Opinion: LEKKI FREE ZONE: PROFIT ABOVE PEOPLE? (1)

The Lagos state government must immediately begin to focus on improving the living conditions of people of Ibeju-Lekki, hosts of the Lekki Free (Trade) Zone and channel bulk of its energy, resources into the real development of the region. Enhancement of the social development index of Ibeju-Lekki people must be placed ahead of profit figures or Return on Investments (ROI) for private capital. If it does not, the people of Ibeju-Lekki, whose lands have been taken away, with meagre, and in some cases, no compensation, must kick-start a consistent campaign for real development – one that places people before profits and hold the government to account.

The Lekki Free Zone (LFZ) is domiciled in Ibeju-Lekki community, Lagos. Lagos State Government (LASG) under Bola Ahmed Tinubu, launched the ambitious project in May 2006, presenting it as well-thought-out agenda to turn the region into one of the largest investment destination in Africa. At the groundbreaking on May 12, 2006 the then Lagos governor likened the creation of the export free zone to one of the most effective strategies for transforming a country like Nigeria from third to first world.

The LFZ is managed by Lekki Free Zone Development Company (LFZDC), a joint venture between a consortium of Chinese firms organized under China-Africa Lekki Investment Ltd (CALIL) with 60% holding and the Lagos State Government through Lekki Worldwide Investment Ltd (LWIL), with 40% holding. It projects to turn the zone into a modern industrial and export hub with world class infrastructure and enterprises – seaport, airport, refineries, real estate, host of manufacturing outfits and promises at least 300,000 jobs.

For a country raveled by high unemployment, poor infrastructure and weak manufacturing capacity, this is no doubt a bold project. The “capture” of Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, by the massive program now lends its purest credibility to LFZ project. Dangote is now developing what is described as the largest singular Greenfield refinery in the world in the LFZ, with refining capacity of 600,000 barrels per day – more than the combined installed capacity of Nigeria’s four refineries, even before they became comatose. I dare say that the Federal Government cannot wait to see this massive refinery commence operation. After all, one of the world’s biggest producers of crude oil cannot refine its own crude. It cannot boast of a modern, functional refinery – shame!

But beyond the Dangote refinery, how has the LFZ really fared? Fast forward to 2017; 11 years after its launch, a LASG commissioner recently revealed that 116 companies have registered to operate in the Zone but only 16 have so far commenced operation. This is not a pass mark. The seaport project has remained at planning stage and we do not know what has happened to the airport dream. But government retains its optimism about the zone; maybe rightly so.  It reveals that so far the zone has attracted $15b (N4.7 trillion) in investment with Dangote alone to invest $11b (N3.46 trillion)! It is convinced that investors in the zone will witness unprecedented Return on Investment (ROI).

Now to the meat of the matter. The LASG is right to retain its optimism about the LFZ. Boasting an expansive and exploitable landmass, gorgeous ocean and lagoon fronts, Ibeju-Lekki provides a fertile destination for palatable manufacturing and real estate hub. But the LASG is wrong to focus all conversations about the LFZ primarily about ROI for private profiteers who have and are being encouraged to exploit the fertile land and hospitable ambiance of Ibeju-Lekki.

11 years after launching the LFZ, Ibeju-Lekki remains critically rural and undeveloped. As we write, over 67 communities in the region are not connected to the National grid, they have been without electric power forever! The only single lane access road into Ibeju-Lekki (the Lekki-Eleko road) was constructed over 30 years ago and is continuously deteriorating – daily harassed and abused by heavy duty vehicles moving heavy duty equipment to the factories of Dangote and cohorts. Soon the access road would become worse that the roads leading into Apapa.

Apart from the LFZ complex, created primarily to attract profit for the bosses, there is no visible evidence of public governance in Ibeju-Lekki. We challenge the LASG to provide data of how many new public schools it has built or upgraded in Ibeju-Lekki since launching the LFZ project 11 years ago. How many hospitals and primary health centers have been built? How many roads have been completed? How many public housing estates have been built in Ibeju-Lekki over same period? How does public utilities created in Ibeju-Lekki over these period compare to the needs of the local population and how do they compare to similar investments in other LGAs/LCDAs in Lagos. How many such public utilities does the LASG plan to create in Ibeju-Lekki over the next 2 years and what is the plan to expand such infrastructure to match the rate of population growth and expansion in economic activity?

Lest Ibeju-Lekki becomes Lagos’s Delta (The Niger-Delta of Lagos), conversations must commence now around the people and not only profits. In a Thisday newspaper publication of May 11 2017, LASG revealed that so far it has paid N740m to land owners as compensation for taking over their farm lands and habitats for investors. No mention of roads, schools, hospitals, public housing estates, scholarships, empowerment for local farmers and MSMEs etc.

And 740m only? Are you kidding me? Alhaji Dangote himself has revealed that his refinery complex alone is 8 times the size of Victoria Island. Here him in TheCable of October 21 2016 “You won’t appreciate the size of the place, maybe because you have not gone round, some of you. But this place is eight times Victoria Island. The entire Victoria Island, you get eight times of it here. So that is how big it is” Now Dangote’s complex is only a fraction of the entire LFZ complex. And to those whose farmlands and habitats have been exploited to create such huge private investments, with promising ROI, they only have N740m in monetary compensation and do not even have electric power! Tell me the meaning of robbery.

For those who may want to argue that onboarding the various private investments will naturally create conditions for improvement in the living conditions of the people, we say this is not automatically so. The glaring evidence of poverty and squalor existing side-by-side with opulence of the International Oil Companies in the Niger-Delta region is a clear testament that private investments for profit does not necessarily translate to improvement in the people’s welfare.

Sad enough, some community leaders and elected representatives of Ibeju-Lekki, appear to be in sync with the government in its exploitation and abandonment of Ibeju-Lekki people. Notwithstanding, the youth and all those desirous of real development for Ibeju-Lekki/the LFZ must join the campaign to get the LASG to focus on people and not profits. Whoever thinks that doling out bribes and rents to some traditional rulers and politicians will bottle long-term agitation for real development in Ibeju-Lekki should now perish the thought. LASG must immediately reveal a coherent and measurable program for real development in Ibeju-Lekki – one anchored around people. Specifically; in the minimums we call for:

  1. Immediate connection of 67 communities in Ibeju-Lekki to the national grid and provision of electric power to the communities;
  2. Complete reconstruction of the single lane access road into Ibeju-Lekki into a modern dual carriage way;
  3. A coherent and aggressive public investment in schools, hospitals, access roads into the various villages and towns, affordable housing estates, adequate security, and other public infrastructure targeted specifically at enhancing the social development;
  4. All private investors in Ibeju-Lekki/LFZ must immediately reveal their social investment plan over the medium to long term and initiate platforms for continuous engagement with the community.

Olawale Eleto, an indigene of Ibeju-Lekki is a public policy analyst and President of Ibeju-Lekki Real Development Vanguard

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