It is no longer news that the Lagos State government has rolled out diverse forms of stimulus package to cushion the effect of ongoing lockdown of the State occasioned by the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
However, and naturally so, there have been complaints about the method employed by the State government in getting the package across to the intended beneficiaries. Recall that the government had enlisted the support of the 57 Local Government Areas and Local Council Development Areas (LGAs/LCDAs), the Community Development Committees (CDCs) and the Community Development Associations (CDAs) for the distribution of the stimulus packages.
Like every human arrangement, there were obvious hiccups in the distribution channel, which has understandably resulted into criticisms of the process from certain quarters. Frankly, for anyone who would not be mischievous, physical distribution of such packages in a megacity of over 25 million could be quite herculean.
Identifiable gap in the distribution process only points to the essentiality of having a comprehensive working data of all the residents of the State. Such data, at is done in developed climes, helps the government in planning, especially as it relates to provision of essential services to the people.
Indeed, in its characteristic visionary approach to governance, particularly as it concerns the importance of data to planning, the Lagos State government established the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency, LASRRA to acquire accurate and reliable data of the residents. The Bill that established the Agency was passed and signed into law on the 27th of June 2011.
Key responsibilities of the Agency include creation of a reliable database of all residents in the State, establishment of the relevant infrastructure for the creation of a resident’s information database, production of guidelines for data to be contained in the registration form and guidance of the government on mode of collecting data from the public.
In order to achieve the goals and tap into the immense benefits of planning and working with data, the Lagos State government, through the agency, embarked on massive enlightenment and sensitisation of members of the public on the need to enroll themselves and their dependants on the platform.
The advocacy was taken to the traditional institutions, religious and social groups, including tradesmen and various artisan organisations, amongst others. In addition, the office of LASRRA was decentralised, as it opened operational centres at Divisional and local levels to widen access and bring the services closer to the people.
For the convenience of the enrollees, registration can be done physically or online. For physical registration, the applicant’s data is entered manually by the Registration Officer straight into the data bank and the biometric information captured. When an applicant registers online, a unique reference number is generated online, which the applicant takes to the nearest registration point or office, for his/her biometric information to be captured.
Years after the commencement of the initiative, response from the residents have been relatively low. This prompted the government to take further steps as a way of encouraging more Lagosians to embrace the scheme.
Consequently, LASRRA Registration Number becomes an important requirement for accessing some benefits from the government. These include the services of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), skill acquisition and poverty alleviation programmes, admission into public schools, etc.
Sadly, rather than embrace this programme, majority of Lagosians simply ignore it. Reasons adduced for this vary, but the most popular is the fact that the data is being obtained for tax purposes. Instead of tapping into the immense benefits that come with the exercise, some of the residents deride it as a tool for exploitation (which they are all too glad to evade), even though payment of taxes is a civic responsibility backed by the Law. But how wrong they are!
With the commencement of the second phase of the distribution of the stimulus package, comprising food and financial assistance by the Sanwo-Olu administration, as well as the introduction of the Conditional Cash Transfer by the Federal Government, which is to be done through the States, data is now highly required to overcome the logistic challenges earlier posed by human factors and other artificial bottlenecks.
Now, the big question is: In the absence of a comprehensive data of the residents, should the State government reach out to only the 5 million residents that can be verified through their registration with LASRRA as it was done with the elderly?
If yes, what happens to others that will be left out, especially those that actually fall into the category of the vulnerable and very poor? Also, should the youths who are not on LASRRA register equally be excluded from the free food scheme for the youths? If those who are not registered should be considered, will government not be forced to go back to the structures that have been condemned as ineffective or other ones that are also prone to the same human snags?
From the foregoing, it has become quite imperative for Lagos residents to always cooperate with the government in order to make governance seamless. When the people flagrantly disregard directives from the government, just like some are doing now with the lockdown order, it further complicates things, not only for the government but for the people themselves.
It will be out of place to suggest that government should have made the registration compulsory. That obviously could have been possible during the military era, but it will be a hard sell in a democratic dispensation as many self-acclaimed human rights’ activists would have vehemently opposed such.
Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a bitter lesson. Henceforth, and beginning with LASRRRA, Lagosians should begin to consider the need to embrace the policies of the State government with an open mind and, for once, accept that they are initiated in their best interests. This is quite important because most of these policies have been understudied and replicated by other States across the country and, indeed, a few African countries.
No doubt, the establishment of LASRRA is one of the finest innovations that grew out of the adoption of e-governance by the Lagos State government as a means of authenticating and identifying the residents.
On a final note, it is hoped that in the immediate post COVID-19 era, the current disposition of the residents towards LASSRA and, indeed, other government policies and programmes would take a new turn.
Meanwhile, interested residents can reach LASSRA via email@example.com
Akodu is Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lagos Information Chapel.