President Tinubu’s impassioned plea, “Let the poor breathe, don’t suffocate them,” serves as a touching commentary on the glaring paradox of the impoverished masses under his administration. This sentiment is underscored by the recent findings of the African Development Bank (AfDB), which shed light on the suffocating financial policies disproportionately affecting the underprivileged in Lagos state.

The AfDB report, titled ‘From Millions to Billions: Financing the Development of African Cities,’ exposes the disheartening reality that Lagos’s budgetary allocations largely overlook the essential infrastructure and services crucial for the well-being of the city’s poorest residents. A staggering 50% of the approved budget for 2023/24, totaling $1.3 billion, is earmarked for capital projects. However, the report contends that this significant capital expenditure does not consistently translate into the implementation of fundamental services for the impoverished citizens of Lagos.

The report highlights that the emphasis on attracting multinational companies and foreign investment often overshadows the imperative to address the basic needs of the city’s most vulnerable population. It notes, “Lagos State’s approved budget for 2023/24 (the ‘Budget of Continuity’) totaled $2.31 billion or $144 per capita, of which $1.33 billion (58%) is for capital projects and 27% specifically for new infrastructure. The balance (42%) is spent on personnel and debt servicing. This equates to a $48.22 capital budget per capita.”

Furthermore, the report underscores that Lagos relies heavily on revenue generated internally, with 70% originating from sources such as PAYE, property taxes, sales proceeds, rents, land-use charges, fees, and fines. Despite these revenues, 65% of Lagosians lack access to electricity, and 85% depend on informal sanitation, revealing the shortcomings of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in ensuring universal access to basic services.

The report’s revelation that infrastructure spending disproportionately benefits the affluent, exacerbating socio-economic disparities, has ignited public outrage. This discontent peaked with the scrutiny of expenditures in the 2023 budget, revealing extravagant allocations for items such as diffusers, SUVs, and charter planes. The public raised eyebrows at the governor’s office spending N7,475,000 on replacing liquid fragrance, the Chief of Staff’s office splurging N440 million on brand-new bulletproof Lexus LX 600 SUVs, and a hefty N400,000,000 set aside for unforeseen charter jet expenses.

This perceived profligacy has elicited widespread criticism, with many questioning the government’s alignment of priorities with the genuine needs of the people. The exorbitant expenditures, detractors argue, could have been more judiciously allocated to job creation and social safety nets, addressing the pressing concerns of the impoverished populace.

In light of these revelations, Lagos State must reassess its fiscal priorities and redirect its focus towards building essential infrastructure that supports the less privileged residents. A strategic investment in fundamental facilities such as roads, water supply, and sanitation can significantly elevate the living standards of the impoverished. Beyond mere accessibility, enhanced infrastructure creates a ripple effect, fostering better opportunities for education, healthcare, and employment. This proactive approach is crucial in nurturing a more inclusive and resilient society, ensuring that every citizen, irrespective of economic standing, has the opportunity to thrive.

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