Welcome To Lagos – An Insider's Perspective

by Shola Adebowale

The press media has been regarded from time immemorial as the fourth estate of the realm. An holy sanctorum and a place of refuge for the oppressed, the molested, the down trodden and those upon whom it seemed fate has been unkind to. Added to these, the press is the beacon of truth

If we are to hold these as the obvious truth, then one must not stop wondering, what prompted the recent BBC’s epic show of shame against Lagos, under the magnificent but highly misleading title: ‘WELCOME TO LAGOS’. Misleading in the sense that a curious spectator could have paid every dime to have a look of what a highly respected and reputable media organization like BBC has to offer. Only to be shown, the other side of any major urban cities in the 21st century-a refuse dump. The Welcome to Lagos trilogy which started on the 15th of April and ended on the 29th of April is an intriguing, mind blowing documentary produced by Will Anderson for BBC 2.

To start with, one begins to wonder that upon all the cumbersome piles of problems bedeviling the world ,most especially Africa nations of this century-Malaria epidemic, HIV, cancer, global warming, Child trafficking among several others that demand all concerted efforts ,why would BBC descended from its height of glory into the abyss of intellectual bankruptcy . And hence not having any meaningful thing to do and not knowing what to do sent men across the Atlantics and like Alice in the Wonderland, found itself and its men in a dunghill of a city called Lagos.

Throughout the month of April when this story was aired, business and social activities were brought to its knees throughout the world as a result of the volcanic ash that disrupted air travels to and from Europe which is the cynosure of the world commerce and industry. Something that has never been witnessed in this proportion since the end of the Second World War in 1945 and since the Berlin blockade some years after, triggering the Cold War. Yet, BBC had a lot of disposable time to shift the attention of a chunk of its viewers from burning international issues at hand into a less significant one. After all anything from Africa is always a ‘prime time reality show’. And when BBC cannot witness nor observe naked natives hopping and brachiating from one ‘Iroko’ tree to another, it made do with a dunghill. Atleast, no story is as good as a bad one.

Why Lagos? And Why Now? At the last count by this author, precisely at 14.00 GMT on the 1st of May,2010,about 3,450 reviews, commentaries, observations, among others had been added to the Goggle search engine on this topic-Welcome to Lagos. If somebody is taking record, I want to believe at the pace at which additions are being made, that this issue would go down in history as one of the highly patronized single case in world history .No shot has been fired, no hostage has been taken, no explosion has been heard and yet issue like this has generated a lot of passions, sentiments and anger.

Presently, two arguments are being put forward-One has to do with the well known, beaten path of international politics and diplomacy, that this is a well concocted and calculated conspiracy theorem and two a ‘Wake-up Call’.

It is presently a well known issue all over the world that Nigeria is at a threshold of its existence and that unless if a meaningful step is taken to address burning national issues in the country like true Federalism (that would deal with resource control, minority issue among others), electoral reform, Niger Delta issue, religion fanatism and extremism coupled with biting poverty, the bubbles might likely bust. Sounding the first salvo was Libyan leader, Muammar Al Qathafi , a ‘concerned observer’, who is now harassed for saying the obvious truth .In his comments about Nigeria-(Two at the last count), Al Qathafi suggested that Nigeria should be peacefully carved into two. According to him the emerging nations from the carcass of Nigeria should have Abuja and Lagos as their Capital territories i.e. Abuja for the North while Lagos would be for the South. Since the BBC documentary came barely couples of weeks after such suggestion, the coincidence of time and opportunity is therefore joined together to advance the argument for a conspiracy.

It is believed that Libyan leader, Muammar Al Qathafi’s statement is not taken lightly by some Neo imperialist-cum-western interest groups whose interest Nigeria as a nation has been protecting since the end of the unfortunate civil war through their ‘interest groups’-like the multinational oil companies that continue to rape and terrorize the people of the Niger Delta with outstanding impunity never seen nor experienced elsewhere in the world. Such groups stand to lose more in any eventuality.

Though Al Qathafi’s tantrums have been down played by those in the corridor of power in Nigeria with highly undiplomatic dictums from even our hallowed chambers-‘…(H)e’s a mad man ,a lunatic..”, such ‘interest groups’ in and around the world with a mouth piece like BBC, see it the other way round. And hence, a calculated campaign against Lagos, the ‘gate way’ to Nigeria is very timely .Such stance is not assimilar to the subtle moves that was made immediately after the death of Aguiyi Ironsi and the pogrom against the Igbos that followed suit .A faction led by Muhammed Muritala believed ‘Araba’ –severance or divide is the answer to all the leprotic problems bedeviling the nation. With subtlety this ‘interest groups’ who are well trained in the act of feeling the pain more than the bereaved made it known to the ‘Araba group’ that they are finished without Nigeria. Where are they going to start, the capital is in Lagos and hence all the instruments of power.

In other words, it is a well beaten path, a dull nursery school rhythm that sounds thus, ‘Tell those in the South, that they have nowhere to go, Lagos that is suggested to you by that mad man is a dunghill…Where are you going to start, everything is in Abuja. ?.’.Unbeknown to BBC and its sponsors, Nigerians of the 1960s could be taken round and tossed up and down, much have changed. ‘The holier than thou’ tantrums of such ‘interest groups’ notwithstanding, we all know today, that ghettos, slums, dunghills are all catastrophic phenomena that is not synonymous with Lagos alone. It is a world-wide issue, most especially common with societies battling with over population that stretches its available infrastructural facilities to its limit; New Delhi, Tokyo, New York, London, Beijing. The list is endless. And Nigeria as a nation hardly needs a soothsayer to disclose to it that the people at the base of its pyramid are ‘hewers of woods and bearers of water’. After all “There are beggars in Mecca” says a well known ancient maxim.

Without being parochial nor found guilty of one, BBC depiction of Lagos as a dug hill is nothing less than the ‘merry-go-rounding’ of a global news media ;that went round the world and came back home with ‘Welcome to Lagos’, depicting dunghills as the substance of a worldwide news item about a city and its people in its entirety. If it is not a conspiracy, or intended to smirk an entire generation in the face, then what else is such documentary trying to portray? Most especially now that somebody is even taking a concerted effort to do something about ‘fixing’ Lagos.

Moreover, one can borrow a piece from the Nigerian High Commissioner Tafida which also allude to a calculated conspiracy- ‘the documentary was an attempt to bring Nigeria and its hardworking people to international odium and scorn’’, he pointed out in a protest letter sent to the Controller BBC2, Ms. Janice Hadlow. He further noted that …..’The High Commission could not comprehend the motives behind the do

cumentary.. .’.While Professor Wole Soyinka pointed out along the line of this discourse, without mincing words, when he said that “There was this colonialist idea of the noble savage which motivated the programme. It was patronizing and condescending. It surprised me because it came from the BBC which is supposed to have some sort of reputation. It was not worthy of the BBC.” However, contrary to the High Commissioner’s rhetoric therefore-The motive is obvious.

In other words, Will Anderson’s story line in ‘Welcome to Lagos’ is nothing else but the continuation of a racist’s generalizations about Africa. A deliberate attempt that is intended to corrupt and configure every news item about Africa in such a way to amuse kids and the not so fortunate people of Caucasian descents who have never been to Africa before. Little wonder, when you meet such on Face Book or in any other social fora, they are still curious to know if Africa is still like the fictional jungle of Tarzan. More the less, they are always eager to know if Africans are still the ‘Old Monkeys’ of Charles Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’ or those of the ‘Origin of Man’ from the same author. Hence it would be a sort of comic relieve to them that though these people are no more in their primordial state, yet they are not far off. A scavenger as depicted by BBC is just a little higher than the ‘hunters and gatherers’ that some could have thought would be shown to them via ‘Welcome to Lagos’.

On the issue of a ‘Wake- up call’, it is believed that the intention of BBC is that something urgent must be done to salvage the city of Lagos from imminent collapse. If this is true, then BBC attempt should be regarded as a sincere observation, but the nature of its one-sidedness or lack of balance and fairness leave much to be desired and therefore put a question mark on the sincerity of BBC. After all for close to 100 years from 1861 when Lagos was annexed by the British to 1960, the British identified all these problems and even documented them but they could not do anything about them.

Nevertheless, the sincerity or otherwise of BBC notwithstanding, something must be done very fast to salvage what remains of Lagos. It is highly imperative that the Federal Government, assist Lagos to play its major role in the emerging reality of the 21st century. A society that is destined to be among the first five largest cities in the world within a couple of years from now needs a federal might. For retrospect, during the quest by the Muritala /Obasanjo to build the city of Abuja as the new Capital Territory, the plan was a simplified one-That Lagos is going to be the financial Capital, while Port Harcourt is going to be the oil and Gas Capital. And hence it was proposed that special fund or allocation must be given to the three earlier mentioned cities to cater for their special and designated roles.

However, with time this has been jettisoned. More attention is presently focused on Abuja, while Lagos with one of the overwhelming Push-Pull factors in the world is left at the hands of individuals and corporations with business interest in Lagos. Little wonders many of such are threatening to down tools and move out of Lagos to Ghana, citing dilapidating infrastructures among others.

To compound the many woes of Lagos, part of which BBC is presently subjectively high lighting, the Federal Government has been using its might against Lagos. For instant, Lagos State Government recently devised an ingenious self help method to rescue Lagos from imminent collapse by creating Development Areas. The federal government retaliated with a vociferous and bullish affront. By the virtue of this logjam, the Federal Government found it extremely difficult to commiserate with the Government of Lagos or its people when Lagos was attacked by a militant group.

All hope is not lost; the Lagos State Government must set in motion, a regime of policy that would clear slums from the Central Business Districts of Lagos. It is extremely hard to make omelet without breaking the shell of eggs. To tackle this, the Lagos State Government must involve all stake holders in drawing up a working and practicable maps for the resettlement of displaced people as a result of such developmental strides.

Cleanliness must also be a thing of utmost importance to the government, a meaningful and all embracing attempt must be made to inculcate cleanliness into the sub consciousness of everyone that resides or works in Lagos as it was done during the Buhari/Idiagbon government. The government must involve parents, schools, Churches, Mosques, and the Media .For instance, a group like ‘C-L-E-A-N’-CLEAN LAGOS ENVIRONMENT ALWAYS -NOW could be created in all schools .Thereby inculcating a tradition of cleanliness in our children right from the cradle. While similar group should also be created in all markets, motor parks, and so on. The people need to be taught elementary hygienic issues that are traditionally taken for granted. For instance disposing of pure water sachet on the street, spitting everywhere and anyhow, dumping of refuse in canals and drainages during every rainfall, defecating and urinating in open places among others. Such attitudes should be regarded as a crime against humanity and sanity.

In other words, BBC’s attempt to show case the city of Lagos as a dung hill and its people as scavengers is seriously devoid of the traditional ethics and norms of news gathering and reporting. It is a logical issue that in every discourse there must be a premise upon which conclusions are based. And to achieve this, logical enquiry demands a basic ingredient-objectivity. A worthy news item is supposed to be balanced and devoid of what a man on the street would call ‘One way traffic’. How a global organization like BBC would base its conclusion on a one sided item or activity leaves much room for guess works and absurd inferences. There is absolutely no sign of ‘Welcome’ in BBC’s ‘Welcome to Lagos’. The dust bill, dug hill or refuse dump is traditionally a point of departure and not of welcome. Hence, BBC’s ‘Welcome to Lagos’ is therefore a manifestation of absurdity that could be liken to the preacher’s conclusion in the Bible that a times ‘folly resides in the bosom of a wise man’.

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