urban development. The very last chapter of the report we wrote was to highlight the peculiar problems of a number of major cities – Kano, Port-Harcourt, and a few of the emerging state capitals, why? Because, given the way the local government system was created, you find out most of the states now have more than one local government system, most of states now have more than one local governments in charge of them and unfortunately, the country has not established a metropolitan development authority to co-ordinate planning and development. We tried to establish a metropolitan development authority for Kano, the local governments kicked and said it’s not in the constitution and their money must not be taken for anything which is not in the constitution. So we recommended a number of those cities as metropolitan centres, Ilorin for instance has about four or five local governments, Abeokuta has two or more and you find them like that, all around. Ibadan has about 11, it’s all nonsense. It means there’s nobody running for the whole growth and built of such areas. That I think is one reason why many of our towns and cities, especially when they are not state capitals, are poorly managed.
Do you think Lagos still deserve a special status and attention?
Of course yes. That was the essence of the mega-city. What makes Lagos is that it is the premier part of this country, it is the premier industrial centre, of this country, it is the premier educational centre, it’s the premier in everything but when it comes to political issue, people coming from the other parts of the country feel an over-bearing of citizens of Lagos on their coming and that was why even from Gowon’s period, there has been discussion to move the federal capital to a neutral place in the country and it was that decision that Murtala Mohammed when he became head of state took in 1976 to move the federal capital to a place that is less-populated. in fact, all the population were meant to be cleared, so that nobody will say; this is our town. Abuja is meant to be a unity capital, a home for everybody.
You talked about issues thrown-up as a result of the creation of local governments, there are 774 local governments recognised by the constitution and several council development areas, is it that this has not served us well?
I have always held that the local government administration was the most unfortunate development of this country. If you remember, in 1976, when the Murtala/Obasanjo administration wanted to do a local government reform, they decided that the country should be divided on the basis of population, that no local government should have less than 160,000 people or more than 800,000. As a result, many small towns or medium term cities were merged, you suddenly throw an area like Gbongan, Ikire, and Apomu together and say this is one local government, or take a place like Ibadan and break it because it’s already over one million at that point. They still had a rationale, this demographic thing, as if that is what people really care about. But as soon as they left, the agitation began that people want to rule their own town, they don’t want to be merged with other people. The civilian regime of Shagari used it as a political tool and the agitation grew that it cannot be resisted. The present president-elect in his era as head of state saw it as a part of the indiscipline in the society and reversed it to 299 but Babangida could not resist the agitation, so he went from 299 to over 460 and then 563, even when he left, the agitation went on and Abacha got us to 774.
There is no rationale. What this meant is that small communities, which use to manage their municipal affairs, such as waste management, security and schooling of their people, no longer has the capacity. Let me use the place that calls itself Afijo in Oyo state as an example. Afijo is the acronym for the towns that were merged- A-Awe and Akinmorin, F for Fiditi, I for Ilora, the J for Jobele and none of those other communities wanted the capital to go to Jobele an almost ridiculous place, a hamlet at that time, Ilora already had two secondary schools they were managing at that time, Awe had theirs too, they were managing their waste collections and other things, so who’ll manage these things from Jobele, you have to run from Fiditi to Awe to Ilora, so the set-up became unmanageable and then the mismanagement and corruption began. That was why it’s easy for governors to participate and the councillors enjoy themselves.
Today, the local governments have no relevance in the heart of the people in terms of developing the areas. It’s different from the town which they use to have. Then Awe had two community schools which they built by themselves through levies and fines and today who would do that? I only think someday, one government will have to change that.
How should this be remedied?
It’s clear, a local government should be government of the people, for the people where they reside. It’s not simply an amalgam. At one point, we will have to go back. The idea that there is an advantage in having a limited number of local governments is not true. What’s the advantage of having 774 local governments? Of course, those local governments can become counties, if it’s because of the money coming from the centre which everyone wants to share, yes, but behold, you still have to recognise the actual settlement of the people, so that you can have the people responsible for their own area developments.
You were involved in the management of the Federal Mortgage Bank. Today, a lot of our cities, state capitals are still faced with housing and accommodation problems, is this not an indictment?
Again, I was brought into the mortgage institution by the presidency of Chief Obasanjo and the problem was that anybody wanting to deal with housing must recognise that it is an asset people want to acquire at least once in their life. It is also an asset that requires a large pool of long life savings, that’s why you can have a mortgage system, where you can get a loan, build a house, pay back over 20-30 years while you work, at least to have a roof over your head. To make it effective, you must have money, the bank won’t give you 30 years loan. So we have no institution that was ready to give such long-term loan. Babangida came up with an idea which was to ask workers, any worker earning over N3,000 monthly, to allow 2.5 per cent of his salary to be put in a national housing fund, that fund, you can only redeem your contributions when you retire. So a pool of long-term savings was gathering, however, the workers were contributing but there were no houses.
We found out that a lot of money had been contributed but the management, at the point, I took over, people were saying that there weren’t many applications, for funds for mortgage use which they can approve and so were keeping the money but yet workers were saying, where are the houses for which we have been contributing? I came in at a point when the present Governor of Edo state, Adams Oshiomole, was about to lead trade unions to say we would stop any more contribution to the housing scheme. So one of the first things I had to do when I became the chairman was to go and meet the president to say this money the workers are contributing is meant for mortgage and unless there are houses, you can’t have a mortgage system, allow us to take part of that fund to encourage builders to start to build at a level in which workers can buy houses.
He approved that and from that point on, we were getting a lot of estates sprawling up, we lend them the money at 10 per cent on the understanding that when it get to mortgage, we will charge you only, maybe 6 per cent and so a lot of houses in Abuja, Lagos, Akure were being built for workers. What we met was no more than N30billion, if you divide N30billion by N5million, you will see that it doesn’t add up to many houses. We had to go to the president to say, in other countries, the real money use for housing are the contributory pensions and that unless you start a contributory pension scheme, this housing scheme will never emerge and that’s why the federal government started a contributory pension programme. I said we met N30bn over the 15 years workers had been contributing, in six months that the Contributory Pension Scheme started, we had N38bn. Today they have over N4tn as contributory Pension although it’s not money you can go and just access. You have to go through the capital market and have this pension boards as administrators, but we have laid the foundation. So the position has certainly changed. It’s a long journey to get workers houses.
The problems of accommodation in many state capitals in the country is still acute and yet we hear of stories of governments building housing estates which costs between N17m-N25m in some cases. Is this a way to solve the problem of housing?
Houses are not cheap. Its either you want a house that can stand for twenty-five years. There is a minimum years required for a house to stand, if you don’t want to just build a shack, you have to face reality. One of the things we haven’t got the developers to pay attention to are rental houses, not everybody can own a house. Let me give you an example, when central Lagos was being developed, they move people from where houses were destroyed to Surulere, built all these bungalows for them, many of them didn’t find it comfortable because, traditionally, when you build a house, you build a face-me-I-face-you, do you occupy all? No. As the landlord, you might put yourself and your family on the top-floor and rent out the rest. Most of the people sold the houses in Surulere and moved to Somolu and use the money to build other houses. There are so many people who do not need a whole house to live in. We still can develop a housing system that recognises the cycle of need.
You have witnessed so many elections in this country, the last one has been described by people with many adjectives. What’s your own opinion about events around the election?
Let me say that the election can be said to be free, fair and credible, however, I was listening to a senator on television who said when you talk about election, you must distinguish between the upstream and down-stream sides of election, that the down-stream side of an election are the real people voting and what happens to their votes when it gets to the collation centres or after voting, is the upstream. And that’s exactly what is happening.
The rascality at the upstream has not been dealt with, you can see some of the figures from the South-East and South-South, that couldn’t be the result of people standing to vote, so there are still a lot of issues about what to do at the upstream. The governor of Rivers kept saying he won’t vote unless he sees the result sheets and in some states, some powerful individuals have put the system in their pockets and they did what they like with the result sheet. I think Jega just decided he is not going to kill himself if that’s what they want. The upstream sector is still a problem of our elections. Like in Akwa-Ibom as somebody said, they have allocated the figures to themselves from the governor and the problem was how to distribute them. You can see that it’s all bogus, until we get to a point where we stop saying until it get to Jega before problems are solved. What Jega solved was the problems of snatching ballot papers and harassing people on the day, the upstream problem where the powerful people still influence results are still there.
What do you expect from the incoming administration, particularly the president-elect?
The country is open for an honest, not easily corruptible government. Government is not good because people don’t steal, it is about the good you do for the largest number of people you govern. It’s not just going to be about the bad infrastructure. I expect them to fix that but if we have been told that about 10 million children are out of school in Nigeria, anybody coming must face that and to face it, you need to design a programme. It is that lack of overarching programme for many areas that has been missing in this country. This country needs series of popular programmes in the education, health, infrastructure sector and I’m hoping that the incoming government is already having its think-tank to get ready programmes they can launch as soon as they get there.
What’s your opinion about the outgoing administration?
I think it’s clear, partly because, I think Jonathan was poorly prepared for the job and as a result, he couldn’t take prompt and decisive actions on many issues and because time was always of essence in political affairs, he lost a lot of initiatives. The most glaring is the Chibok girls issue. Another person would have as he was told, got the military after them in 24 hours, and we won’t probably be waiting for years to see them back. In the same vain, he was told one of his cabinet members was corrupt, you couldn’t say you are fired! You shouldn’t be afraid to take decisions, he didn’t do very well and evidently he didn’t have the passion too.

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