Lagos – Recognition as Commercial Capital City of Nigeria

“Lagos should be accorded the necessary legislative status

and the financial muzzle to stand in this position”.

Modern-day Lagos, then called Eko, was founded by the Binis in the 16th century. The Portuguese explorer, Ruy de Sequeira, who visited the area in 1472, named the area around the city Lago de Curamo, with the present name Lagos being the Portuguese name for “lakes”. An alternate explanation is that Lagos was named for Lagos, Portugal – a maritime town which at the time was the main center of the Portuguese expeditions down the African coast and whose own name is derived from the Celtic word Lacobriga.

Lagos is the most populous city in Nigeria and the largest country in Africa, Lagos has a metropolitan area of 3,345 square kilometers and a group of islands endowed with creeks and a lagoon.

It was a major centre of the slave trade until 1851, when the United Kingdom, which had abolished slavery in 1807, captured the city and annexed as a British colony in 1861.

When the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria was established in 1914, Lagos was made its political and commercial capital. In 1960 when Nigeria was granted independence by Britain,, Lagos remained the political and commercial capital of Nigeria.

However, the idea of Lagos being both the political and commercial capital of Nigeria ceased on December 12, 1991 when the Nigeria’s capital city was moved to Abuja, located in the centre of Nigeria, by the then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, who moved his office and other government functions to Abuja, which was built from scratch and specifically its capital.

Some of the reasons adduced for moving the capital to Abuja was that its present location signified neutrality and national unity is doubtful. The other reason is that the population in Lagos has led to overcrowding and squalid environment.

 One significant thing about the movement of the nation’s capital to Abuja was that it was done by a military fiat, devoid of any debate whatsoever unlike the robust debate by the founding fathers of Nigeria in Lancaster House, London after long deliberation that lasted for 10 years to discuss various issues of national import about the future of Nigeria, including making Lagos its capital city.

A quick look at all the capital cities of the world, both the old and the new show that capital cities are cited on the sea coast, usually where there are natural harbours, because of the accruing advantages of sea ports, convenience, and general economic advantages.

Taking Africa as an example, right from Egypt Westward through Libya, Tunisia, Morocco down to the West Coast and then down to South Africa and upwards to East Africa to Eritrea, all of them have their capitals near the sea.  The reason for this is not farfetched. They must have taken such a deliberate economic and giant commercial step to avail themselves of the opportunities nearness to the sea ports offers.

It is therefore not surprising why the Portuguese made Lagos, which has a natural harbor and the lagoon, from the days of Lord Lugard up to the time of independence, was made the capital of Nigeria. Because of this unique position, Lagos remains the economic nerve centre, controlling about 65% of the country’s economic activities.

Unfortunately since the capital was moved to Abuja, road network and rail line project in Lagos have been abandoned, thereby jeopardizing a good development that would have made Lagos a viable commercial city indeed.

We should therefore borrow a leaf from South Africa which has Pretoria as its administrative capital, Cape Town as its Legislative capital and Bloemfontein as its judicial capital and Cote d’Ivoire which has Yamoussoukro as its official capital and Abidjan as its de facto capital. With this, Lagos should be accorded the necessary legislative status and the financial muzzle to stand in this position.

The relocation has not only changed the face and fortune of Lagos, it has since resulted in its losing some prestige and economic leverage as the nation’s commercial city even though it has retained its importance and pre-eminence as the country’s largest city and as an economic centre.

The fact that Lagos remains the nation’s commercial capital naturally draws many people, both Nigerian nationals and other nationals, to Lagos to transact various types of business, and this inadvertently mounts pressure on such social amenities like roads, potable water and waste deposal efforts among many others provided by the government of Lagos State from its internally-generated revenue drive and allocations from the centre.

That being the case, Lagos should be given special statutory recognition and allocation for this rare attribute as it is done in some other parts of the world for if every benefit calls for a corresponding degree of responsibility, it stands to reason that  every responsibility deserves an equal measure of benefit. The sheer human traffic that daily throng Lagos for business certainly calls for additional allocation of resources to the state to absorb the pressure.

Part of what the federal government should do to redress the issue is to pay priority attention to road construction and rehabilitation and other social amenities in Lagos and consign all the federal government facilities currently wasting away in Lagos to Lagos to manage and use the proceeds to augment its huge expenses in running the affairs of Lagos state.

 Aare Afe Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D, D.LL, D.Litt