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Lagos ports and smart cities: a model for Nigerian development

The global consensus surrounding liveable cities and overall quality of life brought about the “Smart City” concept. From New Delhi to Copenhagen, New York to Cape Town, cities all around the world are focused on local development and place based strategies as a way to kick-off national well-being and economic development.

It is worrisome that in our talk about economic recovery there are still too few discussions about innovation: we will recover from this recession. But what next? How will we radically change or even improve the way Nigerians live and do business which ultimately, contributed to the recession in the first place? Will we become a productive economy or remain one that consumes the exports of others? How are the states mobilising to assist the Federal Government in its desire to diversify our economy? Lagos has long been a trailblazer in our journey to national development.

It has often shouldered the responsibilities of other states by educating and providing for economic migrants from all over Nigeria.

The governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, recently announced that Lagos was adopting the Smart City concept: bold ideas which leverage on new technologies to strengthen Lagos’ social, physical and economic infrastructure.

Modern agribusiness This got me thinking about the Lagos Marina and waterfront properties: so many communities in Nigeria are surrounded by water. Why have our ports not become fully fledged commercial and tourist hubs? ‘Smart development’ should include and link ports, maritime transportation and tourism installations.

We’ve focused so far on extractive industries and even our return to agriculture is yet to fully promote modern agribusiness and processing over small scale farming where farmers export raw products which are later refined abroad. Shifting gears, or trading oil for agriculture and solid minerals, isn’t enough, we must develop our service industries and refine our ability to provide intangible products: that is the way of the modern world.

So what, you might ask, do intangible goods or services, knowledge, in essence, have to do with ports?

Ports and industrial areas, in many cities are regenerated; they come together to house cultural and recreational facilities which transform cities: waterfronts, in other climes, offer diverse and lively attractions which blend with the port to create a new, dynamic space.

A city like Marseilles, in France redeveloped its waterfront and docks to create spaces for yachting and tourism, for cargo, ships etc.,spaces for offices, an ultra-modern events hall (used for concerts; in Nigeria’s case, we have no halls suitable for concerts as acoustics are underdeveloped).

“The Terraces du Port” area, an open air site, marries port and city, providing affordable, both state owned and privately run attractions which offer tourists, the middle classes, fun, safe activities.

In 2013, Marseille was celebrated as the European capital for culture. Wouldn’t we love to see a Nigerian city or state celebrated internationally for its ability to thrill global audiences and for creating jobs while doing so? However, there’s one caveat: When the word “culture” is mentioned in this article in reference to us Nigerians, I’m referring to authentic Nigerian culture: every single state has ethnic groups famous for certain traditions, festivals, foods, dress etc. Yet, when we talk about tourism in this country, we seem to erroneously believe that other nationalities would leave their home country to come here and consume burgers, fries or other Western, non-indigenous foods and customs.

When we’ve tried to create cruises or “promenades” there was nothing “Nigerian” or “African” about them, hence why they were unsuccessful. Why would a foreign national pay good money for a copy-cat version of something done in Dubai or Paris when the original exists?

Smart cities certainly involve the analysis of international best practices but we must find a “Nigerian flavour” or attraction to demarcate ourselves. Bogota, in Columbia, turned its port area into a centre for work and play, bringing in millions of dollars in yearly income. Its “Container City Food Court” made out of porta cabins, is an assemblage of office spaces, shops, restaurants, housing and workshops targeted at young people, often graduates, just starting out in life. Now, don’t picture the grubby porta cabins we are accustomed to in Nigeria.

I want you to picture painted, decorated, artfully installed shapes which people travel to see. In London, much like Lagos, land is expensive and somewhat hard to come by. So, container cities, waterside housing is changing the way people live and solving the affordable housing crisis. In Christchurch, New Zealand,after an earthquake in 2011, stylish, sustainable containers replaced destroyed buildings in damaged areas. Imagine the possibilities: in the North East, or the poorest areas of Nigeria, media centres, schools, urban spaces made from containers which could upgrade and modernise entire communities’ access to affordable recreational spaces and physical infrastructure.

The Netherlands has entire student housing blocks made from containers, architectural masterpieces for a fraction of the price we spend on concrete in Nigeria. Container cities have been proven to create a unique atmosphere, bringing people together around a new local identity: pride for one’s community is what is missing in Nigeria. Real pride of tangible developments rather than ethnic boasts. Economic development in Nigeria has often meant “development for the rich” or a minority, rather than community development, which in itself is a mistake as economies of scale, mass production, is where the real wealth lies. Rather than sticking to the 1970s model of ports simply remaining places of transit, why not creative, vibrant hubs which participate in city life? Or, a situation whereby the port itself could be a local hub to encourage entrepreneurship? Lagos Island, before it became a business district, was home to the Brazilian culture where returnee slaves lived.

That aspect of its history can be visually recreated by encouraging creative people, writers, photographers, artists, to re-imagine a look and feel for their community. Broad Street and the Marina should be a cultural and business district, a research hub where young Lagosians are encouraged to think about the future and supported to turn their ideas into business opportunities for local development. Apapa and Tin Can have so much more to offer than being taken over by unruly tanker drivers whose business has little positive effect on citizens.

These areas should be re-imagined to cut unemployment and fight spatial segregation which is a factor behind insecurity. If different areas across Nigeria are seen as attractive and offer a decent quality of life, rather than only small pockets inhabited by the rich, the average Nigerian would have more of a sense of self. The clock is ticking: change must become apparent in the form of progressive, inclusive development.

The same old ‘group-think’ is dangerous. We need fresh ideas and talents from all walks of life. Patience Jonathan SHE was quoted as saying that the funds found in her account belong to her late mother. What was her mother’s occupation? How did she come about millions of US dollars? Didn’t the Jonathans previously claim to be from extremely humble backgrounds? The whole world laughs when corruption in Nigeria is discussed.

One must wonder what Mrs. Jonathan’s late mum would have to say about the recession and the disappearing funds which enabled it. Sale of assets I’M petrified at the thought.

We’ve been down this road before and it hasn’t yielded any benefits. What happened to Ajaokuta Steel? I quite understand the shortfall in revenue and the urgent need to diversify our economy but if assets are sold to the same ‘gang’ who’ve done little with our other privatised assets, then we’re headed for big trouble.

The concentration of the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few unproductive (and often incapable) people is precisely what got us into this mess. Governments hold a country’s resources in trust for the people. In principle, and on paper, policies make sense in Nigeria till one realises that far too many of our business and political elite have the ability to sabotage and destroy the masses.
Source: Vanguard

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