Cities for Profit Vs. Cities for People

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UNILAG

Do economic transactions affect citizens’ constitutional rights to public space? With the influx of private investments in real estate and mega project development—such as the Eko Atlantic City and the Lekki Free Trade Zone—what are the emerging tensions between private investments and public interests? How does the Cities for Profit vs. Cities for People narrative play out in the Lagos context? What lessons can we learn in creating the inclusive megacity? These questions were the focus of the panel discussion on Power Structures, Constitutionalism and Created Urban Spaces, held at the University of Lagos on June 23, 2018. The panel discussion was convened under the auspices of the 3rd Lagos Conference of the Lagos Studies Association where about two hundred – mainly Nigerian – academics teaching arts, culture, urban planning, economics in the United Kingdom and United States converged in Lagos to present and discuss their studies on Lagos.

 

The members of the panel include SPACES FOR CHANGE’s Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Olajumoke Akiode of the Center for Ethics and Sustainable Development; Gbenga Komolafe of the Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON); Olusegun Ogunleye of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Nigeria; and Sunday Olukoya of the Waste Pickers Association of Nigeria. Professor Taibat Lawanson of the University of Lagos’ Department of Urban Planning moderated the discussion, sponsored by Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

 

The panel started with a presentation by Olajumoke Akiode, highlighting why public-private partnerships (PPPs) are the favored models for economic development in Lagos. She argued that the government alone cannot fund the infrastructure development priorities of the state, hence the need for private sector participation in urban development. However, more transparency of PPP contracts is needed to overturn opacity and unlock the full benefits of public-private cooperation in development.

 

That presentation stirred the debate among panelists on the pros and cons of PPPs and the constitutionality of that model.  Sunday Olukoya of the Waste Pickers Association of Nigeria narrated how the recent collaboration between Lagos State and a private waste management company, VISIONSCAPE, is impacting on waste pickers in Lagos State. The emerging monopoly of waste collection, the scale of job losses, the loss of traditional livelihoods and the magnitude of the displacement that have resulted from this PPP model attests to its adverse impacts on local populations, especially those on low incomes.

 

SPACES FOR CHANGE’s Ms. Ohaeri described the PPP model as one of the features of the neo-liberal forms of urbanization witnessed across the globe. PPPs are of several types: Build Operate and Transfer (BOT), Build Own and Operate (BOO) and other variants according to the politics and cultural settings in the state. The PPP usually operates with the private party providing a public service or project by assuming substantial financial, technical and operational risks in the project.  The government’s contribution may be in kind such as the transfer of existing assets like land, property, machinery, tax breaks or even subsidy.  The PPP model, as practiced in Nigeria, rests on the pillar of profit maximization. Accordingly, priority is placed on revenue generation and returns on investment even if it is the expense of immense public discomfort and suffering.

 

An emerging concern in the Nigerian urban sector is the role public-private partnerships play in triggering mass displacements of the urban poor. High incidences of urban displacements have been linked to these partnerships. The experience of the Waste Pickers Association of Nigeria is a classic example. Certain reforms must be made in order for citizens to reap the full dividends of the PPP model of infrastructure development. For this to happen, PPPs need to carry people along. First, the initiators of PPP projects need to adopt inclusive approaches in their project design and implementation processes. This requires a robust understanding of the different services, contributions and roles played by different actors within the sub-sector the PPP is intervening. Second, deliberate steps should be taken to integrate these roles, services and contributions into the new development interventions, instead of totally scrapping or displacing them which leads to social tensions and inequalities. By integrating existing services and contributions in the sub-sector, local knowledge is preserved and mechanisms for knowledge transfer entrenched in the urban regeneration agenda.

 

Thirdly, PPP projects often result in the displacement of human settlements and livelihoods, and this trend should be reversed. In this regard, stakeholder engagement is critical. Certain kinds of PPP projects may involve relocating people and businesses. Therefore, sharing information with stakeholders, especially the affected populations, will enable them understand the purpose, scope, risks and approach being adopted to execute the project.  Regular consultation with stakeholders also opens up the space for discussions and negotiations to take place until a negotiated solution that is acceptable to the majority of stakeholders emerges. These three elements are often missing in most PPP projects in Lagos in particular, and Nigeria at large, making PPP projects very unpopular.

 

This year’s conference, with the theme, the Futurity in Lagos Scholarship, the Arts, Advocacy and Social Enterprise, featured an array of presentations on art, music, theater, film, history, literature and research studies aimed at understanding the city of Lagos better.

 

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