How do you throw out a bill that will improve the fortunes of your cash cow? The Senate just did
For a parliament that often says it intends to do something about Nigeria's economic recession, this was an opportunity to put the gavel where the mouth is. But it blew it.
The bill was sponsored by Oluremi Tinubu, who represents Lagos Central Senatorial District.
The bill would also have allowed Lagos receive one percent of Nigeria's revenue, aside the State's monthly allocation. This wasn't too much to ask in the circumstances.
Lagos contributed N101.69billion to Nigeria's revenue in the first quarter of 2016; up 4.5 percent from a similar quarter last year.
The Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from Lagos was an impressive N76.06billion in the first quarter of 2016.
Lagos is Africa's 7th largest economy, boasting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures of $90 billion.
Lagos contributes the most IGR to the federal coffers among the 36 states of the federation.
With oil becoming bad business, Lagos plays host to Nigeria's burgeoning knowledge and innovation class.
With a population of over 20 million people, Lagos is where all of Nigeria comes to buy and sell. Nestled on the sea shore, Lagos is the country's economic nerve center; accounting for more than 70 percent of all financial transactions in Nigeria, by most estimates.
You would think Nigeria's political leaders who have spent all of 2015 and 2016 talking about ease of doing business and reflating the nation's suffering economy, would realise that granting Lagos the status of a commercial capital equates to relaxing some of the bureaucracy that still makes doing business in Lagos, that wee bit difficult for foreign investors and locals alike.
What should have been a debate of ideas on the floor of the senate, sadly degenerated into a needless geopolitical ruckus as the bill was binned.
The Commercial Capital status bill was undergoing its second reading on the floor when the Chief Whip, Sen. Olusola Adeyeye, who supported the bill, questioned why the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, was being subsidised by the Federal Government, when taxes were being paid for similar government services in Lagos.
Adeyeye also wondered why certain Northern States who ban consumption of alcohol, benefit from VAT accruing from alcohol consumption and the breweries situated in Lagos. It's a valid argument, but this is a matter for another day.
Adeyeye was undiplomatic when he referred to the FCT as a "rotten pampered child." According to reports, tempers flared in the chamber thereafter, forcing the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, to ask Adeyeye to withdraw the statement. Adeyeye duly complied.
“We have a Governor that banned alcohol", said Adeyeye,"and if my own people consume alcohol, that Governor should not enjoy a kobo of Value-Added-Tax (VAT) from my area.
“If it is 13 percent for Bayelsa and Delta, it should be so for Lagos state from VAT. The FCT is a rotten, pampered child. But I withdraw my statement on that. The FCT is being subsidized by the federal government. That must end,” he flared.
The session had become rowdy thereafter and most Senators had headed for the exit doors.
Granted, Adeyeye may have been uncouth and churlish, but you don't throw away a bill of this nature just because your ego has been bruised as a lawmaker.
What won't change is that the enormous population in Lagos makes it the prime investment destination for all of Africa and the rest of the world. The city's infrastructure is groaning from the strain of its near 30 million people who have come to call Eko (another name for Lagos) home.
This isn't a battle between Abuja and Lagos. One is the country's administrative capital, the other is its economic nerve center. When Lagos works, Nigeria usually works. When Abuja doesn't work, Lagos provides a solace.
A city that contributes that much in revenue to the coffers, shouldn't be the subject of drama in an over-pampered, over-fed Senate. The Commercial Capital status should have long been granted Lagos. That it is only just making its way into parliament, is in itself depressing.
Our Senators can still do the right thing, however. Mrs. Tinubu should re-present this bill someday in the future when tempers have simmered and when the Senate realises how daft it was today.
Today was a missed opportunity, but we can still get the job done for Lagos and for Nigeria.