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Political patronage, corporate power and Lagos politics


Political patronage, corporate power and Lagos politics

by Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo

We have to accept the fact that a world in which powerful corporations restrict their activities to only the board rooms does not exist; the reason being that politics and business are interwoven.

The 1896 US Presidential elections is a testament to the influence of politics on policy and the reason corporations make certain that they wield their board room powers to influence governments. American plutocrats J.P Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie understood the power and influential role politics play in driving policies capable of derailing their capitalist businesses. They feared the negative impact of a revolution sounding Democratic candidate Williams Bryan occupying the White House, so they decided to ‘buy a President’ who would do their bidding.

They found the perfect candidate in Ohio Governor, William McKinley; without being noticed, they pumped millions of dollars into the McKinley campaign and funded a nationwide media narrative painting Bryan as a religious zealot, who would impose his overzealous religious ideals on America and whose policies would adversely affect American economy. As expected McKinley won that election having totally outspent the Bryan campaign. The giant businesses got their man into the White House and kept him there during the 1900 elections, unfortunately for them McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

The pro-business McKinley was replaced by his fiery anti-establishment deputy, Theodore Roosevelt who promised to break up the monopolies of that era and he did so by laying the foundation for the anti-trust cases which broke up the powerful monopolies including Rockefeller’s Standard Oil (though the breakup of Standard Oil made Rockefeller richer).

The key lesson from this historical journey is to pinpoint that business and politics often converge, businesses desire a government with friendly dispositions, politicians require campaign funding. From the days of the biggest plutocrats American has ever witnessed, corporate power evolved to become more subtle. Lobbying is the buzz word in the converged world of politics and business.

For instance, in 2013 Microsoft was alleged to have spent $7m lobbying against the Stop Online Piracy Act. One other instance is the Farmer Assurance Provision a.k.a. the “Monsanto Protection Act”, an amendment to a US Senate Appropriation Bill which would have stripped government authorities the power to stop the cultivation of genetically modified crops. It was alleged that the amendment was written by Monsanto’s lawyers and later ‘approved’ by Sen. Roy Blunt; many senators were unaware there was such provision during voting on the bill. Monsanto is said to have spent $6.3m on lobbying in 2011 alone. This demonstrates how desperate corporations are to protect their business interests.

If plutocracy is as powerful as it is in the US, it should not be surprising that plutocracy plays a big role in the faulty system we operate in Nigeria. We have a blend of corporate power and political patronage, a system in which politicians reward themselves and or their cronies through shell companies set up to siphon public funds.

With respect to corporate power for instance, the Nigerian National Assembly failed to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill for 17 years due to the powerful influence of the IOCs which control the crude oil market. In reality though, political patronage is the engine of the Nigerian political and economic system, many citizens are eager to amass riches for themselves and in order to do so, they avoid being perceived as enemies of the government in power even when the government tramples on the rights of the populace. It works the other way as well; politicians have to satisfy the “powers that be”.

Lagos is the centre of that political patronage system, despite being the intellectual base of Nigeria; Lagos residents avoid disrupting the political hegemonic equation. It is common knowledge that Lagos is not governed from Alausa but from that famous street in Ikoyi. Using a mechanism built around companies allegedly owned and serviced by the hegemony, the entirety of Lagos has been morphed into one giant holding company with subsidiaries operating from Alausa.

Ayo Sogunro puts it more succinctly “[i]t seems to me that the Lagos state authorities have finally lost their identity as a government and fully morphed into a corporate board of directors. The state is one huge market, and the government seems more concerned with maximising profit from market gaps than in providing functional public services and utilities.”

The recent enactment of the Land Use Charge Law 2018 reinforced the corporate entity Lagos has morphed into. The law inserted a private company, Alpha Beta Consulting to provide consultancy services to the Lagos State Government in respect of the collection of the land use charge. Particularly worrying is the fact that despite the outrage over the nature of the relationship between LASG and Alpha Beta and an allegation the company pockets 10% of all revenues collected in Lagos, the state legislature which later comically claimed to have done so by error, inserted provisions which seemingly gave Alpha Beta the right to provide monopolistic services to the Lagos State Government.

Prior to Alpha Beta, Visionscape, a company with no previous record in Nigeria was allegedly named in the initial draft of the Environmental Protection and Management Law, 2017. Visionscape was eventually appointed as ‘sole’ consultant for the management of environmental waste in Lagos. Since the appointment of Visionscape, Lagos has purportedly become a dirtier state, a testament of the growing struggle of the company to meet its obligations. These two instances resemble the Monsanto Protection Act scenario except the senator working in alliance with Monsanto was smart enough to not directly name Monsanto in the provision. It appears LASG and the Lagos legislature were not as smart.

Prior to Visionscape, the toll payable at the Lekki toll gate was increased due to ‘current economic realities’. Strangely, details on the concession arrangement including critical questions like how much has been paid and how much is currently outstanding to the concessionaire are unknown.

All of these give an impression of a Lagos ruled by corporate powers or at least persons in the patronage of Alausa and or Bourdillon. Lagos based civil society group, BudgIT has constantly accused LASG of lacking transparency in its budget process. Alausa has shown that it is unconcerned about the cries from residents, perhaps from the knowledge, residents are ‘powerless’. How it will happen is a worrying question, given the lack of viable opposition but Lagos surely needs to be saved before political patronage as the current hegemony kills the soul of governance.

  • Oluwatosin is a lawyer and public policy student; follow him on twitter @tosinfat

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