By Oludare Mayowa
For many people who are familiar with Lagos Island, particularly Broad Street, a visit to the same location today would have elicited mixed reactions of either nostalgia or resentment of the state of things there.
For many years, the street was regarded as Nigeria’s Wall Street, where the bulk of the country’s financial institutions are concentrated adjacent to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), then headquarters, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Nigerian stock exchange.
Before the construction of the new complex on Customs Street, the Central Bank was partially seated between Broad Street and Customs Street, where the nation’s local bourse is still located.
On the broad street were once located the headquarters of the defunct National Bank, Afribank, Savanah Bank, Oceanic Bank, United Bank for Africa, Nigeria Industrial Development Bank, Now Bank of Industry, Wema Bank, and many other lenders that are now defunct or transformed to new name.
Walking the street in the 1980s and up until the twilight of the 1990s, many of the lenders remained the major occupiers of the longest street in the once-nation’s capital.
However, the liberalisation of the nation’s economy by the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida in the late 1980s brought about a gradual change in the outlook of the once glamorous street, where men in suits are the main feature on the long street.
Bankers in suits are the major faces you are confronted with while you travel on the long Broad Street, either going on break at the popular Kingsway store or the UTC canteen down the road around the Apongbon area then.
Hardly can you see any hawkers or area boys parading the street, as security on the street remains tight, protecting the financial institutions that dotted the route.
I have traveled to some downtown areas of American and European cities. These are the hubs of trade and major business districts where the economic powerhouses congregate for everyday operations.
Property in downtown areas of the United States is the most expensive asset that can be afforded by key players in the economy, and so the cities are maintained, kept clean, and devoid of shanties and eye-sore conditions.
Equally, Lagos Island, or Nigeria’s own downtown, used to be the pride of the nation, adjacent to the seat of power when Lagos used to be the capital city of Nigeria before it was moved to Abuja to further bring unity and centeredness to the administration of the country.
Many top Nigerian businesses and entrepreneurs have their offices located within the downtown area, which contains the city skyscrapers and the tallest buildings in the country. Because of the value placed on landed assets, only a few businesses could afford to own one in the area.
However, Broad Street, which was the longest avenue in the downtown, and its adjourning streets were the exclusive preserve of financial institutions and major superstores, such as Kingsway, Leventis, and UTC, in the 1970s and up to the 1990s. The office of the Nigerian Bureau of Reuters used to be on Broad Street until the 2000s when the news agency had to move to Ikoyi and later Victoria Island for security reasons.
The same is applicable to the top banks, especially the so-called new generation banks that found allure in Victoria Island, far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Then, the big superstores succumbed to the downturn in the economy, folded up businesses, yielded their property to other less profitable businesses that could afford the rent, and in some cases, sold the property to the few financial institutions willing to take them over.
At this point, value began to depart the downtown basically because of the invasion of the financial district by miscreants popularly referred to as Area Boys, whose menace was anathema to the dreams and aspirations of the area.
A visit to Kakawa, the former headquarters of the Daily Times, once Nigeria’s biggest newspaper conglomerate, showed the picture of what the downtown has become: dilapidated, inhabited by squatters, miscreants, and petty business owners.
The same situation is applicable to the former head office of British Petroleum, which was later transformed into African Petroleum; the defunct Savannah Bank; and many other properties that hitherto belonged to large businesses and conglomerates and are now taken over by squatters, who have virtually vandalized and ripped off much of their beauty.
While he was the governor of the state, now President Bola Tinubu has made a feeble attempt at transforming the entire area called Isale Eko, with the adjourning financial district up to the inner Marina. Tinubu awarded a contract to Julius Berger to rebuild the inner roads within these areas and increase the value of property and businesses within the district.
This effort, though it yielded some results, failed to endear the areas to businesses that have made up their minds to relocate because the state was unable to curb the excesses of the ‘Area Boys’ and insecurity in the areas.
Today, most of the property that used to be the pride of the area has been ruined, dilapidated, and unoccupied by genuine businesses, with the value of the assets deteriorating beyond what investors projected.
Only a few businesses, including some old-generation banks, the stock exchange, and the central bank, are left in the area to cope with the deterioration of value and the presence of petty traders that have taken over the entire space on the roads and inner streets, competing for space with motorists.
Is there anything the government could do?
The Lagos State Government could still restore value within the district by bringing back sanity. Most of the stores in Balogun Market, Nnamdi Azikwe, and other bustling areas could be restructured first to ensure that street trading is eliminated.
The government could build proper parks for commercial vehicles and take out the yellow buses from the streets by prohibiting indiscriminate parking on the roads. The government should also eliminate street trading, clean up the environment, and ensure that only those who have genuine businesses are allowed within the business district.
The government could equally relocate some of the residential buildings to more befitting areas within the state while transforming those old and dilapidated properties into modern structures specially designed for high-brow residential apartments for top professionals and hospitality, and create a bigger mall model after the like of the Mall of America to attract more value to the area and ensure urban renewal.
Apart from all of these recommendations creating value for the state, it will also lead to the government earning more revenues from the entertainment centers, the malls, and the value businesses that would emerge from the renewal of the areas.
This may take some time, but it’s doable and achievable, and the state will be better for it.
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