While the University of Lagos does not occupy the enviable position of the University of Ibadan which is the premier university in Nigeria, it does provoke the envy of the Ibadan citadel as the most important institution in the city which served as the capital of the country for the longest period of time, and as such received more than passing attention from influential foreign countries and in turn served as barometer for the health of the first generation universities in Nigeria. It is perhaps this unique vantage point of the institution which provoked the guest lecturer at the 54th convocation ceremony, Professor Toyin Falola to muse on why a unique dialogical relation between the university and the city of Lagos might serve as a touchstone for the developmental aspirations of Nigeria.
Falola traced the prominence of Lagos to the trans-Atlantic trade (including slave trading) before which other hinterland cities were dominant. He however observed that prominence for Lagos as erstwhile capital brought with it unique problems associated with other capital cities, but compounded by poverty and homelessness in the midst of plenty in Lagos. According to him, the resolution for the future of the city of Lagos lies in the symbiotic coaxial question to UNILAG VC and the Lagos State government: how can the university assist the state government in achieving its goals and how can the state government assist the university in developing and accomplishing its intellectual goals?
The guest lecturer zeroed in on accommodation as a prime example of the problem area where adequate resources might be brought to bear using all available space to generate commuting space from city centre to periphery. The VC is invited to set up an intellectual ‘ways and means’ panel to work in collaboration with the state government. But in my considered view, this initiative will have to dovetail to a national project, because the housing problem is a function of the unique role Lagos played as the erstwhile federal capital city which drew as magnet onto itself peoples from different parts of the country. The solution to this problem will in time draw onto itself the resolution of other infrastructural problems as holistic enterprises that radiate outwards to other states and capitals of the federation.
Interstate enterprises need to be developed to encourage the integrated development of Nigeria from local and state levels guaranteed by federal government loans and regional investment loans as well as foreign investment partners for the medium and longer term development, and to encourage strategic collaboration among the states in what I have called elsewhere the comparatist’s approach to integrated national development that goes beyond seeing the federal government as sole father Christmas of national development. This approach takes into consideration the type of capitalist system Nigeria operates.
Capitalism is not a one cap fits all phenomenon. Whereas the United States is seen as the world’s epicentre of capitalism, studies have shown that some African countries like Senegal, Togo and Nigeria are not considered capitalist countries when it comes to economic freedoms, while United States does not enter the top five because of its welfare and social security interventions on the application of state capitalism. Switzerland, Singapore and Australia occupy higher rankings, with Singapore the ultimate leader (89 points.) The US (70.6) and the UK (69.9 points) rank 25th and 28th respectively barely scraped through as capitalist economies, a nomenclature that starts from seventy (70 points) while Nigeria ranks, 124th with (53.9) points.
A similar approach to the integrated approach recommended above was taken in the Kings Cross area of London, which was a cesspit of crime and drugs in the 90s, but was turned around by concerted efforts of government, private and foreign enterprises into a state of the art accommodation and recreation enterprise. So also did the same period host in London, massive investment portfolios of Chinese, state of the art sky scraper accommodation projects ( In Nigeria for instance, there has been a hue and cry regarding Chinese inroad into the nation’s economy by economic traditionalists. Some see it as sign of the New Partition of Africa. The Chinese inroads into London’s architectonic edifice is to a large part responsible for China’s reluctance to join Russia in a military alliance against the West following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
To set the ball rolling when it comes to solving Lagos’ accommodation and infrastructural problems, questions such as parties to foot the bill for the subsidy of lower paid lower class cadre of workers will have to be determined as a function of national policy. The means by which the electric power problem will be satisfyingly solved will also have to be a function of national strategy in which the parties with progressive credentials will need to put forward a comprehensive welfare plan for the whole country, presented in terms of party manifestos, a move that is still at its infancy in Nigeria, but which was a necessary step in the United States which ushered in its period of P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S (from progressive principles.) In this regard Nigeria will need to leap frog, (at least in official electrification projects of key national institutions) into the era of large scale solar electrification projects. State governments will take their cues from these and the rest of the country will follow suit.
In the 54th Convocation Lecture of the University of Lagos, Toyin Falola has started a conversation about how Lagos can enhance its future and by extension the future of other Nigerian cities through the unique agency of the University of Lagos in a dialogic embrace.
Prince Yinka Agbetuyi is the Director-General of Edutronix Group, and Professor of Comparative Arts and World History at the Edutronix Institute, London. Agbetuyi is also a licentiate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, London, a road safety professional, poet and a musicologist.