Lagos Under Sanwo-Olu: It’s the Economy. Period!

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With bold optimism and audacious investment in critical infrastructure, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is gradually building the final layers of the foundation for a wealthier Lagos, Israel Opayemi submits.

Let me make a confession. The title of this piece has drawn inspiration from James Carville’s popular campaign theme for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential election bid. In 1992, the United States was experiencing headwinds under President George W. Bush who was seen by a section of the American electorate as out of touch with the needs of the average Americans. Carville then told a meeting of Bill Clinton’s campaign staff, that, “It’s the Economy. Stupid!” to emphasise the primacy of economic issues in that election cycle. The result? Bill Clinton gave prominence to economic issues touching the lives of average American throughout that campaign season and he won impressively.

As a close Associate of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and a Policy Communications Specialist, each time I reflect on the momentous efforts he is making towards giving Lagos State some fitting infrastructure or some of the social intervention initiatives being carefully executed by his government, one is forced to reach just the same conclusion. I often quipped when summarizing the strategic goal in view of all that the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is leading his team to do, “It’s the Economy. Period!”

Discerning citizens can indeed see the geometric economic progression the state is currently making. Through years of meticulous planning under Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and years of surgical implementation of the plans under Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) down to the incumbent, Lagos has indeed attained her full status as ‘Nigeria’s Economic Capital’. The state has in fact exceeded just that local adulation to the place of her rating as Africa’s fifth largest economy. It would seem the duo of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Deputy Governor, Dr. Kadiri Obafemi Hamzat are conscious of their roles in the history of Lagos. They must build the final layers of the foundation for the emergence of a truly prosperous Lagos in a few short years. They seem to be approaching the task with some sense of urgency and admirable focus.

As at the time this writer was putting the thoughts of chronicling the timelines of the multiple investment roadshows the Governor and his Deputy were running with, they have crisscrossed Dubai, Morocco, and United Kingdom all within days and hours. The goal for them is simple. Stimulate the growth of the economy, put more wealth in the hands of citizens and lift more Lagosians out of poverty. Poverty is a clear and present danger to society. But there is a method to treating this madness called poverty. Build critical infrastructure. They are keys to opening the inherent wealth in a City. It is therefore not surprising that the duo Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat know exactly what to do. Keeping marketing our problems as opportunities.

On Wednesday 1, November, the Chief Marketing Officer of Lagos was in faraway Georgetown, Guyana to attend the Afri Caribbean Trade Forum and to discuss the imperatives of investing in food security, agricultural productivity and expanding agribusiness opportunities in Lagos. His message was clean and clear. “It is only by doing so that that we can address food security concerns but also stimulate employment, create opportunities for export and uplift rural income.” Perhaps, thinking in line with the Yoruba adage that ‘once hunger is excluded from poverty, the misery of poverty has been vanquished.’ Governor Sanwo-Olu has therefore set his face like a flint on the goal of food security by 2024. He hopes to complete the Lagos Food System and Logistics Hub, Africa’s biggest food and logistics hub in Ketu-Ejirin, Epe as part of a strategic initiative to put more wealth in the hands of farmers, ensure food security and sufficiency. While the annual value of food transactions is estimated at about USD 10 billion, farmers are losing over 40 percent of their incomes due to a lack of adequate post harvest storage facilities. The Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration is building a storage facility on a 1.2 million square metre site in Ketu-Ejinrin. The facility is expected to boost the economy by reducing waste that arise as a result of inadequate storage facilities. It is expected to ensure food security and increase internally generated revenue.  When completed, the hub is expected to provide direct income to more than 5 million traders in the value chain, while ensuring uninterrupted food supply to more than 10 million Lagosians for at least ninety days in times of scarcity. The central food hub will encourage more investment in farming and food production, and open farmers up to modern-day storage facilities. Again, it’s the economy. Period!

But that is not all. It was during this round of investment marketing roadshow, precisely on Tuesday 31, October 2023 that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu secured and signed the partnership with the African Export-Import Bank and Access Bank for a massive investment of $1.352 billion dollars in Lagos. This is part of the funding needed for the realisation of the Fourth Mainland Bridge, the Omu Creek Project and the Second Phase of the LRMT Blue Line from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko amongst others. It was also at this investment marketing event the Governor declared with absolute confidence: “Our vision for Lagos is becoming a reality with the Lekki-Epe International Airport and the Lagos Food Systems and Logistics Hub in Epe. These projects will further boost our economy and serve generations to come.”

On Friday 3, November 2023, to the delight of the local and global investment community, the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced a plan to build a new Lagos International Financial Centre while inaugurating the Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede-led Council entrusted with brining the dream to life.
Worthy of note is the exhibition of the mastery of the art of governance by partnership with the organised private sector and multilateral institutions. This is because most of the ground breaking infrastructure funding feats being recorded by the Sanwo-Olu administration to the admiration of other States in Nigeria are actually based on strategic partnership and collaboration with players in the private sector and other development agencies. An example is this partnership with Enterprise NGR, a member-led group that specialises in strengthening financial and professional services in the state.

The partnership between the Lagos Government and Enterprise NGR to build the new Lagos International Financial Centre is aimed at making the state a global financial hub that will direct investment flows from places like New York, London, and Paris amongst others. With the signing of the pact with Enterprise NGR, Sanwo-Olu aims to captivate global investors, unveil the potentials of Destination Lagos as an investment destination of choice, and pave the way for a transformative era of economic prosperity.

Think of it. The new Lagos International Financial Centre is a bespoke destination where major global financial institutions can set up their African presence. It is an initiative to turn Lagos into a global financial powerhouse. Think of it again. Who will they employ during the massive construction phase? Our people. Think of the lanyard of economic activities tied to construction sites. From crane rentals, diesel supply, sand supply, gravel supply, food vending to craftmanship. Just imagine the ripple effects of this phase on hotels and hospitality sector in Lagos alone. It is a place where wealth will be placed in the hands of artisans and professionals.

As of Thursday 9, November 2023, Governor Sanwo-Olu was at the high level African Mayoral, the Africa Investment Forum 2023 in Marrakech, Morocco organised by the Africa Development Bank, AFDB. The goal was also the economy. It was aimed at rallying the partnership with AFDB, AFC, Africa50, Afrexim Bank, Development Bank of South Africa, European Investment Bank, Trade and Development Bank amongst other development partners to invest in infrastructure development in Lagos. Like a brilliant salesman that he is, Governor Sanwo-Olu always shows the numbers. He spoke on a Panel on Thursday. By Friday, he has led his economic team to London, United Kingdom again where, together with the Enterprise NRG will be meeting with select British and International business leaders from across different continents to also market Lagos as a destination for investment.

A close look at Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s T.H.E.M.E.S agenda easily highlights how Lagos has been able to synergise its resources and redirect them towards rapid improvement of the economy of the state during his first term. Upon his re-election and assumption of office for the second term, Sanwo-Olu again expanded the focus of the agenda and rechristened it, ‘THE T.H.E.M.E.S PLUS AGENDA,’ to signify some vital additions like the Social Inclusion, Gender Equality and Youth in the next four years.  Even for all of these additions, the strategic goal remains the same, the economy! Be it for the women and the youth as well as other disadvantaged citizens across the gender and age isles, the goal has remained to ensure more citizens of Lagos State become empowered through access to productive economic activities. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu believes that infrastructure is the key to unlock the wealth that lies untold in every human community across our state. He is in the same developmental school with American Vice President, Kamala Harris who earlier this year while speaking at Chicago, Illinois said, “when we invest in our infrastructure, we invest in our economy, we invest in America’s future – a better future for workers, businesses, families and communities.”

Some of the critical road projects at different stages of completion in Lagos State such as the reconstruction and expansion of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway from four lanes to ten lanes is road of economic significance to link Nigeria to a vital part of the West African Sub-region thereby improving the pace of trade and commerce between Lagos State and her West African neighbours. This and other projects like it are being carefully delivered to bring about rapid economic development in that corridor. Again, economy is the goal.

The fact that the contract for the historic Fourth Mainland Bridge was eventually awarded to a giant construction consortium of CCECC-CRCCIG of China in a deal worth US$2.5 billion, is good news to discerning Lagosians. It is to further open up some sections of Lagos to accelerated economic development. Designed to be a 38km long bridge, the Fourth Mainland Bridge will further open up Lekki, Langbasa, Baiyeku and Itamaga in Ikorodu to accelerated economic development. This is another infrastructure with economic significance as it will open the real estate corridors of Lekki and Ikorodu for unprecedented boom.

The delivery of intra-state train systems will undoubtedly remain one of the biggest achievements of the Sanwo-Olu government and another key to unlocking economic development. The Lagos Blue Line project is an electric rapid transit line that forms part of the Lagos Rail Mass Transit system run by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), which was opened for commercial use on September 4, 2023, with five functional stations. The commissioning of the Blue Line is nothing but historic considering the fact that Lagos has emerged the first sub-national government in Africa to fund and deliver a rail system. It is a tribute to the mastery of creative financial engineering and prudent management of resources.

Envisioned by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and initiated by former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, completing the project underscores Sanwo-Olu’s understanding of what needed to be done to open the state up to rapid economic development as a 21st-century Mega City if Lagos must sit at the table of other global cities such as London, New York, Paris to mention but a few. From the economic perspective, the real big deal is not the fact that it is the first of its kind in the West African sub-region and the first by any sub-national government. The real big deal is the economics of moving 500,000 passengers daily from Mile 2 to Marina.  The Governor has again assured Lagosians that the fleet would be expanded in such a way that waiting time at the train station will be further reduced and has hinted of plans to double the number of passengers ferried daily by the Blue Line with the expansion of the tracks by 14 kilometers up to Okokomaiko from Mile 2. Moving a million people daily in a bustling city like Lagos means more people can transact more businesses timeously. In economics, time is money. It is a valuable resource for which money is paid in exchange.

But wait for it. The real economic game changer for the rapid economic development of Lagos State is the Red Line rail project in my opinion. It is a 37-kilometre North-South rail route proposed to run from Agbado to Marina with 13 stations at Agbado, Iju, Agege, Ikeja, MMIA International, MMIA Domestic, Oshodi, Mushin, Yaba, Ebute Meta, Iddo, Ebute Ero, and Marina. Today, the project is about 95 percent completed, the red line would start with one million passengers daily by the end of 2023. Add that number to the one million that the Blue Line would move when completed! Also add that to the millions commuting via the bus rapid transport scheme, the First and Last Mile bus system, LAGRIDE and the Lagos Ferry Services. Once a City is able to move millions of her citizens in speed, safety and comfort through intermodal transportation system as the one being brilliantly executed by the Sanwo-Olu administration, the City is bound to record increase in economic activities in daytime. This will also impact the citizens’ and government spending on the treatment and management of cardiovascular diseases associated with sedentary lifestyle residents of congested cities are known for.

By showing uncommon knowledge of how to unlock an economy through bold investment in infrastructure transformation, the Sanwo-Olu administration has become an exemplar for other States in Nigeria in terms of bold vision and the audacity to do.  This was the sentiment echoed by the Ekiti State Governor, Abiodun Oyebanji in Lagos on Sunday, November 5, 2023, during the commissioning of the Oyingbo overpass, Governor Oyebanji said, “Lagos State has become a model for other states” while also stressing that Governor Sanwo-Olu had become a worthy mentor to other governors because of his numerous achievements.” Will they give him the badge of a Class Captain in the Nigerian Governor’s Forum now? I argue the case that he deserves this honour. Even if Governor Sanwo-Olu does not get it, he and his team can at least take a bow as they read this piece before they step out to the next mission to keep our Greater Lagos Rising.


Opayemi, a public relations consultant, lives and works in Lagos

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