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Lagos Smart City Project: No Choice But Continuity

Lagos Smart City Project: No Choice But Continuity

The world is now a digital space where ‘innovation’ is becoming something of a buzzword in the Information and Communications Technology (“ICT”) industry. But the hype is real. Technology experts predict that smart technology and connectivity will soon redefine and reshape how urban life is lived. The Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics; amongst others, are already redefining urban service delivery and it seems this is only the beginning.

Many developments in innovation relate to the operationalizing of smart cities. A smart city is a designation applied to a city that leverages ‘smart’ technology to bring efficiency to the delivery of public services; security, environmental sanitation, transportation, water systems, power supplies and government services for example. Smart cities essentially use technology to provide services and solve urban problems. With improved and highly responsive social services provided by smart cities, citizens are given a voice and sustainability is enhanced.

Asia has had its fair share of smart cities, with countries like Singapore ranking at the top. In Singapore, smart technology has been used to create efficiency in the health sector. For instance, telemedicine, among others, was used to improve the quality of and access to health, particularly by patients in remote areas who are not within the reach of traditional healthcare. Other notable smart cities outside Asia include Barcelona, Oslo, San Francisco, Amsterdam and London.

The ‘Lagos State Smart Initiatives’; as originally conceived, was designed to connect human and social capital with ICT infrastructure. This was then to be deployed to address lapses in public services, while achieving a more sustainable development and increasing the quality of life of citizens within the shortest possible time. The hallmarks of the Project, were improved transportation, security and surveillance, implementation of a metro-fiber network and e-governance.

Lagos Smart City Project: No Choice But Continuity
Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Lagos Smart City Project: No Choice But Continuity

To address the myriad of challenges and problems affecting the standard of living of its citizens, the Lagos State government had, under the previous administration, initiated, formulated and executed various ICT policies aimed at transforming Lagos into a smart city. Fortunately, it appears that the vision of the Lagos State government under the present government of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu is to continue in that direction and make the State one of the world’s knowledge hubs through the application of smart technologies.

The vision of the Lagos Smart City Project (the “Project”) was conceptualized in June 2016. The Project got off to a successful implementation but did not deliver on every aspect of the core components of a smart city. The ‘Lagos State Smart Initiatives’; as originally conceived, was designed to connect human and social capital with ICT infrastructure. This was then to be deployed to address lapses in public services, while achieving a more sustainable development and increasing the quality of life of citizens within the shortest possible time. The hallmarks of the Project, were improved transportation, security and surveillance, implementation of a metro-fiber network and e-governance. Project implementation was set out in two phases. The first phase would seek to address transportation, security and infrastructure; while the second phase was designed to strengthen those services, including connectivity, in the most sustainable manner.

It was envisaged that the security component of the Project would deploy thousands of surveillance CCTV cameras, sensors and other high-tech equipment at strategic locations in the state for the purpose of crime prevention and detection. The transportation component would focus on the Intelligent Transport Service (ITS) and the connectivity component, with provision of metro fiber network. The metro fiber network was to entail the laying of underground fiber optic cables, through a major telecommunications company that would eventually provide connectivity to homes, offices and institutions in the State. Sensors were to be installed on strategically located masts to monitor security and traffic situations around the State for prompt attention where necessary. Through the smart city project, data would be collected directly from citizens and smart devices for the purpose of real-time short, medium and long-term data analysis, decision making and planning. A world data center would collect, collate and analyze the data transmitted from the sensors and CCTV cameras situated around Lagos. This data room would be linked to the various law enforcement agencies like the Nigeria Police Force, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), etc. This, it was intended, would provide necessary cohesion and increased efficiency between these agencies.

The critical infrastructure in the second phase of the Project was intended to enhance broadband connectivity and penetration by the provision of reliable high-speed internet open access, which would be actualized through the proliferation of fiber infrastructure across Lagos.

With the construction and installation of fiber infrastructure, the Government will be able to provide free internet connectivity to public institutions, schools, courts, government agencies, hospitals, local government councils and others. This phase will also witness a convergence and automation of the services offered by government agencies into a one-stop shop and reduce the multiplicity of government services. The last mile of this phase will also see the extension of internet connectivity to homes and offices in the state (“fiber-to-the-home”). In the health sector, hospitals will be empowered to maintain a real time data base of patients’ records for better health care delivery. Schools and other learning institutions will equally have access to high speed internet which will enhance learning and research methods.

The implementation of a smart city project is usually cost-intensive and can be actualized using any of the various available models designed for projects of this magnitude. It would seem the most appropriate of such financing methods would be a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model.

Collaborating with the private sector will mean passing on huge financial project costs which the Lagos State Government (‘LASG’) may otherwise struggle to bear, given its budgetary constraints. In turn, the LASG could provide consideration in the form of the right of way (a valuable asset) which is required for laying of fiber optics across the state by the private sector operator. The combination of the right of way provided by the LASG and the funding and expertise provided by the private sector, will contribute to the overall success of the Project. LASG’s stake, as well as the private sector investment in the Project, are recoverable through the commercialization of internet connectivity and erection of LED billboards for commercial adverts.

If Lagos were to attain the status of a fully functional smart city, this would have tremendous commercial and qualitative advantage for both its economy and the standard of living of its citizens. Such benefits would include:

  • Reduction in the traffic gridlock within the Lagos metropolis; from enhanced traffic management to public transit riders’ ability to track bus or train locations, smart technologies will quicken the free flow of goods and services within the state, and thus lead to a more conducive climate for business.
  • Increased economic development opportunities as more businesses and individuals will be attracted to Lagos; Lagos will indeed be open for business.
  • Increased digital equity as residents will have equal access and opportunities in digital technology necessary for modern day living. The adoption of public Wi-Fi hotspots placed strategically throughout Lagos can offer reliable internet services to all residents.
  • Improved workforce engagement and productivity using technology as a tool.
  • Ensuring the completion and implementation of the Project will shore up the social capital of the State Government in continuing with the Project which was conceived by the previous administration.
  • Enhanced interface between the citizens and the Government.
  • A safer Lagos where proactive steps can be taken to prevent crimes through high wired surveillance.
  • Lagos will have the status of Nigeria’s first smart city, thus positioning it as the model city it has always aspired to be.

As with any Project, there are bound to be challenges in implementation, but these challenges can be properly managed with the right proactive measures put in place. For example:

Access to right of way: For any project which involves the laying of fiber optics, there are inherent public right of way issues, and in Lagos, huge costs are associated with right of way approvals by the Government. However, by partnering with LASG, these costs as well as the surrounding bureaucracy, will be greatly mitigated as LASG, being the key driver of the Project, will easily permit access as part of its contribution to the overall success of the Project. Furthermore, in carrying out installations, there may be interference with the real property of residents. These interferences may lead to litigation of different sorts and claims for compensations. A comprehensive public consultation and widespread sensitization within the different communities in Lagos will go a long way in creating awareness of the Project and enlightening the public about its benefits. LASG will also need to ensure that there is effective dialogue with key stakeholders and traditional rulers in communities.

Data Protection issues: Data privacy issues are rampant with the advent of technology and the internet generally. The Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (“Regulation”), 2019 issued by NITDA, will address the issue of how data collected is to be handled, analyzed, processed, and stored. The data collected from citizens, smart devices, CCTV and sensors and transmitted to the data room must be handled carefully. The provision of Section 2 (2) of the Regulation which provides that ‘‘anyone who is entrusted with the personal data of a data subject or who is in possession of the personal data of a data subject owes a duty of care to the said data subject’’ must be taken into cognizance in handling the data obtained.

Security Challenges and Vandalism: Sabotage and vandalism tend to discourage fiber optic expansion. Although vandalism is less prominent in fiber optic than metallic cables, this challenge may still be encountered. To curb this, a proper implementation of the second phase will include engagement with security agencies to secure this critical infrastructure.

With the immense benefit which the State and its citizens stand to gain from the Project, there is indeed no choice but for continuity of the Project by the present administration of Lagos State government. Happily, the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu had, at the 13th Annual Business Law Conference organized by the Section on Business Law of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in June 2019, said the “plan to elevate Lagos to become a smart city is not a mere political rhetoric but an agenda that is being supported by policies that will make the goal achievable”. There is no doubt that the Project, if continued and implemented, will bring about unprecedented economic and digital development to Lagos State. Investors will be attracted to establish more businesses in Lagos which will, in return, create employment and boost the economy of the State. To achieve successful implementation of this Project, the support and cooperation of citizens of the state will also be required to ensure that they quickly and with minimal disruption, embrace the new order of Lagos as a smart city.

Authors: Ugochukwu Obi, Partner (responsible for ICT Practice) at Perchstone and Graeys (ugochukwuobi@perchstoneandgraeys.com); Busola Adegbuyi, Intermediate Associate, Perchstone & Graeys (busolaadegbuyi@perchstoneandgraeys.com) and Ehiwe O. Samuel, Associate, Perchstone and Graeys (samuelehiwe@perchstoneandgraeys.com).

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