His Excellency Babatunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, came to Oxford on Monday to talk about how he has set about reforming Lagos—one of the biggest and most important cities in Africa—and to hear the results of research into the impact of his policies conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford.
Delivering the Special Lecture of the Oxford Research Network On Governance in Africa (OReNGA) at Rhodes House as part of the University’s activities in support of Black History Month, the Governor talked about his frustration with the decay of public services and infrastructure in Nigeria during the 1980s and his determination to harness the power of the private sector to transform his ‘megacity’. In a warm speech in which he discussed his childhood memories of being able to rely on government services and the way that his support for Manchester United has shapes his attitude toward the difficult tasks that he faces, the Governor also went into considerable detail about his strategy for reviving an area once described as a ‘concrete jungle.’
Throughout, the Governor was modest about his achievements and while he listed the progress that his government has made in terms of healthcare, the environment, transport and taxation, he was also candid about the many challenges that remain. Lagos is the economic capital of Nigeria and its gross domestic product (GDP) is greater than most West African countries. However, the state is growing at a rate of 300,000 people a year and while the population is young, unemployment remains a serious problem. The Governor explained that the government cannot hope to meet the needs of Lagos’ ten million plus residents alone and so must work in partnership with the private sector. In particular, he laid out his plans to strengthen infrastructure and get a tighter grip on law and order in order to make the state a more attractive destination for domestic and foreign investors—thus simultaneously creating much needed new jobs and increasing the government’s tax take. To access a copy of the speech, scroll down to the bottom of this post.
During a lengthy Q&A session the Governor answered questions on a wide range of topics including the use of technology for healthcare, his relationship with the president, and his future ambitions. Members of the audience were particularly impressed by his thorough answer to a question about the poor quality of the water supply, in which he described his short, medium, and long-term strategy with remarkable precision. But the Governor also admitted that the success of his public-private initiatives will depend on whether businesses believe that the current favourable conditions will last. Given that he is currently embarking on his second and final term in office, this will depend on how smoothly the succession process is managed, and the willingness of those who come after him to finish the job.
Before the lecture, I had the opportunity to talk to the Governor about some of the findings of a research project that I have been working on for the Centre for the Study of African Economies in Oxford in conjunction with Prof Etannibi Alemika of the University of Jos, Nigeria and Dr Adrienne LeBas of American University, USA. Based on a survey of the residents of Lagos State, we have been looking at how citizens respond to political reforms and changes to the taxation system. One of the questions we are particularly interested in is whether the provision of services by a government changes the attitudes and behaviour of ordinary people. Looking specifically at the impact of Governor Fashola’s reforms, we found that:
- The effective provision of public goods can enable African leaders to build a cross-ethnic support base—even in extremely diverse contexts.
- Although the willingness of the public to pay taxes is low in many African countries – where governments are typically viewed as wasteful and corrupt – willingness can be rapidly generated by an effective reform minded administration.
- The provision of basic public services dramatically increases the willingness of individuals living in recipient communities to pay higher levels of taxation.
This suggests that the provision of effective public services not only benefits the very poor who cannot afford to pay for education and health care, it is also critical to generate public willingness to pay taxes and public support for future reform agendas. Extending new services can also help to boost government legitimacy among marginalized and disgruntled communities and can therefore help to reduce the risks of civil or political conflict. The Lagos government should prioritise providing tangible services to communities and ensuring that the availability of these services is widely publicized.
The Governor responded that he has seen the positive impact of his reform agenda first hand: for the first time, residents of Lagos are turning up at government offices asking how they can pay tax. But he also commented on how quickly such good will would evaporate if his administration failed to make good on its promise to invest tax-payers money wisely.
The lecture was kindly supported by the African History and Politics Seminar, the Centre for the Study of African Economies, the Development Office of the University of Oxford, and Rhodes House.
For a copy of the policy brief on the public services and taxation, For a copy of the Governor’s speech, click here.