At a recent parley tagged: Lagos Means Business, where he met with captains of industry and members of the Organized Private Sector, OPS, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, promised that the state government would embrace dialogue in resolving contentious areas of the new Lagos Land Use Charge (LUC) Law. Just a few days back, at an event organized to campaign against domestic violence, the governor revealed that the state government was in discussions with different members of the society and that the whole issue would soon been amicably resolved.
Indeed, it did not really take long before the state government announced a review of the new law. According to the State’s Commissioner for Finance, Mr Akinyemi Ashade, the present position is the result of dialogue with stakeholders such as the OPS, Nigeria Bar Association, Real Estate Investors and Developers, Landlord and Resident Associations, Community Development Associations, Civil Society Organisations, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries (LCCI), Nigeria Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers and several other professional groups.
In a bid to create a framework to empower property owners with self-assessment, the executive would in due course forward a regulation to the State House of Assembly for review of applicable rates and regime of reliefs on categories of properties pursuant to LUC Law. While stating that the review was an expression of government’s respect for the views and feelings of the people, Ashade disclosed that the decision to reduce the rates was taken at the weekly Council Meeting that was chaired by Governor Ambode.
With this new development, the rates payable on commercial properties have been reduced by 50 per cent. As part of the new deal, government has also reduced the charges for Owner-occupier with third party including industries and manufacturing concerns by 25 per cent, while tax credits has been given for LUC charges already paid in addition to introduction of installment payment system. For commercial property owners who were mostly affected by the amended law, a property valued at N20 million for instance which was earlier billed N91,200 will now pay N45,600 per annum as a result of the 50 per cent discount, while property occupied by owner, third party and property used for industrial and manufacturing purposes will now pay N23,040 per annum on a property valued at N20 million as against the earlier N30,720 based on the 25 per cent discount. As for owner-occupied property, a property valued at N20 million, only N7,752 will now be paid per annum as against N9,120 earlier demanded based on 15 per cent discount.
Under the amended law, there is provision for establishment of five tribunals out of which one has been created in Ikeja and now operational, while the remaining four would be established in other administrative divisions of the State in Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu and Lagos Island. The law also makes provision for aggrieved tax payers to ventilate their grievances within forty-five days through a mediation process, adding that so far over 80 cases have been resolved through mediation.
Looking at the whole scenario, one cannot but assert that, for now, there is no alternative to democracy as a system of government. The concept of democracy has received varying definitions and interpretations from scholars and political observers depending on the ideological leaning or interest of the contending scholars. However, there are certain basic features of democracy that serve as consensus among the contending perspectives.
One of such is accountability. Every democratically elected government is accountable to the people, to whom it owes its existence. This is why it has become traditional for the Lagos state government to periodically render periodic account of its stewardship and interact with the people at Town Hall Meetings and other such forums.
The Ambode administration has never derided itself of having the monopoly of knowledge with regards to finding the right solutions to the myriad of challenges confronting the state. It has, therefore, consistently thrown its doors open to divergent opinions and views from various sources. Towards this end, the state government has been encouraging dialogue on critical sectors (Justice, Economy, Education etc) in the state through public hearings, Town Hall Meetings, Stakeholders Summits etc.
The major objective is to provide a steady forum for local and international experts as well as other stakeholders, drawn from the private, public and non-governmental sectors, to brainstorm and provide solutions on key contemporary and emergent issues confronting the state. The recent Lagos-Kano Economic Summit as well as the maiden Justice Sector Stakeholder Summit, among others, falls into this category.
The major goal of the state government in seeking the input of stakeholders through these diverse public forums is to create strategic ways to determine ways of evolving ideas that will alleviate the sufferings of the people and improve the quality of social life and engender socio-economic development. For instance, at the maiden Town Hall Meeting that the administration held at Abesan Mini Stadium in Ayobo-Ipaja, Lagos West Senatorial District, the people overwhelmingly clamoured for a far reaching solution to the traffic grid along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway as well as rehabilitation of the Ayobo-Ipaja Road by Moshalasi bus stop. In his response, the Governor promised that a Flyover Bridge would be constructed at Abule-Egba to ease traffic while the Ayobo-Ipaja Road would be rehabilitated within three months. Both promises have since been fulfilled.
At the onset, Governor Ambode underscored the resolve of his administration to run an all inclusive government in which “no one or segment of the society, irrespective of colour, race, faith, status, ability or disability is left behind”. For democracy to truly remain the government of the people, by the people and for the people, the active involvement of the people in governance is quite germane. This is because the citizens are the bedrock of democracy.
In order to institutionalise the administration’s plan of constantly engaging the public on various issues of governance, the Ambode administration created the Office of Civic Engagement to effectively synchronize engagements between the government and the public. Through this, the citizens have been provided with a platform that could make reaching out to the government a seamless task. The Office serves dual purposes. One, it enables the people to make their needs known to the government. Two, it aids the government to ensure the execution of people-driven programmes.
Given the current thinking in the state, the place of the citizens in governance cannot be over emphasised. This, indeed, is why the LUC law was immediately reviewed to reflect the thoughts of the people. The beauty of it, at the end of the day, is that vital lessons have been learnt and consequently democracy is deepened.
– Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja