Lagos: Mega City, Mega Miseries!

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Mr. Tunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, has, within the few months he has been in office, demonstrated clearly that he is a young man with well thought-out ideas, vision and mission to create a new, decent Lagos out of the chaos, waste and near-dilapidation that had hitherto defined the city.

Although many blocked canals and drains are yet out there begging to be reopened to solve the perennial problem of flooding in Lagos, and continuously burning heaps of refuse emitting toxic smoke near Ojota still welcome people entering Lagos from that end, no sincere person can deny that Lagos is fast acquiring a refreshingly new face. The roads which were once famous for their horrible, car-destroying, hypertension-multiplying craters are beginning to experience rapid transformations.

The other day, somebody was saying that while a very horrible road in his area was being rehabilitated, Fashola used to come in the middle of the night with ‘Keke Marwa’ (tricycle) to inspect it. Some swear he sometimes moves around town on ‘okada’ (motorcycle) to inspect on-going construction works or see for himself the exact state of the State he is governing. It is possible that Fashola actually does all these, but what we all know is that when such stories begin to be circulated about a leader, it says a lot about his popularity rating among the masses.

What I particularly like about him is the quiet manner he goes about his work. Unlike many of his colleagues who would do a ten Naira work and advertise it with hundred Naira, the man seems content to let the people to discover what he is doing by themselves. That may be a longer, more tedious route to fame, but when eventually it is achieved, it is usually more edifying and long-lasting.

Each time I drive through Ikorodu Road now and do not encounter again those horrible traffic hold-ups that used to keep one for hours, I express gratitude to him in my heart. Fashola’s transformational efforts have not been limited to roads; he is equally reshaping the entire metropolis and making it conform to what he thinks should be the original master-plan. And for a very badly mismanaged city like Lagos, populated mostly by people who have known only indiscipline and chaos as the only norms of existence and survival, such a target he has set for himself would prove a task really too daunting.

Just as Fashola does so many good things quietly (including even repainting houses in Lagos), the demolitions he has been carrying out which have plunged many families into untold misery and unspeakable trauma have also been quietly executed. And just as the media underreports his good works, they also treat the issue of the many traumatised victims of his efforts to give us a new, mega city with something akin to half-heartedness. Even if many media people cannot be found residing in the various large slum settlements which Fashola has been scraping off with effortless ease, it still remains their responsibility to give such developments due and just treatment.

The young, athletic governor appears well-meaning, focused, resolute, strict and principled. But I would hate think that he is wicked, heartless and callous. In his heart, he is probably more pained than I am over the unspeakable miseries his attempts to rediscover Lagos is circulating among the populace. Unlike Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, the former Emperor of Abuja, he could not, by any stretch of the imagination, have mistaken raw sadism for principles and courage. I am willing to believe that he fully appreciates my insistence that the wellbeing of human beings with red blood equally running in their veins as it does in him, his wife, Bimbola, and their children (despite differences in status) is as important, if not more, than a beautified environment, and that concern and care for both of them should in no way be mutually exclusive. You can demolish houses, Okay, but what do you do with the mass of displaced human beings?

A few days ago, I was shattered by reports of massive demolitions of countless “houses” that served as homes for multitudes of Lagosians in Abule-Nla (Olaleye) in Ebute Metta, Lagos, without any thought for any alternative shelters for them. As the bulldozers moved in with demonic zeal, mowing down structures and turning them to rubbles, many hapless people suddenly discovered that they had become homeless. Just like that!

Families, including old, ailing men and women, nursing mothers of very tender babies, pregnant woman and frightened, shocked little children, who had all been made to hurriedly escape from the only homes they had known by the murder and destruction-breathing bulldozers, were seen weeping, mourning and flocking about under a very heavy rain, bemoaning their fate and, perhaps, cursing the day of their birth and lamenting the abject poverty that had condemned them to find shelter in those shacks. The sight could melt the cast-iron heart of the most callous Nero. One could imagine some wives looking at their helpless, defeated and humiliated husbands and wondering why they were so unlucky to have married such poor men, unlike some of their more fortunate class or age mates who had married more successful men. The humanitarian crises this singular action has created for these set of human beings whose only offence was that they were too poor to afford decent accommodations in a society that cared less whether they lived or died have been quite has been quite overwhelming. As I write now, nearly a week after the bulldozers had executed their massive havoc and destructions and returned to base, hapless families are still stranded, yet to find any shelter anywhere, punished ceaselessly by the heavy rains and the tormenting sun, and terrorized by the dangers of spending the nights in the open in a place like Lagos. Somebody should just tell me the meaning of this!

Yes, over 80% of Nigerians live in unimaginable penury and utter, unspeakable deprivation, caused largely by the greed and criminal accumulation of the thieving rulers, but must government always go out of its way to rub it in, and brutally underline their belief that these set of Nigerians are worthless and dispensable?

I am not saying that Fashola did evil in seeking to improve the face of Lagos, but I had expected that he should as well have been even more worried that his fellow human beings have been so terribly impoverished in their own very richly endowed and high-earning country and forced to take refuge under those shacks. Agreed, these Nigerians had sought shelter under “illegal” structures, but wouldn’t they jump at any opportunity to be moved into decent quarters? It is only fair and just that in executing all its big dreams, government should not be unmindful of the magnitude of human suffering its actions regularly create. My colleague and friend, Mr. Dianam Dakolo, once wrote a very touching column entitled: “Government As Public Enemy.” I think that it is still possible for governments to take tough decisions and still remain people-friendly.

Years later, when historians would remember and applaud Fashola for giving Lagos a face-lift, there is no doubt that not even a footnote would be reserved for the hapless causalities of his gallant efforts.

I would love a beautiful and pleasant city of Lagos, but certainly not one constructed with the blood of peasants and retrenched workers. Patriotism would continue to remain scarce in this nation so long as government continues to be seen as an oppressor and public enemy. Who can ever hope to appease children whose parents had died of heart failure because their homes were destroyed?

For every human tragedy created in the wake of these mindless demolitions, a dozen or more embittered people enter the growing list of the State’s enemies. By the way, doesn’t government also have a duty towards the homeless, to ensure they are adequately sheltered?

Yes, the people were duly served with quit notices, and even allowed several months of grace after their expiration, but does anyone consider that these our fellow human beings may have been too poor to relocate themselves, even to their villages? Who protects them against bloodsucking landlords?

Indeed, I like Tunde Fashola very well, and that’s why I am telling him to endeavour to make the rehabilitation human beings an inevitable counterpart of his ongoing rehabilitation of physical structures in Lagos.

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